By Larry Canale
A banner crop of baseball rookies is making its presence felt in the collectibles market. Leading the charge are the following three phenoms.
• Drawing perhaps the most attention is Atlanta Braves spark plug and leadoff hitter Ronald Acuna Jr. With two weeks left in the season, he had 26 homers and a .293 average along with 14 steals, not to mention a host of defensive gems. In September, we got a glimpse of how the market is reacting to his jaw-dropping diamond skills. A 2017 signed Bowman Chrome Orange Refractor card of the outfielder sold for $18,100. The card had been graded BGS 10 with the autograph getting a perfect 10. In another sale, a Blue Refractor of the same card (also graded BGS 10) sold for $5,300 on 43 bids.
• Juan Soto, meanwhile, has been drawing raves as possibly the best 19-year-old ever to play in the major leagues. With two weeks left to go, the Washington Nationals outfielder had 20 HRs and a .298 average. No wonder a bidding war broke out over a 2016 signed Bowman Chrome Orange Refractor card of Soto. Graded BGS 9, it attracted 42 bids and soared to $5,880 in mid-September. Two weeks earlier, a signed Twitter Blue Refractor of the same card (graded PSA 10) sold for $5,107 on 43 bids. It was one of only three issued.
• Making his first appearance on our Top 10 chart is the Toronto Blue Jays’ blue-chip prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. A 2016 Bowman Chrome signed Red Refractor card of the young third baseman sold for $25,000. It was ungraded (but in top condition), and is one of only five issued. In a separate sale, a 2016 Bowman Chrome Orange Refractor of Guerrero sold for $11,000. It was graded BGS 9.5 and was one of only 25 issued. In the minor leagues this season, Guerrero hit .381 with 20 HRs and 78 RBI across four levels.
Note the presence of a 1960 Topps Mickey Mantle on our Top 10 list. The card’s front features a photo of a boyish-looking Mantle in a colorful horizontal design. The reverse offers a list of bullet points reciting Mantle’s highlights from the previous season. Considering the Mick’s 31-HR, 75-RBI, .295 performance in 1959, Topps had plenty of fodder, but settled on these great moments:
• May 30: Mickey goes 4 for 4 vs. Nats.
• June 3: His 9th-inn. HR beats Detroit.
• June 13: Tops Tigers with 2-run HR.
• June 17: Hits 450-ft. HR vs. Chicago.
• June 18: HR in 10th beats Chicago.
• June 27: Has 6 RBIs vs. K.C.
• July 16: His 10th-inn. HR tops Cleve.
• Sept. 1: Hits HR, double and 3 singles in 12-1 win vs. K.C.
Those Mantle highlights serve as a reminder of a long tradition in this hobby: the value of card backs. The best sets offer a composite recap of the previous season in Major League Baseball.
For the stat-hounds among us, a player’s complete career numbers are always the way to go; alas, the 1960 Topps set skimped on that score, giving us just the previous year’s numbers. But given the “Timeline” highlights and an accompanying cartoon factoid on the reverse of each card, the set has always been a worthy pursuit.
ON THE OUTSIDE
Finishing not too far outside of this installment’s Top 10 chart were the following treasures:
• $18,100: 2017 Bowman Chrome Ronald Acuna Blue Refractor auto (BGS 10, auto 10)
• $17,157: 2016-17 Panini Flawless Ben Simmons Triple Diamond (BGS 9.5)
• $16,000: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 3)
• $15,699: 1909-11 T206 Piedmont Cigarettes Ty Cobb red portrait (SGC 6)
• $15,520: 1998 Playoff Contenders Peyton Manning Rookie Ticket Autograph (BGS 9)
LEGEND OF THE LINKS
A bidder spent $15,098 at an eBay auction to buy a rare “rookie card” of golf legend Bobby Jones. Produced by Lambert & Butler, the card dates to 1926. It had been graded PSA 9—a testament to its preservation over nine-plus decades. The card drew 45 bids in the late-August auction. (Note that the front of the card reads “R. T. Jones”—his full name was Robert Tyre Jones Jr.)
Jones (1902-1971) was the most successful amateur golfer ever to compete nationally and internationally. During his heyday, 1923 through 1930, he competed against the best pro golfers in the world and beat such luminaries as Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen. Jones won nine PGA Tour events, including four U.S. Opens, four U.S. Amateur events, and one British Amateur event. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974, three years after his death.
SMILE WHEN YOU CALL ME “BOB”
It seems strange to see Roberto Clemente’s early and mid-career cards: Topps usually referred to him as Bob, and it just doesn’t feel right. The shortened name, though, doesn’t bother collectors. Consider the eBay sale in September of a PSA 9-graded 1962 Clemente: It sold for a hefty $14,922. The same card in 8 condition typically sells for $700 to $800, as evidenced by two August sales on eBay.
If you caught this space in our most recent issue, you saw a healthy batch of collectibles related to Yankees great Thurman Munson. The highly desirable Munson rarities we spotlighted included a PSA 9-graded example of his rookie card—a 1970 Topps issue—that sold for $1,525.
Right on cue, a seller listed an even better specimen shortly after our deadline. This one, graded PSA 10, sold for a loud $26,101. Imagine the additional spike it may have experienced if Munson were a Hall of Famer.