My friend Ben started posting on Instagram a new baseball card each week that was somehow unique or special to him, and it got me to thinking about the cards I own and the stories (some better than others) that are hidden in my vault of baseball cards. So I figured I'd just walk over here and post a little bit about the cards in my possession.
The Rookie Card
I own three of these cards of Mark McGwire. If you search Google for a Mark McGwire rookie card you’ll find a few varieties, but many claim the 1985 USA National Team card is it. Purist, like myself, want it to be the 1987 card because it’s the first card in his Oakland A’s uniform.
Now, why is this card unique or special to me? Because it contains a tale of caution about doing business fairly. In 1988 or '89 —I don't remember which year exactly— my younger brother found himself to be the rightful owner of one of these cards. The potential value of this thing was through the roof as McGwire was mashing home runs out of the park at record speed. He came by it honestly in a pack he purchased and it was most likely the most valuable card he owned at the time.
Like all boys do when they are young and hang out with other boys, antics happen. Boyish life goes on. With baseball cards, it was the perpetual "art of the deal." We'd come to church with our notebooks full of our best cards, show them off, talk about them and inevitably one boy would launch the negotiations with "I'll trade you for him."
There was no order or fair market value to the trade system. Beckett Baseball Magazine provided somewhat of a guide to card values, but a juicy deal could be had by anyone if you knew how to play your cards right. Which is what happened to my brother and this card…. he was swindled.
I don’t remember the exact details of the transaction, but three cards were offered for one Mark McGwire rookie. Three nameless, forgotten, unknown, valueless cards for the biggest rookie card in the entire 1987 series. That’s like trading cardboard for your entire children’s college fund. And the trade was made. Fair and square. Done.
Had my father known the deal was about to go down he would have stopped it. But the rules of card trading were clear, and they were inviolable; a deal is a deal is a deal. No reversing the deal. My brother was swindled.
Time has a way of correcting these sorts of injustices. McGwire became a massive star in the sport, the value of the card skyrocketed. He hit more home runs in a single season than any other player before him in 1998, breaking Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61*. And then he was discovered as a cheater along with so many of his time. He'd been using PED steroids, and the game has collectively labeled him persona non grata. The card's value dropped to the same value of the three cards my brother traded for.
Looking back, maybe Brian got the better end of the deal. He ended up with three cards of unknown value instead of having one card that you can find at any card store or online for less than a dollar in mint condition. Which is why I have three: to remind me of the unfair trade, and the way all things will be made right one day.