Rookie Phenom Rafael Devers Powers Red Sox

Three weeks into his major league career, Rafael Devers has risen from Red Sox savior to rookie phenom.  National attention has made his early baseball cards must haves for rookie card collectors.  

In desperate need for a power hitting third baseman, the Red Sox turned to Devers instead of acquiring a veteran slugger.  The 20-year-old Dominican Republic native responded by slugging eight home runs and 16 RBI while batting .364 in his first 20 games.  His major league debut came too late in the season to be included in any 2017 baseball card sets, so Devers cards bearing the official “RC” logo will be issued in 2018 base sets.  In the meantime, prospect collectors can choose from over 700 Devers insert, subset, and parallel cards.  

The 2014 Bowman Chrome Draft series is the first to include Devers. As part of the “Top Prospects” subset, he is featured in  full MLB gear — three  years before his debut.  The shiney chrome versions are among the hobby’s most popular cards, selling for $8 with more limited Refractor versions getting $18.  Also featuring early cards of Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, Jose Abreu, and Jacob deGrom among others, 2014 Bowman Chrome is a must for prospect collectors.

 

Devers’ national spotlight grew brighter in mid August when the rising star slugged a game-tying ninth inning home run off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman before a national television audience.  Devers followed his Yankee Stadium heroics by becoming just the 35th player since 1913 to record a two-homer game before turning 21, joining the likes of Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Mike Trout, and Carlos Correa.  The light shined even brighter the following night when Devers triggered an around-the-horn triple play before the Fenway crowd, the 31st triple play in Red Sox history.

Increased national attention means increased interest in Devers certified autographed cards.  Although the Devers 2015 Bowman Chrome “Prospects Autograph” isn’t his first autographed card, it is the most coveted.  Complete with MLB markings and logos, the on-card autograph is selling for $200 with Refractor versions commanding as much as $400.  Known as “Home of the Rookie Card”, the Bowman name enhances early autographed cards of baseball’s rising stars.

Devers initially caught the eye of Red Sox scouts at the age of 14.  Considered the top left-handed hitter among international free agents two years later, Devers signed a $1.5 million contract with the Red Sox.  After dominating the Dominican Summer League and making the Gulf Coast League All-Star team, Devers sports his Greenville Drive Red Sox uniform in the 2015 Topps Heritage series.  For minor league and oddball card collectors, this is a great  buy for $3. His 2015 Choice minor league card takes the traditional approach of local distribution.  The card is rather simple in design, but a limited print run makes it highly coveted for $15.  Because of the minimal gloss on the card fronts, minor league cards are ideal for in-person autographs.

Devers has already made a significant impact in Red Sox history.  Earlier in the month major league baseball’s youngest player joined Babe Ruth, Williams, Dalton Jones, and Tony Conigliaro as the only Red Sox in the last 100 years with four or more hits in a single game by age 20.  Linked to Red Sox greats from the last 100 years, Devers has become a favorite of memorabilia collectors.  The 2015 Elite Extra Edition “Future Threads” Silhouette Signatures is a rare memorabilia card issued by Panini.  The unique “Future Threads” card is serial numbered to just 125 and has a jersey swatch layered underneath the player image.  The lower portion of the card displays Devers’ signature.  The card value has doubled in the past month, currently selling for $100.  

If the Red Sox continue winning and advance to the postseason with Devers still slugging his way through the league, his cards will heat up the postseason and offseason.  

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Baseball Rights A Wrong: Tim Raines Enters Hall of Fame

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the side of righteousness trailing by a run, the Baseball Writers Association of America undid one of the biggest wrongs in the Hall of Fame by electing Tim Raines in his final year of eligibility.  Today  baseball celebrates the Rock as the  former Expos great becomes just the fourth  player to be elected in his final year of eligibility, joining Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975), and Jim Rice (2009).

Raines

Placed in a historical context, Raines’s resume is more than HOF worthy.  He was one of the game’s great lead off hitters, top base stealers, and — believe it or not — an extra-base-hitting-machine during his 23-year major league career.  Raines was often lost in the shadow cast by Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest leadoff hitter ever. But digging deeper into the numbers, Raines was every bit the player as Henderson and even rivaled the great Ty Cobb, arguably the best hitter in baseball history.  

We all know Raines was one of the game’s great base stealers, but his consistency on the base paths was unparalleled.  He ranks fifth on the career stolen base list with 808 and is the career leader in stolen base percentage (84.7) among players with 400 attempts. Raines is the only player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in seven consecutive  seasons (1981-1986).  He stole 40 consecutive bases between July 1993 – August 1995, a major league record later broken by Ichiro Suzuki with 45 consecutive swipes.

Like Cobb, Raines will never be considered a home run hitter, but the former speedy outfielder combined extra base hits with stolen bases at an historic rate.  He was the only player in baseball history with at least 100, triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases.  Raines finished his career with 113 triples and 170 homers.  

Raines also tallied with 2,605 hits over his career — well below the imaginary 3,000-hit Hall of Fame threshold. But looking deeper, only nine of the 27 players with 3,000 hits can match Raines’s .385 career on-base percentage.  Raines reached base more times than three no-doubt HOFers with 3,000 hits: Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock and Roberto Clemente as well as the ageless and  still playing Ichiro Suzuki.

Need more convincing?  Raines was the only player ever with four seasons of 50-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases.  Henderson and Cobb combined for four such seasons; every other HOFer combined for an additional four.

Raines is seldom mentioned with the all-time greats such as Cobb, but he should be and the evidence is in the numbers:  He is the only player in MLB history with five consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases, which he did from 1982-1986.  Before 1982, the last player to record 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases in a season was Cobb in 1915.  

For more head-spinning stats, be sure to check out the Ace of MLB Stats Twitter account.  Its creator, Ryan Spaeder, seems to be on a personal crusade to get Raines into the Hall of Fame.  Raines did the work and Spaeder has aligned the numbers in convincing fashion.

Raines becomes the third player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, joining Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.  Raines won two World Series rings (1996 and 1998) in New York as a role player with the Yankees.  It’s a great day when one of baseball’s great injustices is rectified.

The Raines Topps rookie card is one of the top rookies from the 1981 series.  Issued just before the mass-produced sets of the ‘80s, the Expos “Future Prospect” card also includes Roberto Ramos and, two “future stars” that never panned out.  Be careful if you’re buying:  The “Future Prospect” cards are notorious for having gum-stained backs.  

1981 Donruss: From Hall of Famer Tim Raines to “Dwayne Kuiper”

Don’t be confused by its drab, almost amateur appearance.  Simplicity, quirkiness, and historic value make 1981 Donruss Baseball one of the most significant and fascinating sports card sets ever produced.

 The 1981 Donruss Baseball Card set was the first complete set since the early 1950s not to bear the name Topps.  For the first time since 1955, more than one company was producing extensive sets representing major league players.  A legal decision in the fall of 1980 gave both Fleer and Donruss the legal right to produce cards. The verdict cleared the path for Upper Deck to enter the fray and revolutionize the hobby with its premiere baseball card set in 1989.

Raines81Donruss

Fleer and Donruss finalized their deals with the Major League Baseball Players Association in September 1980, leaving just five months to produce and deliver cards to stores by the last week of January 1981 to compete directly with Topps.  Gathering

photos, matching players with photos, writing informational blurbs, and proofreading statistics, proved to be a daunting task for companies producing baseball cards on a grand scale for the first time.

There were more than 30 error cards in the 1981 Donruss Set.  Houston Astros pitcher Vern Ruhle’s card actually pictures teammate Frank Lacorte.  Cleveland Indians infielder Duane Kuiper was listed as “Dwayne” Kuiper.  In a strange but true tale, Donruss listed Cardinals’ outfielder Bobby Bonds – father of current “Home Run King” Barry Bonds – with 986 homers, 231 more than Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader at the time.  

There has been interest in both the error and corrected versions for nearly three decades because both versions are more limited than the other cards in the set.  The 1981 Donruss series has also kept the growing number of baseball historians and “oddball” card collectors entertained over the years.

Tim Raines’ induction into the Hall of Fame has given the 1981 Donruss Set a recent spark.  Although Donruss somehow skipped over National League Rookie of the Year Fernando Valenzuela that year, it was the only company to picture Raines by himself on a rookie baseball card. Topps featured Raines with two other rookies on a prospect subset card, while Fleer swung and missed altogether.  The series also includes rookie cards of Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, and Toronto Blue Jays infielder Danny Ainge before he became a three-time championship winning guard and executive with the Boston Celtics.

 

Rushing into the production of the 605-card 1981 Donruss Set also caused collation and printing issues.  Factory sets were not produced.  Instead, hobby dealers had to buy wholesale from TCMA, Donruss’ exclusive hobby distributor.  Cards of each player were shipped to dealers in 100-card lots secured by rubber bands. The cards then needed to be hand collated. The collation of wax packs caused further problems for collectors.  Several of the same card were often found in a single wax pack, which was great news if the card featured Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski or Johnny Bench.  Not such good news if the Leo Sutherland card was the featured player.  

The cards bend easily and show tremendous wear over time due to flimsy paper stock.  The lackluster design consists of predominantly blurry portrait or posed photos against mostly empty stadium backdrops.  Time constraints prevented Donruss from airbrushing uniforms or caps. Players changing teams during the offseason appeared in their former uniforms with the name of their current team displayed across the bottom of the card.

Donruss also had considerable trouble securing player photographs. Ray Burris was traded by the Cubs to the Yankees who later sold him to the Mets during the 1979 season.  Although he hadn’t played for the Cubs in nearly two years, Burris sports a Cubs uniform on his 1981 Donruss card. Many of the pictures were taken in Wrigley Stadium or Comiskey Park by amateur photographers as Donruss scrambled to put together a set.  A handful of photos were taken by political and sports commentator Keith Olbermann, then a 21-year-old photographer with a passion for baseball.

Although limited in value, the 1981 Donruss Set has its own charm with an array of hard-to-believe mishaps and a unique history.

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger Heat Up

Nothing stimulates the hobby faster than two rookies from storied franchises slugging home runs at a record pace.  Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger have arrived as baseball’s top sluggers and hobby treasures.  Both have a chance to join Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) as the only players to be named MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season.

On pace to become the first Yankee to win the Triple Crown since Mickey Mantle in 1956, Judge led the American League in homers (27), RBI (62), and hitting (.327) at the midpoint of the season.  The 25-year-old behemoth outfielder has given Yankees fans hope for the future and collectors excitement for the present.  The first Judge cards of consequence were released shortly after the Yankees selected him in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft.  Because these cards were issued before Judge was on a major league roster, they are considered prospect cards or inserts. In today’s hobby, a star’s earliest cards outdo the rookie cards in significance and value.

The most sought-after card of the summer is the Judge 2013 Bowman Draft Pick, selling for $17 with the more limited chrome version selling for $50 and the even more limited Chrome Refractor version approaching $200.  The simple posed design against a white background is easily preserved and holds its value exceptionally well.  From the card back we learn that Judge was a First Team All-Western Athletic Conference selection all three seasons at Fresno State.  Not surprisingly, Judge was also the College Home Run Derby Champion in 2012 and played wide out on the prep football team.

Judge’s official rookie cards are found in 2017 packs.  His 2017 Topps card is the first to carry the official MLB “RC” logo.  Although the Topps set does not feature the glitz and glitter of the latest printing technologies, rookie cards from the Topps flagship are must haves for rookie card collectors.  The Judge rookie is selling  for $10 with limited Gold Parallel versions selling for $70.

Judge will likely destroy the Yankees record for home runs by a rookie (29) established by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.  As Judge’s name becomes synonymous with Yankees legends, interest  in his autographed cards will increase.  His 2013 Bowman Chrome Certified Autograph cards have sold for $850 in recent weeks with Refractor versions selling for $1,400.  His 2015 Bowman Inception can be had for a more affordable $125.

Twenty-one-year-old Cody Bellinger was called to the majors in late April due to a rash of injuries to the Dodgers outfield.  What appeared to be a short-term promotion became one of the best starts to a career in baseball history.  Bellinger’s league-leading 24 homers in 62 games are the most by an NL rookie in the first half of the season since 1933.  

On Opening Day, most Bellinger baseball cards could be had for mere pocket change, today they are among the most coveted in the hobby.  Bellinger’s cards date back to 2013 when the Dodgers drafted him in the fourth round of the MLB Draft. One of the earliest Bellinger cards is the  2013 Panini Elite , which sells for nearly $100 with autographed versions valued at $3

25.  

Because Bellinger was not considered a top prospect at the time, his major prospect and insert cards were slow to roll out.  Topps got into the act with 2015 Bowman Chrome Autographed cards. One of the more sought-after Bellinger cards to date, the Chrome Autograph  is selling for $400, while rare Blue Refractor versions — limited to a print run of 50 — sell for $1,200.  His 2016 Bowman Chrome Scout’s Prospect card is popular among first card/rookie collectors, selling for a much more affordable $10.

Bellinger has already hit two home runs in a single game six times, breaking Mike Piazza’s Dodgers rookie record for most multi-homer games in a season.  As the records mount, expect interest in Bellinger cards to increase.  His first official rookie card has yet to be released, but expect a wide-range of Bellinger RCs to be issued in the coming weeks.

1967 Topps Celebrates Carl Yastrzemski, Rod Carew and Tom Seaver

The 1967 Topps set is celebrated for its simple, yet eye-pleasing design, a Hall of Fame checklist, rookie cards of two baseball greats and card No. 355 featuring Carl Yastrzemski.

In 1967, the man they called Yaz had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, winning the Triple Crown and leading a fading franchise to the World Series.  Yastrzemski hit .326 for his second consecutive batting title, tied Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers and and led the American League with 121 RBI.  He also led the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, and total bases to earn American League MVP honors. Thriving in the clutch, Yaz hit .417 and slugged .760 with nine home runs and 26 RBI in the month of September while leading the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox to the AL Pennant.

The ‘67 Topps Yaz card is a must for any long-time Red Sox fan or Triple Crown memorabilia collector.  Excellent to near mint versions are readily available on eBay for $30-$45.  Crisp, highly-graded samples sell for as much as $950.

The 1967 Topps set is arguably the most popular set of the decade.  Advances in photo and printing technologies produced the most vibrant-looking cards to date.  The clutter free, borderless design is ideal for both head-and-shoulders and close-up “posed action” shots featured throughout the series.  Unlike other Topps issues from the ‘60s, the emphasis is clearly on the player, not the team name or card design.

The card backs lend a hand in grading the 50-year-old cards. The solid lime green backs help identify wear and damaged corners almost as well as the black borders of the 1971 Topps issue.  With flaws easily identified, mint conditioned 1967 Topps cards are a true rarity.

The card backs also display a vertical design, allowing more length for season-by-season statistics, while leaving room for the Topps cartoon and player notes.  Did you know that Yaz won two batting titles and finished second twice in his first eight seasons of professional ball?  The card back also tells us that Yaz signed a $100,000 signing bonus while attending Notre Dame and worked at a Boston printing firm during the winter months early in his career.  Amazing how much we learned about our favorite players on  2 ½ x 3 ½ in. baseball cards in the days before the internet.

The 1967 Topps Set also includes the first Topps card of Maury Wills and the last Topps card of Whitey Ford.  Wills is pictured in a Pirates uniform (he played with the Pirates and Expos in the middle of a standout career with the Dodgers), while Ford is pictured completing his famed Hall of Fame pitching motion. At this stage of his career, Ford — still one of the game’s most popular players — battled injuries, while serving as an unofficial pitching coach for the Yankees.  You will find classic cards of baseball greats Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and the last card to list Mickey Mantle as an outfielder.

The “Rookie Stars” checklist is headlined by Rod Carew and Tom Seaver.  In 19 major league seasons with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels, Carew compiled 3,053 hits while winning seven batting titles and hitting .300 or better for 15 consecutive seasons. Topps didn’t include Carew in its original release, but after a hot start at the plate, the 22-year-old second baseman was added to the more limited high-number series. His ‘67 Topps rookie sells for $175 in excellent to near mint condition, while highly graded versions are valued over $1,000.  This card is a double print, making it a bit more common than most cards from the high-numbered series.

Seaver achieved 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts, and 61 shutouts over a 20-year career.  His arrival in New York began to change the fortunes of the Mets, a perennial doormat since joining the league in 1962.  The Mets all-time leader in wins, Seaver was the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year and a three-time Cy Young Award winner.  His highly coveted ‘67 Topps rookie — an extremely limited high-series card — commands $700 or more in decent condition, while highly graded versions are valued over $2,000.

Red Sox Celebrate David Ortiz; Collectors Celebrate Unique Big Papi Baseball Cards

During his 14 years with the Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz became the face of the franchise, leading the team to three World Series championships while becoming just the 27th member of baseball’s exclusive 500 home run club.  As one of baseball’s top sluggers, Ortiz became quite popular with baseball card and memorabilia collectors as well.  A wide-range of Ortiz variation, rookie, game-used-memorabilia, and autographed baseball cards remain popular even with Ortiz six months into retirement.

Some of the most memorable and coveted baseball cards are the ones that capture a unique moment in baseball or a city’s history.  The rare variation of Ortiz’s 2013 second series Topps card captures one of the more emotional moments in Boston sports history.  A defiant Ortiz took the field just five days after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, making an impassioned, heartfelt speech declaring  the city’s resolve.

Known in collectible circles as the “Boston Strong” card, Ortiz is pictured with a microphone in one hand and a clenched fist raised to the heavens with the other.  In the background is a giant American flag draped over Fenway’s left field wall, creating a uniquely patriotic scene.  Upon release, the short-printed “Boston Strong” card sold in the $50-$75 range.  Following the Red Sox third World Series title in 10 years in October of the 2013 season, the card was selling in excess of $150.  During the height of the Big Papi Farewell Tour last summer , the card sold for as much as $199.  Today the card value has settled in the $35-$65 range.

Ortiz played a huge role in the Red Sox six-game 2013 World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting .688 with two homers and six RBI en route to being named World Series MVP.  The popular Topps World Champion autograph insert set features top postseason sluggers. The 2014 edition captures Ortiz’s famed home run stroke along with his certified signature.  Limited to a production run of 50, the Ortiz World Series autographed card sells for $59.

When Ortiz joined the Red Sox in 2003, there was considerable confusion surrounding his rookie baseball cards.  Prior to signing with the Red Sox, Ortiz played several seasons in the Seattle and Minnesota systems.  Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners in 1994 just days after his 17th birthday, Ortiz, who gradually established himself as a power-hitting prospect, was traded to the Twins as the player to be named later for Dave Hollins prior to the 1997 season.  

After joining the Twins system, Ortiz decided to change his baseball name.  His legal name had always been David Americo Ortiz Arias. While playing with the Mariners, he went by his maternal family name (Arias) rather than his paternal family name (Ortiz).  As a result, his earliest baseball cards are listed as David Arias.  With the Twins, he requested to be called Ortiz, which has stuck ever since.  

Ortiz joined the Red Sox as a platoon player in 2003, so many collectors didn’t connect the dots between David Arias and David Ortiz, meaning the Arias rookie cards were readily available for under $1 during the first half of the season.  With more playing time came more home runs and a knack for late-inning heroics.  By season’s end Ortiz slugged 30 homers in just 128 games, boasting the David Arias cards to $10-$15.

One of only two Ortiz rookie cards, the 1997 Fleer “David Arias” card could be found in 1997 Fleer Series 2 packs.  The base version of the card, sporting a throwback matte finish during an era of high-gloss cards, currently sells for $30.  The far more limited “Tiffany” parallel version — one of the  more valuable Oriz cards in the market — features a high-gloss look and feel while selling for $400 .

The other Ortiz (Arias) rookie is from the 1997 Fleer Ultra series, a slightly more upscale version of the Fleer set, sells for $35.  The full-bleed, glossy look was a popular alternative to the  high-priced Tiffany parallel set.  Gold Medallion parallel versions display  a different picture and gold-foil lettering. Limited to just 200 copies, the popular parallel version sells for $49.

The Topps Bowman brand, known as the  “Home of the Rookie Card”, somehow bypassed Ortiz in its 1997 set.  Sometimes wrongly advertised as a rookie, the 1998 Bowman Ortiz is readily   available for under $4.  Far more limited chrome and International refractor parallel versions sell for $18 and $15 respectively.  

For oddball baseball card collectors, there is a handful of Ortiz pre-rookie cards that have become quite popular in the slugger’s final season.  The Ortiz (Arias) 1996 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Midwest League All-Star card,is an overlooked gem selling for $48.  His 1998 New Britain Red Cats Best minor league card is selling for $15.  Both cards feature a relatively elementary design with simple white borders — a far cry from the  the glitzy, full-bleed photos popular with major league sets in the late ‘90s.  The more mainstream Upper Deck 1998 SP minor league Ortiz card — featuring a portrait of a svelte, smiling Ortiz inside a silver foil border — sells for $5.  

Ortiz made his Topps debut in the 1998 edition where he was featured in a prospect card with future All-Star slugger Richie Sexson.  Ortiz made his first appearance in a Red Sox jersey in the more obscure 2003 Fleer Update Series and the 2003 Upper Deck 40-Man set.  All three cards can be had for $3.

The hobby’s most sought after and costly cards are serial numbered autographs of baseball’s top players.  Ortiz autographs have been extremely active in the secondary market since the start of the season. His 1997 Donruss Signature Series Autograph is his first card to carry the name “David Ortiz” instead of “David Arias”.  The base version (red background) has 3,900 copies and is selling for $122, while the Millennium parallel Version (green background) is limited to 1,000 copies and is selling for $225.  Perhaps the most valuable Ortiz autographed card is the Signature Series Century Autograph (blue background) is numbered to just 100 and is selling for $600.

A common gripe among autograph collectors is Ortiz’s failure to sign within the designated area of the Donruss Signature Series.  Most signatures in all three versions appear towards the side of the card rather than the bottom.  Ortiz’s signing gaffe may have held down the card values before he established himself as one of the game’s top sluggers.  There is no such issue today.  The 2005 SkyBox Autographics signature card is available for under $60, providing a nice alternative to the high priced Signature Series autographs.

As the Red Sox prepare to retire Ortiz’s number, expect his baseball cards to sell at elevated prices.  No. 34 placed among Red Sox immortals along Fenway Parks right field roof facade means increased attention for their charismatic slugger, which means inflated values for his cards.  You can anticipate card values to decline and level off later this summer.  The next boost for Ortiz cards will come in five years when one of the Red Sox all-time sluggers is Hall of Fame eligible.  

The Hall of Fame electorate and many old school baseball fans have shunned the DH position since its inception in 1973.  Edgar Martinez, one of the best pure hitters of his time, has yet to receive more than 36.5 percent of the HOF vote in six tries.  Quality hitters such as Don Baylor and Harold Baines have barely registered a blip on the HOF ballot.  

However, the anti-DH faction has been weakening in recent years.  Enshrined in 2004, Paul Molitor served as his team’s DH for nearly half of the games he started.  Last year, Frank Thomas became the first HOFer to DH in the majority of his games played.  

Ortiz is looking to become the first full-time DH to receive baseball’s highest honor.  He has established the standard for designated hitters, collecting more hits, home runs, and RBI than any other DH. His endless late-inning production — including 11 walk-off homers — have made Ortiz one of baseball’s most feared hitters throughout his Red Sox career.  

Ortiz’s Mantle-esque playoff production (a slash line of .295/.409/.553 with 17 homers and 60 RBI) have made him one of the game’s most recognized players.  His postseason success and affable persona has made Big Papi the ultimate fan favorite among Red Sox fans, which reflected by his many memorabilia cards.  His 2013 Topps Tier One Game Used Jersey and 2014 Panini Classics Game Used bat cards, each selling for $15, are great additions to any Red Sox baseball card collections.

Underappreciated Baseball Great Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker was one of the most prolific and underappreciated players in Red Sox history.  Playing in the shadows of Ty Cobb during baseball’s “Dead Ball Era”, Speaker led the Red Sox to World Series championships in 1912 and 1915 and the Indians in 1920 as a player/manager.  The “Grey Eagle” hit for high average, power, and production while establishing the standard for center field defense.   

From deep in the batter’s box, the crouching Speaker held the bat at the hip to ensure greater contact.  He struck out just 220 times during his 22-year career that included 3,514 career hits.  Speaker displayed the strength to hit line drives into the gaps and down both lines, accounting for his still-standing major league record of 792 career doubles.  Speaker batted higher than .350 nine times and higher than .380 five times en route to a .345 career batting average.

Despite the lofty batting statistics, Speaker won just one batting title courtesy of playing in the same era as Cobb, who won 12 batting titles and compiled a .366 career batting average.  Like his career accomplishments, Speaker’s baseball cards pale in comparison to Cobb’s, but are quite impressive in their own right.  Most baseball historians and vintage card collectors consider the 1909-1911 T206 card to be Speaker’s rookie.  The card displays Speaker on the verge of making contact from his unique batting stance.  Decent graded versions sell for as much as $7,500.

The original T206 baseball cards were issued in cigarette and loose tobacco packs through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Co., including the “Ty Cobb” brand.  The set includes the T206 Honus Wagner card, the most valuable and coveted card ever produced.  One of the largest pre-World War I sets ever produced, the series also includes Hall of Famers Speaker, Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Speed and defense also contributed to Speaker’s Hall of Fame career.  He stole 436 bases and hit 222 triples (fifth on the all-time list) during his career.  Speaker is considered the best center fielder of his time and one of the best ever.  Playing in an era when long drives were rare, Speaker played extremely shallow — practically positioned as a fifth infielder — to cut down would be singles and bloop hits.  His trademark play was racing to second base behind a confused or unsuspecting runner for a pick off play.  Speaker is still the all-time leader in putouts and double plays for his position.  He also recorded a record-tying 35 assists for the Red Sox in 1909 and 1912.

The majority of Speaker baseball cards display portrait or batting stance photos.  However, the 1927 Exhibits card is one of the few that feature Speaker in action defensively.  The photo shows Speaker as he awaits a throw, perhaps playing first base.  The 63-card 1927 Exhibit Baseball Set featured a green hue of the black and white images on each card front — a relatively new and unique printing method for the time.  Ungraded versions sell in the $125-$175 range.

Speaker’s unconventional path to centerfield started at a young age. After suffering two broken arms as a teenager, he taught himself to throw right handed.  Despite throwing with his non-dominant arm, Speaker tried to break into professional baseball as a  pitcher.  After being turned down by New York Giants manager John McGraw for a tryout as a pitcher, Speaker went to the Texas League to learn centerfield with the Cleburne Railroaders in his native Texas.

A year later, he was purchased by the Boston Americans (later Red Sox) and became the regular centerfielder, playing alongside Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and defensive whiz Duffy Lewis to form the “Golden Outfield,” which was widely considered one of the best outfields in baseball history.

One of Speaker’s earliest cards with the Red Sox is from the 1910-1911 M116 Sporting Life series.  A four cent investment would get readers of the Sporting Life newspaper a dozen sports cards.  Speaker’s card features a colorized portrait displaying his Red Sox baseball jersey.  Highly graded versions sell in excess of $5,900.