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
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.
The second part of a semi-regular series on “Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records”.
Sometimes baseball’s most unbreakable records need to be framed in the proper context. Sometimes luck or fate has more affect on the baseball record book than we realize.
Tris Speaker never actually came close to Joe DiMaggio’s “unbreakable” 56-game hitting streak established decades after Speaker’s Hall of Fame career. But the Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder from the deadball era did something nearly as remarkable — some might say even more remarkable.
In 1912, Speaker had hitting streaks of 20 games or more three different times — “a feat not even the great DiMaggio could ever duplicate”, wrote Timothy Gray, author of the fascinating and meticulously researched book Tris Speaker: A Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend. Gay cited research done by dead-ball era historian Dan Holmes, who maintains Speaker came within an “eyelash or two” of a 70-game (or more) hitting streak. From May 27 – August 14, Speaker played in 78 games and collected a hit in all but four of them. A scratch hit here, a wind-blown double there and we may be looking at the baseball record book from a different perspective.
1912 was a great season for Speaker and the Red Sox. Celebrating the opening of Fenway Park, Speaker earned the American League MVP award and led the Red Sox to a World Series title over the Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. Speaker, an exceptional contact hitter who could drive the ball to the gaps, flirted with .400 for much of the season before finishing with .383 batting average. He led the league in doubles with 53 and home runs with 10.
Running neck and neck with Ty Cobb as the greatest fielder of the time period, the man they called “Spoke” established a record for outfield assist that season with 35 — an amazing accomplishment that has never been equalled. Speaker, renowned for playing a shallow centerfield — and by shallow, historians say he positioned himself just behind second base — also led the league “by engineering nine catch-and-throw double plays” that season, according to Gay’s book.
The first of a semi-regular series on “Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records”.
During the summer of 1941, Joe DiMaggio established the measuring stick for hitting streaks when he achieved the most treasured – and, arguably, unreachable – record in baseball history. The same year that Ted Williams hit .406 for the Red Sox, DiMaggio compiled a 56-game hitting streak for the Yankees, shattering Wee Willie Keeler’s record of 44 games in 1897.
From May 15 – July 17, DiMaggio batted .408, blasted 15 homers and drove in 55 runs. On July 19, the day after Indians pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby Jr. held DiMaggio hitless, the Yankee Clipper started a 16-game hitting streak. All told, DiMaggio hit safely in an unfathomable 72 of 73 games.
How remarkable was DiMaggio’s hitting prowess? In the past 70 years, only three players – Pete Rose (44 games), Paul Molitor (39) and Jimmy Rollins (38) – have come within 20 games of DiMaggio’s seemingly untouchable record. There isn’t an active player in baseball whose two longest streaks, over an entire career, add up to 56 games
DiMaggio’s reputation and hitting exploits were established well before the magical 1941 season. In 1933, the 19-year-old DiMaggio, in his first season with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific League, established the minor league record with a 61-game hitting streak, shattering the previous mark of 49 set by Jack Ness in 1914.
Like his hitting streaks, DiMaggio’s baseball cards are in a class of their own. One of the rarest and most coveted DiMaggio cards is the 1937 V300 O-Pee-Chee, the key card from an extremely limited Canadian set distributed only in Canada. With our neighbors north of the border focused on hockey, few collectors or sports fans bothered to preserve the DiMaggio card and other cards from the series. The black and white photo card is one of a few featuring DiMaggio’s early seasons with the Yankees.
High-graded cards from this set are extremely difficult to find. Only three examples have been graded EX-MT 6 by PSA, the last one selling for over $5,200. PSA NM-MT 8 versions have sold for as much as $15,000. The O-Pee-Chee card is designed with a die-cut background that can be punched out and folded back, allowing each card to stand up. Because of this unique design, most V300 cards are found in poor condition, often with the die-cut backgrounds entirely missing.
Printed in both English and French, the card back – boasting sharp, bold legible text – informs baseball fans that DiMaggio “will make up for some of the color lost when Babe Ruth retired.”