If you thought that rookie cards doing outrageous things was a modern phenomenon, let me introduce you to the 1979 Topps Bob Horner rookie:
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Right, I know.
It doesn’t look like all that much now.
And you may not even really remember Horner — heck, depending on your age and team love and perspective, maybe you don’t remember him at all.
But let me tell you …
In the early 1980s, before the first real hobby boom, and when 30 home runs in a season meant something, Bob Horner was the bomb.
Here was a guy the Atlanta Braves took with the first overall pick in the June 1978 Major League Baseball draft and then brought him right to the big league squad — no minors at all.
All Horner did in 89 games that summer was smack 23 homers, drive in 63, and win the National League Rookie of the Year award.
He amped the dinger total to 33 and 35 over the next two seasons and entered the 1981 campaign with 91 home runs and just 23 years to his name.
By the time I “found” baseball for good in 1983, Horner was coming off his third 30-home season as a part of that division-winning 1982 Braves team, and he was still just 25 years old.
Even so, his rookie card hailed from the ancient Topps Monopoly years, and from a specific year that featured little in the way of RC firepower. Yes, I know — Ozzie. But back in those days, The Wizard was a one-dimensional dude whose fireworks at short did little to excite collectors in the face of his anemic batting line.
And second-year cards didn’t matter much, so Paul Molitor was out of luck.
But Bob Horner?
Yeah, he stood out, in the batter’s box and in the price guides, where his “vintage” rookie card jumped off the page and slapped you in the face with its gaudy value: $3.
It was the first three-dollar card I remember seeing in person, in the grubby mitts of one of my classmates, and it was the newest card to cross that barrier (at the time), by far.
Even though, you know, it was ancient.
Of course, you know now (if you care to remember) that Horner’s trajectory sort of wilted, then crashed, from about that very point where I entered the hobby.
His thick body started to break down in that summer of 1983, and then even more so in 1984. And, though he rebounded with 27 homers in each of 1985 and 1986, Horner no longer carried that magical glow around him as he headed into his late 20s.
(Well, except for that one day, when he tagged four in a single game.)
Then, as he headed into free agency after the 1986 season, he found no takers — thanks, collusion.
Horner took his talents to Japan for a year before signing a major league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1988. Alas, his body let him down again, as a left shoulder injury ended his season after 60 games.
A brief dalliance with the woeful (but about-to-improve) Baltimore Orioles in the spring of 1989 led to no MLB appearances and then an abrupt retirement.
Bob Horner, the wunderkind who had spent the early 80s on a beeline to Cooperstown, and whose rookie card helped grease the skids for Don Mattingly and all the pyrotechnics to come, was done at age 30.
Today, that 1979 Topps Bob Horner rookie card checks in around the same price point as during its heyday — $3 — in PSA 7 condition.
It’s not all that easy to find one in really top shape, though, and a copy in PSA 8 will set you back $10 or more, while the most recent PSA 9 specimen brought more than $100.
Those are just numbers, though, a trifling matter when we’re talking about history.
Because, though Horner will never appear on one of those ghostly bronze plaques that seemed his destiny, his rookie card long ago cemented its place in the Hobby Hall of Fame.
You’ll find it right over there in the Cardboard Pioneers Wing, nestled between Mark Fidrych and 1986 Sportflics, just across the aisle from the 1983 Topps Michigan wrappers.
They’re all waiting, any time you need a shot of hobby nostalgia.
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