To paraphrase the unofficial slogan of the 1998 home run chase and the bashing that continued for the next few seasons … everyone digs the long ball.
And if you’re a young player, or even a not so young player, trying to make his way in the game, not much will get you noticed quicker than cranking a few homers out of minor league stadiums on your way to the majors.
It’s been that way a long time, too, and it bleeds over to baseball cards.
It’s how we got a Ron Kittle rookie card the same year he was actually a rookie and why the hobby went gaga over Kevin Maas in 1990 — they had power, and they showed it to us.
They were hot commodities even as 25-year-old rookies.
Speed on the basepaths or in the field?
Well, that’s nice and all, and it certainly catches your eye in the moment … if your eye can catch it.
But chasing down home runs at the fence and even stealing bases just doesn’t seem to capture the imagination like smacking some dingers of your own. At least not right away.
No, becoming a star by being fast is a slow burn for most guys not named “Rickey Henderson.”
All of which is to say that Otis Nixon didn’t make a ton of collector want lists as he was coming up through the New York Yankees system in the early 1980s after they picked him in the first round of the 1979 Draft (secondary phase).
No one, or hardly anyone, at least, was waiting anxiously for that first Otis Nixon rookie card to slide out of a wax pack, despite the blazing speed that carried him to 67 stolen bases in 1980, 72 in 1981, and a whopping 107 in 1982.
If Nixon was to be the next Rickey Henderson, it seemed, he’d have to prove it in the majors before anyone would buy in.
The young(ish) centerfielder got his first chance to do just that late in 1983, when the Yanks called him up for 13 games. In that audition, Nixon hit a paltry .143, but did steal two bases in two attempts.
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It was enough to get him traded to the Cleveland Indians in the offseason, but not enough to get him his first big league baseball card.
With Cleveland struggling as usual in 1984, Nixon got another shot at the bigs right off the bat, hitting .154 to start the season and adding 12 stolen bases … but also getting caught six times, all in 49 games.
It was back to the minors for the second half of 1984, and another winter with no Nixon cards — not in the Topps Traded or Fleer Update sets that fall, and not in any of the new sets that debuted early in 1985.
In that new season, though, it was make or break for Nixon, and Cleveland kept him on their roster all year long. At age 26, he played 104 games, finally exceeding the rookie limits and raising his batting average to .235 in the process.
Still, his 20 stolen bases and 11 times being thrown out were nothing to write home about.
Or for anyone to dig.
But at least there was some promise there, and Nixon was starting to become a familiar face in MLB, if not a superstar (or even a semistar).
He had caught some attention, including that of at least one hobby eye.
And, so, finally, in the spring of 1986, when collectors started ripping into the new cards for the season, we found something we’d never seen before …
There on card #591 of the blue-bordered Fleer set was the Otis Nixon rookie.
It was a long time coming and would be joined by others soon enough, starting with the 1986 Topps Traded set and continuing nearly to the next millennium because Nixon kept rolling along until he was 40 years old.
But, in 1986, an after a slow-burn rise to a job in the Majors, Otis Nixon finally had a — a single — rookie card.
In the late 1980s, Nixon found himself with the Montreal Expos, and artifacts of that marriage still exist. Take this lot on eBay, for example …
That’s a powder blue Expos uniform worn by Nixon in game action, according to the seller. Will we ever see the Expos as a real MLB team again?
Time will tell.
For now, check out this full listing on eBay (affiliate link).
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