On January 24, 2018, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, announced the voting results for the induction class of 2018.
Slightly more unexpected, perhaps, was Vladimir Guerrero‘s selection on his second attempt.
And, if there was a surprise among the electees, it was that San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman made the cut on his third try.
But no matter what you think of the final results, the fact is that we have four new Hall of Famers to celebrate, and what better way to do that than with some baseball cards?
More specifically, with some junk era baseball cards?
So, down there, in the heart of this post, I present four cards — one for each new Cooperstown inhabitant — to help you get the most out of the HOF Class of 2018.
Now, since this is Wax Pack Gods and not Chase Card Central, there were a few rules that governed my choices:
- The card had to come from the modern, junk wax era, which I loosely define as 1981-1993.
- The card had to show the player with his original team or with his HOF plaque team.
- The card had to be widely available online for less than $10.
- I had to love the card in some way or another.
So, if you’re ready, here are the four junk era baseball cards that will help you rock out Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown this July.
(Note: This post contains affiliate links to eBay and Amazon listings.)
Chipper Jones — 1991 Topps (#333)
Chipper Jones played for the Atlanta Braves for parts of 19 years and missed out on more when he tore his ACL before the strike-shortened 1994 season.
No matter at this point, though, because Jones amassed more than 2700 hits and 468 home runs while batting .303 for his career and winning the 1999 National League MVP. Oh yeah, and the 1995 World Series as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
All of that lands him as something like the sixth greatest third baseman of all-time according to Baseball Reference and in the upper half of third sackers in the Hall of Fame.
For me, though, Jones is something more — an almost exact contemporary. That’s one of the reasons his 1991 Topps rookie card resonates so strongly.
When I see young Chipper staring out at the camera with his bat on his shoulder, he is one of the guys from my high school, glinty gaze telling me he’s ready to take on the world.
He was, as it turns out. The dude who sat behind me in Biology and thought he was going to be the next Paul O’Neill? Not so much.
And the slightly faded image behind Chipper invites me to run across the sun-toasted grass and lean against the hot chain-link fence that’s now rusted or gone to catch a little shade from the trees that are now dead or hulking out of control.
I’ve done it before, after all — run across that grass, and leaned on that fence, and luxuriated in the shade — if not in that exact frame, then in its twin.
We’ve all done that.
Yes, the 1991 Topps Chipper Jones rookie card is a veritable time machine, transporting us back to before the Braves were The Braves and The Team of the Nineties. Standing their in that strange uniform and clutching that aluminum bat, Chipper might as well be Larry, because he doesn’t look much like the grizzled legend who shook up baseball’s third-base pantheon for nearly two decades.
And he sure doesn’t look much like the silver fox who filled our TV screens on the night he was elected, twinkling and humble, the old man reflecting on his greatness.
Time passes quickly, but baseball let us hold on for a bit longer.
Jim Thome — 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition (#17F)
Jim Thome was the the big oaf that everyone loved to … well, love.
And we still do.
When you see him talk, he’s a teddy-bear type of guy who’s always smiling and seems just as nice as can be. What’s not to love?
But the funny thing about teddy bears is that they’re still bears, and that primal nature of theirs comes to the fore every now and then.
For Jim Thome, “every now and then” was about four times per game over the course of a career that began with the Cleveland Indians in 1991 and wrapped up with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012. In between were stops with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Minnesota Twins, with quick return trips to Cleveland and Philly before that final 28-game stint with the O’s.
By the time he left Cleveland for the first time, though, after the 2002 season, we already knew what Thome was all about — a booming left-handed bat who could play first base but who also had a lot of at-bats ahead of him as a designated hitter.
Thome had already helped the Indians to a pair of World Series appearances, thanks at least in part to his 25 home runs in 1995 and 40 in 1997. He regularly finished among the American League leaders in dingers, RBI, and walks, and in strikeouts, during those years, too.
But that powerful left-handed bat was what the Phillies cared about, and Thome delivered 47 bombs in his first season of Brotherly Love. He delivered steady power production through most of his 30s before tailing off to a handful of 20-something homer seasons as he approached his 40s.
When all was said and done, big Jim had collected more than 2300 hits, with a whopping 612 of those being home runs. Add in 1699 RBI, 1583 runs, and 1747 walks, and it’s not hard to see why he was elected to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility.
But back when Thome’s 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition hit the hobby, he was just one of about a zillion prospects vying for collector and “investor” dollars. Those were the days of big-time rookie speculation, and if you had less than 100 of any particular card, you just weren’t very serious about that player.
Thome did have a two-year minor league breakout to bolster his case, and Upper Deck made that case on the back of card #17F. But he already looks about 40 on the front of his card, and his smile seems more antagonistic than teddy-bear-istic.
Still, if you bought this card in big bunches, you probably made some good coin, assuming you sold it before the box bottom fell out of the junk wax era.
Trevor Hoffman — 1992 Bowman (#11)
Trevor Hoffman is proof that the Hall of Fame voters don’t really know what to do with relievers.
Heck, most Major League Baseball teams don’t really know what to do with relievers.
For decades, relief pitchers were not much more than a utility. You had your four starters, and you only pulled one of them if he got the holy crap beat out of him by the opposing team, part of his body failed or fell off while on the mound, he was old and tired and also pitched yesterday, or (maybe) you wanted to get a look at a young hurler.
Those circumstances popped up often enough that a few relief “stars” developed — guys like Hoyt Wilhelm, who made 1070 appearances and logged more than 2250 innings.
Or Roy Face, who went 18-1 for the 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates without the benefit of even one start.
But then in the 1970s and especially the 1980s, the role of the reliever began to change. Pitchers were rewarded — both monetarily and with hardware — for logging more saves than their counterparts on other teams or on the same team.
Over time, the closer emerged as the guy who would get the ball when you needed to, yes, close out a game.
The save rule is pretty liberal, though, and it took us awhile to figure out that a good many of those notches on firemen’s axes didn’t do much to help their teams. Not really.
And so, as pitchers moved into an era of specialization, we saw yearly save totals climb from the 20s to the 30s to the 40s, with an occasional spike into the 50s. But not all of the players who were recording those gaudy numbers were all that important to their teams. Not if winning was the end goal of any game or season.
It was against that backdrop that young Trevor Hoffman embarked on his professional career when the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 11th round out of the University of Arizona in 1989. After four seasons in Cincy’s minor league system, Hoffman got a new lease on baseball when the Florida Marlins took him with their 8th pick in the November 1992 expansion draft.
He made 28 appearances for the Marlins in 1993 before they shipped him to the San Diego Padres in the deal that brought Gary Sheffield to the Fish.
And it was there in the sunshine, surrounded by the likes of Tony Gwynn and Fred McGriff, that Hoffman found his baseball home at age 26.
Over the next 15 seasons with the Padres, Hoffman would become one of the steadiest back-of-the-bullpen guys in the game, regularly hitting the 40-save mark (8 times) and topping out at 53 in 1998. That was the year the Pads made it to the World Series, in case you forgot.
When all was said and done, and after two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of his career, Hoffman retired after the 2010 season with a (then) record 601 saves and a stingy 2.87 ERA.
Still, Baseball Reference has Hoffman with only 28.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is well below typical Hall of Fame standards. He’s right there with Freddie Lindstrom and Ray Schalk as low-WAR HOFers, but above fellow relievers Bruce Sutter (24.6) and Rollie Fingers (26.1).
But all of that is academic now because Trevor Hoffman is headed to Cooperstown.
And that’s one of the reasons I love his 1992 Bowman rookie card so much. The legendary name and the young face and the strange (but beautiful) uniform all mesh into a clang of dissonance that take you a couple of seconds to sort out.
Then you realize … oh, it’s that Trevor Hoffman. Who knew he played for the Reds? (Well, the Reds’ minor league teams).
You appreciate how far he came and how much of a lifetime each baseball journey is, each with its distinct paths and flavors, but every one of them gripping us for the long haul.
Vladimir Guerrero — 2001 Fleer Platinum (#316)
I have to be honest … I was never a big Vlad fan.
There are several reasons for that …
Guerrero began his career after my (first) hobby heyday was done and at a lull in my baseball fandom (thanks, grad school).
Vlad played the first eight years of his career for the Montreal Expos, so I didn’t see him much.
I don’t like the Angels, generally and historically speaking.
Vlad’s wild, swing-at-everything approach turned me off.
But, man, when I look at his stats now, I see just how great of a player he was.
And when I see videos of him slapping at — and hitting! — pitches that bounced off the plate, I can’t help but admire his talent and love for the game.
So, 2590 hits, 477 double, 449 home runs, 1496 RBI, and an American League MVP award (2004) later … consider me a Vladimir Guerrero convert.
Guerrero also represents a problem for me when it comes to picking a junk-era card to help celebrate his Hall of Fame election.
In particular, he doesn’t really have any junk era cards, at least not any from my junk era.
To overcome this obstacle, I’m going to break one of the rules that I laid out above.
And if you’re going to go breaking rules, the Vlad’s 2001 Fleer Platinum (#316) is a great card to do it with.
Yes, the card was produced in 2001, well past our 1993 cutoff.
But the base 2001 Fleer Platinum cards are an homage to the 1981 Fleer set. That’s the original monopoly-buster, you know — the one that made Topps compete and also opened the door for Donruss, Score, and Upper Deck to compete.
Heck, you could make a pretty strong argument that there would have been no junk wax era without the 1981 Fleer set.
It sports a nice, clean design, too, and leaves no doubt that you’re looking at a baseball card.
And, finally, Vlaidmir is decked in his red, white, and blue Expos warm-up jacket and stocking cap, an ensemble which makes old-time baseball fans happy, nostalgic, and sad all at once.
So what do you think of this Hall of Fame class?
And what are your favorite cards — junk era or otherwise — of Chipper, Jim, Trevor, and Vlad?
Let me know in the comments below!
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