Jose Canseco came along at just the right time and with just the right profile to set the hobby on its ear.
The year was 1986 …
After three seasons of breakout performances by the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken, and other phenoms — and the rookie card mania they stirred — fans and collectors were all on the lookout for the next big prospect.
Meanwhile, after an inauspicious start to his pro baseball life as a 15th-round pick by the Oakland A’s in 1982, Canseco started to show some pop at Single A in both 1983 and 1984.
Then, in 1985, Jose made a big leap, thrashing through Double-A and Triple-A pitching to the tune of .333, 36 home runs, and 127 RBI … with enough time left for a September call-up to Oakland.
In that first month in the Major Leagues, Canseco hit .302 with five homers and 13 ribbies.
The monster season … the cup of coffee … the Big League home runs … the youth (21 by the end of the season) … it all added up to massive hype.
Oh, and rookie cards in the 1986 Donruss and Fleer sets.
Those Canseco RCs were like cardboard gold sliding out of a wax pack that spring of 1986, with his Rated Rookie hitting $3 before anybody could blink. By season’s end, Jose had justified the hype and the prices by winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.
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Collectors couldn’t get enough of Canseco, but there just weren’t that many choices, though the fall brought us a new bevy of them — Topps Traded, Fleer Update, Donruss The Rookies, Donruss Highlights.
It didn’t take enterprising hobbyists long to figure out that we had other options, though … minor league cards!
Canseco had four minor league seasons under his belt, and he had four minor league cards to go along with that history: a 1986 Southern League All-Stars card, a 1985 Huntsville Stars team issue, a 1984 Chong Modesto A’s.
But the very first Jose Canseco baseball card came from one of our own — super dealer Larry Fritsch issued a set of Madison Muskies cards in 1983, and young Jose was right there alongside the likes of Greg Robles and Tim Belcher.
On his card, shaggy-haired young Canseco kneels with a bat with a frosty looking field spreading out behind his still-slender frame.
It’s maybe not the greatest Canseco card ever … but it’s the first!