(Check out our other player card posts here.)
If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Twins — or of fun-loving, hard-charging fire hydrants — then chances are pretty good that a Kirby Puckett rookie card is high on your list of life essentials.
But as it is for any player who debuted after the original Topps monopoly was broken in 1981, the question comes down to which Puckett rookie card do you prefer?
The 1985 Topps version (#536) is solid if unspectacular, while the 1985 Fleer Puckett (#286) is perfect for those who prefer confused looks from their young prospects. The more masochistic among us might gravitate toward the black borders and condition sensitivity of the 1985 Donruss Puckett (#438).
Or maybe you want to go the high-dollar route while backing off the ironclad Beckett definition of “rookie card.” In that case, you’re undoubtedly a fan of the 1984 Fleer Update Puckett, numbered U-93 and showing a demure young Kirby with an outfield tarp balanced on his head.
But if you’re up for a real challenge, then your best bet may be to fire up the DeLorean, crank it back to the summer of 1985 in Minneapolis, and saunter over to the local convenience store.
Because the rarest of Puckett’s cards from that year just may be his 1985 7-11 Minnesota Twins Fire Prevention issue.
Smokey Bear may be the most famous of all fire-prevention gurus, but baseball clubs have teamed up with local fire departments on countless occasions over the years in an attempt to increase awareness.
In 1985, for example, the Twins, 7-11, and the Fire Marshal’s Association of Minnesota put together a 13-card set consisting of 12 players and one checklist card aimed at helping children learn about fire safety. Each card front includes a full-color action shot of the player surrounded by thin red piping and a white border. The obverse is finished off by the Twins logo and a facsimile player autograph.
The back of each card includes the player’s vital stats as well as 1984 Major League numbers and career totals. The bottom of the reverse features a FIRE PREVENTION TIP in black lettering on an orange background.
Did the Twins know that Kirby was about to step into superstardom, or was it just a quirk of randomness that he landed on the first card? Hard to say for sure, but it seems at least a bit unorthodox for a youngster to score a more prime slot than the likes of Frank Viola, Kent Hrbek, and Tom Brunansky, all of whom were already established as solid Major Leaguers by 1985.
A Rare Kirby Puckett Rookie Card?
Given the general perception in the hobby that everything produced in the 1980s is more common than a disenchanted voter in 2016, it may seem impossible that any of Puckett’s rookie cards are truly scarce. But there is strong evidence that the 7-11 Twins Puckett is available today in significantly fewer quantities than its Donruss, Fleer, and Topps counterparts.
For starters, the 7-11 cards were initially available with a purchase at one of the convenience stores, but the team also handed out one card and a fire-prevention poster to fans at a game in June.
Finally, some 50,000 of the cards were distributed to fifth-graders throughout Minnesota by firefighters during fire safety visits.
The Twins’ biggest crowd in June of 1985 was just over 38,000, on the 1st. If we assume that number of cards were handed out by the team and that 7-11 matched the distribution of both the Twins and the firefighters, we’re looking at around 180,000 total cards, or about 14,000 of each player.
That’s not tiny, but it’s in the same ballpark as production for the 1984 Fleer Update, which many experts peg around 12,000 sets.
If you check out the PSA Population report, though, you’ll find that, while 3700 or so of Puckett’s Fleer Update have been submitted for grading, less than 100 of the 7-11 “rookies” have been slabbed.
Now, of course a big reason for that discrepancy is that the Fleer Update has been on collectors’ want lists since the day they went live in the fall of 1984. The 7-11 cards, by contrast, are the type of issue that can sit at the bottom of a shoe box for decades.
But they’re also the type of card that might be outright thrown away — by mothers or by collectors themselves.
There just aren’t that many of the 1985 7-11 Pucketts out there, in other words, but the good news is that you don’t have to break the bank to snag one.
While they are not plentiful in online auctions, you should be able to find nice raw copies of the 7-11s for less than $20 each and graded MINT specimens for less than $50 a pop.
Considering that the Fleer Update Puckett sells for more than twice those values, the 7-11 issue is a rarity — a mid 1980s rookie card produced in reasonable numbers and available at a reasonable price.
So, go ahead and pick up this unheralded Kirby Puckett rookie card at your convenience (store), but don’t wait too long, or their prices may come Back to the Future.
(Check out our other player card posts here.)