Sometime during the mid 90s there was an obvious and significant boom the number of card manufacturers and brands on the market. This trend as a whole had a definite negative impact on the hobby as a whole. Look no further than the fact that only two cards companies, Topps and Upper Deck, still have the lights on in their office buildings. Within all of those card releases from all of those different card brands came a nice new little niche: New cards for old players. Sets such as Upper Deck Legends, Topps Archives, Donruss Classics, and others produced fabulous lines of older players from yesteryear and offered collectors a chance at relics and autographs of players who had been retired for years.
Growing up a Cardinals fan in suburban St. Louis my life as a baseball fan has been pretty nice. I obviously grew up collecting cards, but I was also fortunate enough to live in where my father was a pretty big fan of the game too. When I was younger we would always go to a few Cardinals games every summer and I would get to see some of my favorite Cardinals in action: Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, John Tudor, Jack Clark, amongst others. Along the way my father would always tell me great stories about games he attended when he was my age living in North St. Louis within walking distance of old Busch Stadium.
I heard plenty about the Cardinals players from his generation starting with Stan Musial and covering the team through the sixties with tales about Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Mike Shannon, Roger Maris, and others. To this day, I still get the occasional story about a game my dad saw as a kid. I have heard the Don Larsen perfect game story several times, but still love it every time I hear about how he walked home from school to get lunch and the World Series game was on the radio....
Hearing about the players that played before my time peaked my interest in collecting their cards. As a kid I obviously could not afford most of the cool vintage cards of Musial and other great players from past generations. Even as I got older, the vintage cards could still be out of reach at times. Luckily, the niche card set focusing on the older generations of players helped me, and other collectors, pick up cards of older players for our modern collections.
Over the next two days I am going to show off some of the cool cards out there for collectors to pick up which feature older players. Tonight's focus will strictly be on autographs. Tomorrow's post will feature relic and base set cards. Fair warning, these posts are Cardinals heavy.
1994 Upper Deck Mickey Mantle/Ken Griffey Jr. Dual Autograph
This is one of the most iconic cards of the past thirty years and I own it with a grain of salt. I really just wanted to own a Mickey Mantle autograph. Nothing more. I ended up with a Ken Griffey Jr. autograph attached to the side of it. While some collectors love the combo autograph, I just do not always get the connection. I get the connection that Griffey and Mantle were somewhat similar players, but there were also some difference there too. In my opinion, combo autographs work when the combination of players is obvious. Throw Maddux and Glavine on a the same card and have them sign it and it's a no-brianer. Give me Mantle and Maris. Cool. Mantle and Griffey. Ehh. I know there are plenty of people who'd love to own a Mantle/Griffey auto, so let me give you a better example of the ridiculousness that can happen when you pair modern players with older players.
2004 SP Ozzie Smith/Matt Bush Dual Autograph
Do we actually know why Upper Deck lost their baseball card license? I might speculate that cards like this Ozzie Smith and Matt Bush autograph combination may have contributed. With the Griffey he was at least an established player by the time that cards was produced. Putting a prospect with a Hall of Famer is a sure sign of future disaster. Never a good idea. Never.
If you want a solid combination autograph think about these two factors: same team, same era. Here's a good example of a really good multiple signature card:
2004 Upper Deck Legends Timeless Teams Cardinals Autographs
All the signatures on this card belong to Cardinals. Check. All the signatures on this card belong to members of players from the mid to late 60s Cardinals. Check. Add in the fact that this trio won a pair of World Series rings and three National League pennants and you've got yourself a winner of an autographed card.
Obviously this is going to be my favorite category featured on this blog post. I love collecting autographed cards and have made a point to pick up a card, or two or three, of as many Hall of Fame players as possible. Beyond the obvious Hall of Fame targets it's also fun to find older retired players with cool autographs too. By older, I could mean anyone from George Kell to Jose Oquendo. Not always older. My main criteria for finding Hall of Fame autographs on cards is simple: certified and on-card.
2004 Topps World Series Highlights Stan Musial Autograph
Most players who sign regularly can be found on-card with a slight premium on some of the cards. Of course, there are others you can only find on stickers and other players whom you just end up with and say good enough...Tony Perez on a sticker. Sounds good.
2003 Donruss Signature Tony Perez Autograph
I cannot emphasize the certified part enough. There is plenty of money involved in autographs and baseball cards. If you are going to invest money in finding the autograph of a player like Stan Musial or Mickey Mantle why not spend the extra dollars to ensure that the card is the real deal? Sure, that sounds a little bit snobby, but I just like to be smart with the money I spend on cards. I'd rather have less money and know something is the real deal than a little more money and an autograph that's not worth the card it's signed on.
Not to say I am completely against on-card autographs of former players, I am not, but just be careful. If I get the autograph myself then I am cool with the card. If I get the card from a highly trusted source than I am cool. Never Ebay. Ever. Here are two on-card autographs in my collection that were acquired in person:
2000 Fleer Impact Daryl Kile Autograph
This Darryl Kile autograph was a card that I got signed in-person before he died in 2002. I got tickets to a corporate event at Busch Stadium from my summer job during college and had the chance to meet several Cardinals players and get them to sign autographs before the game. Kile signed a ball and a card for me. While I have seen other autographs like mine out on the secondary market, I have not bought them because I did not see Darryl Kile sign the items. I saw him sign this card. Not for sale or for trade. It stays.
1991 Fleer Todd Zeile Autograph
This Todd Zeile card was an in-person card that was signed for a trusted source of mine. While I did not see Todd Zeile sign the card I have little reason to believe that anyone would want to forge a Todd Zeile autograph and then sell it in the card shop outside of St. Louis for a few bucks. This Zeile card is a perfect example of a dilemma faced by team collectors. What do you do when a player has no certified autographs? This is a great way to add them to your collection. In this case, my source is one of my favorite card stores outside of St. Louis. The guy has tons of items like this that he picks up from the Cardinals Winter Warm Up or from other very reliable collectors. He's allowed me to add at least a dozen good autographs of 80s and 90s Cardinals to my collection.