2001 Topps Ichiro
In making a list of the best 50 players featured on a piece of cardboard over the past 30 years there were many hard decisions to make. The first challenge was compiling a last to be considered for the 50 slots, then within those 50 players were challenges about placement. For me, this was one the the absolute hardest placements for me on my list. Ichiro has been a great player for more than the past decade, and few can question that he should be on a list of the most important players to the baseball card industry over that career, his impact and influence seems to have wained. Sure Ichiro is older now, but I think there are several factors which have also hurt the future Hall of Famer from achieving a lofter status with fans of the game and within the baseball card industry.
Before there was Bryce Harper there was the summer of 2001 which featured Ichiro and Albert Pujols. Ichiro was the most important Japanese player to enter Major League Baseball since Hideo Nomo came over in the mid 90s. If a set was released with an Ichiro rookie then it was a big deal. Many were short printed and had a fairly low print run, others were just regular base card. No matter, for one summer they were all popular and all great cards to own.
How popular? Let me put it this way. The cheapest of all cheap sets in the early 2000s was Upper Deck Victory. It was the last set which still had dollar packs and they were often old at retail locations. Nothing wrong with the set, in fact, I am not sure why there isn't a low end set like that now that could be attractive to the younger collectors. Anyway, you can find copies of that set for $5. Meaning all the singles in the set are basically commons. Ichiro rookie cards from that set sold for more than $10 for awhile that summer.
The rest were just simply off the charts. Anything low run was at least $20 if not hundreds of dollars for things that were really rare. Personally, I had bad luck finding Ichiro. I think the best I pulled was a Ovation short print which was just limited to 1999 copies. Not too great.
Ichiro is still pretty popular these days, but his cards have become a world of extremes. Want an Ichiro card? You could be out a dollar or you could be out hundreds of dollars all depending on what it is that you want to add to your collection. Ichiro is one of the few modern players whose autograph has never appeared in my collection. Ever. The cards are hard to find at times and Ichiro has not signed very much during the past decade. Your best bets are early 2000s Upper Deck cards, which often have asking prices of $300-$400 on Ebay, or you can find a more modern release from Leaf and might only pay $200.
Anything else out of Ichiro is actually quite reasonable. I had actually stayed away from Ichiro most of his career, but came around to picking up a few of his cards along that way specifically because the price had dropped. One of the my favorites...
2011 Topps Triple Threads Ichiro
I was shocked to find a Triple Threads card of Ichiro for less than $10. However, after taking a little time to look around it's actually not much of a steal. The price of Ichiro cards has come down dramatically over the past decade. If you're an average collector then most Ichiro cards are actually going to be in your price range. I am sure if this had some patch pieces on it the price might be outrageous, but that can be said about lots of cards.
On The Field-
It' my belief that certain aspects of Ichiro's career have actually hurt his hobby value. First, his rookie season in 2001 was at the age of 27. Ichiro won the American League Rookie of the Year and the MVP that year. Since that time he has also been to the All-Star game ten times, won three Silver Slugger awards, 10 Gold Gloves, and 2 batting titles. While all of the awards and accolades are great, Ichiro would actually be passing a few automatic Hall of Fame milestones if he had played in the US long.
For example, last summer Ichiro became the third player in the history of baseball to reach the milestone of 4000 hits. I was really happy for Ichiro and made a celebratory post to my Facebook page and Twitter page, but not many baseball people really got into the milestone. Even the people at Yankee Stadium last summer gave him a friendly ovation, but it wasn't that big of a deal. Imagine if Ichiro had all 4,000 hits in the MLB instead of split between the States and Japan. Much bigger deal. Here's a look at number 4000
Ichiro will likely surpass the 3000 hit mark in the US sometime during the summer of 2015 which will make him a Hall of Famer at some point in this country, but I still think his impact on baseball and the baseball card industry would have been much greater if the numbers weren't split.
I think the second factor which has hurt Ichiro's career was the fact that he spent his prime playing on the West Coast for the Mariners. I am not sure how many people actually got to see Ichiro, or how many people in the Eastern and Central time zones stay up to watch West Coast baseball. As a teacher, with some time off during the summer (not as much as you think) I try to stay up and check out the West Coast teams during my breaks. Loved watching Ichiro, even when the Mariners weren't great.
An easy question to answer with this player....
2009 Topps All-Star Game Fan Fest Patch Ichiro
Ichiro has a pretty cool connection to St. Louis. Check it out here.