Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Top 50 On Cardboard- #9 Mark McGwire

My Top 50 On Cardboard
Mark McGwire

1985 Topps Mark McGwire

At some point earlier in the countdown I ran down the highlights of the Bryce Harper summer where collectors all ran around and went crazy on Bryce Harper cards.  The only thing I have seen in the 30 years I have collected which has paralleled the Harper craze was the McGwire/Sosa craze during the summer of 1998.  McGwire was more popular than Sosa going into that summer and had more sustained success around the hobby after all of the magic of that summer disappeared with some of the steroid revelations that came out about the sluggers after the fact.  Even though the 1985 Topps rookie of Mark McGwire has returned to Earth, in terms of value, the card is still one of the most iconic cards from the 1980s and should be considered a must have for any collector. 

Hobby Impact-
I remember the day the Cardinals traded for Mark McGwire I converted myself into being a huge McGwire fan.  I usually found myself rooting against the A's as a kid.  I did not mind McGwire, but I heaped him in with Canseco and a few others whom I disliked.  Even a brief appearance by Willie McGee could not help turn me into a fan of the green and gold.  At the time the Cardinals traded for McGwire, the Cardinals were a middle of the pack team in the National League Central and they lacked star power.  There were good players on the team, but not a big name.  Collecting players like Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, and Andy Benes was fun, but there are some serious limitations to collecting those sorts of players.  

McGwire was a different sort of player around the baseball card hobby that Cardinals collectors hadn't experienced.  Ozzie Smith had been a popular Cardinals star while the baseball card hobby modernized, but The Wizards market within the baseball card world was somewhat limited due to the fact that he was an aging and diminished star.  Sure, I still collected plenty of cool cards and sets from the mid-90s, but the Cardinals trade for McGwire marked the day that I had my own Cardinals player to track down.  

Within 48 hours of the trade I had visited all of the good baseball card shops around St. Louis county in 1997: St Louis Sports Collectibles, Southtown Sluggers, One Million Baseball Cards, All-Star, Chesterfield.  I had a large stack of Big Macs to start off my new collection.  There were plenty of other McGwire cards that I needed to add, but I worked on and still continue to work on it to this day.  

Plenty of other collectors out there also love collecting Mark McGwire.  I am sure plenty got on the wagon long before I jumped on and I am sure that new collectors are discovery the fun of collecting McGwire cards everyday.  Sort of like my closet Chipper Jones collection, the Big Mac cards I have picked up over the years probably deserve their own blog post or two.  

One of the biggest challenges in collecting Big Mac cards stems from the fact that the autograph and relic card market for McGwire is seriously limited.  He's self-described as an introvert and has never been big on showing up places for signings.  There are some nice cards out there featuring certified autographs of the slugger, but your options are generally limited to early 2000s Upper Deck cards and a spattering of others.  Relic cards have a similar story.  Early 2000s is your best bet.  

I picked up a McGwire autograph earlier this year, but my first and favorite autograph came out of the 2002 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection set.  There are actually several versions of this card, but they are all low print runs.  Every once in awhile a McGwire autograph might fall a little short of $100, but it's a rare occurrence.  Collectors interested in adding a Big Mac signature to their collection should expect to realistically pay somewhere somewhere between $125-$150 as a starting point. 

2002 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Mark McGwire Autograph

On The Field-
McGwire was primarily a power threat, but I was often surprised at how good of a hitter and fielder he actually was after spending a few years watching him in person.  I know there is a snap judgement by some baseball fans to put him into a category with players like Rob Deer and Adam Dunn, but McGwire was much more talented than those players. At his prime McGwire would fair much better than his .263 career batting average would seem to indicate.  In fact, I choose to just ignore his batting average all together and check out his on-base and slugging percentages.

McGwire's career on-base percentage is actually just a little shy of .400 at .394, but stood over 7 of his 16 seasons in the league.  His slugging percentage was just short of .600, but ended above that number in 10 of his 16 seasons.  Comparing him to other first baseman, his on-base percentage is higher than several Hall of Famers including Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, and Harmon Killebrew.  His slugging percentage ranks all Hall of Fame first baseman not named Gehrig, Foxx, and Greenberg.  Pujols is higher too.

Overall, JAWS rates McGwire as the 16th best first baseman in Major League history.  While he's clearly not in the same class as players like Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg he is in the discussion with almost any other Hall of Fame caliber first baseman.  Ranking McGwire by OPS+ versus other Hall of Fame first baseman breaks down like this:

OPS+ Hall of Fame First Baseman
1. Lou Gehrig 179
2. Dan Brouthers 170
3.  Jimmie Foxx 163
     Mark McGwire 163
4. Hank Greenberg 158
    Johnny Mize 158
5. Frank Thomas 156 

I know Frank Thomas isn't in the Hall, but he will be soon.  Joey Votto is also tied for 5th with Thomas.  Just FYI.  Mind you that first base is a very deep position in the Hall of Fame, so ranking 16th in the JAWS rankings puts Big Mac square in the group of Hall of Famers for the position.  Looking at McGwire by some other measures like OPS+ shows that he is truly deserving of having a plaque in Cooperstown.  If you are more of a counting numbers person, McGwire ranks second all-time amongst first baseman in home runs behind only Jim Thome.

If you have not watched a McGwire home run in awhile here are three of my favorites:

3. McGwire homers off of Randy Johnson

2.  McGwire walks off Game 3 of the 1988 World Series

1.  Number 70.  I was there.  

Favorite Card- 
I have actually had this card on my blog before, but it's just a really cool card.  Pacific put out the 2001 Private Stock set as it's last baseball release ever.  I am not sure the exact story behind this card, but they were not supposed to make this card since Big Mac had an exclusive with Upper Deck.  Pretty sweet card and I am happy to have a few of these in my collection.  It's not impossible to find and pretty reasonable in price if you are patient. 

2001 Pacific Private Stock Mark McGwire Bat


  1. I keep telling myself that... one day I'll be able to afford a McGwire certified autograph card. One day.

    1. Topps signed Big Mac to an autograph deal starting in 2014. I believe his first certified autograph will be in Tribute, but I would guess they will have him sign for several different products. Based on what has happened to the price of autographs from players like Rickey Henderson, after signing an autograph deal with Topps, affordable Mac autographs are on their way.