Sunday, June 7, 2015

Underrated and Undervalued

I read this great article this afternoon about one of my favorite 1990s Cardinals player Ray Lankford. If you have been a reader for awhile you've probably seen your far share of Lankford posts, but I understand he spent most of his career playing for the Cardinals and he was not exactly the most remembered player in franchise history.  Still, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz did a great job of explaining why Lankford is one of the most underrated players in the great history of the Cardinals.  Which got me thinking about a few players who are underrated within the baseball card hobby.

Are there some Hall of Famers that are underrated by the hobby?  What about some non-Hall of Famers?  I have decided on a short list for each group.  Let's start with the non-Hall of Famers.  Really, some of these guys deserve to be in the Hall.

Ted Simmons- When I was a kid my brother used to love Ted Simmons.  By the time I got into baseball Ted Simmons was an old guy on the Braves.  I did not really see what was so great about Simba.  Years later I started to perk my ears up to the long time Cardinals/Brewers catcher when I saw some different fans making impassioned blog posts about how Simmons was really a Top 10 catcher all-time.  I had to consult my Baseball Encyclopedia, but I think that Simba supporters might be one to something.  He's not Mike Piazza or Johnny Bench, but he had almost 250 career home runs, almost 500 career doubles and almost 2500 hits.  Add in a few superlatives like 8 All-Star Games, a Silver Slugger, 6 top 20 finishes in MVP voting, and you've got a strong resume.  So what does this have to do with baseball cards?  Simmons has an OPS+ of 117.  Carlton Fisk has an OPS+ of 118.  I guess Simmons did not wave a ball fair in World Series that he lost, but he the two of them have the same number of World Series home runs (2) and the same of World Series rings (0).  Seriously, how many baseball cards of Fisk have card companies made since the beginning of the modern baseball card era?  Now, Fisk's career might have slightly crossed over into that era near the end, but Topps makes a Carlton Fisk card almost every year.  He has been included in dozens of autograph sets too.  Simba?  He just has a straight run of baseball cards extending from the early 70s into the late 80s.  No autographs and his cards are dirt cheap.  The man deserves better.  

Gary Sheffield- I could actually make this post about several 1990s right fielders, but I will go with Sheffield because it's Sunday morning and he has the easiest argument.  Just know that Bobby Abreu and Brian Giles should probably get a little bit more love too, but I do not want to make this post only about slighted right fielders from the last 20 years.  Sheffield has 500 home runs, 450 doubles, 250 stolen bases, almost 3000 hits, and OPS+ higher than Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and Roberto Clemente.  Sheffield never won an MVP award, but in 1996 he hit 42 home runs, 33 doubles, had a .465 OBP, .624 slugging percentage, and an OPS+ of 189.  Somehow he finished 6th in voting.  Somehow Ken Caminiti won the award over Sheffield.  Bonds went 40/40 that year and lost?  Shocking.  Sheff played for 8 different teams during this career and left a few of cities on not great terms which is a huge reason why I think he sometimes lacks traction in the Hall of Fame vote and does not get a lot of love in the baseball card hobby.  As a modern player Sheffield has some really high end stuff out there, but there are also some cards of his that are ridiculously cheap.  His rookie cards are inexpensive because they were made in 1989, so I do not have much of an argument there.  However, if you are patient it's not too difficult to find copies of certified on-card autographs of the former outfielder for less than $5.  Even the high end stuff is surprising low.  After searching out his sold autographs on Ebay I found one autograph numbered to 5 for less than $20 and another out of /10 for $15.  How much would a Reggie Jackson autograph out of /10 cost?  Sheff is undervalued.  

Bobby Grich- I could have put a Trammell/Whitaker card here, but that argument gets made all of the time.  Here's a different name: Bobby Grich.  He's a player I have discovered later in life, he was career was winding down by the time I started to pay attention to baseball.  According to Jaffe's WAR ratings Grich is the 7th best second baseman all-time ahead of guys like Jackie Robinson and Ryne Sandberg.  Yes, Lou Whitaker too.  His counting numbers are really similar to Chase Utley, but then throw in a bunch of Gold Gloves and he catapulted up into the top 10 of second basemen all-time.  So, what about those baseball cards?  Let's face it, there is zero market for Bobby Grich cards.  In some ways it's cool because it's cost me nothing to add a whole bunch of cool cards of a really good player.  His rookie card is in the iconic 1971 Topps set, but can be found for next to nothing.  He has a few autographs floating around too, but none of them sell for more than $5.  I am not quite sure how someone with this good of a career gets this little attention, but here we are....

On to some Hall of Famers.....

Roberto Alomar- Alomar was a really good player for 13-14 years of his 17 year career.  The last few years were really really rough and I am surprised that the Hall of Fame voters overlooked the White Sox/Diamondbacks/Devil Rays part of his career.  While Robbie Alomar made it into the Hall of Fame there are a few too many collectors who did not forget those last few years.  It seems like certain Alomar cards sell really well and others do not.  For example, I have been looking for a copy of his Topps Tek autograph from last year to add to my collection.  It's a Blue Jays card and an on-card autograph, but frequently sells for less than $10.  There are numerous other Alomar cards that sell in this same price range.  His older autographs, from 1996 Leaf Signature and the old Donruss Signature Series cards, still sell really well.  

Dick Williams- Williams managed the Red Sox to the American League pennant in his first year as a manager and would go on to lead the A's to two World Series wins in the early 70s, and the Padres to the NL pennant towards the end of his career.  In all Williams won 4 League Pennants and 2 World Series titles and ended his career with more than 1500 wins.  Williams also spent 13 years in the bigs as an outfielder playing for the Dodgers, Orioles, Indians, A's, and Red Sox.  Williams has a lot of cards ranging from his playing days in the 1950s up to modern sets which have included him as an autograph signer.  His cards are inexpensive, especially his autographs which can be had for less than $10 in some cases.  Recently he's been in a bunch of Panini sets, but his best autographs are in the Fleer Greats of Game products and Upper Deck Sweet Spot.  Both are inexpensive.  

Fringe Hall of Famers- I put a Rollie Fingers autograph up there, but I could have gone with Orlando Cepada, Jim Rice, or Tony Perez too.  These guys are all good baseball players, but I frequently see baseball fans argue against them being in the Hall of Fame.  Again, good players, but I think that sometimes the fact that their inclusion in the Hall is questioned hurts their card values and collectability.  I try to pick up an autograph of every Hall of Famer and own autographs of some of the players listed above, but they are not high on my list.  For example, I owned a Jim Rice autograph, but traded it away for something I really wanted to add to my collection.  Will I replace it?  Maybe, but I never saw him play in person and I am not sold on him being in the Hall.  I think a Red Sox fan blocked me once on Twitter when I told them Jim Edmonds was more deserving......I think guys like Jim Rice, Rollie Fingers, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeada are beloved by some fan base and there is little love, or desire to spend money on cards, outside of that group of fans.  Whether you believe they belong in the Hall or not, they are good players with pretty inexpensive cards.  

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