Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Venerable Old Card Part 36

In years past I have made up a post about the players that I am hoping will make the Hall of Fame.  This year's vote announcement is still a little ways away, but there is a possibility that a few players and executives could make it into Cooperstown at the start of the Winter Meetings on Monday.  One name that I am pulling for is Mark McGwire.  I know that known steroid user's election into the Hall has been a controversial subject of late, and I know like many other sticky political issues, there is little chance to sway the minds of baseball fans who keep up with the voting.

So instead I am going to talk about a favorite baseball card of mine from the late 1990s and write a few words about what Mark McGwire's time on the Cardinals meant to me as a baseball card collector.

First, before McGwire was traded to the Cardinals in 1997 I very much enjoyed baseball cards.  I had spent most of my life collecting, at the time as a kid in college, I still liked stopping by the card shops in St. Louis and picking up a few packs of cards here and there.  The real problem was that the Cardinals were really devoid of stars from the time the WhiteyBall Era team was blown up in 1990 until Anheuser Busch sold the team to the current ownership group.

My Cardinals collection circled around two players:

Ozzie Smith.....

who was older at this point and near the end of his career.  I still loved Ozzie, but at the beginning of the high end card era in the early to mid 1990s, he was often skipped over in cool insert sets.  There were still some nice base cards of The Wizard in sets like Finest, Ultra, and Stadium Club.  That was really it.

Then there was also the Ray Lankford collection.....

After the August Busch got cheap and refused to spend money to sign players like Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, and Terry Pendleton the Cardinals were reduced to Ozzie Smith, a bunch of castaways like Bryn Smith, and a whole bunch of kids.  Several of the young players like Bernard Gilkey, Geronimo Pena, and Brian Jordan showed flashes of stardom, but Ray Lankford was always the best of the group.  

However, playing on bad teams meant that Lankford was sort of in the same boat as Ozzie in terms of baseball cards.  Some nice base cards of the Cardinals centerfielder floated around, but not much in terms of inserts or flashy cards.  

My interest in baseball cards was really pushed at times during the mid 1990s.  Of all the years of cards in my collection, 1993 through 1995 are easily the thinnest.  Much of it has to do with the fact that the Cardinals were not good and card manufacturers generally ignored them.  

The Cardinals improved when LaRussa took over the team in 1996 and the team signed players like Andy Benes and Ron Gant, traded for Dennis Eckersley and Todd Stottlemyre and became a relevant team again.  Cardinals cards were still not really anything too special.  

Then McGwire showed up in St. Louis.  McGwire cards mattered and it meant that other Cardinals cards mattered too including players like Ray Lankford.  Outside of his Finest refractor, which was a parallel card, Lankford did not have any real high end cards.  After he started batting fourth behind McGwire he showed up in autograph sets and some of the nicer card releases.  

It was also fun to add McGwire cards to my collection.  He was the first really high-end popular player that I had ever really tried to collect.  Some of the cards were out of my price range, but there were plenty of cards that I pulled, or did manage to find at the right price, that were welcome additions.  

This was my favorite McGwire pull for a long time...

the amount of variations was a little obnoxious, but I kind of stopped when I pulled the 62 card out of my first box of 1999 Topps, but it was not my favorite.  One of my favorite products in the late 1990s was the Topps Gallery set.  Always made sure that I tried to put together that set.  Loved the look of the set, the inserts, everything about it.

This was my favorite pull from a Gallery box and landed this card before Topps went too crazy with reproducing all of their old cards, or making new cards using old designs.  These cards were really popular and highly sought after at the time.....

The Gallery Heritage set seems to be one of those card sets that has faded away in terms of popularity and price, but I am still a huge fan.  I know a lot of other 1990s collectors who still love these cards too.  If you have never seen these cards, or do not own any, they are not too hard to find on sites like Ebay and COMC.  They used to be pretty expensive too and have become a lot more affordable.  

There are plenty of other McGwire cards that I could have shown off in this space that for this post that mean a lot to me.  I have often wondered if the Cardinals hadn't traded for McGwire if I would have eventually lost the desire to collect cards.  

Not sure I can answer that, but I can say also say that I probably wouldn't have the interest and love in the hobby that I have today without him.  

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