Thursday, April 18, 2024

Not so common after all

Here's a card I finally welcomed into my collection after damn near (I kid you not) a decade of searching.

One has big ideas for cards they've been wanting for a healthy portion of their adult lives. But this isn't a Roberto Clemente rookie. It's not a '53 Satchel Paige. It's a...1995 Upper Deck Willie McGee? Look it up in your Beckett (if you must) and you'll find it books for a whopping $1.50. I secured my copy on Sportlots for a quarter - I just happened to log on one day and notice that oh my god someone listed one!

It's been a chase card for me because it's one of the extreme few to feature McGee's brief stint with the Red Sox (the only other I know of is from '96 Donruss). This was part of a mail-in exchange program from '95 UD that redeemed a special "Update" set that year. The '90s were filled with such redemption offers, and I own a healthy amount of trade-in cards from other similar sets. So why was this one so impossible?

I don't have an answer for you - all I can say it's a fascinating card that really clouds our notions of "rarity" and "worth."

I think it's an interesting phenomenon that's worth delving into a bit further - though I should warn you, I have few answers for the questions I'm about to ask.

Example: I have yet to hear a good explanation as to why '66 and '67 Topps high-numbers cost an arm and a leg, but '68 and '69 high-numbers, for instance, are pretty easily attainable. There's an aura around a few of those extra-tough high series ('67 especially) that elicits a visible wince from most vintage collectors. I regularly see even no-name '67 high-numbers in the $30-40 range at shows (when vendors have any at all, that is).

Like the Willie McGee, vintage high-numbers at the time were never meant to be "rare" - but thanks to some unexpected glitch over the years, that's exactly what they've become.

In an attempt to mimic this high-number madness, Topps Heritage regularly sprinkles short-prints into their checklist, much to the bane of our communal existences.

I've been able to find a good amount of the Heritage SPs I need over the last 5-10 years without too much of a hassle. But it seems like all the short-prints from before then simply dropped off the face of the earth at some point. Maybe there's a recency bias here - I bet a lot of older Heritage SPs are currently abandoned in garages all over the country - but earlier Heritage short-prints are a real pain.

Paying a whole $2 for this Tony Batista SP from 2005 Heritage - my first card of him on the Nationals - felt like a steal because that's a fraction of what most other short-prints from the era seem to go for.

Call this one the Mike Trout Effect, but I rarely see anything from 2011 Topps Update in the wild.

I bought a good amount of these at the time and luckily had most of what I needed from this set before the Trout-mania started (I even owned a Trout liquorfractor way back when!), but at some point people seemed to squirrel away the rest of their Update in search of the almighty dollar, and specifically the rookies.

It took a long time after I started collecting local hero Jason Kipnis to land his 2011 Update rookie, purely because he had the misfortune to have his first Topps land in the same checklist as the Godly Mike Trout.

Comb through a Hostess checklist and you'll find some SPs - I remember reading that were offered on the backs of less-popular Hostess products (a quick search shows treats such as Big Wheels and Pudding Pies that don't sound too appetizing to this '90s kid).

But even some of the non-SP Hostess have been surprisingly hard to track down for me over the years. I specifically remember searching for this '78 Hostess Len Randle at card show after card show, and no one seemed to have one. It drove me up the wall.

Maybe I was just looking in the wrong places - I eventually bought a copy for something like $1.50 - but the experience left me convinced that some Hostess cards aren't as common as we'd like to think.

I don't have any official data, but I think this '93 Pacific Dale Murphy earns the dubious crown of the card that sat the longest on my "Dime Box Dozen" list, clocking in at about two years!

'93 Pacific as a whole seems to be a tough go - I don't know that the set was widely purchased at the time and I almost never see them now.

I think the ultimate in this why are these so rare? discussion is probably the SP portion of 2002 Topps Traded.

Some genius at Topps decided to short-print the first 100 cards of that '02 Traded, and if I didn't know any better I'd say these were SP'ed to a number you can count on one hand because wow these things are maddening.

This Nomo is actually the only one I own - I stumbled into a copy in a dime box years ago, well before I knew how tough these monstrosities were. The cheapest copies of any 2002 Traded SPs I can find anywhere online are $4-5 each, mostly of guys I've barely heard of. Thankfully, for the sake of all our sanities, it was the first and last time Topps decided to SP a whole chunk of an Flagship checklist.

It's stuff like this that makes me glad I'm not much of a set-builder, because sometimes even the stuff we're told is common turns out to be not so common after all.


Mike said...

It is odd these glitches that make seemingly easily obtainable cards rare.. and by the way, I LOVED Pudding Pies,haha!

Chris said...

Some of these short-printed/surprisingly scarce cards are completely new to me. I've never seen that Willie McGee before! Great to see you add these rarities to your collection; few of us would appreciate them as much as you have here.

Jeremya1um said...

Congrats on getting some of those SPs.
It’s weird with the 2002 Topps Traded set. The 1-100 SPs were one per pack and go for the prices you stated. The Chrome cards were maybe 2 per pack, but 1-100 in Chrome are a lot cheaper than the regular version even though they are probably a little tougher of a pull since the whole set was in Chrome so it was maybe a 1 in 1.5 packs chance of pulling a 1-100 Chrome card.

POISON75 said...

Believe me Nick trying to track down a reasonable Brooks Robinson #600 & a Mets Rookies featuring George Seaver RC for my 1967 Set is tough to find ungraded as well the rubbed out Ed Spiezio as well to finish it. I like to get those 3 cards before my own mother passes away

Mark Zentkovich said...


night owl said...

We set-builders are sturdy people! We WILL get those cards EVENTUALLY.

Nick Vossbrink said...

Oh wow. I could make a post like this just about my search list. Am definitely missing (aka refusing to spend the money on) some 67 high numbers. I swear the 1978 Bob Boone hostess must've only been on Snowballs or something vile like that. I've never seen any 1993 Pacific second series in the wild. 1995UD Deion Sanders is also in the mail-in portion. And there are plenty of Heritage short prints from all years thta I'm missing.

Thankfully I've finished 2002 Traded (is so stupid that the gold variants were easier to find) and 2011 Update for my team/player needs. And sorta surprised that other high number toughies like 1972 aren't on here.

BillK21093 said...

The 1993 Pacific Series Dos or Two or extremely difficult to find in unopened packs or boxes. The Series Uno or One or relatively easy to find.

I have no idea why, this happens. I see a stack of Series 2 in quarter boxes once in a while, it is as if, a person found a pack opened it and pulled one cards and tossed the rest into the quarter box for me to find and buy.

Good luck finding your Murphy card

Matt said...

I remember McGee being with the Red Sox briefly. I didn't realize he had so few cards of him in a Boston uniform.

Brett Alan said...

I gotta admit, a Big Wheel--or Ding Dong, as they were known in my area--sounds pretty tempting about now, although I've stopped eating that kind of stuff for health reasons. (Looking online I see they had a mascot called King Ding Dong. I...don't think that would fly today.)

I wonder how many relatively rate cards like this I've passed over because I didn't know how hard to find they were.

Fuji said...

I just learned about those dumb SP's in the 2002 Topps Traded set. I'm guessing the Rickey will be on my wantlist for many years to come.

P.S. Congratulations on landing that McGee. Don't think I've ever seen him featured with the Red Sox... and I definitely didn't realize it was a redemption.

Jon said...

I like knowing that there are people actively pursuing cards like this. It gets kind of boring hearing about people spending years trying to get a T206 Cobb or a Goudey Ruth. A pursuit like this just feels more real to me.