Examining 20 Baseball Hall of Fame candidates’ Rookie Cards + Buzz casts his votes for Cooperstown

1989-Topps-traded-griffey
There are 32 players on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot this year and the ongoing debate of who’s worthy, who’s not and who cheated with performance-enhancing drugs will rage on well beyond the reveal of the voting results on Jan. 6.

In Buzz’s book, there’s quite possibly only one new Hall of Famer headed to Cooperstown this coming summer, and that lock is Ken Griffey Jr.

The rest? Well, it’s not that easy. Buzz has eliminated 12 of the guys who are not likely to even make the cut to be on next year’s ballot and examined the stats for 20 of those who are left. Along with this, Buzz has added some key Rookie Card info, too, just in case you haven’t tracked any of them down just yet or want to revisit cardboard from your youth.

1991-fleer-ultra-bagwellJeff Bagwell — Houston Astros, 1991-2005
The Basics: This four-time All-Star was an iconic slugger for the team and in the hobby, winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1991 and National League MVP honors in 1994.  No other player has hit more home runs as a Houston Astro, though he never actually led the NL in home runs. His career-high was 47 in 2000.
The Best Rookie Card: 1991 Fleer Ultra Update #79. Buzz knows most will say Stadium Club, but this one’s at least a bit tougher to find now since it was in a box set.
Other Rookie Cards: Eight others from 1991 — Donruss Rookies, Fleer Update, Score Rookies & Traded, Stadium Club, Studio, Topps Traded, Upper Deck
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
15 2,150 1,517 2,314 449 1,529 202 .297

1987-Fleer-BondsBarry Bonds — Pittsburgh Pirates & San Francisco Giants, 1986-2007
The Basics: MLB’s career (762) and single-season (73) home run leader won a record seven MVP awards, 12 Silver Sluggers, eight Gold Gloves and also is the all-time leader in walks and intentional walks, too. He ranks third in runs, fifth in RBI, fifth in slugging percentage and was a 14-time All-Star. This is his fourth year on the ballot and he received only 36.8 percent of the vote last year. We all know why.
The Best Rookie Card: 1987 Fleer Glossy #604. Buzz’s rebellious pick here would be 1986 Fleer Update or Topps Traded Tiffany cards but most people will think of the 1987 Fleer first. I’ll take the rarer 1987 Fleer version with my safe pick. (And, yes, I know some won’t call it an RC.)
Other Rookie Cards: 1986 Fleer Update, 1986 Sportflics Rookies, 1986 Donruss Rookies, 1986 Topps Traded, 1986 Topps Traded Tiffany, 1987 Fleer, 1987 Donruss, 1987 Topps, 1987 O-Pee-Chee
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
22 2,986 2,227 2,935 762 1,996 514 .298

1993-Fleer-Final-EdmondsJim Edmonds — Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers & Cincinnati Reds, 1993-2010
The Basics: A dynamic fielder who won eight Gold Gloves was a mainstay for the Angels and Cardinals before a tour with four clubs over his final three seasons. He was a four-time All-Star and won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2006. His career postseason stats include a .274 average (63-for-230) with 13 homers and 42 RBI.
The Best Rookie Card: 1993 Fleer Final Edition #F181. None of the three really matter all that much — Topps is the safe pick, while this card is the rarer one.
Other Rookie Cards: Two others from 1993 — Topps and Fleer Ultra
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
17 2,011 1,251 1,949 393 1,199 67 .284

1989-UpperDeck-KenGriffeyJr

Ken Griffey Jr. — Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, 1989-2010
The Basics: The Mickey Mantle of today’s generation of 30-somethings, Junior ranks sixth on the career home run list. He was a 13-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, the 1997 American League MVP and a four-time AL home run champ. He ranks first in Mariners home runs (417). He never played in a World Series game.
The Best Rookie Card: 1989 Upper Deck #1. A no-brainer of a pick. The tougher ones might be the Bowman and Topps Tiffany cards.
Other Rookie Cards: Eight others from 1989 — Bowman, Bowman Tiffany, Donruss, Fleer, Fleer Glossy, Score Rookie & Traded, Topps Traded, Topps Traded Tiffany
Buzz’s Vote: Yes

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
22 2,671 1,662 2,781 630 1,836 184 .284

1992-Fleer-KentJeff Kent — Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers,  1992-2008
The Basics: His 351 home runs are the most by a second baseman and he was a five-time All-Star and the 2000 NL MVP. He hit 20-plus homers eight times and drove in 100 runs those same seasons — no other second baseman has.
The Best Rookie Card: 1992 Fleer Update. None of these really matter that much except for the rarer Fleer Update.
Other Rookie Cards: Four from 1992 — Donruss Rookies, Leaf, Pinnacle, Score Rookies & Traded
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
17 2,298 1,320 2,461 377 1,518 94 .290

1988-Fleer-MartinezEdgar Martinez — Seattle Mariners, 1987-2004
The Basics: This two-time batting champ was a seven-time All-Star who hit .300 10 times. He’s among an elite group of hitters with 300 homers, 500 doubles and a career average topping .300. He’s Seattle’s career leader in runs, doubles, walks, RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.
The Best Rookie Card: 1988 Fleer Glossy #378. Can’t pick the Donruss Rookies card since it’s not even him appearing on it.
Other Rookie Cards: Two from 1988 — Fleer, Donruss Rookies
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
18 2,055 1,219 2,247 309 1,261 49 .312

1986-donruss-mcgriffFred McGriff — Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1986-2004
The Basics: This two-time home run champ hit 30 or more homers 10 times, hit .300 four times and was a five-time All-Star. “Crime Dog” ranks 28th on the career home run list and was a member of the 1995 World Series champion Atlanta Braves. In 50 postseason games, he hit .303 (57-for-188) with 10 homers and 37 RBI.
The Best Rookie Card: 1986 Donruss #28. This is a strong and seriously overlooked card.
Other Rookie Cards: 1986 Leaf
Buzz’s Vote: Yes

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
19 2,460 1,349 2,490 493 1,550 72 .284

1985-topps-mcgwireMark McGwire — Oakland A’s & St. Louis Cardinals, 1986-2001
The Basics: The former single-season home run champion hit 583 home runs (10th all-time) in his career, beginning with 49 in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1987 and his 70 in 1998. The 12-time All-Star and member of the 1989 World Series champion A’s is on the ballot for the 10th and final time this year — not voted in after he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs five years ago.
The Best Rookie Card: 1985 Topps Tiffany #401. The Tiffany version is not an RC in many peoples’ books but it’s nice if you can find it centered and not too yellowed. If not, buy the standard one — graded because there are lots of fakes out there.
Other Rookie Cards: 1985 Topps
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
16 1,874 1,167 1,626 583 1,414 12 .263

1992-bowman-piazzaMike Piazza — Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Oakland A’s, 1992-2007
The Basics: Went from being a 62nd-round draft pick (1,390th overall) to the most-powerful catcher in MLB history with 396 bombs from the position. The former Rookie of the Year was a 12-time All-Star and a 10-time Silver Slugger Award-winner. He hit .300 nine times and was the first catcher to have a 200-hit season.
The Best Rookie Card: 1992 Bowman #461. Sure, the Fleer Update is pricier, but I’ll go with Bowman. How else would I point out that he’s in full gear here but missing a chest protector?
Other Rookie Cards: 1992 Fleer Update
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SB Avg.
16 1,912 1,048 2,127 427 1,335 17 .308

1981-Topps-RainesTim Raines — Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, 1979-2002
The Basics: This four-time stolen base champ ranks fifth on the career list with 808 and everybody ahead of him is a Hall of Famer. He was a seven-time All-Star and owns a pair of World Series rings from his time with the Yankees.
The Best Rookie Card: 1981 Topps #479. The Topps Traded card really is what I should have picked, but I didn’t.
Other Rookie Cards: Three from — Donruss, Topps Traded, O-Pee-Chee
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
23 2,502 1,571 2,605 170 980 808 .294

1989-Topps-sheffieldGary Sheffield — Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins. Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, 1988-2009
The Basics: The 1992 NL batting champ was a nine-time All-Star and a five-time Silver Slugger Award-winner at two positions who hit 30 homers eight times. He ranks 25th on the career home run list and was a member of the 1997 World Series-winning Marlins.
The Best Rookie Card: 1989 Topps Tiffany #343. All of them are relatively worthless, so go with the tougher one to find — this one.
Other Rookie Cards: Ten from 1989 — Topps, Bowman, Bowman Tiffany, Donruss, Fleer, Fleer Glossy, Score, Upper Deck (error/correction), Sportflics
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
22 2,576 1,636 2,689 509 1,676 253 .292

1989-Donruss-SosaSammy Sosa — Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, 1989-2007
The Basics: The only player in MLB history to hit 60 or more home runs in a season three times — and none of those led the league. The 1998 NL MVP did win a pair of home run crowns later in his career. He was a seven-time All-Star is eighth on the career home run list and is 28th in RBI.
The Best Rookie Card: 1989 Donruss Baseball’s Best #324. Sure, it’s not a Rookie Card because it’s not a standard set — but it’s soo00000 much better than anything from 1990 and I am going with it.
Other Rookie Cards: Ten from 1990 — Bowman, Bowman Tiffany, Donruss, Leaf, O-Pee-Chee, Topps, Topps Tiffany, Score, Upper Deck
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
18 2,354 1,475 2,408 609 1,667 234 .273

1978-trammellAlan Trammell — Detroit Tigers, 1977-1996
The Basics: This six-time All-Star hit .300 seven times and won four Gold Gloves. He was the 1984 World Series MVP for his title-winning Tigers after he hit .450 with a pair of home runs in the Series.
The Best Rookie Card: 1978 Topps #707. Purists won’t call his Burger King card from the same year an RC, but it looks waaaayyyyy better than this one. Buzz will conform and go with this one — just know the other one is rarer and more expensive.
Other Rookie Cards: 1978 Topps Burger King
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
20 2,293 1,231 2,365 185 1,003 236 .285

1990-LEaf-walkerLarry Walker — Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, 1989-2005
The Basics: This three-time batting champion hit .366, .363, .379. .309 and .350 from 1997-2001 and was a five-time All-Star in his career. In his MVP season of 1997, he hit .366 with 49 homers with a career-high 130 RBI. His career average ranks 80th in MLB history among those with qualifying at-bats. He won three Silver Slugger Awards and seven Gold Gloves.
The Best Rookie Card: 1990 Leaf #325. It’s a wasteland for Walker RCs other than the Tiffany cards but this one is still probably better than all of them.
Other Rookie Cards: Nine from 1990 — Bowman, Bowman Tiffany, Donruss, Fleer, O-Pee-Chee, Topps, Topps Tiffany, Score, Upper Deck
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Runs Hits Homers RBI SBs Avg.
17 1,988 1,355 2,160 383 1,311 230 .313

 

PITCHERS

1984-fleer-clemensRoger Clemens — Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, 1984-2007
The Basics: This seven-time Cy Young winner, 1986 American League MVP and two-time World Series champion is third on the career strikeout list and ninth in wins. He’s a two-time pitching Triple Crown winner who won 20 games five times and struck out 200 12 times. He recorded a 12-8 record with a 3.75 ERA in the postseason.
The Best Rookie Card: 1984 Fleer Update #27. An “XRC” to most people, but these days it’s the only early Clemens card that matters really. The Tiffany would be a close second.
Other Rookie Cards: Five from 1985 — Donruss, Leaf, Fleer, Topps, Topps Tiffany
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Wins Losses ERA Saves Innings Strikeouts
24 709 354 184 3.12 0 4,916.2 4,672

1992-HoffmanTrevor Hoffman — Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers, 1993-2010
The Basics: Retired as MLB’s saves leader — and was the first closer to reach both the 500 and 600 plateaus. Yet he only led the league in saves twice. He was a seven-time All-Star who had 15 seasons of 20 or more saves and his 53 in 1998 is the fifth-best single season in MLB history.
The Best Rookie Card: 1992 Bowman #11. There are literally no other options, which is a rarity.
Other Rookie Cards: None
Buzz’s Vote: Yes

 Years Games Wins Losses ERA Saves Innings Strikeouts
18 1,035 61 75 2.87 601 1,089.1 1,133

1991-ultra-mussinaMike Mussina — Baltimore Orioles & New York Yankees, 1991-2008
The Basics: Never won 20 games in a single season until his final campaign at age 39 when he went 20-9, but he was a five-time All-Star who won 15 or more 11 times in his 18 big-league seasons. He never won a Cy Young but was a seven-time Gold Glove-winner at the position.  He pitched in 23 postseason games, recording a 7-8 record with a 3.42 ERA but was on two Yankees squads that lost in the World Series. His 270 career wins quietly rank 33rd all-time and are more than Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, Jim “Catfish” Hunter and others.
The Best Rookie Card: 1991 Fleer Ultra #4. Like Bagwell, I give this one the edge because it’s from a box set.
Other Rookie Cards: Three from 1991 — Bowman, Score, Upper Deck
Buzz’s Vote: Yes

 Years Games Wins Losses ERA Saves Innings Strikeouts
18 537 270 153 3.68 0 3,562.2 2,813

1989-donruss-SchillingCurt Schilling — Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies,Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, 1988-2007
The Basics: A three-time 20-game winner and three-time World Series champ, he was a six-time All-Star who struck out 300-plus three times — the third-best total in MLB history. In the postseason, he went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 games with, of course, his red sock among the memorable moments in baseball history.
The Best Rookie Card: 1989 Donruss #635. Like Hoffman, there are no other options here.
Other Rookie Cards: None
Buzz’s Vote: Yes

 Years Games Wins Losses ERA Saves Innings Strikeouts
20 571 216 146 3.46 22 3,261 3,116

1982-Topps-lee-smithLee Smith — Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, 1980-1997
The Basics: He retired as MLB’s saves leader in 1997 and was the first player to reach the 400-mark in history. He led the league in saves four times in his 18-year career and was a seven-time All-Star. His save total still ranks third in MLB history despite being out of the game for so long — that’s telling even though he bounced around a lot in his career.
The Best Rookie Card: 1982 Topps #452. I was tempted to pick the Fleer error but as cool as a reversed negative on a card-back logo is, the standard Topps RC is just better.
Other Rookie Cards: Three from 1982 — Donruss, Fleer (error and correction)
Buzz’s Vote: Yes

 Years Games Wins Losses ERA Saves Innings Strikeouts
18 1,023 71 92 3.03 478 1,289.1 1,251

1994-bowman-wagnerBilly Wagner — Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, 1995-2010
The Basics: This seven-time All-Star ranks fifth on the career saves list and is second among left-handers. His WHIP and ERA are among the elite for closers with at least 500 innings. He had nine seasons with at least 30 saves.
The Best Rookie Card: 1994 Bowman #642. None of his RCs really command much attention. The Collector’s Choice card has the best image, but the Bowman brand is probably followed more now.
Other Rookie Cards: Seven from 1994 — Bowman’s Best, Collector’s Choice, Pinnacle, SP, Score, Topps Upper Deck
Buzz’s Vote: No

 Years Games Wins Losses ERA Saves Innings Strikeouts
16 854 47 40 2.31 422 903 1,196

Follow Buzz on Twitter @BlowoutBuzz or send email to BlowoutBuzz@blowoutcards.com. 

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