Typically, draft picks didn’t make an impact on the hobby until their Major League careers began. By the late 1980s though, the rookie card craze had a firm grip on collectors and manufacturers alike. The manufacturers were looking to get a jump on each other by featuring the first card of a player, and major league experience was no longer a criteria for making a checklist. The entire story of Chipper Jones selection ensured that both his name and that of college bound (ha) Todd Van Poppel were known by virtually every collector. The manufacturers would cram Chipper Jones into virtually every product they could. By the time he made his major league debut in September of 1993, there were well over 20 cards already available.
The first manufacturer to get Chipper Jones cards into a national product was Classic with their 1990 Classic Draft Picks and 1990 Classic Yellow products. Now, Classic had a single minded mission in their early days. They were determined to make the ugliest cards possible. To this day, no card company has ever produced a group of baseball cards as ugly as those Classic inflicted upon the world in the late 80s and early 90s. Chipper’s card in the Draft Picks set was simply garden variety ugly. Sure, the large camouflage print border was awful, but at least it was a neutral gray color. Plus, the picture of Chipper in his high school uniform is pretty cool. The Classic Yellow product is just horrendous to look at. It’s sad to me that Chipper’s first card in an Atlanta Braves uniform shows him surrounded by a large, loud, atrocious yellow border. Sure, every Atlanta Braves fan should own the card. It is his first card showing him in a Braves uniform. This historic card is ugly, ugly, ugly.
The other manufacturers would start to get into the Chipper Jones business in 1991. For obvious reasons, the Classic cards were considered minor league in quality and collector attention. When the 1991 sets from the major manufacturers were released, collectors across the country began to stock up on Chipper Jones cards. If he lived up to his promise and proved to be the second coming of Cal Ripken, Jr., then collectors everywhere would be able to put their children through college by selling a handful of Chipper cards.
From a numbers standpoint, Chipper’s career would eclipse that of Ripken. His rookie cards, however, can often be bought for mere pennies. It isn’t Chipper’s fault of course that Topps and Upper Deck were caught up in the era of rampant over-production. Although many collectors love to blame the 1994 strike for the collapse of the baseball card market, that was simply the moment the bubble burst. Value requires scarcity, and Chipper Jones rookie cards are as plentiful as water and air.
Pictured here are two of the better Chipper rookie cards. The Topps card is the classic bat on the shoulder pose. 1991 design isn’t overly impressive, but at least it doesn’t get in the way of the photograph. The Upper Deck card is even better. The picture showing Jones manning shortstop is especially nice. More than anything, I like that it looks like something is inflating inside his cap. Less successful is the card from Score. Generally speaking, cards with the backgrounds removed are almost always worse, but that’s not the only problem with the card. The design is bland, bordering on amateurish. There’s something off about the look on Chipper’s face. It just isn’t a very good card.
That awful yellow classic card from 1990 is almost the worst Chipper Jones card produced. How could a card that ugly not be Chipper’s worse card? Well, the 1992 Bowman card is simply baffling. The very idea of baseball cards featuring players in “regular” clothes is ridiculous. Is there anyone who wanted to see Chipper Jones dressed in shorts and a long sleeve shirt standing in front of cacti? This is another bad baseball card.
Coming into the 1992 season, Chipper Jones had solidified his standing as one of baseball’s top prospects with his outstanding season at Macon in 1991. Topps and Upper Deck were both looking to get him into products again. Upper Deck released a minor league product in 1992 that was, shall we say, underwhelming. Like most products of this type, the set featured card after card of players that would never wear a major league uniform. The set may not be that great, but Chipper’s card, featuring him in the great Durham Bulls uniform, is outstanding. The pose is variation of the pose on the 1991 Score card, but is far more effective.
Topps would include him on a four prospect card in their 1992 base set, but it was his Stadium Club card, one of three “First Draft Picks” cards inserted into Stadium Club Series 3, that makes the better impression. It features the crisp, photo quality stock that made Stadium Club such a sensation in the early 90s. The photograph itself is a great shot of Chipper’s batter’s eye. Well, as good a shot as you could get with a posed photograph.
Chipper’s march to the majors showed no sign of slowing down in 1992. He simply destroyed Southern League pitching at Greenville. He was again featured across the major sets as if he was already a big leaguer. Topps again featured him on a four prospect card, but it was three other cards from the year that made the biggest impression on me. The Peter Gammons “Inside the Numbers” insert card set from 1993 Upper Deck was merely OK, but the Chipper card features his best posed photograph. It’s hard for me to imagine Chipper Jones leaping over a runner throwing a hard slide and slinging the ball to first to complete a 4–6–3 double play. Actually, its hard to picture the Chipper Jones of today leaping quite as high as this card shows.
The 1993 SP set was Upper Deck’s first Super Premium product. The cards featured card stock that was similar to that used by Topps in Stadium Club. This might be the definitive shot of the young Chipper Jones. The subtle design, especially with the use of team colors as the background for the team name, is just about perfect. Chipper’s first Donruss card also makes a major impression. The “Rated Rookie” designation used to mean quite a bit to card collector’s, but by 1993 this wasn’t the case anymore. Still, the 1993 Donruss set was vastly underrated and as a card collector who came of age in the 80s, it’s hard to resist a Rated Rookie card.