Early in the 1997 season, I left my home in Columbus, Georgia for a job in the Chicago area. Starting with the 1990 season, I attended around a dozen Braves games a year. I may have hit a few more during the incredible 1991 and 1992 seasons, but a dozen was usually my minimum. When I made the decision to leave for Chicago, I knew I was going to miss my family and my friends, and I did. Terribly. Still, I may have very well have missed my visits to Atlanta to see the Braves play more. I hope none of them are offended by me admitting this.
In Chicago, I moved to the Lincoln Park neighborhood about a mile south of Wrigley Field, on the same street as the stadium, Clark Street. I was working as a consultant at a company in downtown which allowed me a simple four day work week. We often worked more than our standard 10 hour days on Monday thru Wednesday which allowed us to leave early on Thursday. As most baseball fans know, Thursday’s are a very common off-day on the schedule. If it wasn’t an off day, if the Cubs were playing on a Thursday afternoon, a group of us would pile onto a Red Line car, get off at the Addison Street exit, and spend the afternoon downing a few bears in the upper deck at Wrigley.
It pains me to admit this now, but I was a Cubs fan, and not a small one at that. Make no mistake, I have never been a bigger Cubs fan that I was a Braves fan, but while I lived there, they were my local team. Truth be told, I was a fan before I even moved to Chicago. As a young kid, especially during summer break from school, I would watch as many baseball games as they would televise. That meant I got the Cubs on WGN during the afternoon before the Braves game that night on the Superstation.
In addition to Thursday afternoons at Wrigley, I would also hit as many Friday afternoon games as I could. Other than the Thursday and Friday afternoon games, I really didn’t go to Wrigley that often otherwise. Well, unless the Braves were in town. I got to see the Braves play often at Wrigley. I saw them play regular season games there. I saw them win the 1999 National League Division Series at Wrigley Field. When Eddie Perez blasted that grand slam in the 8th to ice the game, I was the only person down the first base line that was screaming his head off.
Let there be no doubt: I was still a Braves fan. Back then though, it was more work than I was willing to put in to follow my favorite team as closely as I always had. There was no MLB.TV. If there were any Braves blogs or fan sites operating, I wasn’t overtly aware of them. I’d glance at box scores in the Sun Times when taking the El to work in the morning. I’d watch SportsCenter those evenings I remembered to turn it on. When I’d get in after dinner in the evening, I’d flip on TBS occasionally in time to see Kerry Lightenberg shut down the opposing team. I was, of course, glued to my television set for every post-season game.
The point of all the above is that as a Braves fan, I missed much of the 1998 and 1999 seasons. Most of my Braves memories are filtered through my experience of seeing them play the Cubs at Wrigley. I can remember Chipper Jones blasting a home run to right off Kevin Tapani in the final game of a series where the Cubs swept the Braves subjecting me to the ridicule of my Cubbie loving friends. I can remember Chipper walking with the bases loaded to drive in a run during that same season when the Braves were attempting a ninth inning comeback that would fall short. I can remember him hitting a home run off Steve Traschel for the Braves only run on a day when Maddux just didn’t have it. I can remember him hitting a single between Bret Boone and Brian Jordan home runs for an 8th inning comeback in the only regular season game I saw the Braves win at Wrigley.
So those are my memories of Chipper Jones 1998 and 1999 season. Those are the things I saw. What did I miss? I missed Chipper nearly murder the Mets. I missed most of his MVP season. I missed the first peak of Chipper’s career. I all but missed the two years where Chipper established himself as one of the best players in all the game and showed baseball fans everywhere that he might be on him way to the Hall.
I had already stopped collecting cards when I moved from Georgia to Chicago. My cards were placed with care into well insulated moving boxes and there they would stay for three years. When the boxes were stacked up in my dining room, it would elicit questions from any guests I had over. I would tell them the boxes are filled with baseball cards. They would say that it looks like a lot, and I would agree with them. They would tell me that they must be worth a lot of money. I’d roll my eyes and laugh.
The story has been told before, but the baseball card market was already showing signs of stagnation and possible collapse before a strike ended the 1994 season. With this single work stoppage, there was no longer a chance for the industry to overcome its other problems. I think it is safe to say that the hobby will never again be as popular.
Production of baseball cards slowed down significantly during the 1995 and 1996 seasons, but the industry began its comeback in ernest in 1997. All of the earlier trends continued unabated. There were more manufacturers and they were creating more and more sets. If the industry couldn’t attract new people to the hobby, they could certainly sell more and more product to those that were left.
So, Chipper Jones went from having a few dozen cards released each season to having, quite literally, hundreds released each year. Chipper may have never been the hobby darling that guys like Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols or Stephen Strasburg have been, but he was a pretty big deal from the start. Obviously, he was going to be featured in every base set, even those that weren’t that large. (The best example might be his Score card. Score was great because the designs were always solid and easily identifiable.) It also seemed as though he was in every insert set that wasn’t dedicated to pitchers. Chipper was everywhere.
It was also during this period that the manufacturers stopped using autographed cards as an occasional gimmick and instead made them a main feature of a set. The 1998 Donruss Signature Series set is one of the best examples. Chipper’s auto from the set is particularly nice. His 1999 Topps autograph is every bit as beautiful as well. The overall design of the card, including the full bleed photography, is reminiscent of an early 1990s Stadium Club set. Chipper’s signature, including his ever present uniform number, is simply perfect.
This was only the beginning of Chipper Jones cards of course. With the addition of relics, and an ever increasing abundance of sets, he would have thousands of cards released over the remainder of his career. More on that as the season winds up.
Cards Featured in this Post
- 1998 Score #27 (Less than $1.00)
- 1999 Topps Autograph #A2 ($40.00 - $60.00)
- 1998 Donruss Signature Series Millennium Marks Autograph ($30.00 - $50.00)
- 1999 Pacific Prism Holographic Purple #13 ($1.00 - $2.00)
- 1998 Fleer Ultra Notables #12 (Less than $1.00)
- 1998 Pinnacle Performers Launching Pad #10 (Less than $1.00)
- 1998 Upper Deck #300 (Less than $1.00)
- 1998 Fleer Ultra #202 (Less than $1.00)
- 1998 Topps #305 (Less than $1.00)
- 1999 Pacific #32 (Less than $1.00)
- 1999 Upper Deck Black Diamond #8 (Less than $1.00)
- 1999 Upper Deck Retro #8 (Less than $1.00)