What possesses a collector to start a player collection? Why would a collector chase every variation or parallel just because it has a favorite player’s picture on it? Is it really that interesting to look at identical cards that have a different color border? Actually, one thing I’ve noticed, especially with cards of pitchers, is that pretty much every pose on every card looks exactly the same. I seriously wonder sometimes why there’s such a thing as a player collector. Of course, I am one, of sorts, and trying to explain so many aspects of collecting is a futile and absurd task.
How do people choose the player to collect? Some collections are obvious. You never have to explain to someone why you want to collect Hank Aaron or Chipper Jones. What about the weirdo who wants every Mark Lemke card ever made? I’ve met people online who are Clint Sammons and Brandon Hicks collectors. Really. There are people who are looking to track down as many different Clint Sammons cards as they possibly can. There’s no point in asking why. There are multitudes of reasons a specific player can become someone’s favorite player. I don’t judge, even if the choice shocks me. (Well, I try not to judge. If your favorite player is someone like Melky Cabrera, then I will judge and mock.) One other thing is true about collecting more obscure players. It will certainly be a lot cheaper acquiring a rare Brandon Hicks parallel than a Chipper Jones.
As I’ve written before, I got out of card collecting for a long period of time. From the early 90s to the middle of 2005, I didn’t actively collect baseball cards. When I got back into the hobby, I had only two plans. The first was to complete all the major base sets from the 80s. The second was to become a player collector. I wanted to get every Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz card ever produced. Naturally, I discovered that this wouldn’t be possible as soon as started investigating what had gone on since my departure from the hobby. So I revised my goal to get as many Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz cards as possible.
Over the past eight years, my goals have changed. My player collection goals have been reduced as I realized I am a set builder at heart. Still, it’s nice to have my player collections. It makes it easy for people to find stuff to trade with me. It lets me know just who my favorite players are. More importantly, it’s fun. So, how do I decide which players I want to collect? Well, let’s take a look at the five players that comprise my official player collections and I’ll share with you why I chose them. Then, I hope, in the comments, you’ll share with me which players you collect, or which players you would collect.
This seems like such an obvious choice and it was. Greg Maddux is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the single best baseball player I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on a regular basis. Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz will all be in the Hall of Fame at some point and are all great. Maddux is different though. He’s among a small group of players that can truly be considered the best ever. There’s nothing I miss more about baseball in the mid 90s than watching Greg Maddux strike a guy out looking.
As a collector, Maddux is a fun guy to chase. No, it isn’t fun having so many Cubs, Padres and Dodgers cards in a binder. Yes, every card of Maddux in his throwing motion looks a lot like every other Maddux card with him throwing. Maddux is fun to collect because he’s kind of a dork. If you’ve read anything about him, you know he is. The looks on his face on his baseball cards though is proof positive. On the other hand, Maddux’s greatness prices his autograph cards out of most collector’s reach.
There’s no one I enjoyed watching pitch more than Tom Glavine. He was the definition of fierce and relentless. His ability to sit on the outside corner inning after inning after inning and not give in was a marvel to behold. I also give him extra points for two reasons. First, he strapped the Braves to his back on his rise to greatness in 1991. It was his performance that year, more than any other single player on that team including NL MVP Terry Pendleton, that led the way for the Braves in the west. Second, he pitched his best game in the single most important game in the history of the Atlanta Braves franchise. That game was game 6 of the 1995 World Series and his performance that day was a perfect encapsulation of his greatness. He sat outside inning after inning. He cussed his teammates asking for one run because, he said, the Indians weren’t getting one. Then, he made David Justice’s home run stand up and completed the journey he set the team on in 1991. That’s pretty heady stuff.
Tom Glavine cards can be found fairly easily and affordably since he’s become somewhat underrated in the hobby. You can even find some really nice autograph cards of his for around thirty bucks. There’s one thing to consider about a Glavine collection though, aside from having to get cards of his wearing those ridiculous Mets colors. Even more than Maddux, his cards tend to look similar. While Maddux has no shortage of goofy facial expressions to go around, Glavine has the same determined look on just about every action shot.
The thing about the big three that so many people seem to forget is that Smoltz took longer to figure it all out than the other guys. He was, at times, wildly inconsistent. If you think Mike Minor’s season last year was the classic example of “A Tale of Two Seasons” you should investigate John Smoltz’s 1991 season. He was so bad in the first half that he started seeing a sports psychologist. In the second half, he was as good as any picture in the National League. Of course, Smoltz says the stories about the psychologist were exaggerated. Once 1996 hit though, Smoltz put himself at the top of the game and stayed there for most of the rest of his career. Still, it was those struggles early on that got so many of us on his side. Smoltz fought and then conquered his game.
Like Glavine, John Smoltz is largely underrated by the hobby. His cards tend to be far more affordable than a lot of pitchers of his caliber. He’s also signing quite a bit these days for Topps and is often the featured Braves veteran in a lot of recent Topps sets. It’s nice to think I can keep getting new Smoltz cards. I hope they keep putting them out until the end of time.
I made the decision to go whole hog with a Heyward collection when he started struggling during his second season. I heard so many down on the kid that it just ticked me off. There’s was all this talk about how he didn’t love baseball. Some of the things I heard said about him in the stands at the Ted when he was struggling was shocking, and I grew up in the south. My belief in Jason Heyward and his talent never wavered, and I would like to point out, I was right. Jason Heyward has established himself as one of the best players in the game and I look forward to watching him play year after year.
Heyward was a hobby darling from the start. Topps put him on the box several times. They’ve had him sign prodigiously which has helped keep his prices down, although, they are starting to creep up again. There’s one thing I can say for certain about Jason Heyward. He will be featured in virtually every set Topps puts out between now and the end of his career. Don’t look for his prices to come down.
I think I decided to become an Andrelton Simmons collector the first time I saw him field a ball at shortstop after he was called up last year. That decision was cemented after I saw him high five the air after getting the cold shoulder in the dugout right after hitting his first home run. Then, I’d see him give an interview, and he sounds so smart about hitting and all things baseball. Plus, he’s always smiling. He’s a guy who’s having fun on the baseball field. How can you not love this kid?
At some point, Topps will start to show Simmons some love, but that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, their decision to put Zack Cozart over Simmons on the 2012 Topps Rookie All-Star team was insulting and stupid to anyone who knows baseball. (Simmons posted a higher WAR with over four-hundred FEWER plate appearances.) The snubs continue into this season with Simmons not even getting a card in 2013 Gypsy Queen. No offense meant to the man, but what has Chris Johnson done to deserve a card in the set and not Simmons? Topps will get on board the Simba train at some point though, and it will be a long time before they get off.
There are other players whose cards I would never refuse in a trade. Looking at only Braves from the 80s on, I could never refuse a Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro, Bob Horner, Chris Chambliss, Rafael Ramirez, Glenn Hubbard, Bruce Benedict, Mark Lemke, Jeff Blauser, Ron Gant, Steve Avery, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Martin Prado, Tim Hudson, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel or Brian McCann card. I just haven’t started a “formal” player collection for these guys. I am contemplating a Julio Teheran collection, but there’s no hurry on that. (Although, I have a nice start.)
So, what players do you collect? Who would you collect if you got into baseball cards?