Jewels in the Dross

Soon after we moved to Cooperstown, a neighbor, now knowing I liked cards (or assuming Joey, then 8, liked cards), gave me (or us) boxes of mid-1990’s basketball cards. The neighbor’s son clearly saw gold in them thar hills, loading up on Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf cards, but, as we know, all that came crashing down.

I hadn’t looked at those cards since, other than to combine them into as few boxes as possible. A couple of days ago I dragged them out. Nothing of monetary value there, but, I have to say, I was struck by how nice nearly all the different sets and subsets were. The 1997-98 Fleer homage to 1934 Goudey is so nice that I pulled it out of the pile.

Tucked into the scads of hoop cards were some other sports. Very little baseball though, but I stumbled across these two, both Eddie Murray.

They’re from the 1997 Donruss Limited set, a fancy 200 card series that were $4.99 a pack twenty years ago! (And you only got five cards.) Some thoughts:

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  1. I was struck by how incredibly wonderful the Murray/Jefferson card is. It’s super-glossy on the front, without being as noisy as a lot of refractory cards tended to be. They feel good too, not overly slick.
  2. The “Exposure – Double Team” card is also very nice, though less so. Simple, not as shiny, but solid.
  3. Eddie Murray as an Anaheim Angel in the Disney togs is something I’d forgotten long ago. Seeing him in that vest, which I kinda love, is a surprising treat.
  4. In various blog posts/Tweets/Facebook comments, we’ve engaged in the idea of “junk wax.” I, like others, deplore the name. They are fairly worthless dollar-wise, but the cards of that era (maybe 1986ish-2000? I don’t’ know that anyone has bracketed the period in detail) are almost always beautiful, in all sports. In a highly competitive market, innovation in design was a must. Some fell flat, others soared, but because they aren’t sellable, fantastic looking cards have been left behind. I don’t believe I have ever seen a 1997 Donruss Limited card until now.

Now that I’ve seen these cards, I’m not sure what to do. As a die-hard set collector, it’s all or nothing for me. Usually. Sure, I poked around eBay to see if I could find a set, but nothing is listed right now. I saw a complete set of 200 sold for somewhere less than $100.

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Maybe it’s that I don’t feel like having to store another late-‘90’s box, or that, perhaps, the glow I have from the two cards won’t hold through 200. Or, maybe, I’ve fallen victim to the “junk wax” tag and have a subconscious resistance to buying any set from the time, unless it’s $5-10.

Regardless, nothing will get in the way of enjoying these two cards. I like them so much I haven’t put them away yet, keeping them close by to sneak an occasional peek.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

12 thoughts on “Jewels in the Dross”

  1. I learned about the 1997 Donruss shiny ones through my Dwight Gooden collecting. If you really want to go all out, there are the Limited ones and also the Limited Exposure ones. Your Murray/Salmon is the latter. My understanding is that each card comes in both varieties, with the LE generally being harder to find and shinier. The exception is Limited Exposure “Counterparts” where an error/variation exists in which some of the shininess is missing. As such, if you wanted to collect the master set for counterparts, there would in fact be three of each card, none different in any particularly interesting way other than the mere fact of their difference! If I didn’t just sum up peak junk wax right there, I don’t think I ever could!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have at least three large card storage boxes with basketball from the “overwrought” wax era. They are in excellent shape. I will let them go cheaply (free). The key thing I got from this post is that Eddie Murray played for the Angels. I completely forgot he donned that hideous jersey.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wouldn’t call the late 1990s products junk wax. To me, it’s more about overproduction than anything else, and by the late 1990s the card manufacturers weren’t really overproducing. There are plenty of unopened 1991 Fleer boxes (to pick one example) and if you buy them at a show they will likely cost $5/box. There are plenty on eBay, but they are a little more expensive because shipping boxes is expensive (maybe $10-$15/box).

    I’d probably put the junk wax era ending by 1992, and 1994 at the latest. To me, 1992 Bowman and 1993 Finest killed junk wax, at least metaphorically speaking. The strike and lockout didn’t help as they drove away some collectors/investors, but the days of stockpiling hundreds of copies of a card were over by the mid-1990s. I have over 700 1988 Topps Keith Hernandez cards, over 500 each of his 1986 and 1987 Topps All-Stars, and 34 different cards of Hernandez of which I have at least 100 copies (all between 1981-1990). I can’t find that type of volume for products in the late 1990s, at least not cheaply.

    There are always products one can buy reasonably cheaply from most any modern year, but you just can’t find 1997 Donruss Limited boxes lying around like you do boxes from the late 1980s-early 1990s. Even something like 2000 Impact (the baseball version – the football version has a rookie card of a guy named Brady) sells for $40 online. You can get a 5-box lot of junk wax for $40.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Not sure I’m the ultimate authority on the topic – that’s just how I think about the era though. When I buy large player lots or Mets lots I assume I will get a lot of cards from that era that I will just file in the duplicate pile, and I’m hoping that there are some mid-late 90s/early 2000s cards (particularly a parallel or insert) in there that I don’t have.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. It’s finding something that isn’t necessarily rare but something of which you weren’t even aware (like there was a foil parallel for 1996 Pinnacle). I don’t get any surprises with Keith Hernandez lots, but with Mets lots I usually get something I don’t have.

      Then of course there are the times when you buy bulk from someone and end up with about a 5000 count box (out of about 6 boxes) that is mostly full of 1992 Score. And not even both series – just second series. Let’s just say I have a good number of Vinny Castilla rookie cards. Someone did, however, pull most of the Manny Ramirez rookie cards, though they didn’t get them all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I once bought a box of 1993 Leaf, maybe 3000 cards. They were all one series, and didn’t even complete the series! Finally gave them to a son of a friend of mine.

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