The Controversial Rookie Cards of Barry Bonds
You can research the career of Barry Bonds on the search engine of your choice and you will find controversy. An abundance of it. In the mid to late ’80s even his rookie cards caused controversy. However, no one in the post-war modern era has accomplished more in the game of baseball than Barry Bonds.
He leads in many statistical categories and has dethroned even the Great Bambino himself. You would think once a professional athlete surpasses the apex of their craft they would not be considered All-Time Greats but rather All-Time Legends. Guys like Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, or Wayne Gretzky come to mind. These men are loved and respected but not Barry Bonds.
What You Need to Know About Barry Bonds
By nature, his personality lacked kindness. He despised the media and likewise, the media despised him too. Editors would demand interviews from their reporters and when the reporters pushed to get their stories Barry would go out of his way to humiliate, embarrass and insult them.
Now in his mid-fifties, Barry reflects on his life and admits he was rough around the edges. He goes on to explain that he was emotionally hurt for many years and pushed others away. This emotional hurt caused him to become angry inside and out.
The Accusations with PEDs
Then there were the accusations of PED use which started in 1999 and only intensified as he continued to hit home runs and demolish long-standing baseball records year after year. I won’t get into that especially since I’ve written about The Steroid Era already. Since I watched his entire career I will say this. Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer before PEDs. Before 1999, he was an 8x Gold Glover, 7x Silver Slugger, and a 3x MVP!
And after 1999 he never swung at anything bad. When he did swing he hit the ball very hard. Strikeouts were non-existent, you just couldn’t get him out. It got so bad, in the 2004 season, he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded! And today he is the all-time leader in walks.
His Undeniable Dominance & Statistics
Bonds played with such dominance the sportswriters were forced to vote him in as MVP four consecutive years 2001-2004 but this just added gas to the fire between Bonds and the media and I believe this is what’s really keeping Barry from being inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s turned into a “punishment for how you treated us” among certain voters.
His staggering career numbers are: Batting Average .298 | Hits 2935 | Home Runs 762 | Runs 2227 | Runs Batted In 1996 | Stolen Bases 514 | WAR 162.8.
Barry Bonds is also a 7x MVP | 8x Gold Glover | 2x Batting Title | 12x Silver Slugger | 14x All-Star | 3x Player of the Year and is an All-Time Career Leader in Homeruns 762, Base on Balls 2,558 and Intentional Base on Balls with 688.
Even His Rookie Cards Have Controversy
The controversy begins with card manufacturers missing the boat. Barry debuted in the MLB on May 30, 1986, he went on to play in 113 games that season with 16 home runs and 36 stolen bases, respectively. But no one included rookie cards of Barry in their base sets!
So after the regular season ended Donruss quickly created an All-Rookies set, Fleer and Topps included him into their Update and Traded sets. The following season all card manufacturers included Barry in their base sets and hobby publications branded his 1987 releases with the every popular “RC” identifier. And that’s when all hell broke loose.
Some collectors did not agree with this designation of RC and claim his 1986 rookie cards should be the true RCs. Others began to question distribution methods and claim the 1987 releases are true RCs.
Beckett Magazine played arbitrator and settled the matter by adding an XRC identifier to his 1986 releases. This means that its an “extended rookie card” that was released in an Update or Traded set. However, this did not settle the matter, in fact, it just made things worse. It got so bad Beckett removed the XRC designation after 1988 but grandfathered in the existing XRCs.
Over the years hearts have softened and today the general “hobby consensus” is to consider both years as RCs. So the first 7 cards below are his “official” RCs then there’s that one I believe they got wrong (more controversy) and a list of cards that I will show you that are often viewed as RCs but are not.
Let’s dig in!
OFFICIAL ROOKIE CARDS OF “SHOULD BE GREAT”
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Leading us off is the Donruss Rookies set. It is a 56 card boxed set that featured rookies only. At first glance, the box resembled a deck of playing cards and the pack inside was similar to a pack found inside a Hanger Box today. The card design mimics the Donruss brand except for The Rookies logo and the border color is a blueish green instead of blue. There are no parallels for this set.
Fleer Update has grown in popularity among collectors, probably because it’s the one Bonds rookie card that has been included into the Future Hall of Fame Players set registry inside of PSAs website, meaning if he ever does make it the Hall of Fame this card, will be more than likely, to be the card that will be included into the Hall of Fame Players – Post War Rookies set registry.
Some believe this one was chosen by collectors for the Set Registries because it was the first of the early Bonds XRCs to be released. However, these are notorious for chipping along the edges and off-centering, and of the 19,583 that have been graded by PSA only 6.6% have been given the GEM-MT 10 grade. There are no parallels for this set.
Topps Traded is my favorite of Bonds RC. It mimics the 1986 Topps set which carries a ton of nostalgia weight with me. I really like the photo used too. Upper torso portrait with the bat resting on the left shoulder screams vintage pose. Card back has a traditional Topps design and gives us everything a good card back should have.
This is a 132 card set that sold in Hobby Shops only. There is also a Tiffany parallel for this one which offers a glossy front and an easier to read card back, they were sold at Hobby Shops only and the print run for these Tiffany sets is only 5000, respectively.
Donruss, the black-bordered beauty has a really distinct card design that reminds me of a bumblebee. Chronic chipping along the edges and off-centering plague this set. The photo shows a very young Bonds with what appears to be a caterpillar on his upper lip. There are no parallels for this set.
1987 was the early stages of the junk wax era but many collectors have considered this one to be one of the better sets of this era. Big, bold, gradient color, borders surround the photo of Mr. Bonds. Another good portrait photo here with dual team logos, one on Bonds jersey the second team logo on card design slightly below it.
Card back suffers from chipping along the edges and offers collectors player bio, stats, and a Bonds related cartoon at the bottom. There is a Fleer Glossy parallel for this one, it came in a tin boxed set and was sold via Hobby Shops and QVC. It’s believed over 75k of these sets were printed!
An abridged version of the ’87 Topps set is the best way to describe the O-Pee-Chee brand, with some differences of course. Card design at first glance mimics the American Topps version quite a bit. But I typically like to quote Rafiki from the movie Lion King when he says, “looooook haaaaaarrrder” and you will notice: the primary difference is in the number of cards in the set. This one has 396 cards as opposed to 792 cards in the Topps set.
O-Pee-Chee was the Canadian version of Topps and primarily depicted full 25 man rosters of the late Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos of course, which were former Canadian MLB franchises, the other teams only had partial rosters within the set.
Three ways to tell the difference between Topps and O-Pee-Chee are, 1) the brand is proudly displayed on the lower left-hand corner of the front and lower right-hand corner on the card back. 2) White cardboard stock is used on the card back making it much easier to read, and of course 3) English with French translation where ever applicable. There are no parallels for this set.
1987 Topps set is considered the most memorable of any other Topps set of the 1980s. The reason? The very desirable wood grain design is one for the ages which was similar to the wood grain design of the 1962 Topps design.
It was a huge hit within the hobby, demand was high, but card manufacturers continued to print the cards and met the demands of the day which was the operating procedure of that era. Not only did they meet demands, but they also exceeded it. Therefore, to this day these cards are readily available but secondary card values are very low.
Great action photo on this Barry Bonds rookie card, nicely centered too. Card back uses the standard cardboard stock and gives us all pertinent information you’ve learned to expect from the Topps brand.
The Forgotten Rookie Card of Barry Bonds
The best way to describe this one, it is an abridged version of the Donruss set, with some differences of course. Card design at first glance mimics the American Donruss version quite a bit. But the primary difference is in the number of cards in the set. This one has 264 cards as opposed to 660 cards in the Donruss set.
Leaf was the Canadian version of Donruss and primarily depicted full 25 man rosters of the late Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos because they were Canadian MLB franchises at the time. The other teams only had partial rosters within the set.
I’m not sure why hobby publications and third-party authenticators have left this one out of the Bonds RC Checklist but they have, and they have not given any logical explanation as to why at least not in my research. It was distributed nationally in pack form, it’s licensed by both the MLB and the MLBPA so… why? Also, why is the Leaf and the Donruss included in the Greg Maddux RC Checklist? The same year, and brands but the Bonds Leaf seems to be forgotten and/or abandoned as a Bonds RC.
Cards Often Viewed as Rookie Cards But Are Not
A Watered Down Rookie Card
A concern that I have deals with the misrepresentation of the term “rookie card.” Today, it seems to be used very flippantly. There is lots of confusion amongst collectors and whenever the topic is brought up a debate is sure to arise or worse yet an agreement that may turn to a “whatever” mindset. Meaning, “every collector has his or her own opinion of what an RC is and that’s okay.” That is a scary thought.
The cards listed above are oftentimes referred to as “Barry Bonds Rookie Cards” but officially, and logically they are not. The reasons are simple. For decades the hobby has had criteria that were used to determine true RCs.
Why Aren’t They Rookie Cards?
For starters, a product must be distributed nationally in pack form when released. The principle here is to give all collectors a fair and equal chance at owning one. Also, cards created as part of a board game or distributed in specialty boxed sets as a themed extension or a spin-off, like the ones shown above, should not be considered rookie cards.
However, please don’t misunderstand me and think that I’m against these cards because I am not. If I come across them at a show or as part of a trade I’ll be sure to pick them up, they’re great sports cards. I just want to identify them for what they truly are. I’m okay with referring to them as Rookie Year or Rookie Related as COMC has done. But to say they are RCs is incorrect.
In the same vein, what I’m trying to say is, there’s a lot to learn when it comes to the sacred rookie card. I get into this topic in a three-part series under the Keeping It Real category. The first of three posts can be found here, History of the Rookie Card.
Happy Collecting, Collectors
Learns. Collect. Enjoy.