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Focus on Team Sets for Minor League Cards

Bill Wagner - Babe Waxpak by Bill Wagner, "Babe Waxpak"
August 10, 2005

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Dear Babe: My daughter has a 1992 Ken Griffey Jr. Classic Best San Bernardino Spirits card.
Jerry Wheeler, Redding

In the early 1990s - before inserts, promos and memorabilia cards became the focus for collectors, there was a brief flurry of activity involving minor league cards of Major League stars. Trying to cash in, Classic produced its Classic Best minor league set of 450 cards that included true minor league cards along with cards for established players of which Griffey led the list. He was lighting things up in his fourth big league season when card No. 200 appeared in the minor league set. It really wasn't a minor league card. It lists for just $1.

In 1988, Griffey was playing for the Seattle Mariners affiliate - the San Bernardino Spirits. He has actual minor league cards in the Cal Cards and Classic team sets. Beckett's Almanac of Baseball Cards and The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards from the editors of Sports Collectors Digest list the Cal Cards team set at $30-$35. The same guides list the Best team set at $75-$120. The Standard Catalog also lists a platinum version of the Best set at $115. Beckett's Almanac doesn't have a value for the platinum set, but based on a $120 value for the regular issue, the more limited set would list at $180. Supposedly 5,000 of the regular sets were made with 1,500 platinum sets produced.

The rule of thumb when it comes to minor league cards is it's team sets that count. The reigning theory is counterfeiters don't bother to fake an entire 28-card set. Instead, they knock off the one card with value - in this case Griffey Jr. - and sell it. If you buy a set, you can feel a lot more confident about the validity of the one star card you are after.

Generally speaking, older minor league cards weren't very fancy and are easy to counterfeit. In Griffey Jr.'s case, the key is in the white printing on the front. In originals, it is pure white. When it comes to knockoffs, the telltale dot pattern is almost visible to the naked eye.

Finally, there's another Griffey Jr. card that is just a plain old fake - an unauthorized card that has been duplicated numerous times. Even in its original form, it has no value. It shows Griffey Jr. in a white jersey with a glove. It looks a lot like the Cal Cards because it has "San Bernardino" and "Spirits" printed vertically on either side of his photo. On the real card, he is wearing a dark jersey. As I said, this is an unauthorized card and has no value to a serious collector.

Dear Babe: I have a couple of handwritten letters from Wilt Chamberlain when he was at Kansas. He wrote to me when I was in high school in Maine. I had written him asking him a question. They are from January 1951. I also have a letter from the same time frame from Bud Wilkinson, the Oklahoma football coach. That one is typed. The Wilkinson letter is on University of Oklahoma letterhead. It takes eight lines to provide guidance on how to develop as a football player.
Jack Murphy, Alexandria, Va.

The Chamberlain letters are probably worth $200-$300 each, said David Kohler, president of SportscardsPlus.com in Laguna Niguel. He didn't think the Wilkinson letter has much value.

Dear Babe: I have a Willie Mays bobble head in perfect condition with the exception of a very small chip (about the size of a pinhead) on his batting helmet. He has a dark face and it has a white, oval base. It is dated 1962 on the bottom. I bought it in 1962 at the old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia where I grew up. I have another from that time that is just a San Francisco player in a Giants uniform. That one has a square base that is orange.
Russ Custer, Atlanta

When it comes to bobbing heads, the term used for vintage dolls, Da Babe turns to Lou Criscione of www.insidetheparkcollectibles.com and author of the SCD's Go Figure column. "A really minty 'dark' faced Mays can go for about $750," Criscione said. The other bobbing head is worth about $150. Both are from 1960-1961. For record, newer dolls usually are referred to as bobble heads.

BABE NOTE: Last week, Da Babe wrote about the rarity of Nile Kinnick signatures, especially signed 8x10 photos. I was remiss in not mentioning that Lelands.com auction house in New York proved my point when it sold a Kinnick-signed 8x10 for a whopping $10,408 in its June 17 auction.

About the author
Bill Wagner is a veteran journalist with 37 years in the newspaper business as well as being a former Army combat correspondent in Vietnam. He developed the Babe Waxpak sports card column in the 1980s and took over authorship in 1993, expanding into sports memorabilia and autographs as well as answering questions on cards.

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