Second Year Standouts: 1997 Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractor Carlos Beltran

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As a Kansas City Royals fan, I’ve watched Carlos Beltran’s fine MLB career develop from its very beginning way back in September 1998.  In his prime, Beltran was outstanding – a genuine five-tool player who could take over a game in a variety of ways.  With a career WAR of over 70.0, Beltran has a chance to end up in Cooperstown before it is all said and done.  Although he hasn’t played for the Royals in 13 years, Beltran is still one of my all-time favorite players.  As such, I’ve long wanted to find key early Beltran cards to add to my collection.  I first considered adding Beltran’s rookie card, 1995 Topps Traded #18T (pictured below, right).  Unfortunately, this card contains an uncorrected error and it’s a big one: the card shows a picture of formal Royals prospect Juan Lebron instead of Beltran.  Juan Lebron’s card in turn, 1995 Topps Traded #12T (pictured below, left), showcases a photo of Beltran.  This switcheroo has always dragged down collector interest in Beltran’s rookie card.  Adding even more confusion to the Beltran/Lebron mix-up is that Beltran is erroneously pictured (instead of Juan Lebron) together with Juan Gonzalez in the 1995 Bowman’s Best Mirror Image insert set.

So, where can a collector turn if he/she is looking for an alternative to Beltran’s 1995 Topps Traded card?  As far as I can tell, Beltran only has a scattering of minor league cards from 1996; he was not included in any mainstream MLB releases.  But then in 1997, (still a year prior to Beltran’s first big league action), Topps included Beltran in the fourth edition of its Bowman’s Best brand.  In addition to the base set, Bowman’s Best included two parallels: Refractors and Atomic Refractors.  The Beltran Atomic Refractor card from this set in particular is a great collectible that features a young Beltran inching his way off base.

In some ways, the 1997 Bowman’s Best base design is actually pretty simple.  For example, no team name nor position information is listed on the card front.  The only info provided is a centered player name at the bottom of the card.  At the same time, the square patterns and large concentric circles give 1997 Bowman’s Best a distinct design.  As can be seen in the Beltran card, the Atomic Refractor parallel adds color and finish that makes the overall design a winner.

I like the back of this card as well (I apologize for not having a better scan).  Seeing a great head shot of a smiling and young Carlos Beltran brings back many memories.  Biographical data and an abbreviated stat line are also included.  I also like how by 1997 Topps was labeling Refractor cards (or in this case Atomic Refractors) near the card number.   Doing so was a nice detail that helped collectors in the late 1990s better understand what card they were looking at.   For most collectors back in 1997, this card would have been their first look at Carlos Beltran.  It makes a good first impression.

According to BaseballCardPedia, 1997 Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractors were inserted 1:24 hobby packs, and 1:40 retail packs.  Graded versions of the Beltran card are even more difficult to track down.  According to PSA’s population report, there are currently three PSA 9s in existence and zero PSA 10s.  Furthermore, according to BGS’s population report, there are currently only one BGS 9 and one BGS  9.5 in existence.  In other words, it will take some work to get your hands on this card, especially in high grade.  But your efforts will be worth it.  I’d characterize this card as Beltran’s best from 1997.  Beltran was not included in 1997 Bowman Chrome (and as such does not have an International Refractor card).  Beltran does make an appearance in base 1997 Bowman and that is a nice card, but the scarcity and design appeal of 1997 Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractors make today’s Second Year Standout the key Beltran card to have from 1997.  I still do not own this card, but am definitely on the look-out.

One final thought: as great as Beltran has been throughout his playing days, the peripatetic nature of his career never allowed him to gain a foothold within the card collecting community.  His cards can be found relatively cheaply, often times for less than cards of players with far less career achievement.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Card desirability is not always commensurate with on field production, and this happens for a variety of reasons.  But the next time you see a good deal on a Beltran card, I suggest that you go for it.  Beltran is now in his age-40 season – in fact, he turns the big 4-0 on Monday, April 24th.  He is one of those players that I wish the viewing public in general and the baseball card hobby community in particular celebrated more.  Happy birthday, Mr. Beltran.

Word of the Day

abscond – to go away or escape from a place secretly; the suspect absconded to Canada; several prisoners absconded from the jail

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