1997 Bowman Chrome is a landmark set. Featuring a great design, the iconic International Refractors parallel, and a lineup of well-known rookie cards, the premier edition of Bowman Chrome has been a fan favorite since its release 20 years ago. That said, I often come away feeling underwhelmed when reviewing what this set has to offer. Below, I describe why this is the case, and why not all hope is lost.
First of all, while many of the key rookie players in ’97 Bowman Chrome had solid major league careers, sustaining greatness over the long-run proved to be difficult for several of these guys. Consider, for example, the following list of players and their career Wins Above Replacement (obtained from BaseballReference.com on August 5th, 2017):
- #183 Kerry Wood, 27.7
- #192 Eric Chavez, 37.4
- #273 Miguel Tejada, 46.9
All three of these players had notable MLB careers – careers that most players can only dream about. Yet injuries, late-career ineffectiveness, and/or PED suspensions (in the case of Tejada) leave many of us feeling that neither Wood, Chavez, nor Tejada reached their full-potential. I will come back to them in just a moment.
Bowman Chrome considers itself to be Home of the Rookie Card (or now the 1st-Year card – that is a topic for another day), and as such, its release is always highly anticipated in collecting circles. Even with the prevalence of insert, autograph, and relic cards over the past 20 years, rookie cards continue to play an important role in the hobby. Rookie cards of Hall of Famers in particular are the focal points of many collections. I’ve always felt that for a flagship set such as Bowman Chrome to go down as an all-time great, its needs to feature at least one HOF rookie card. At certain points in their careers, Wood, Chavez, and Tejada all seemed destined to enter the Hall-of-Fame, but as mentioned above, obstacles prevented (or will prevent) them from doing so. And over time, these on-the-field disappointments have taken some of the shine and luster off of 1997 Bowman Chrome.
Of course, this set is much more than Wood, Chavez, and Tejada. Aramis Ramirez (#214), Jayson Werth (#293), and Lance Berkman (#298) have all had impactful major league careers. Again, however, I don’t believe any of these three will reach Cooperstown – although Berkman deserves a close-look. Roy Halladay (#212) may or may not be inducted. His peak was so great that I think he will eventually get there, but he is no lock to receive baseball’s highest honor (consider Mike Mussina, for example, whose career is comparable to Halladay’s).
Finally, that brings us to Adrian Beltre (#182). With over 3000 career hits and a WAR of 92.1 and counting, Beltre will enter baseball’s pantheon in Cooperstown. Beltre is distinct from most players in baseball history in that he has been better in his 30s than he was during his 20s. Instead of coming onto the seen like a comet, only to quickly blaze-out, Beltre has been here for the long-run. And it is only now that collectors are starting to wise-up. Beltre’s 1997 Bowman Chrome cards have been on the rise recently; his International Refractor cards in particular currently sell for hundreds of dollars. I do not own a copy of this fantastic card, but it is high on my want list.
Collectors have long pointed to 1997 Bowman Chrome as a turning point in the history of baseball cards. But if this set wants to have a legacy of more than just being the first Bowman Chrome release of all time, it needs to contain a rookie card that will stand the test of time. A card that will be important to the hobby 50 years from now. Otherwise, the premier edition of Bowman Chrome could get lost in the shuffle…simply another set lost to time, largely overshadowed by the newest autograph and relic-card themed sets that continue to saturate the hobby. Happily, Adrian Beltre’s prodigious career will not be forgotten. And because of him, 1997 Bowman Chrome will not be forgotten either. And that is a good thing, don’t you think so?
Word of the Day
artifice – dishonest or insincere behavior or speech that is meant to deceive someone; he spoke without artifice or pretense; political/legal artifices; the whole story was just an artifice to win our sympathy