Want to build a special set of baseball cards featuring flame-throwing pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg, future Hall of Famers like Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, and two-time American League batting champion Joe Mauer?
06/18/2009 12:13 PM ET
Drafting a set: Cards of top picks
Group of 44 players has some notable stories
By Scott Kelnhofer
Then you'll want to build a card set of every No. 1 overall pick in the annual First-Year Player Draft.
Many baseball card collectors love to build "theme" sets, ranging from cards of their favorite team to such compilations as cards of every Rookie of the Year Award winner, or World Series MVP.
A set of every No. 1 overall picks won't be very big -- Strasburg became the 44th player ever selected with the No. 1 overall pick -- but features some interesting stories from baseball's past. Each card will feature a player once seen as the future cornerstone of a franchise. Not all of them lived up to their potential, of course, but each holds a special place in baseball history as being a No. 1 pick. Some have had outstanding careers. Others became nothing more than answers to some fun baseball trivia questions.
The Amateur Draft (its original name) began in 1965, so your collection will start with Rick Monday, the first overall pick in the first-ever draft. Monday, an outfielder from Arizona State who was picked by the Kansas City Athletics, had a steady, 19-year career in the big leagues and was a two-time All-Star.
But Monday is perhaps best known for something he did on the field that never showed up in a box score. During a 1976 game at Dodger Stadium, Monday (then a member of the Cubs) was playing center field when he noticed two protesters kneeling on the grass in left-center, intending to burn the American flag. Monday, who had spent six years as a reservist in the Marine Corps, ran toward the protesters and snatched the flag away from them. The story made headlines around the country, and Monday still receives thanks from fans for his act. His 1967 Topps Rookie Card has a value of about $12.
Before you spend countless hours trying to find a card of the first player taken in the 1966 Draft, let us save you some time. You'll never find one.
Catcher Steve Chilcott, the No. 1 pick of the Mets in 1966, never made it to the big leagues. In those years, Topps didn't produce cards of players until they reached the Majors. As a result, Chilcott never made it onto a baseball card.
Al Chambers, the first pick of the 1979 Draft by the Mariners, did make it on a (as in one) baseball card. Check out the 1985 Topps set for the only big league card of Chambers, whose disappointing career lasted a mere 57 games.
(By the way, the Chambers card in the '85 Topps set was one of 12 cards in the set that pictured former No. 1 picks who were active in the Majors at that time. Those 12 cards combined will only set you back about $1.50.)
You'll notice we mentioned your set will contain 44 players, but this marked the 45th year of the Draft. You can thank Danny Goodwin for the confusion.
Danny Goodwin is hardly a household name in baseball circles, but the former Angels and Twins catcher/designated hitter holds a unique distinction among No. 1 draft picks. He's the only player to be selected as the No. 1 pick twice. Goodwin, a power-hitting catcher, was the first pick of the White Sox in the 1971 draft, but he never signed with the White Sox, choosing instead to play college baseball. Four years later, Goodwin was the No. 1 pick of the Angels.
He began his pro career with the team's Double-A club but soon after suffered a strained shoulder. He did earn a September promotion to the Angels roster, but was only healthy enough to be a designated hitter. He didn't return to the Majors until 1977, but the arm injury never healed and he was limited mostly to DH duties. He was traded to Minnesota in 1979, and his career ended in 1982 after 17 games with Oakland. The powerful hitter ended his career with just 13 home runs. His 1979 Topps Rookie card can be picked up for about 20 cents.
Ron Blomberg, the No. 1 pick of the 1967 Draft by the Yankees, did something that no other player had ever done before him. In 1973, Blomberg became the first player to ever serve as a designated hitter in an American League game, going 1-for-3 against the Red Sox. His 1972 Topps Rookie card can be purchased today for around $3.
Rookie cards of Hall of Famers are almost always valuable, which is another reason a collection of No. 1 selections won't put a big dent in your budget. That's because not a single No. 1 overall pick has ever been elected to the Hall of Fame. That will change in a few years, however, because Griffey (1987 draft) is certainly going to be a Hall of Famer, as is Rodriguez (1993). Chipper Jones (1990) is another current player who is a Hall of Fame candidate.
Joe Clemens, baseball card pricing analyst for Tuff Stuff magazine, said A-Rod's 1994 Upper Deck SP rookie is still a popular seller at $100, and Chipper Jones' 1991 Bowman or Upper Deck rookie cards are valued at $6 each.
There was a time when Darryl Strawberry (1980) appeared to be on the path to a Hall of Fame career. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1983, appeared in eight consecutive All-Star Games and was a key part of the Mets team that won the 1986 World Series.
He never hit fewer than 26 home runs in any of his first nine seasons in the majors.
But injuries and problems with drug use limited his productivity after the 1991 season. One of the most dominant players of the 1980s, Strawberry has a 1983 Topps Traded rookie card that will cost you about $10 to add to your set.
Mike Moore, the No. 1 pick of the Mariners in 1981, holds two distinctions among the 13 pitchers who have been selected with the top pick in the Draft. He has the most career wins (161) of those No. 1 pitchers. He also has the most wins in a season (19) of any pitcher taken No. 1. That's right, none of the pitchers ever selected No. 1 overall ever went on to post a 20-win season.
Your card of Texas Rangers pitcher David Clyde (1973) will be worth noting because Clyde was the first pitcher ever selected with the No. 1 pick. He was also the first No. 1 draft pick to make his big league debut without ever appearing in a Minor League game.
Clyde was a high school star at Westchester High School in Houston. He made his big league debut with the Rangers just weeks after being drafted, in part because Rangers management was hoping to spark more interest in the team. A sellout crowd of more than 37,000 turned out to watch Clyde win his first Major League start, but he only won 17 more games in his seven-year career because of arm injuries. His 1974 Topps card is available for less than $1.
Two other No. 1 picks made their Major League debuts without playing a game in the Minor Leagues. Dave Roberts (1976) made his Major League debut just days after being selected by the Padres. Bob Horner (1978), a third basemen selected by the Braves, played his first game in June and led all NL third basemen with 23 home runs. He also won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, beating out Ozzie Smith. His career lasted 10 years, and for many of those years he was among the top home-run hitters in the National League. He's also remembered as being the 11th player in baseball history to hit four homers in a game.
Other than Chilcott, the only other No. 1 pick whose career ended without ever making it to the Majors was Brien Taylor, a pitcher taken with the top pick by the Yankees in 1992. An arm injury suffered by Taylor in a 1993 brawl at a local pub required surgery, and the pitcher never regained the velocity that made him such a prized prospect.
But in 1992, card companies knew collectors wanted cards of promising prospects, so Topps included a card of Taylor in its 1992 set. So while he didn't make it to the Majors, he is pictured on a card wearing a Yankees uniform (even if it was from a Minor League game).
Shortstop Matt Bush, the No. 1 pick of the Padres in 2004, might join Chilcott and Taylor in that category of never making it to the bigs. He was traded by San Diego to Toronto during the offseason, and has since been released by the Jays. He's not currently on a 40-man roster.
Your collection might get a little more expensive when you start adding the top rookie cards of some of the more recent No. 1 overall picks. The Twins used the No. 1 pick in the 2001 Draft to take catcher Joe Mauer. Tuff Stuff has his 2002 Bowman Chrome rookie card valued at $140, and 2009 Upper Deck SPx cards of last year's No. 1 pick, pitcher David Price (Tampa Bay), are at $120.
Even though history has shown that few pitchers selected No. 1 have gone on to dominate in the big leagues, expect Strasburg's first MLB cards to also be red hot when they arrive on the market.