If you ask anyone who has ever collected baseball cards, “What is the most valuable baseball card of all time?” you’d probably hear the same few answers. The Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, the Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps rookie card, and the 1914 Babe Ruth Baltimore News rookie card would likely top that list. Even looking at more recent cards, they may say the rookie cards of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Derek Jeter might be worth some money. One name that would not likely pop up in conversation would be that of Jose Uribe.
Yet, his 1990 Fleer card has been selling for thousands of dollars, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars, on eBay.
What makes Jose Uribe, or his 1990 Fleer card, so valuable?
According to Baseball Reference, Jose Uribe had a solid 10-year career in the MLB, playing from 1984 to 1993. He was with the St. Louis Cardinals his rookie season, followed by eight seasons with the San Francisco Giants. He finished his last season with the Houston Astros.
Uribe had a lifetime batting average of .241 with 19 home runs and 219 RBIs. He finished with a career WAR of 8.7, and he was never an all star. Sadly, Uribe passed away in 2006 in a car accident in the Dominican Republic at the age of 47.
So, for a 10-year player with the lifetime stats of Uribe’s, why is a baseball card of his from 1990 seen as so valuable? There are a confusingly large amount of factors in play that would suggest Uribe’s baseball card shouldn’t be anywhere near these prices.
One of these factors is when this card was produced during Uribe’s career. Typically, each player’s rookie baseball card is considered to be their most valuable. For example, according to Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), Mantle’s 1952 Topps rookie card is worth 2.5 million dollars. As the years progress away from his rookie season, the values of his cards drop. His 1953 Topps card is worth 350,000 dollars, his 1956 Topps card is 36,500 dollars, his 1962 Topps card is 25,000 dollars, and so on. Jose Uribe’s 1990 Fleer card was produced during his seventh season, far from his rookie year.
Another puzzling factor is the timing of the production of the card. The largest boom in card collecting occurred from the mid 1980’s into the early 1990’s, where there were more enthusiasts in the hobby than ever before. To meet the high demand of collectors, major baseball card companies like Topps, Upper Deck, and Fleer had to produce large amounts of cards during this upturn. In every printing cycle, the biggest companies would print tens of millions of cards. Today, these cards are seen as some of the least valuable in collecting history due to the large volume of them that made it into circulation.
This circles back to the initial question: How can the baseball card of a seventh-year MLB player who was never an all star, and whose card was produced at a time when more baseball cards had been produced than ever before, be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars?
The origin of this can be linked back to a listing of the card on eBay in February of 2018, brought to attention by Grant Bisbee on Twitter:
It was a humorous posting to see, but the other cards didn’t drop off in pricing. Following this posting, the next-highest priced Jose Uribe cards were 525,000 dollars, 29,999 dollars, 24,000 dollars, and 20,000 dollars, respectively. Even from there, numerous amounts of these cards were being listed in the thousands of dollars.
One “reason” many of these postings give for the high prices on this card is the error on the back in regards to Uribe’s birthdate. Uribe was born January 21, 1959, whereas the back of this card says he was born in 1960. Typically, an error card does fetch a higher asking price. Yet, this still doesn’t justify the card being worth two figures, let alone six.
Brian Murphy of SB Nation’s San Francisco branch, McCovey Chronicles, suggested (tongue-in-cheek) that the buying and selling of these cards was part of a money laundering scheme. According to Murphy’s theory, the mob is using the cards as a way to move money around without suspicion.
Another theory that has been suggested is that it’s a prank amongst collectors. The idea of driving up prices on eBay as a prank isn’t new. Manny Ramirez was on the receiving end of this prank in 2007 when the bidding price on his gas grill made it to 99,999,999 dollars thanks to his teammates bids, causing eBay to pull the listing. Some collectors may have come together to put this card on eBay for insane amounts, just for a laugh.
Overall, we may not know the real reason behind these overpriced Jose Uribe baseball cards. What is known is the repercussion of these eBay listings. Due to these massively overpriced listings, dozens more have found their way to eBay in the hundreds of dollars. Although this may be significantly less than the higher amounts, they’re still listed at a considerably higher price than the few cents they should logically cost.
Despite the minute pricing listed in trusted card collecting companies like PSA and Beckett (whose marketplace sells these cards for as little as 50 cents), there is an argument to be made that a card is only worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. If people are willing to buy the 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe baseball card for hundreds of dollars, then it can be contended that that is the true price of the card of a 10-year MLB veteran with middle-of-the-pack offensive numbers that was produced tens of millions of times.
Whether it’s worth 790,000 dollars or 79 cents, the case of Jose Uribe’s baseball card is one of the most unique in sports card collecting history.
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