3 hours ago
22 August 2010
1986 Chong Modesto #10 Steve Howard
As a blogger, or any other type of researcher, one has to love Google News Archive. Especially if one has any interests in Modesto, California in the 1980s. The Modesto Bee's archives are there for the scouring, making a wonderful history book of the Oakland Athletics minor league system at the time. Being a fan of Dann Howitt and Steve Howard, this is especially fun for me, to uncover their not-so-glorious days in A-level ball.
Fortunately, not every day was so bleak in a 1986 season that ended with Howard, one of Oakland's, if not most highly touted, certainly most repetitously touted power prospects. On June 7th, Steve would show the world what he was capable of, blasting two home runs and drving in seven in a 14-7 blood-letting at Euless Park. At the time, Howard was leading the league in both walks and strikeouts, but only batting .228. In his defense, he did undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair pinched cartilage in July, but was back in the lineup by the 22nd of the month. After returning, Howard warmed up, hitting .338 in August, as Modesto pushed toward the California League North Division playoffs. The late season surge was enough to get the promising outfielder a promotion to Huntsville for 1987.
It was my hope to be posting about the 1985 Chong Modesto A's card of Steve Howard, at this point, but that set poses an interesting challenge. That set includes one "Mark McGwire". When said "Mark McGwire" person starting knocking everything in sight out of the ballpark, that set shot through the roof, hitting well over $800. To make matters more interesting, the set was initially released with an error, McGwire misspelled "McGuire", plus misspellings on five other cards in the set. Naturally, when large numbers and big profits turn blue and brown eyes green with envy and greed, the less scrupulous start rolling their own. According to Beckett, there were only 1700 total sets printed. 500 initial sets with the errors, 500 corrected sets (slightly off center) and finally 700 corrected and centered sets, the last reprinted from uncut sheets, rather than the original plates or negatives. Unfortunately, since these were such low-tech productions, they were very easy to counterfeit. And the counterfeiters let the presses roll. And since the counterfeits were virtually indistinguishable, it is very likely that most if the PSA graded McGwire cards are fakes. Both Sports Collector's Digest and Beckett discourage collectors from buying any 1985 Chong McGwire cards that don't come as part of complete sets.
What all this means to the rest of us poor player collectors of semi-obscure minor leaguers is that we will likely never be able to complete our collections of those players in this set as the set is almost never found broken up. 1700 copies of that Steve Howard card out there, and in the last three years, I've not seen a single one of them. Not even Dave Weber has singles from this set for sale. I was really rather hoping that McGwires recent fall from grace would have helped put a dent in the price of the set, but unfortunately, all that remains on eBay are loads of forgeries of the McGwire and the occasional hugely overpriced complete sets. If all of those McGwires were truely legitimate, it only stands to reason that there would be an abundance of singles from this set circulating in the hobby. But there's not.
Instead, what you get is the 1986 edition, this time sponsored by Sequoia Supermarket, "The Biggest Little Supermarket in Town". The "big" names is this set would be Felix Jose, Lance Blankenship and Kevin Tapani.