If you look at the period of time from 2000 to the present as “the last generation”, then the parameters are set to determine who has been baseball’s greatest player over that time.
We all have our opinions and our favorites, but in reality, there are three players who stand alone after performing virtually their entire careers over this period of time: Albert Pujols, Ichiro and Miguel Cabrera. And for one reason or another, the demand in the hobby for all three seems to be below what common sense would dictate.
Eventually, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will be seen as generational players, and the hobby is obsessing over Shohei Ohtani and “The Juniors” – Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuna Jr. All have potential to become known as generational players. But before they get into the hobby stratosphere of Ichiro, Albert and Miggy, they have to do things like hit 500 home runs or get 3,000 hits.
Of the three current generational superstars, however, Cabrera is clearly the most overlooked superstar in the hobby.
Miggy Joins Elite Club
Miguel Cabrera’s 2000 Topps Traded rookie card
Before we lay out the reasons for why Cabrera is undervalued and overlooked by collectors, let’s take a look at is body of work.
Cabrera, a native of Venezuela, was signed by the Florida Marlins as a 16-year-old shortstop in 1999. He rose through the minor league ranks quickly. In 2003, the 20-year-old Cabrera was tearing it up with the Double-A Carolina Mudcats. In April of that season, Cabrera hit .402. By June, he was hitting .365 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs.
On June 20, 2003, he was called up to the Majors and made his Major League debut. He arrived in style, hitting a game-winning, walk-off home run in his first game as the Marlins beat the Tampa Bay Rays. He became only the third player since 1900 to hit a game-winning home run in his debut.
The Marlins beat the Yankees in the World Series that year, and the young rookie was at center stage. The memorable, iconic moment of that series was a two-run home run Cabrera hit off Roger Clemens, just after Clemens threw some chin music up and in at the rookie.
While the Marlins failed to remain competitive after winning the World Series, Cabrera continued to put up big numbers. In 2007, at the age of 24, he became the third youngest player to reach 500 RBIs. Only Ted Williams and Mel Ott reached the milestone at a younger age.
Already a four-time All-Star, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers after that season. In his first game as a Tiger, he hit a home run, although it was not a game winner like in his first game as a Marlin.
As a Tiger, Cabrera took his game to the next level. He was a two-time AL MVP, a seven-time All-Star, he won four AL batting titles, two RBI titles and two AL home run titles. He won the Hank Aaron award twice. He won five Silver Slugger Awards to go with the two he won in Florida.
And then there was 2012.
Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown, leading the AL in batting (.330), home runs (44) and RBIs (139). He led the Tigers to the AL pennant, where they would lose to the San Francisco Giants. Cabrera won his first of two consecutive MVP Awards.
On August 22, Cabrera became the 28th player in Major League history to hit 500 home runs. The milestone blast came off Blue Jays pitcher Steven Matz in Toronto. Cabrera is so well liked and respected around the league that he got a curtain call at Rogers Centre in Toronto despite being a visiting player. Cabrera is also approaching the 3,000-hit plateau, but that will likely happen in the 2022 season.
Timing of Rookie Card
Miguel Cabrera’s 2000 Topps Traded autograph rookie card#TTA40 is his most valuable RC.
One of the problems with the industry in the 1990s and 2000s was that Topps had the ability to produce cards of players before they reached the major leagues, where the other companies could not. This produced an unfair advantage that actually hurt Topps as much as it hurt everyone else.
Cabrera’s official rookie cards are in the 2000 Topps Traded and Topps Chrome Traded sets. The cards, both numbered T40, remain a good value despite the love Cabrera received after his 500th home run. Over the last month, the highest price paid on eBay for an unsigned Miguel Cabrera rookie card was $2,500 for a Topps Traded T40 with a BGS Pristine 10 grade. PSA 9 examples of his regular Topps Traded rookie card are still sitting at under $300 with 10s under $1,000.
Had Topps left him out of their 2000 sets, could you imagine the hysteria around the baseball card market in 2003 when Cabrera arrived, hit a walk-off dinger in his debut, and then won a World Series over the Yankees? Imagine if that was today. Would those be the ultimate Topps Now cards? What would his graded Refractors be worth?
Cabrera did not get any of that hobby hype. In fact, to make matters worse, he was featured in Bowman and Bowman Chrome in 2001. His 2001 Bowman card#299 and his Bowman Chrome card#259, long with their Refractors, are uncorrected error cards and feature photos of Denny Bautista instead of Cabrera. In other words, Cabrera has such little respect in the hobby that he is not what could have been one of his own best cards.
Price Guide Snubs
In the 1990s and 2000s, there was always controversy with price guides. Do they reflect the market price? Or do they set the market price. Price guide analysts and editors would say they reflect the prices, yet hobby shop owners in that era would adjust their prices the minute the price guides arrived.
For some reason, there was a big gap of time when price guides did not give Cabrera’s cards the value that some other stars received. He was treated as a regional star instead of the superstar he was. Was there really a lack of demand for Cabrera cards compared to the game’s other stars and the price guides reflected that? Did hobbyists stay away from his cards because they saw the low values in the price guides? It’s one of those chicken-and-egg questions in the hobby, and it will likely never be answered. What we do know is that both sides of this equation fed off each other.
Coinciding with the low price valuation of Cabrera’s cards is the overall value of demand for cards. If you look at the hobby as a big picture, the hobby fell into a bit of a stagnant lull between 2006 and 2015 compared to the booming market of today. Revenues were down, shops closed, demand for new products dwindled. The hobby was by no means dead at that time. The serious collectors were still there, but there were certainly more collectors leaving the hobby than coming in. Not only did this affect Cabrera’s card demand and values, but it also hurt Ichiro’s and Albert Pujols’ cards values.
Some collectors say that Cabrera is not as valuable as he should be because he had his best years in Detroit and not in New York or Los Angeles.
That argument really holds no merit. Remember how popular Barry Sanders was? How about the 1990-91 Pistons or Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings dynasty. Detroit has always been one of the healthiest sports card markets in America, and the Tigers have produced a number of superstars through the ages.
There are plenty of superstars playing in other markets not near a coast and getting plenty of love.
Prices for Cabrera’s key rookie cards did climb last spring along with most everything else in the hobby, but even after his 500th homer, there’s been no huge increase, with most graded examples well within reach of most collectors. Only the autographed versions stretch into four figures.
So, yes, that seems to indicate Miguel Cabrera’s cards are grossly undervalued. For savvy collectors looking at the long term picture, that may be the best thing.
About Jeff Morris
Jeff Morris is a hobby veteran who has been a collector for more than 50 years. Originally a hobby journalist, he became brand manager at Pinnacle, and then was an executive for Collector’s Edge and Shop at Home before joining Pacific Trading Cards as VP Marketing. He is the former editor and publisher of Canadian Sports Collector magazine, and he was also a columnist for ESPN.com.