January 22, 2014

Topps sign McGwire to an autograph deal

Topps signs former home run king Mark McGwire to first autograph deal.

This month’s edition of Beckett Baseball Card Magazine & Price Guide is out and in the newsstands. Inside, Beckett editor Chris Olds announces “Topps Big Signing” in his News and Notes column.

Topps had originally announced the signing of Mark McGwire last November, as the former Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals slugger finds himself back in Topps baseball card sets with autographs. The autographs with be McGwire’s first with the company.

The signing of McGwire to an autograph deal comes a year after Topps had stripped Pete Rose of his all-time hits record and refused to acknowledge Rose on any of their products. Rose, who is ineligible for the Hall of Fame, was banned from baseball in 1989 for gambling on games while playing and managing the Cincinnati Reds in the 1980s.

McGwire hit 583 home runs in his career that ended after the 2001 season. In 1998, he hit an Opening Day grand slam to kick off what would become an historic season and home run race between McGwire and the Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa. In May, McGwire hit the longest home run in Busch Stadium history, a 545-foot shot to center, that will long be remembered, but none more memorable than on September the 8th, when McGwire made history with home run #62 down the left-field line in Busch Stadium to become baseball’s single season home run king. A record held by New York Yankees Roger Maris who had hit 61 home runs in 1961. McGwire went on to hit 70 home runs that season to beat out Sammy Sosa, who finished the season with 66 homers.

McGwire is currently a hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and while he has not been found guilty of any activity that would warrant discipline by Major League Baseball, he did admit in 2010 that he had taken performance enhancing drugs during his career. As a result of his admission, there is some who question the legitimacy of any of McGwire’s records.

I agree with Ralph Houk, the former New York Yankees manager who was Maris' manager with the Yankees in 1961. He told ESPN in 2010 that he does not think the legitimacy of McGwire's home run totals is changed by his admission of using performance-enhancing drugs and that the effects of such drugs -- whether pills (amphetamines) taken in the 1960s or steroids in later years -- are questionable.

"I think [McGwire] broke [Maris'] record fairly," Houk told ESPN.

"I wouldn't be concerned about it. [McGwire] was a good hitter that deserves everything he's got," Houk said.

My take on McGwire is that he was a product of his generation. I think he earned every home run that he ever hit, the home runs coming as a result of his total commitment to excellence, preparation, and his intense focus during every at-bat, with every pitch, something that I have rarely witness in the game, that I have loved for over 50 years.

It was 20 years ago this year that baseball fans everywhere suffered through the infamous 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike, which lasted from August 12, 1994 to April 2, 1995, including the loss of the entire 1994 postseason and World Series.

In the aftermath of the strike, it was Mark McGwire, the Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa and the San Francisco Giants Barry Bonds that brought the fans back to baseball. In St. Louis the Cardinals reached the three million milestone in attendance in 1998 for the first time since 1989.

In 1998 and the years that followed, baseball owners, players and everyone associated with the game, lined their coffers off of the Ruthian efforts of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds. Today, those same people who stand on their self-righteous soap boxes and take pot shots at the trio and the others that have been linked to steroids need to take a look at their bank book.

It was the home run races, the moon shots in the 1990s that captured the attention of an entire nation, generating epic TV ratings and setting stadium attendance records. The money flowed into the game, bringing it back to life. As of today, I don’t recall anyone, including Major League Baseball offering the fans a refund, because the games that McGwire and the others played in or that the records that they set, were tainted.

According to Topps, McGwire’s first autographs in the deal will appear in 2014 Topps Series 1, which will arrive in stores on January 29th. McGwire will also appear in Topps Tribute, Allen & Ginter, Archives, Museum Collection, Tier One, Gypsy Queen and Finest in 2014.

Throughout his career McGwire appeared in 5,104 baseball cards that are listed in the Beckett a database and had just 139 different autograph cards. His first baseball card arrived when he played with USA Baseball, a card from the 1985 set, which is considered his rookie card.

It’s time to put the past behind us, to accept that there was a steroid age, acknowledge it and move on. It’s time for a Topps Mark McGwire autograph card and while you are at it Topps, the all-time hits record belongs to Pete Rose.

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