Today, almost every baseball player has readily available autographs. Even before they make the majors, prospects have already signed for several sets. It's a reflection of the hits-driven state of the hobby. But autographs have only been commonplace for a little over a decade. While many retro-themed sets have captured earlier generations, there is a handful of recent baseball autographs that don't pop up very often. Here of some of the stars from the past couple decades who need more autographed baseball cards.
When Fernando Valenzuela broke into the league in 1981, he captured the imagination of the entire baseball world. After winning his first eight decisions, Fernandomania was born. By the time the season ended, the Mexican hurler was a Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award Winner and World Series Champion. Although Valenzuela failed to maintain the pace he showed in his rookie season, he remained a fan favorite. Valenzuela spent the second half of his career bouncing from team-to-team. He retired in 1997, just as autographs were becoming a collector expectation. The lone set Valenzuela's signed for is 2005 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic. His signature appeared on the regular Sweet Spot Classic Signatures as well as a two parallels, one numbered to 40 and a one-of-one.
Yes, Omar Vizquel is still playing. And yes, his autograph is still difficult to come by. Although the seemingly ageless shortstop has signed for more than 150 different cards, the most are limited to only a few copies. Vizquel may not have a huge hobby following, but collectors do recognize the rarity of his signature. Copies of his 1996 Leaf Signature Series Autograph, one of the few Vizquel autographs that's somewhat common, still go for more than $20. Outside of a pair of Donruss buybacks, Vizquel doesn't have any autographed Mariners cards.
Despite being one of the top National League hitters throughout much of the 1990s, not to mention a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Larry Walker only has a handful of readily available autograph cards. The 1997 NL MVP has around 80 different signed cards, but most are extremely rare with numbering of 50 or less. Most of Walker's autographs have him pictured with the Colorado Rockies and not the Montreal Expos, the team he started his career with. Being a Canadian on a Canadian team, northern collectors would love to see more Larry Walker autographs showing him in his vintage blue uniform.
It's easy to get overlooked in the hobby when you spend most of your career playing in Toronto. Although Pat Hentgen will never be considered for the Hall of Fame, he did win the 1996 American League Cy Young Award. He also helped the Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. Despite being one of baseball's best starters in the mid-1990s, Hentgen has no official certified autographs, although there are 1996 Leaf Signature Series cards floating around that were apparently never inserted in packs.
Cecil Fielder's baseball career took a fairy tale turn in 1990. After struggling at the start of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, he went to Japan for a year. Fielder returned to the majors in 1990 and, out of nowhere, amassed 51 home runs. For the next several seasons, Fielder remained one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. And while collectors love the long ball, Cecil Fielder's autograph can only be found in three sets. With his son, Prince Fielder, now on the Tigers, the timing is perfect for Cecil to make a cardboard comeback. It is worth noting that 2006 Topps Co-Signers includes a dual autograph of the father-son duo.
Kevin Maas is the Chumbawamba of baseball, a one-hit wonder that seemed primed for greatness but quickly faded away. Maas entered baseball's folklore by smashing ten home runs in his first 72 at-bats. If he was able to continue that pace, Maas would have become the all-time home run king in about a decade. Even though things didn't come close to working out that way (Maas retired with 65 career homers), the Yankees first baseman remains somewhat relevant in the hobby. His rise coincided with the peak of the baseball card boom of the early 1990s and many collectors probably still have bricks of his rookie cards taking up space in their card closets. Kevin Maas autographs can be found in just two products. And while new cards likely won't bring in huge amounts, as something of a Yankee legend and hobby anti-icon, a couple new cards would be appreciated.
It's hard to believe that a slugging All-Star for the latter part of the 90s doesn't have a certified autograph card. That's the case with Dante Bichette. The 1995 NL Home Run champ has a grand-total of zero signed cards. Zero. Although Bichette isn't much of a hobby hero, there is something strange about him not having any pack-inserted autographs. With his son now on the road through the minors, perhaps we'll see a father-son dual autograph sometime in the near future.
Yes, Leaf is doing a great job of bringing new autographs of the Japanese legend to the hobby. But I'm sure there's a segment of the hobby that would love to see more of him in his Mariners uniform. Although Ichiro's signature appeared somewhat regularly on Upper Deck cards early in his career, there hasn't been much until Leaf signed an exclusive last year. Combine the pent-up demand with the international following Ichiro has and it's not hard to understand why the Leaf cards are bringing in so much.
One of baseball's best arms in the late 80s, Frank Viola has autographs in just two sets (three if you include a pair of dual cut signature cards in 2011 SP Legendary Cuts that also included the late Kirby Puckett). Viola factored in three decisions during the 1987 World Series, helping lead the Twins to a championship. He followed that up by winning 24 games in 1988 on his way to the AL Cy Young Award. He had his second career 20-win season in 1990 while with the New York Mets.
According to the hype, Todd Van Poppel was going to be the next Nolan Ryan, find a cure for the cold and bring peace to the world one over-printed 1991 rookie card at a time. Things didn't work out that way. Although his playing career ended up being rather insignificant, Van Poppel's popularity in the hobby leading up to his debut is deserving of more than just the one autograph appearance he made in 1996 Leaf Signature Series. Maybe some 1991 buybacks could bring back some of their luster.
These aren't the only players who are tough to find. Other than Ichiro, there aren't any major superstars on the list one could debate need more autographs simply based on their popularity. Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson are a few that come to mind. However, these players do have hundreds of different autographs. They are just tough to find and often cost more than $100 each.
Who are some of the players you'd like to see more autographs of? Leave a note in the comments below.