For children of the eighties, it was the glint of hope amidst the mud of the gold pan: the blue, angled text of the Rated Rookie.
It’s easy, with our hindsight and our endless, self-perpetuating cynicism, to recognize the Rated Rookie as an early intrusion of branding into our idyllic childhoods. We were taught to salivate at the first sight of #53B6D6, and salivate we did, despite the fact that the inaugural crop of Rated Rookies included such luminaries as Mike Stenhouse and Doug Frobel, while omitting guys like Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry, and Pete O’Brien. It didn’t matter. The Rated Rookie was a mark of distinction, an epaulette that denoted membership in an elite circle. It whispered a secret promise, sometimes false, always interesting.
And Billy Beane was not among the chosen.
Those who have read Moneyball remember that Beane was a blue chip prospect, a future colossus. But in the 1986 Donruss set, his card languished near the end, #647, among the remnants of the league, the throw-ins, the Mark Funderbunks of the baseball card world. But a minor variation released in early sets show that this was not always so:
Since these scans are unforgivably poor, a recap: Billy Beane was originally slotted at #45, a Rated Rookie. At the last minute, after the checklist was already printed, he was replaced by John Habyan, a journeyman middle reliever who put up 5.7 WAR for eight teams in eleven seasons. Granted, that’s 7.4 more than Beane did, but even Habyan would be forced to admit that Beane’s baseball cards carry a little more symbolic weight.
So here you go, Billy. Here’s the 1986 Donruss card #45 you never got. Wear that mark with pride.
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