There are a number of Youtube videos talking up the value of Jose Uribe’s baseball cards. The 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe, to be precise. So here’s some straight talk about what’s going on with regard to Jose Uribe baseball card value, and why some people think it’s absurdly valuable.
Who is Jose Uribe?
Jose Uribe was the starting shortstop for the San Francisco Giants from 1985 to 1990. He played three more seasons as a part-time player after losing his starting job, and retired in 1993 at the age of 34. His career path was very common for 1980s shortstops.
Uribe was a good fielder, but a below-average hitter, like many 1980s shortstops. He never won any awards and never played in any All-Star games. The story of his career, basically, was that he came up in the Cardinals organization, where he had no future. Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith was the Cardinals’ shortstop. Before the 1985 season, the Cardinals traded him to the Giants with three other players for slugger Jack Clark. The Giants’ shortstop, Johnnie LeMaster, had just turned 30 and looked like he was past his prime. In his new setting, Uribe won the starting job.
He wasn’t a bad player, but he wasn’t a superstar by any stretch. Uribe ended up being the best player the Giants got in return for Jack Clark, but that wasn’t what the Giants had hoped for. He was a typical 1980s shortstop. He was the best player in the trade because he was the only one who met expectations.
The main reason people remember him is because he played in the earthquake-interrupted 1989 World Series.
1990 Fleer Jose Uribe baseball card value
His 1990 Fleer card isn’t Jose Uribe’s rookie card. While I could have sworn I remember a card of him from 1983 or 1984 when he played under the name Jose Gonzalez, I can’t find a trace of that card now. We can argue about what his true rookie card was, but he had cards in all the 1986 sets. So his rookie card would be from 1986 at the latest. In near mint condition, those cards are worth about 15 cents. The junk wax era was well under way by 1986, so the cards aren’t worth nearly what we thought they’d be worth when I was a kid.
So let’s talk about the 1990 Fleer set. The 1990 Fleer set is the Jose Uribe of junk wax era sets. There were better sets in that era. There were also many worse sets. Like the 1986 Fleer set I grudgingly acknowledge as his rookie card. It’s a common set, and Uribe was a common card.
By all rights, the 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe card is worth 5 cents. Yes, a Jefferson nickel. Less than it was worth in 1990, once you factor inflation. There are still unopened cases of 1990 Fleer cards floating around.
So for all cards to be rumored to be worth a fortune, the 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe is as random as you can get. It’s the most average player in the most average set.
What about graded examples?
Grading cards doesn’t automatically make them absurdly valuable. Arguably, a gem mint, 10 out of 10 example of a Jose Uribe card, graded by one of the major grading services like PSA, would have a premium value attached to it. That’s because any card in that condition does. But there can’t be many people who have a reason to put together a PSA 10 1990 Fleer set. I’ve seen them sell for $24 in that condition. Even $24 is high. That’s what non-rookie cards of Hall of Famers from that set sell for. $10 would be more appropriate.
Since building a PSA 10 1990 Fleer set makes about as much sense as rebuilding a 1990 Dodge Omni as a collector car, you don’t see a lot of PSA 10 cards of common players floating around.
What’s going on with the Jose Uribe baseball card value
The most valuable baseball card of the 1990s came out in 1990, but it wasn’t Jose Uribe. It was a misprinted Frank Thomas card that was missing his name. That card is worth four figures. The value comes from the combination of its scarcity and it being the rookie card of a Hall of Famer.
If Frank Thomas’ rookie card has a variation that’s worth around 6 grand, it’s patently absurd to think Jose Uribe’s fourth-year card, and not even his Topps card, is worth tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. If you’re not aware of baseball card brands, Topps was the leading brand in 1990. Fleer had a colorful history, but never achieved the cachet that top brands like Goudey or, ahem, Topps did.
So what’s going on?
The error card theory
One explanation is it’s an error card. Indeed, the 1990 Fleer Uribe lists his date of birth as 1960. He was born in 1959. But many of his other cards also list the incorrect 1960 date. It wasn’t uncommon for Latino players to lie about their age to make them seem like better prospects. Players get in more trouble for it now, but in the 80s, it happened a lot. Technically it’s an error, but since Fleer didn’t know and didn’t correct it, it doesn’t affect the value.
Collecting error cards is a subset of the hobby that has a following, but uncorrected error cards don’t have any inherent premium value.
The money laundering theory
The prevailing theory behind the inflated value is money laundering.
I have no idea who’s doing it, and I don’t want to know. But if you need to launder some money, Jose Uribe baseball cards make tons of sense. Buy the card. List it on Ebay for whatever amount of money you need to launder. Buy it with a sock account, pay the Ebay commission, and boom, now you have an explanation for that unexplainable large amount of money. Or for the 85% of it that’s left.
The only problem with the scheme is people noticed the randomest baseball card ever selling for the kind of money that nice Mickey Mantle cards go for. So now the 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe card has some notoriety, and other people want in. Some people even got examples of the card graded. Occasionally a Uribe card sells for $150. But more frequently it sells for a few bucks. If you have some patience, you can snag one for 50 cents. Some graded examples end up selling for less than it cost to get the card graded in the first place.
But I’m pretty sure the nearest baseball card shop will be happy to sell you one for 15 cents, as long as you don’t waste their time when they’re busy.
Why the rumor persists
I think the rumor of an unbelievably valuable Jose Uribe baseball card persists because people want it to be true. The Alex Madrid card is no different. And there’s enough there that it seems halfway believable. He played long enough that baseball fans have heard of him. The World Series appearance helped. It’s technically an error card.
So it’s hard enough to disprove. It sounds less absurd than the Alex Madrid thing.
But the ease of getting such a supposedly valuable card should make people wonder. It’s easier to find a Jose Uribe card than Steve Jeltz, his counterpart on the Philadelphia Phillies. Never heard of Steve Jeltz? That’s because he wasn’t as good as Uribe, and none of the teams he played for went to the World Series. But he has a card in the same set. It’s worth about 5 cents.