I came across a Youtube video claiming Alex Madrid’s 1989 Donruss baseball card is incredibly valuable. I checked Ebay and found seven listings for this card for over $10,000. Why is Alex Madrid’s baseball card so expensive? And why are they calling it the Alex Madrid error card? What’s the error?
Hoax is a strong word, but it’s a hoax. If the listings say anything at all about the card, they say it’s an error because the copyright says “Leaf Inc.” instead of “Donruss.” Others are just listing any 1989 Donruss Alex Madrid card they can find at a high price, thinking it’s incredibly rare and expensive. It’s not. There are legitimately valuable cards from the 80s and 90s, but the “Alex Madrid error card” isn’t anything special.
The junk wax era
To understand why someone would hype up this card, it helps to understand the junk wax era. Baseball cards were insanely popular at the time. Literally every male child I knew collected baseball cards in the 1980s. Cards were everywhere. And since we knew what 1950s cards were worth, we saved them. When we spent our allowance on baseball cards, we thought we were investing in our futures.
And then the investors got involved. After the stock market crash in 1987, some investors started looking for other places to put their money. Seeing the rapid rise of Don Mattingly and Jose Canseco rookie card values, they started buying huge lots of cards hoping to find the next one.
It didn’t work out well. The baseball card bubble burst. Lots of people like me amassed collections of 10,000 cards or more during the 1980s and we have no idea what to do with them now. It’s hard enough to sell Ken Griffey Jr. cards from this era, let alone the other 9,999 cards we’d like to liquidate.
So some people turn to hyping up worthless cards in hopes of being able to unload them. That’s pretty much what’s happening here. It’s not the first time this has happened and probably won’t be the last one either.
It could be a joke. It could be someone trying to manipulate prices. Or there could be something slightly nefarious going on. Like money laundering.
Who was Alex Madrid?
Alex Madrid was a pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies. He pitched a total of 14 games over the course of three seasons. At the 1988 trade deadline, the Brewers traded Madrid to the Phillies for veteran outfielder Mike Young, a power hitter near the end of his career who Milwaukee wanted for their pennant drive.
Philadelphia called Madrid up in September 1988, giving him two starts. He pitched well, losing one game 1-0 in a pitcher’s duel with Pascual Perez of the Expos, then beating Perez 2-1 five days later. You have to take September callup results with a grain of salt but Perez was a former All-Star and he pitched well in 1988. Anyone who can duel a pitcher like Perez twice within a week deserves a second look. And Philadelphia needed pitching help at the time. But 1989 wasn’t so kind. Madrid pitched six games in May 1989. His first start went well, with six shutout innings against Cincinnati. But when Madrid started against former All-Stars Orel Hershiser and Atlee Hammaker, he lost badly. He pitched in three more games out of the bullpen but didn’t show enough in those appearances to get another look. Madrid pitched his last game in the majors on May 30, 1989.
He’s an obscure player who had a a few exciting moments, but unless you happened to attend one or more of his three starts that went well, you don’t remember him. The two most famous players most closely associated with him, Mike Young and Pascual Perez, aren’t exactly household names today either.
The Alex Madrid error card
The “error” on the Alex Madrid error card isn’t much of an error. I found two stories. One person claims that on the back of the card, in the upper right, there’s a period after “Leaf Inc” on one variation. (Leaf owned Donruss at the time.) Supposedly the “error” card omits the period. Other people say the error is that the copyright says Leaf, not Donruss.
No one can keep the story straight. But there are six variations in the 1989 Donruss set, and the subtle variations exist on every single player. None of the variations is especially rare or adds any significant value to the card. There are six Donruss rookie cards of Alex Madrid. There are also six Donruss rookie cards of Ken Griffey Jr. and no one seems to really care about the Griffey variations.
If enough people start collecting the variations, maybe someone will start to care. But it will affect the cards of Hall of Famers. Not players whose careers spanned 14 games.
Why is the Alex Madrid baseball card worth so much?
It isn’t. But don’t just take my word for it. If you look on Ebay at the listings for the 1989 Donruss Alex Madrid, you’ll find lots of people listing the cards for thousands of dollars. When I pulled up the sold listings, someone managed to sell one for $110. And both the seller and the buyer had very little Ebay experience. But the second highest sale I could find was $15. Not fifteen thousand. Fifteen. A Lincoln and a Hamilton.
It’s not worth thousands of dollars if no one’s paying that. Given the small number of people paying $15 for one, it’s not even worth that. If you were to offer $2.50 to the guy offering it for $25,000, he’d probably take it. But that’s still too much. The card is worth pocket change, in any condition.
The card frequently turns up in large lots of 10, 20, and 50 cards. It’s not rare if one person amasses that many examples of the card. In 1989, investors were hoarding any rookie card in large quantities hoping to cash them in if the player made it big. Madrid never did. It’s possible some of these large lots were assembled decades ago. When large lots of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken card turn up, it’s the cheap, common variation. There are legitimately rare and expensive versions of the Ripken card. But it’s rare and expensive because you don’t find one in every box of 1989 cards.
I can list a fourth printing of The Da Vinci Code for 25 grand, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth that. Though I will admit, getting a Madrid card graded before listing it on Ebay for over 25 grand is a nice touch. Getting it graded doesn’t make it worth the grading fee though.
Some people have theorized that when a Madrid card changes hands for more than $1,000, it’s money laundering.
Other hoaxes and legitimately valuable cards
There is a similar hoax out there with the 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe card, which is no more rare than any other 1990 Fleer card. This card, like Madrid, has generated a large amount of Youtube traffic. These kinds of videos go viral by making hundreds of people think they have something insanely valuable, and the number of videos and the number of views can be enough to make people believe it might be true.
Uribe was the typical third-tier 1980s shortstop. He held down a regular job for a few years, so he was better than Buddy Biancalana or Al Pedrique. He wasn’t as good as Shawon Dunston, let alone Cal Ripken or Ozzie Smith, and there’s nothing remarkable about his fifth-year card. The Uribe card has also brought about accusations of being involved in money laundering. Uribe, for whatever it’s worth, was the opposing shortstop for the Giants in Madrid’s final start. So that’s another connection to Madrid.
There are plenty of error cards from the 1981 Donruss or Fleer sets or the 1982 Fleer set that are more rare than the Alex Madrid error card. But none of them are worth life-changing money. There are valuable cards from the 1980s and 1990s. But the most valuable card from that era, the NNOF Frank Thomas, exists in truly rare quantities and features a player you’ve probably heard of. That card is worth four figures, not five.
The 1982 Fleer John Littlefield card is another example. Like Alex Madrid, this card is also the rookie card of a pitcher you’ve probably never heard of. In 1982, Fleer flipped the negative on Littlefield’s card so it looked like he was pitching left-handed. Fleer corrected the error. In high grade, the Littlefield card can sell for a few hundred dollars. It’s a legitimately scarce card and it’s worth searching for it in any pile of ’82 Fleer cards you find. It’s not worth life-changing money. But unlike the Madrid card, you can flip it within a week without much trouble, and there aren’t hundreds of others just like it for sale.