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?
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 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.
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. In 1987, 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. But 1989 wasn’t so kind. Philadelphia gave Madrid three starts in May 1989 before pulling the plug. Madrid got a few more innings out of the bullpen but never pitched in the majors again after 1989.
He’s an obscure player who had a couple of good moments, but unless you happened to attend one or both of those games in September 1988, 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 first. Not single-season players.
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.
Most of the sales are large lots of 10, 20, and 50 cards. It’s not rare if one person amasses that many examples of the card. 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.
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. I think these are just ways for people to get more Youtube traffic, by making hundreds of people think they have something insanely valuable and using those Youtube videos to “prove” it.
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.
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 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. The Littlefield card typically sells for under $100. 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’ll sell it for 50 bucks within a week without much trouble.