Like Mike Piazza, Brett Butler was a late round draft pick that was not expected to amount to much. Picked up 573rd in the 1979 MLB draft, he became one of the better leadoff men of the 1980s and played through age 40.
He had speed, as evidenced by his ranking just outside the modern top 10 career triples leaderboard. His stolen bases tally ranks 25th all-time with 558, though this if offset by a rather high caught stealing rate. Butler was going to run wherever he went, regardless of the odds.
Not a power hitter, he would often bunt with the intention of beating out throws to get on base. He has 188 career bases-empty bunt singles to his name, making him one of the best bunters of all time. An ability to bunt his way to first, combined with a very high walk rate and lack of home runs created the statistical oddity of carrying a higher on base percentage (.377) than slugging (.376). These skills made him sneaky good, getting him into only one All-Star Game while generating more than 40 wins above replacement.
Butler played in an incredible early 1990s Dodger outfield, all of which developed various cancers at an early age. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1996 and still managed to get back into the starting lineup at the end of the season. He was still undergoing treatment and taking substantial amounts of medication. If you look at footage of him in the outfield that year you can see him carrying a bottle of water with him as part of this regimen.
I Once Had a Perfect Butler Card
I have bought this card twice, with the one currently in my collection being the first time I have ever downgraded a card. I was up late one night, browsing the inventory of several online card platforms looking for refractors. One of the sites I frequent has a real-time feed listing the most recent completed transactions and the prices at which they occurred. I saw a Barry Bonds card sell for less than half of what I had been expecting to pay. Intrigued, a scrolled over to a similar portion of the site that shows the most recent listings. There was the Bonds card, snapped up just a minute after being listed and apparently added to the site perhaps two minutes before I logged on.
Almost out of habit I refreshed the page. The listings shifted downward with a pair of newly advertised refractors joining the page at prices that looked five years out of date. I purchased one card (Mike Piazza!) and saw the other (Greg Maddux) had been sold during my checkout process. I refreshed a second time and was greeted by another pair of cards. The scenario repeated as I grabbed another missing card for my set and someone else did the same for the other card. This mystery buyer and I competed for over an hour as the seller slowly worked their way through what appeared to have been over a third of the set.
Towards the end of this experience, the seller started listing Gem Mint graded refractors. Most were names with dozens of perfect examples in existence and the pricing was much more in line with what one would expect for these cards. Having spent my card budget, I stepped back from the checkout button and just watched these sales scroll past. The final card to appear was that of Brett Butler. Butler’s card has historically been more difficult to find in top condition, and I knew from my studies that there were only a few gem examples in existence. The anonymous seller had attached no premium pricing compared to other high grade commons, so I jumped back in and added the card.
Great! I now had my first (and only) gem mint ’93 refractor. Despite the purchase knocking Butler off my set building needs list, I never considered this card as a permanent part of the collection. It was destined to be trade bait and would hopefully allow me to snag a larger portion of the set at some point down the road.
That opportunity presented itself in late 2022. I follow developments regarding this set fairly closely and over the years I have watched several new sets take shape via the PSA set registry. There are some well-known people in the hobby behind some of those screen names, many of which keep lines of communication open. One of these collectors is building a set of perfect 10s, a goal that is extra difficult due to the fact that several cards only have a half dozen or so gem mint copies in existence and almost all are already held within long-term collections. Butler is one of those names that has almost every copy already spoken for and a gem population of less than 10 cards. Research into the whereabouts of each of the other copies showed they were each within someone else’s registry collection. In effect, this was the only example likely to be available for an extended period.
I reached out to this collector, explained how I thought this was the only available copy, and offered the card at a price similar to where one last publicly changed hands in 2017. He made a fair counter offer a deal was struck. I’m very happy this card is now in one of the hobby’s better collections, and based on what I can see online, the purchase pushed his gem mint set past the 50% completion mark. I used the proceeds to fund the purchase of the mint condition Butler card now residing in my collection, as well as pickups of Tom Glavine, Brady Anderson, and Howard Johnson. That’s a wonderful trade.