Have Bat, Will Travel

Felix Jose, depicted with the Kansas City Royals in the 1993 Finest set, is an MLB All-Star and entered the Dominican Sports Hall of Fame alongside Pedro Martinez in 2015. He loved to stay on the field, playing winter ball in the Caribbean and winning multiple MVP awards and batting titles overseas. By the time he hung up his cleats in 2009, he had accumulated nearly 3,000 professional hits.

While this sounds like the career of a long-time MLB veteran, Jose actually spent more time in the minors than in big league ballparks. He played in exactly 800 minor league games across parts of 11 seasons. Originally signed as a teenage free agent at the outset of 1984, Jose spent years working his way up to an 8 game cup of coffee at the end of the 1988 season.

Competing for a position on a loaded Oakland Athletics roster, he would not get a full season of experience under his belt until he was traded to the Cardinals in 1990. He showed some promise, batting .280 in 11 seasons. He averaged more than 20 stolen bases per 162 games, though it should be noted he was also thrown out in 36% of his attempts. This is a lower success rate than all MLB runners had against the arms of Gary Carter, Benito Santiago, and Carlton Fisk. Teams may have figured this out, as they elected to intentionally walk this player known for speed on 28 occasions.

Injuries began to limit Jose’s playing time in the mid-1990s, prompting him to try to prove his durability and continued skills in an assortment of overseas winter leagues. The Dominican Republic, Korea, and Mexico were all components of his 710 foreign games across 11 seasons. A multi-year tour of independent teams followed after allegations of using PEDs arose in Mexico.

Halfway Mark

Here is a Felix Jose card that I have always liked. When Pinnacle issued this card in 1995 it was hard to imagine that it was being released halfway through his professional career. It would turn out to be his last season as an MLB player for quite a while. Though he did reappear for brief stints with the Yankees and Diamondbacks this proved to be his last MLB baseball card.

This particular example is from Pinnacle’s “Museum Collection” parallel insert set. The photography on the front is fantastic, and the action shot on the back works great with the biographical text. The writeup on the back tells readers about how an injured shoulder has limited his playing time, and the card’s design makes it look like a rip is travelling through the cardboard across a grimacing Jose’s shoulder.

Felix Jose Joins the Refractors

While Felix Jose’s career didn’t take off as fast as he did when breaking for second base, his 1993 Finest Refractor still commands above average interest when it is offered. Jose’s card was considered a common from the time of issue through early 1995. Early that year, Beckett Baseball Card Monthly began to highlight several refractors as being particularly difficult to find. The hobby took notice when it was reported that some of these already scarce cards were potentially short-printed. Comments about availability flooded in and the editorial staff expanded their list of supposed short-prints in the August issue. Felix Jose was among the newly identified rarities with collectors reportedly paying $120 a piece to land their own copy.

Eventually collectors began to realize that there were no factory created short-prints. The added excitement around the set and the opening of additional packs plagued by collation issues brought supply and demand towards an equilibrium. The card isn’t super tough to find today, but Jose’s time away from the MLB spotlight has kept a lid on the number that sellers take time to list.