There are lots of player collectors in the hobby. While most gravitate towards the biggest names in the game, there are a handful who latch onto those that are less well known than the top tier stars. It is these collections that usually have the best stories behind them. There was something that made these athletes fun to watch and their small band of devoted collectors can tell you about them.
One subject of such a collection is Lance Johnson. Johnson was one of the better leadoff hitters of his generation, but more importantly he was one of the more exciting players of his era. With only a smattering of home runs and a playing weight of barely 160 pounds he was overshadowed (literally) by the big names of the steroid era. Those watching White Sox games, however, were well aware of how much fun it could be to see him play.
1Dog, as he known, specialized in speed. He ran down balls all over center field with defense that added a full point to annual WAR totals. He stole bases at a rapid clip, averaging 36 per 162 games played, retiring with more than 300 to his name and generating a success rate (76%) that better than Lou Brock. He was a master of hitting triples, one of the most exciting plays in all of baseball. Johnson hit 117 three baggers in his career, the fourth highest total since his MLB debut and one that was accumulated in hundreds fewer games than those above him.
Johnson appeared in the 1993 Finest set just as he was entering the most productive portion of his career. That year he hit the White Sox’ first triple in postseason play since the Black Sox flailed through the 1919 World Series. He actually hit more triples in a Chicago uniform than Shoeless Joe Jackson did in his entire tenure with the team. In 1995 he hit an American League record 3 triples inside a single game. In 1996 he had an insane year with the Mets, stealing 50 bases and batting .333 with 227 hits. His 21 triples that year were tied for the most since 1949 and have only been eclipsed once in the ensuing 26 years. Opposing pitchers didn’t want to face him that season, choosing to intentionally walk the leadoff batter 8 times rather than face him head on. It’s a battle they likely wouldn’t have won anyway as he displayed a strikeout rate of barely 6% across his career.
With that in mind, finding a Lance Johnson card for my 1993 Finest Refractor set proved to be tougher than expected. I had seen want lists from a Lance Johnson collector posted in various forums that included requests for as many refractors as possible. Some eBay detective work revealed this particular collector had outbid me on at least one occasion. Eventually I found a Lance Johnson card on eBay with a buy it now price and made the purchase just minutes after it appeared. Having beaten this determined collector to a card I didn’t think anything more about it and moved onto finding other cards for the set.
Over the next few months my search for other refractors led to the discovery of various posts made by this collector detailing his collection. This included a photo of dozens of ’93 refractors. It was an impressive sight and I found myself rooting for the guy to complete his goal of getting all (but one) of the ’93 Lance Johnson cards. Sometime later I came across two large groups of refractors that were being broken up and sold. Combing through what was available I found three Lance Johnson cards and quickly snapped them up before someone else grabbed them and jacked up the price.
I reached out to the collector and discovered his name is Gareth. We quickly agreed on a way to get them into his possession. I’m really hoping to see Gareth’s refractor collection grow and wish him well in this pursuit. If anyone reading this has a copy, be sure to reach out to him first. He’s on several hobby social media platforms and I had the best luck reaching him as 1DogCollector on Blowout Forums.