In my various baseball player profiles that I've written, I've mostly written about Hall-of-Fame caliber players past and present, some of which have been snubbed from being in the great Hall. Today, I'm writing about a very good player, but not a Hall-of-Famer: Andy Van Slyke. The main reason I'm writing about him is that his acquisition from the Cardinals is easily one of the best trades the Pittsburgh Pirates ever made.
Of course, at the time of the trade in 1987, Tony Pena was an amazing catcher. He was consistently worth 3.5 or more wins between 1982-1986 for the Buccos. So when the Cardinals traded for him in the 1986-1987 off-season, they didn't expect Pena to be worth only about 2 WAR total over the next three seasons. Although Pena would actually continue to have a long respectable career, he was never the same after leaving Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Van Slyke was an okay player with the Redbirds. He'd had decent 1985 and 1986 seasons, producing an average of 3.4 WAR between those seasons. He wasn't an all-star, but he was a plus-defensive outfielder with the speed to steal 30 bases each season. While Mike LaValliere, who actually was traded alongside Van Slyke, was no Tony Pena, he would actually be worth about 2 WAR a season for the next few years. As it would turn out, LaValliere's great on-base skills would make him pretty valuable. Plus, he was a very good defensive catcher. Pena for LaValliere was already a great trade.
Van Slyke, on the other hand, emerged into a perennial All-Star for the Bucs. He would compile 30.9 WAR in the Steel City over 8 seasons. After injuries derailed his 1993 season, he had a very poor season in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. He split 1995 between Philly and Baltimore before retiring for good. Since retiring from playing baseball, he's served as a Major League coach for the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners. He's also become an author.
While Andy wasn't a Hall-of-Famer, there's no doubt that Cardinals fans certainly are not happy their team made that trade. While he wasn't missed in 1987, there were certainly times afterward where Van Slyke's presence would have been welcomed over guys like Milt Thompson. Still, the Pirates definitely benefited from what was a roster crunch from St. Louis, and they received a player that became a beloved part of their franchise.
Do Andy Van Slyke Baseball Cards Have Any Value?
Because he was such a good-looking, well-liked, charismatic ballplayer, Andy Van Slyke baseball cards are actually probably worth more than you think. He didn't hit over .300 in his career, or hit a lot of home runs, or steal a lot of bases. But when it comes to Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals collectors, Van Slyke is a player much in demand.
While Van Slyke does have a couple of good rookie cards to collect, the Andy Van Slyke card with the most value is actually the 1993 Topps Finest Baseball's Best refactor. One graded PSA 9 copy sold for $40 in November 2018, but another PSA 9 copy sold in January 2019 for a staggering $127.50! Being depicted on the Pirates and being in a condition-sensitive set for grading makes this card a key to any Andy Van Slyke baseball card collection.
Andy Van Slyke's most valuable rookie cards are in 1984 Topps and 1984 Donruss. They get about $20 each at auction for PSA 10 examples. The 1984 Fleer rookie is much less expensive. There's also the 1982 TCMA pre-rookie card, which also doesn't get much at auction.
Another Andy Van Slyke baseball card with value are the 1987 Topps Tiffany - his most valuable Cardinals card - worth about $30 in graded PSA 10 condition. There's also the 1994 Bowman's Best Red Refractor - worth about $20 for a PSA 9 example. Other PSA 10 graded examples of other Van Slyke cards exist, and while they sell, are available in the $5 to $10 range already slabbed.
While Van Slyke may never be a Hall of Famer, his baseball cards have surprising value. It goes to show how a player's personality, popularity, and good looks can endear him to many collectors. He played for some very good Pirates teams, too. His acquisition is easily one of the better Pirates trades of all time.