Without a doubt in my mind, 1997 for me was my all-time favorite year of collecting. Simply put, the hobby was full of amazing releases in 1997. I could go on forever but instead I want to discuss the card below, which is what you might call a super short-print. In fact, it’s so rare that 18 years since its release, no one knows just how many of them were made or what the insertion ratios are.
The product was ’97 Bowman’s Best and although it had been a staple for a few years, it was completely destroyed by Bowman Chrome’s 1997 debut. To be honest, I always felt Bowman’s Best had an all-around better product than Chrome that year, including certified autographs and Atomic Refractors. Looking back on 1997 Bowman Chrome, the cards are very dark and the Refractors don’t pop off the cards the way they did in Bowman’s Best.
The insert set is called Mirror Image, which basically is exactly what it sounds like. There is a large image of a well-known and respected superstar and a small image of a player whose tools and/or potential resemble said star. I was lucky enough to pull a Greg Maddux/Kerry Wood Refractor from the set in 1997, which I sold for around $50 a year later.
To me, one of the most coveted cards in Mirror Image is that of Jose Cruz, Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr., a card I had in base form. There was also a Refractor and Atomic Refractor but with the insane amount of Ken Griffey Jr. collectors, was always impossible to find at a reasonable price. Odds of pulling a base from Mirror Image was 1:24, a Refractor, 1:48, and Atomic, 1:96. Every few years I check eBay, usually in vain, to see if the card has dropped in value and always walk away disappointed.
THEN IT HAPPENED.
The most glorious of sights a collector (and closet Cruz Jr. fan) could ever see. I found a Mirror Image with the photos inverted, meaning the prospect is the one featured. The design of this card now goes from above average (never liked Junior) to absolutely awesome. For starters, it’s nice to see Junior’s swing in the bottom left with Cruz Jr’s big smile in the front. The card itself is absolutely gorgeous and has a nice but not over the top futuristic look to it. When in Atomic Refractor form, it’s hands down my all-time favorite insert of the 90s, just surpassing the 1998 Donruss Red Crusade (of any player).
Here’s the problem: Topps never announced the Inverted Mirror Image cards. There was no mention of it on the box and according to a big shot who works at Topps Company, there is not a single employee left with the company who was around at any point in the 90s. That means, no one knows the print run, the stated odds, etc. More than likely, this is one card we will likely never truly know about and if you spot it on eBay as an Atomic Refractor, hold on to your seats cause there will be one hell of a bidding war coming your way.
In case you’re curious, here is what the non-inverted base card looks like.