Monday, March 23, 2020

1998 Studio: Still Studious

Studio is to the Pinnacle brands what Gallery is to Topps; and if you’re as big a Gallery fan as I am, you probably like Studio, too. Typically as a brand evolves you see a shift in the general theme of the set, but that didn’t happen quite as much with Studio. Even in 1998, seven years after their inaugural set, the focus is still very much on the portrait, even going so far as to include a set of Glamour Shots-style 8x10’s. It shouldn’t be that big a deal that a set is able to stick with a theme for so long, but it is.

And since this set came out in 1998, there are plenty of inserts, parallels, samples, and variations to talk about. Let’s dig in…

1998 Studio #112

There are Studio designs I like better than this, but not many. And while I like this backwards-cap photo, I am positively smitten with the Swingman logo on Junior’s …shirt? Would you call that a shirt? Anyway it’s baddass.

One thing Studio began doing not long into their timeline is ditch paying for portrait studio time and start being selective within the pool of existing photos. I always assumed it got cost-prohibitive to get every player in the checklist to a photo studio to take pictures, so I really don’t blame Donruss for the change. In fact I appreciate the creativity and relatively high standards in their photo selection.

The card back is fairly standard with that characteristically-Studio total lack of stat box in favor of a bit of inside information on the player. Here we get an anecdote about how Ken, Sr. first taught Junior to beware the path of pride which is the very lesson Hrothgar taught Beowulf after he defeated Grendel and Grendel’s mother. After this Beowulf went on to become king of the Geats, and Griffey went on to hit 56 home runs in 1997; so you know it’s got to be a pretty valuable lesson.

1998 Studio #112 Studio Proof Silver /1000

Now THAT is a freakin’ parallel! You hear me, every other card brand in history? THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE. You want me to blow reams of my hard-earned scrilla on pack after pack of your product so I can land your little parallel? Well I’m not quite as willing to do that if said parallel is as boring as doing your taxes. I don’t want tiny stamps or little circles of foil, guys – I want centimeter after square centimeter of retina-blistering holofoil. This is the most common parallel in this set and completely lacking in die-cutting, and it’s still better than 80% of the parallels that have ever been made. God bless you 1998 Studio Press Proof. You get it.

1998 Studio 8x10 Portraits #19

Here is a big, giant version of that base card. They did us a service by tweaking the photos on the front and back at least a little bit. That doesn’t seem like that big a move, but the way photos are reused and recycled these days even across different inserts within the same set, having different photos here is a treat.

I even have an autographed version:

I have no clue who autographed it, but I’m very, very proud of it I think or whatever I guess and stuff. VERY-ish.

1998 Studio Chase Checklist

The unnumbered checklists use the same design as the base cards and 8x10’s but with different photography and a surprisingly attractive back. Pretty darn nice as checklists go. Strong B+.

1998 Studio Chase Checklist Studio Proof Silver /1000

Here’s more of that sweet, sweet Press Proof sugar – or as I’m going to start calling it, “God’s own parallel.” Look upon it, ye boring-ass mid-90’s Stadium Club First Day Issues, and despair.

1998 Studio Chase Checklist Studio Proof Gold #/300

The gold is over three times as rare and yet I still like the silver better. The only real difference is that fact that the gold was serial numbered in holofoil.


Damn right.

Now according to Baseballcardpedia, there is also a set of Executive Proofs of which 300 were produced for each player. It seems these were backdoored after Pinnacle went belly-up. The cards are identical to the gold Studio Proofs but numbered “XXX/300.” I have zero of these, but I do kind of want one.

1998 Studio Freeze Frame #1 #/4500

Baseball cards as a medium lend themselves well to photography-themed inserts, and a few took it a step further by going meta and incorporating film right into the design. I think I list these off every time I bring up such inserts, and I have no reason not to do it again here: 1997 SP Game Film, two years of Stadium Club Capture the Action Game View, a couple of years of Leaf Slideshow, and a couple more of this one, Studio Freeze Frame. All of them are just delightful.

That said, this one is the least desirable among them. It’s very shiny, and I like the design in general. I think it’s especially cool the way they work the number and position into the film on the card back. And I really want a taste of the meth that blurb writer was on. I mean, come on – Batman makes an appearance. The hell, dude? Who you think you are with them wacky-ass blurbs? Skybox?

But overall the card is dark and scans horribly; and on top of all that I’m also not totally sold on all that empty space above and below the diagonal film strip. Not a bad card; but as film cards go, this is the weakest of the lot.

1998 Studio Freeze Frame #1 #/4500 Die Cut #/500

A buddy of mine has his Dad’s original vinyl pressing of Abbey Road, and the legend goes that his Dad hated the song “Maxwell Silver Hammer” so much that he scratched it out of the record. Like, he literally took something you should never touch a record with and ssscccrrraaaattttchhhedd it out. The moral of that story is that one way to get rid of something you don’t like is to remove it completely, and Donruss did exactly that for the first 500 numbered cards – they just cut off the excess to match the angle of the film strip. Yes, this version is rarer and more expensive, but to me the design is also more or less saved by the die-cutting. That being said, I think Abbey Road would not be improved by the removal of “Maxwell Silver Hammer” and remain horrified at my friend’s Dad’s actions to this day.

There are only 500 of the die-cut version (again, the first 500 of the total run), the same number as there are the 1997 SP Game Film insert. Even with the die-cutting, if you are ever given a choice between the two, go with Game Film.

There is an uncut sample version of Freeze Frame numbered “XXXX/5000” currently on COMC that somebody is way too proud of. If I ever come across one for $20, I’d be a buyer. Above that I don’t see the appeal.

1998 Studio Hit Parade #6 #/5000

Hit Parade is the most common hit in 1998 Studio even counting the parallels, but you would never know it from the design. Every bit of this card outside of the player silhouette is either team-colored spikes or textured foil, even in the giant “Hit Parade” lettering. You can tell somebody put some real thought into this design (check out how the arch of spikes also makes an appearance on the back). I think this card also could have benefited from some wacky, spiky die-cutting, but you can’t die-cut everything. I suppose.

1998 Studio Masterstrokes #20 #/1000

This insert has a few neat things going for it. The title font is great (though the nameplate is a bit sterile), and the card stock has a canvas feel. The theme here is a pencil sketch that morphs into an action photo, but at the bottom is a paintbrush where maybe a pencil would have made more sense. Also the title suggests painting, but that ain't no painting - it's a sketch. Maybe call it Mastersketches?

And for the record I really do like the TWO SQUARE INCHES of shin illustration here, but it's a bit understated for how cool it is. Maybe flip-flop the photo and drawing bits so it's not just the space below his knees that gets the treatment that is the theme of the whole insert? There should be 10,000 of these. No one should have to pay /1000 prices for these pretty but overall underwhelming things.

I am happy to say I have pretty much all the Griffeys I really want from 1998 Studio; but technically there are a few I still need if I’m going to finish off the Griffeys:

1998 Studio #112 Studio Proof Gold #/300
1998 Studio #112 Executive Test Issue #/300
1998 Studio Chase Cards Checklist Executive Test Issue #/300
1998 Studio 8x10 Portrait Jumbo #19 Studio Proof Gold #/300
1998 Studio Freeze Frame Sample

Backdoored cards carry a hefty premium, so I’m not desperate for those. My faves here are the Freeze Frame die-cut and the Silver Studio proofs, and I have those. The rest will come.

Monday, March 16, 2020

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition: Thanks for the Manu-Relics

It’s hard to get excited about every single brand that popped up in the early 2000’s, especially when the set was made by Fleer. Nothing against them – they churned out above-average inserts at an almost Pacific-level pace for years – but it seems the word “overkill” is not in their corporate dictionary. In 2002 alone Fleer flooded the market with no fewer than fourteen different products. Only Topps made more.

So you can’t really blame collectors when sets like this one fall by the wayside and into obscurity, or designs all blur together to the point of relative meaninglessness. There was a time when there were only four TV stations, too, and everybody watched the same few shows. They all had opinions about them and could talk about them with any other TV viewer without missing a beat. “Doby Gillis was on point last night. Bob Denver got jokes.” Now that there are hundreds of stations and thousands of shows, most conversations start with “Hey, have you seen any of these six things?” and end abruptly at “Oh, I don’t have time for that. I’m watching these twelve other things.” That must have been what collecting was like in 2002.

So the question at this time was “What sets this particular set apart from the rest?” Well, some unique die-cutting and the introduction of the first manufactured relic are the two hallmarks of 2002 Fleer Focus et cetera  (I am not typing that whole thing every time). That’s two more things than most sets from this era of glut can say they gave the world.

Here’s the base card:

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition #84

Looks like they were going for different, and they more or less got it. The border and picture flow in and out of one another with the nameplate separated by the team/position below. And I suspect that’s the wordiest logo ever committed to cardboard: “Fleer Focus Jersey Edition MLB 2002” (fine I'll type it all one more time). That’s thirty letters in six words. Upper Deck probably made something longer, but this one remains quite impressive.

As for the photo, it’s a standard fielding shot complete with flipped-up shades. It does that body outline thing we’ve seen on previous Fleer Focus base cards. The background is a little ho-hum as I guess we’re supposed to “focus” on the player image here, but that’s still an awful lot of negative space. Luckily it’s broken up by the green of the field.

The back is the saving grace here with a big, beautiful stat box, small portrait, and Mr. Red himself repping Cincy with gusto. Fleer always did know their way around a card back.

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition Kings of Swing #5

Here is some of that unique die-cutting I was talking about. It appears to be a crown shape to go along with the “Kings” aspect of the insert and the Fleer logo. Again we have a lot of white with some slight team-colored tinting in the background. There’s also an awful lot of negative space between the nameplate and insert name that is just begging for an auto parallel, but apart from that this is not a bad-looking card.

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition Materialistic #10 Away

Here is the dubious crown jewel of 2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition: the first manufactured relic. What Fleer gave us here is a large swatch of non-relic fabric complete with a cloth-printed player image. I do like the finished product here, but I have to feel bad for the kids who pulled one and thought they had a jumbo swatch. I’m sure there were more than a few.

This card is ahead of its time in the same way that the guy who took the first selfie was ahead of his time. Some people love selfies, and some shake their head. I tend to understand both sides – there have been some cool manu-relics in the past few years. Like them or not, this is where they began.

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition Materialistic #10 Away Jumbo

Hot damn, it’s a big one! It’s the same basic card, sure, but again there’s something about the player image artfully printed on fabric that I really like.

I have all the common Griffeys from this set – everything else I need is a serial-numbered parallel. I'm not bananas about this set, so I'm in no hurry here. Here are the Griffeys I need from 2002 FFJE:

#84 Century #/130
#84 Jersey #/30
Materialistic #10 Home #/50
Materialistic #10 Home Jumbo #/50

I have to wonder if someone at Fleer thought they were giving something substantial to the collecting community with this set. I can’t imagine anyone is standing around their LCS in 2020 saying, “Topps and Panini are doing an OK job, but you know who really got it right? 2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition, man. THOSE were the cards.” Like many, many sets from this era, this is more a page from cardboard’s past than from its history.

Monday, March 9, 2020

1999 UD Choice and a Date With the Ol' Can Opener

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this brand was Collector’s Choice first, and it was awesome then. UD Choice is alright, but it didn’t even approach the coolness of its predecessor. There are a few highlights here; but to be frank if you go into this expecting Collector’s Choice-level quality and appeal, you will be disappointed. Also there will be cans. Yes, plural canS. Get comfy.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice #142

Being such a big fan of Collector’s Choice I feel a certain loyalty to that brand that is making me want to spurn the change and find every fault I possibly can with UD Choice so I can air it all out here. However, I am happy to report that Junior’s base card here is good enough that it’s hard for me to take that negative road right now. Like if your Mom divorced your Dad and started dating some rando you’ve never met, and he actually turns out to be a pretty decent guy who busts packs with you and takes you to Applebee’s and stuff. I want to resent you, UD Choice, but you’re making it pretty hard.

So yeah, this is a pretty nice base card. Bright and attractive, cool nameplate, and I love this shot of Junior only a split-second into a monster swing. And the back reminds me of Fleer’s late-80’s/early-90’s feng shui game where they give you everything you could ever want on the back of a card – full stats, color photo, a meaningful blurb, and TWO trivia questions with answers. Some solid engineers at Upper Deck in 1999.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice #142 Preview

Upper Deck must have made thousands of these Preview cards because they are about as easy to find as the regular base cards which is not always the case. It is literally no different from the regular card apart from that little foil “Preview” at the top (the back is 100% identical), but you need one if you’re going to complete your Griffeys here.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice #142 Prime Choice Reserve Jumbo

There is a #/100 parallel of the base set called “Prime Choice Reserve” (which sounds more like what they might call the $40 filet at Outback than a card parallel) that features the parallel name repeated in the background along with sparkly holofoil bits embedded right in the surface of the card. They are scarce and pricey, so I don’t have any. What I do have, though, is one of these 5x7 jumbo versions of a Prime Choice Reserve card only without the sparkly bits.

The Prime Choice Reserve parallel cards look like this:

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice #142 Prime Choice Reserve & #37 Cover Glory Prime Choice Reserve

Shout-out to Michael Rudolph, owner of these two lil' monsters of Griffeydom.

There is also a “Blow-Up” 5x7 version of Junior’s two base cards, presumably without the “Prime Choice Reserve” words in the background as mine has. I’ve never seen either of them for sale anywhere, and I’m beginning to wonder if they exist at all. It may be that the non-sparkly Prime Choice Reserve jumbos are all there is. If anyone has a non-Prime Choice Reserve “Blow-up,” please hol'atchaboy.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice #37 Cover Glory

Junior’s other base card kinda resembles a magazine cover. About the most magazine-esque thing about this card is the title font. I suspect they were going for gold with that background color, but what they ended up with is summer squash which no magazine would every choose, not even Summer Squash Monthly. Another great card back, though.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice Draw Your Own
Card Contest Card

Griffey is on it, so it counts! Thirty-one winners were chosen and appeared as an insert in 2000 Upper Deck MVP. I like how Upper Deck didn’t specify Griffey must be the subject here – it just says “one baseball player,” which says to me the kids could have chosen Rube Waddell and UD would have accepted it. Griffeymania being in full swing the way it was, he ended up with four cards in the resulting set (fewer than Mark McGwire – grrrr). My personal favorite is “Lightning RAGE!” because come on. Lightning RAGE!

Now is a good time to bring up the cans. In addition to regular packs there were also two types of cans to be had: Superstar and Record Breakers. Both featured Griffey and included their own exclusive insert. The Record Breakers can seems to be at least a little more scarce than the Superstar one.

I have both versions sealed with the cards still inside. I don't know why I still have them as they take up a lot of space which is kind of the problem with cans full of cards in the first place, but you know the collector bug. She is a bitey bitch.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice Grand Slam Record
Breakers #G3

This insert which appeared only in the Record Breakers cans is about as Upper-Deckian as they come – modern design and fonts with plenty of lines for the sake of lines. Being that these rattled around in cans by design, they pretty much all have soft corners and edges. And I hope you like it because you’re going to see it at least two more times in this very set.

As for the theme of Grand Slams, you can forget it. This insert is about home runs and home runs only. I don’t know why they even bothered with the insert title here – not one Grand Slam stat on the whole card.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice Opening Season
Superstars #S1

These were exclusive to the Superstar cans and as you can see are more or less identical to the Grand Slam Record Breakers insert. And that’s not all…

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice Homerun Heroes #H1

These were exclusive to retail packs and again not terribly different from the comparable can-exclusive inserts. This being a time before sites like eBay and COMC, to get all three you had to buy both types of cans as well as retail packs, and you probably had to buy a whole lot of all those. Very sneaky, Upper Deck.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice Mini Bobble Head #B27

This is the kind of insert that would have been right at home in a set like Fun Pack. I haven’t had the heart to break this particular one apart, but I did assemble one for a player I didn't particularly care for. If you are wondering how well this little cardboard head actually bobbles, the verdict is “not that well.” Oh, and heads up: the answer to that trivia question is on nearly every other card in 1999 UD Choice.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice StarQuest #SQ1 Green, Red, Blue

This is the second year of StarQuest which first appeared in 1998 Collectors Choice – the big difference this year is that it uses colors instead of printing effects to signal rarity. We would see this insert twice more – once in 2008 and again (and more prolifically than ever) in two sets in 2009, all with both color and printing effects to reflect rarity.

1999 StarQuest was seeded one-per-pack with the green coming up every 9 packs and the much rarer red every 23. There is also a gold version that is numbered out of only 100 which is pretty scarce for a ‘90’s parallel (and the prices reflect that). I wouldn’t mind finishing the rainbow off, but I’m not in any hurry. Plus to save up the money I would probably need to afford it, I would probably have to, say, give up smoothies for five years. I’m just not willing to do that.

But if you really want to seeing one:

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice StarQuest
#SQ1 Gold #/100

Thanks to Joe Lagreca for this image of his damn beautiful and highly enviable specimen.

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice Yard Work #Y25

At 1:13 this is only the third-rarest Griffey to be had in 1999 UD Choice (the three rarest are all parallels), but if you ask me it’s the best Griffey in the set. We get a shot of Griffey just hammering the piss out of a pitch over a lovely green-tinted background and beside a large, stylized insert title/nameplate. It looks nothing like a Collector’s Choice insert.

Here are the Griffeys I still need from 1999 UD Choice:

#142 Prime Choice Reserve #/100
#37 Cover Glory Prime Choice Reserve #/100
Star Quest Gold #/100
Blow-Up 5x7 Jumbo #1

The best pull you could have gotten from 1999 UD Choice was Eddie Murray’s card from the Upper Deck A Piece of History 500HR Club. While I would love one of these (Eddie Murray is a boss), one of those #/100 Griffeys would be pretty sweet, too.

So about those cans....

I don't need them, I'm not interested in storing them, and if I sold one that had one of the big three Griffey pulls or the Murray 500HR Club, I would kick myself, so here we are. Come along on this journey with me, won't you?

What am I hoping to pull? A Starquest Gold #/100 would be my druthers. Either Prime Choice Reserve would also make my pack (um, can) busting career. Do I have the touch?

TWO Sosa's. Ugh. And look at the hack job on that insert on the right. Geez, guys.

Let's do this:

Okay, pair of Hall of Famers. Not terrible. I really like that Ripken. Not bust-out-the-can-opener love it, but it's something.

Alright pack #2 - last chance. Let's see that shiny-shiny!

ANOTHER Ramon Martinez? C'mon man.

Here are some individual scan of those StarQuest cards:

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice StarQuest #SQ1 Blue (1:1)

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice StarQuest #SQ1 Green (1:9)

1999 Upper Deck UD Choice StarQuest #SQ1 Blue (1:23)

Thanks for reading.