Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Be Well: 1996 Topps and 1996 Topps Chrome


Mellow greetings!

1995-1998 was my favorite era of baseball cards. We got some of the scarcest and most legendary inserts and parallels, the first relics, the explosion of autographed inserts and hits, short prints, and the normalization of printing technologies once reserved for only the most expensive packs. It ended up being too much for some brands in the long run, but what a time for us collectors. That rings even truer for the Griffey crowd as, despite injury, this was the Kid’s heyday; and as a result the guy was slapped onto a lot of cool cardboard.

So while there were few technological leaps in 1996 Topps, there were still plenty of memorable cards as well as some of the greatest commemorative cards ever made.

On that note there are two cards in particular that we have to talk about, and if you bought Topps back in 1996, you probably already know which ones I mean:

1996 Topps Mickey Mantle #7

Mickey Mantle passed away on August 13th, 1995 at the relatively young age of 63. Topps, being a Brooklyn-based outfit that arguably owes at least some of its success to the Mick, paid tribute to the man by giving him a commemorative card at his uniform number and retiring that card number in their base set. Note the '52 Topps image in the foil stamp.

The retirement of his number in the base set wouldn’t last forever, though. Here’s the history of card #7 in Topps flagship:

1996 – Mickey Mantle Commemorative
1997-2005 – no card #7
2006-2012 – Mickey Mantle Commemoratives
2013-2015 – no card #7
2016 – Michael Brantley

Card #7 is back for good, it seems, but the idea was pretty cool while it lasted.

They also released a slough of Mantle reprints this year in both flagship and Chrome, and the cards are fantastic, but that is a whole other post because there are A LOT of them with refractors and everything. I even actively chased them, so I think I may have them all. But we have other matters to attend to...

For example, this also happened:

1996 Topps Cal Ripken, Jr. #96 2131 Commemorative
Team Topps Stamp

Every brand went Ripken-crazy in ’96 because of the thing (you know about the thing, right?). And I kept every single damn one of them because Cal Ripken is a TREASURE. Every single company stepped up and gave Cal some of the best cards of the year. If you don’t believe me, go to COMC and search “Ripken 1996” and just enjoy the show. Even the stupid phone cards are incredible. And try not to weep as you gaze into those baby-blues. I once saw his 1996 Pinnacle Summit Hitters Inc insert set a grown man on fire from across a room.

1996 Pinnacle Summit Hitters Inc #9 #/4000

Again, TREASURE.

You know who else is a treasure?

1996 Topps #205

A rare and totally amazing sliding shot - great pic this year. Topps finally made the leap to a glossy base set in 1994, then on to foil on every card in 1995; so by ’96 they were gloss/foil experts. Every base card got a blue nameplate and inset photo regardless of their team colors (Topps would do this monochromatic thing several times over the next few years), and that was perfectly okay in the case of Mariners like Junior. The design is clean, modern, and more streamlined this year compared with the deckled photo edges of ’95. Make these puppies full-bleed and you practically have a Stadium Club design. Not too shabby.


While there’s really nothing to complain about here, I still prefer the ’95 backs. Plus, while you can't really tell by this scan, the card number is tough to read in any light. Sorry, set-builders. Cool name font, tho.

1996 Topps Chrome #70

This was also the first year of Topps Chrome, but to keep things from getting stale Topps added some mild effects to the card front including a line of stippling around the border and a grid-like indented effect in the background that is more visible in the light parts.


The backs were identical apart from the card numbering. They trimmed down the base set from 440 down to 165 which was a blessing since the packs only had 4 cards each. Set builders had to bust a minimum of two boxes to pull a complete base set assuming some very lucky collation. That's premium for ya.

1996 Topps Chrome #70 Refractor

The refractors fell at 1:12 or two per box, but with the large 165-card checklist that put specific card-pulls at 1:1980 and any Griffey pulls at 1:990 since he had two cards in the set. On top of that the refractors of ’96 Chrome had a TON of print/refractor lines (like most early refractors), so those without lines sell for even more. Expect at least gray whale prices for most stars.

I only show card backs if there is a difference, and there actually IS a difference here. Can you find it?


Hint: the area around the card number is ice cold.

Back to regular flagship:

1996 Topps #230 Star Power

I always liked this subset for the bold colors and fun “The More You Know”-esque background. And that font on the right? I believe I’ve said this multiple times before on this very blog, but dammit if it isn’t still totally true: there is only one other place in the Universe you can find that font, and that is in the Hall of Violence in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone flick “Demolition Man.”

He's going for a gun.

If you haven't seen this gem of the 90's, I have only one question for you: what seems to be your boggle?


The back gives us what may well be a record for quantity of stars on a card back as well as a pretty entertaining shot of Junior impressing his own damn self with a high-arcing home run shot in right-center. The monthly breakdown is probably more impressive for most of the other players in this subset, but let’s not forget that Griffey missed a lot of baseball in 1995 due to injury. And yet he was poised to have his greatest year ever in 1997 when he would pick up AL MVP honors. That’s the Star Power, baby.

1996 Topps Chrome #90 Star Power

It’s rare that the chrome version of any card is so significantly better than the original, but few enjoy this disparity more than the Star Power subset. The colors pop, the stars shine, and the background grid effect isn’t just bumps, my friend, but star stippling. STAR STIPPLING, you guys. Someone sent me this card in a trade package when I first got back into the hobby, and I remember just staring at it from different angles for a totally unreasonable length of time. I don’t care who you collect – if they have a 1996 Topps Chrome Star Power card, ya needs it.


The backs are at least a little glossier than those of the regular base set, but again the only real difference here is the card number.

1996 Topps Chrome #90 Star Power Refractor

If I could take only one 1996 Topps Chrome card with me to a desert island, there is simply no contest. This thing is just, like, TOO awesome. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like meeting a cute brunette who smells nice and loves Frank Herbert’s Dune. Right away you know you lucked out, and you’re gonna have tons to talk about. But then after dating for a few weeks she tells you that she’s secretly a trust fund millionaire and also is deeply in love with you? WHAT? 1996 Topps Chrome Star Power Refractors are basically just like that. Way too much of a good thing and NONE OF US DESERVE THEM.


Again, tiiiiiiiny little difference here very far away from the card number.

I suppose I should mention that while it seems like Star Power was about as baddass as it could possibly get, it actually wasn’t:

1996 Topps Star Power Boosters (Series 1 only)

Say hello to Star Power Boosters. Is that not one of the coolest cards you’ve ever seen? Why oh why they only made this for Series 1 I will never know/understand/appreciate/swallow/come to terms with. 23 years later I’m still raw about it.

Wait – there’s more!

2017 Topps Throwback Thursdays Derby Legends

Topps used the Star Power subset design for one of those Throwback Thursday sets in honor of great Home Run Derby champs, and Griffey, who won THREE derbies, isn’t in there at all. Is there a bigger legend in the annals of the Derby?

There’s a guy in that checklist who had participated in fewer major league SEASONS than Junior has WON DERBIES. Granted that guy is Aaron Judge and his is the most valuable card in the set and everyone was batshit excited about him at the time, BUT STILL. And a few of the other guys in the checklist, namely Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, and Giancarlo Stanton only won ONE derby each. Trying to understand Griffey's glaring omission is like trying to understand the three seashells. I don't get it and probably never will.

SOMEONE EXPLAIN IT TO ME

Maybe it’s not so becoming of me to bitch about all the sets Junior SHOULD have made an appearance in but didn’t, but I’m taking liberties with this one in particular because it’s the freakin’ Star Power design, man. Sure, they screwed up the font, but, I mean, come on. IT’S MY FAVORITE. GAH. WHY?

2006 Topps Wrecking Crew #WC9

I feel like the design gets a little lost in the abundance of silver and white here. I wasn’t even aware of the insert name because it’s buried in busy backgrounds and hard to read even when you notice it’s there. Overall they’re not terrible-looking - the baseball-as-a-wrecking-ball thing is adorable - but they are surprisingly hard to pin down.

Also why didn't they just call this insert "Demolition Man?" It makes sense with the wrecking ball thing, and we all know where you got the Star Power font. Just own it.


The back is great despite the glaring grammatical error. I am so 100% all about that blurb and Junior’s “This is a rat burger?” expression.

1996 Topps Chrome Wrecking Crew #WC9

The Chrome version is EVEN MORE monochromatic and illegible, but the totally-out-of-place white has been replaced by silvery chromium that STILL doesn’t look quite right. Weird design, guys.

1996 Topps Chrome Wrecking Crew #WC9 Refractor

At 1:72 this is the toughest pull by the numbers, but in terms of scarcity they don’t even come close to the base refractors because of the big checklist. The refraction helps the design and legibility a lot (as it usually does), but this is far from my favorite “early” refractor. Also, print line (sad trombone).


This is the toughest round of “Find the Tiny R” we are going to get. Good luck.

Here seems like a good spot to show you my actual favorite Wrecking Crew card:

2009 Press Pass Kiss 360 #63 Road Stories “Wrecking Crew” Blue Edition

There’s just no topping this thing. And what is that he’s chugging, Courvoisier? LOL gross.

1996 Topps Classic Confrontations #CC1

I freakin’ LOVE the idea here. The front is a damn mess and we’re going to spend only the first half of this sentence discussing how bad it is, but check out that excellent back. This is the kind of card you might keep next to the toilet for a little light reading/stat analysis. I like how Griffey consistently made Roger Clemens look like a damn fool almost as much as Roger Clemens did. I also like how he had never faced Randy Johnson going into ’96 (obviously), but now I want to see if he ever did.

*searches baseball-reference*

Holy crap he did! 6 plate appearances, 3 strikeouts, ZERO average. Aw shit (*buzz) he hit him with a pitch one time. That alone brought his OPS to a measly .167, and that’s all she wrote. No surprise there. I’m sure Randy knew exactly how to get our boy’s goat after over a decade together.

Ah geez, I was fined one credit for violating the Verbal Morality Stature with that S-bomb up there. By bad, Dr. Cocteau.

Anyway, this is my favorite card back in 1996 Topps.

1996 Topps PROfiles #AL-05

Pulling a colorful foilboard card out of a pack in 1996 made a certain 15-year-old Junior Junkie feel like he hit a scratchoff. These weren’t all that uncommon, but they look good and the concept is great. Since this is Kirby freakin’ Puckett and all we’re gonna let that lil’ typo slide, but the write-up in general is fantastic. I didn’t even know home run #8 was on his last at-bat – I’d like to have seen that one. I like Kenny Lofton, too, Kirby. Great card.

1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M16 (peeled)

Pulling a jet-black card out of a pack is usually a good sign you got something special. In the case of Mystery Finest, the card you pulled had one of three players on the front hidden under a peel-away layer of plastic which has been removed from this one.

1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M16 (unpeeled)

This is a scan of the unpeeled card (seriously). See how it accentuates exactly how filthy my scanner bed is.

The back of the card showed you who you might find if you decided to peel. As you can see this first Griffey could also have been Albert Belle or Larry Walker.

1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M25 (peeled)

And this second one could also have been Hideo Nomo, Cal Ripken, Mike Piazza, or Frank Thomas (WOW, btw). And if you could tell whose card you had, you might not peel the card at all. Well guess what? You CAN tell. The player’s silhouette is visible in the right light, so as long as you know what each player’s silhouette looked like on the cards (which you do because THEY'RE ON THE BACK OF THE CARD) it was easy to tell them apart without peeling.

1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M25 Refractor (peeled)

You could also tell whether the card you had was a refractor by – you guessed it – the tiny R buried on the back of the card.

So conceivably you could build a collection of every Mystery Finest card in both regular and refractor AND in both peeled and unpeeled versions with 100% certainty you had the right cards.


There are two inserts (besides Star Power Boosters, I mean) that I really like from 1996 Topps and Topps Chrome that I like to think Junior might have made an appearance in were it not for the injury.

1996 Topps Road Warriors

Just a neat design and a cool stat-based concept. Plus you know the idea was good because Fleer did it too the very same year:

1996 Fleer Road Warriors

Corporate espionage? Probably not. The Fleer backs were just big, long blurbs about general road performance in lieu of Topps who gave us ballpark-specific stats. Still weird, though.

1996 Topps Chrome Master of the Game Refractor

Look at this BEAUTIFUL CARD FRONT. I am obsessed with that giant shadow, but also concerned for the people in the stands along the first base line. These came in both regular and refractors, but I had to have that shiny-shiny. I suppose a point could be made that Junior hadn’t yet been in the league long enough to merit an appearance in this particular insert, but also that point is trash and so is anyone trying to make it.

I would like to take this opportunity to formally invite Topps to bring back this insert in this very same design and finally give Griffey his due as a Master of the Game. Maybe put Junior on another Star Power design just for fun. C’mon, boys - we can do it. We have the technology.

I have all the Chrome Griffeys, but there are a handful I am still in the hunt for from the regular set:

1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M16 Refractor
1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M16 Refractor (unpeeled)
1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M25 (unpeeled)
1996 Topps Mystery Finest #M25 Refractor (unpeeled)
1996 Topps Team Topps Wal-Mart Seattle Mariners AL West Champions #205
1996 Topps Team Topps Wal-Mart Seattle Mariners AL West Champions #230 Star Power
1996 Topps Team Topps Wal-Mart Seattle Mariners AL West Champions Big #3

I’m not exactly passionate about the unpeeled versions of the Mystery Finest cards, but it would be neat to have them all in both versions.

The Team Topps cards have a little stamp on them like so:

1996 Topps Team Topps Wal-Mart Seattle Mariners AL West Champions Stamps -
Image on loan from the Beau Carter collection

I’m not usually sold on base cards with such a superficial difference, but they’re on the list so I’ve got an eye out. And to be fair it IS another Star Power card so I guess I super want it.

Star Power frickin' rules.

By the way, Demolition Man-era Sandra Bullock?


Put me back in the fridge, amiright?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

All My Best Griffey Acquisitions of the Year Posts

Every year I make a list of my best Griffey acquisitions. I reference these lists all the time for images, card info, and as historical/cost markers. I find I usually end up having to Google “Junior Junkie Top 30 (year)” multiple times until I find the card I am looking for, so I am making this post mostly for my own reference so I can easily pull up past acquisitions. But feel free to enjoy it as well.

Here are all my Top Acquisitions lists with links to the original posts:

2013:

10. 1997 Stadium Club #50 Matrix
9. 2012 Topps Commemorative Gold Team Ring #GTR-KG
8. AJ (The Lost Collector) original 1/1
7. 1998 Topps Gallery Gallery of Heroes #GH1
6. 1995 Stadium Club #38 Jody Reed
5. 2001 Upper Deck MVP Game Souvenirs Batting Glove #G-KG
4. 2013 Topps Update #US140 Tony Gwynn SP
3. 2006 Upper Deck UD Game Patch #UD-KG
2. 1995 SP Autograph #AU190
1. 1993 Finest #110 Refractor

2014:

30. 1990 Fleer #513 Canadian Version
29. 2014 Rookies ('88 Donruss)
28. 2014 Rookies (Future Uniform)
27. Future Stock 1/1
26. 1997 Pinnacle Passport to the Majors #2
25. 1993 Cardtoons #67 Ken Spiffy, Jr
24. 2009 Disabled Veterans Limited Edition #22
23. 2014 Upper Deck 25th Anniversary Promo #UD25-KG
22. 1995 Stadium Club Ring Leaders #14
21. 1992 Flopps Ken Groovy, Jr.

20. 2000 Just 2K Mystery Gamers Game-Used Bat Relic #MG.01
19. 1997 Pinnacle New Pinnacle Spellbound #1KG-J
18. 1993 Fax Pax #2 (UK)
17. 1997 Topps Gallery Peter Max #PM5
16. 2008 Upper Deck Premier Four Jersey Relics #PR4-KG #/50
15. 1994 Flair Hot Glove #3
14. 2003 Topps Farewell Riverfront Stadium Seat Relic #FR-KG
13. 2010 Sega Card-Gen
12. 1988 San Bernardino Spirit #34 Blue Jersey Photo Variant
11. 1989 Donruss #33 Rated Rookie (sealed in pack)

10. 1999 SP Top Prospects Game Used Minor League Bat Relic #G-JR
9. 2001 Stadium Club Play at the Plate Game Used Dirt Relic #PP4
8. 2014 Topps All-Rookie Cup Team Rookie Cup Commemorative Relic #TARC-8
7. 2009 Upper Deck #93 SP
6. 1987 Bellingham Mariners Team Issue #15
5. 2014 Topps All-Rookie Cup Team Rookie Cup Commemorative Relic #TARC-8 Vintage #/25 (Trophy)
4. 1989 Topps Traded Tiffany #41T
3. 2012 Topps Golden Giveaway Gold Team Coin Autograph #GTC-KGJ #/30
2. 2005 Upper Deck Reflections Dual Signature Autograph #KGKG (w/ Ken, Sr.) (Slabbed BGS 9/Auto 10)
1. 1994 Upper Deck Griffey/Mantle #KG1 Griffey Autograph /1000

2015:

30. 2015 Topps Steel Rookies #/99 & Steel 1993 Finest #/99
29. 2003 E-X Rainbow w/ backdoored Essential Credentials Future
28. 2008 SPx American Hero #KG82 (last card to complete the set)
27. 1990 Donruss Rack Pack Sealed w/ Three Visible Griffeys
26. 2007 Upper Deck Premier Premier Patches 3 #PP3-KG2
25. 2015 Topps Factory Set Refractor Reprints (1989, 1999, 2007) Regular and Gold Complete Sets
24. Donruss Elite Series #/10000, #/2500 (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
23. 2012 Playoff Prime Cuts Timeline Triple Jersey Relic #/10
22. 1994 Topps Superstar Sampler (Finest, Bowman, Stadium Club) (sealed set)
21. 1996 Donruss Power Alley Regular #/5000 and Die-cut #/500

20. 2015 Topps Coin/Stamp Birth Year Dual Relic (penny, nickel, dime, quarter) #/50
19. Donruss/Leaf/Triple Play Previews (1990 Leaf, 1991, 1992, 1993 Donruss, 1992 Triple Play)
18. 1997 SP Game Film #/500
17. 2001 SP Piece of the Action Quad Game-Used Bat Relic (w/ Alex Rodriguez)
16. 2007 Upper Deck Premier Premier Pairings Dual Autograph #PP-AK #/25 (w/ Andruw Jones)
15. 2005 Upper Deck Reflections Cut From the Same Cloth Dual Jersey Relic #CC-GG2 Red #/99 (w/ Ken, Sr.)
14. 2005 Upper Deck Rewind to ’97 UD Game Jersey Relic #RE-KG /150
13. 2003 Ultimate Collection SPx & Sweet Spot Buyback Autos
12. 1992 Classic Auto #/3100
11. 90's Finest Refractors (1994, 1995, 1996 Bronze & Silver, 1997 Bronze, 1998, 1999, 2000 regular & SP)

10. 1998 E-X2001 Destination Cooperstown #7
9. 1988 Best San Bernardino Spirit #1 Regular and Platinum /1300
8. 1996 Ultra Hitting Machines Regular and Gold Medallion
7. 1997 E-X2000 Cut Above
6. 1997 Upper Deck UD3 Superb Signatures
5. 2004 Upper Deck Etchings A Piece of History 500 Club Game-Used Bat Relic /350
4. 1997 Upper Deck Game Jersey #GJ1
3. 1998 Donruss Crusade #39 Purple #/100
2. 1994 Upper Deck Griffey/Mantle Dual Autograph /1000
1. 2014 Upper Deck 25th Anniversary Promo Autographed 18” x 25” Jumbo /25

2016:

30. 2016 Topps Finest Careers Die-Cut Set #1-10
29. ‘90’s Stadium Club First Day Issues
28. Late ‘90’s Ultra Inserts & Gold Medallions
27. Collector’s Choice Gold Signatures
26. 2004 Upper Deck Diamond Prosigs Collection Autograph #204
25. 1998 Circa Thunder Rave Reviews #7
24. 2006 Flair Showcase Hot Gloves #HG-19 /150
23. 1995 Pinnacle White Hot
22. 2004 Upper Deck Etchings Etched in Time Autograph #ET-KG #/1625
21. Pinnacle/Select Artist’s Proofs

20. 1998 Finest The Man #1 #/500
19. 1994 Bowman’s Best #40 Refractor & 1995 Bowman’s Best #49 Refractor
18. 1999 SP Signature Edition Autograph #Jr.
17. 2000 SPx Signatures Autograph #X-KG
16. 2001 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Ultimate Signatures #KG Silver #/24 & Bronze #/70
15. 2008 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Signatures Autograph Bat Barrel #KG5 #/243
14. 2006 Fleer Autographics Autograph #KG /150
13. 2000 Upper Deck Game Jersey Autograph Jersey Relic #HKG (unnumbered)
12. 2005 Upper Deck Reflections Dual Signatures Dual Autograph #KGKG Red #/99 (w/ Ken, Sr)
11. 1994 SP Holoview F/X Special F/X #12 Die-Cut Red

10. 2015 Leaf 25th Anniversary Clear Autograph #/25
9. 2005 Ultimate Signatures 500 HRs Dual Autograph #/250 (w/ Willie McCovey)
8. 1993 Pinnacle Cooperstown Dufex #22 /1000
7. 1996 Pinnacle Skylines #1
6. 1991 Topps #790 Desert Shield & #392 All-Star Desert Shield
5. 1996 SPx Ken Griffey Jr. Commemorative Autograph #KGA1
4. 1998 SP Authentic Chirography Autograph /400 (slabbed BGS 8.5/Auto 10)
3. 1998 Upper Deck A Piece of the Action Game Jersey Relic #KG /300
2. 1998 Donruss Crusade #39 Green #/250
1. 1992 Upper Deck Bloodlines Griffey Family Triple Autograph #/1992 (w/ Ken, Sr. & Craig)

2017:

30. 2000 Stadium Club Beam Team #BT9 #/500
29. 2017 Topps Chrome MLB Award Winners #MAW-9
28. 1994 Upper Deck All-Star 125th Anniversary Jumbo Gold
27. The Rest of the Collector’s Choice Gold Signatures
26. 2009 Upper Deck A Piece of History 600 HR #600-KG
25. 2017 Donruss Whammy #W-2
24. 1996 SP Holoview Special F/X #10 Die-Cut Red
23. 1996 Ultra HR King #6 Gold Medallion and Exchange Card
22. 2000 Pacific Aurora #133 Pinstripes Premiere Date #/52
21. 1998 Pinnacle Mint #7 Gold and Silver Coins

20. 2015 Tacoma Rainiers 20th Anniversary card
19. Three of the Four Toughest 1998 Ultra Griffeys
18. Every Pinnacle Brand Artist’s Proofs made before 1997
17. 1999 SPx Winning Materials Jersey/Bat Dual Relic #JR
16. 1997 Pinnacle Passport to the Majors #2 Sample
15. 2000 Upper Deck Ionix Warp Zone #WZ3
14. 1993 Colla Collection Diamond Marks Art Insert #3
13. 1999 Metal Universe Linchpins #4
12. 1989 Fleer #548 (on top of sealed cello pack) & 1989 Bowman sealed magazine pack
11. 1997 Pinnacle X-Press Melting Pot #6 #/500

10. 1997 Pinnacle Inside #19 Diamond Edition and 1998 Pinnacle Inside #24 Diamond Edition
9. 1994 Signature Rookies Autographs
8. 1997 Pinnacle X-Press Metal Works Ingots #1 Gold #/200
7. 2014 Panini Classics Membership Materials Signatures Prime Game-Used Batting Glove/Bat/Patch Triple Relic Autograph #22 #/5
6. 2017 Panini National Treasures #136 Jersey Button Relic #/5
5. 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends Epic Signatures Autograph
4. 1991 Donruss Advertising Sheet
3. 1996 Ultra Thunder Clap #11 Gold Medallion
2. 1989 Mother’s Cookies Sealed Bag
1. 1998 SP Authentic Jersey Swatch 5x7 Jumbo Patch Relic /125

2018:

30. 2007 Upper Deck Scott Hatteberg #289 Predictor
29. 1996 Bowman’s Best Cuts #1 Atomic Refractor (slabbed PSA 8)
28. 1998 Pacific Crown Royale Home Run Fever #7 #/387
27. 1994 Upper Deck All-Star #1 Gold Jumbo (96 Beckett Tribute Checklist)
26. 2001 E-X Wall of Fame Wall Relic (Milwaukee County Stadium) #9
25. 2001 Donruss Classics Benchmarks Three Rivers Stadium Bench Relic (1994 ASG) #BM-6
24. 2002 Upper Deck Authentics #162 Reverse Negative
23. 2017 Panini Flawless #14 #/20 (diamond-embedded base card)
22. 2017 Panini National Treasures Legends Materials Booklets Duals Stats Jersey/Bat Dual Relic #LBMD-KG2 #/99
21. 1997 Pinnacle Xpress Metal Works Ingots #1 Silver #/400

20. 2000 Upper Deck Game-Used Ball Relic #B-KG
19. 1998 Metal Universe All-Galactic Team #1
18. 1994 Stadium Club Members Only Finest Bronze
17. 2004 Fleer Classic Clippings Box Score Relic #20 #/750
16. 1997 Bowman's Best Best Cuts #BC6 Atomic Refractor & 2017 Bowman's Best 1997 Best Cuts #97BC-KGJ Atomic Refractor
15. 1998 Topps Finest Power Zone #P1
14. 1998 Donruss Studio Freeze Frame #1 #/4500 Die-Cut /500
13. 1996 Flair Hot Gloves #4
12. 2018 Donruss Optic Out of This World #13 Green #/5
11. 1999 Upper Deck MVP Game Used Souvenirs Bat Relic #GU-KGj

10. 1992 Lime Rock Griffey Family Hologram Set Autographed (autographed set of all three Griffeys)
9. 2001 Donruss #13 Chicago National Convention #/5
8. 2016 Panini Pantheon Rudiarius Patch Relic #R-KG Bronze #/10
7. 2017 Topps Museum Collection Primary Pieces Single Player Legends Quad Relics Bat/Jersey/Patch Relics #SPQ-KG Gold #/10
6. 2017 Topps Transcendent MLB Moment Reproductions #MLBR-KG, #MLBR-KGR both #/87
5. 2017 Panini National Treasures 16-Player Materials Booklet Jersey Relic #PMB1-16 #/99 (w/ Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Frank Thomas, George Brett, Greg Maddux, Kirby Puckett, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Mike Piazza, Ozzie Smith, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs)
4. 1996 Upper Deck National Heroes 3 x 5 Jumbo #NH1 #/5000 Autograph #/250 (w/ UDA COA)
3. 2015 Upper Deck Employee Exclusive Autograph #UD-KG (w/ Wood Display Box)
2. 1997 SPX Bound For Glory Autograph #/250
1. 1996 Pinnacle Zenith Diamond Club #3 Real Diamond Parallel

2019:

30. 2000 Upper Deck Game-Used Baseball Relic #B-KG
29. 2019 Topps #488 SP Legend Variation & 2019 Topps Update Series #US93 SP Legend Variation
28. 1996 Pinnacle Summit Positions #8 #/1500 (w/ Jim Edmonds, Johnny Damon)
27. 1999 Ultra Diamond Producers #1
26. 2019 Topps High Tek PortraiTEK #PT-KG #/50
25. 1996 Pinnacle Summit Big Bang #2 Mirage /600
24. 1993 Topps Black Gold ABCD Winner
23. 2006 Kahn’s Reds #3
22. 2019 Topps Throwback Thursday TMNT design
21. 2019 Stadium Club Instavision #IV-3

20. 1998 Fleer Tradition Zone #7Z
19. 1997 Donruss Elite Leather & Lumber #1 #/500
18. 1999 Upper Deck Game Jersey Relic #KG-H
17. 1999 Upper Deck Ovation A Piece of History Game Used Bat Relic #KGJ
16. 2019 Leaf The National 1992 Leaf Design Refractor #TN-33 Regular, Blue #/20, Purple #/10
15. 1998 Pinnacle Epix #E1 Play Emerald &1998 Pinnacle Epix #E1 All-Star Epix Moment Emerald
14. 2000 Stadium Club Capture the Action #CA12 Game View #/100 & 2001 Stadium Club Capture the Action #CA9 Game View #/100
13. 2019 Topps 150 Years of Baseball Artist Renditions Autograph #105A Blue #/99
12. 2009 Upper Deck 20th Anniversary Sports Memorabilia Jersey Relic #MLB-KG 1/1 Richard McWilliam Autograph (inscribed “Owner” & “1/1”)
11. 2019 Cuyler Smith Art Card #/80 (Simpsons theme on 1992 Donruss design)

10. 1997 eX2000 #40 Credentials #/299
9. 2007 Upper Deck Spectrum Grand Slamarama #GS-KG
8. 1996 Topps Chrome #70 Refractor, Star Power #230 Refractor, & Wrecking Crew #WC9 Refractor
7. 1997 Ultra #121 Platinum /200, Starring Role #2, Fielder’s Choice #6, Diamond Producers #3
6. 1997 Flair Showcase Hot Gloves #4 & 2001 Fleer Legacy Hot Gloves Ball Relic #7
5. 1992 Score Procter & Gamble Sample
4. 1997 Pinnacle #193 Clout Museum Collection Artist's Proof /300
3. 2001 Topps Stadium Club Super Team #STP24
2. 2019 Panini National Treasures Hall of Fame Materials Laundry Tag Relic #HOF-KG #/7
1. 2019 Leaf Industry Summit Autograph #IS-KGJ Green 1/1

Monday, January 20, 2020

Flying Cars: 1997 Ultra


My son will be four in March, and I am beyond excited. Here’s a short list as to why:

1. Soon he will be able to engineer his own Hot Wheels tracks. We built a pretty sweet straightaway just last week.
2. He is very nearly ready to begin to appreciate Star Wars (after much debate we have decided we will be starting him with Episode I like the logical heathens we are).
3. We are about to make that great leap from Duplo to standard-sized Legos. This is a bigger deal that the non-initiated might think.
4. Baseball cards?

So maybe four is a hair too young to start collecting cards in earnest. He can probably handle Starting Lineup figures, but I fear for any piece of cardboard he gets his mitts on. But it’s definitely coming. He’ll be a Topps/Panini kid because, well, we have no choice.


But there will be a time when he is old enough that I can sit him down and show him what cardboard was back at the crest of the late-90’s wave of awesome, when sets like 1997 Ultra were setting a standard none of us realized at the time was unsustainable.

It’s been 20 years since the late-90’s cardboard bonanza that brought us practically every kind of innovation we still enjoy today, so you might think even more innovation has happened since, and yet it really hasn’t. Even today, over 20 years later, no one set could offer with any kind of regularity the sort of stuff you could pull from a plain old retail pack back then.

People say all the time that we were supposed to have flying cars by now, but in terms of baseball cards, we kind of already did. They came in the late ‘90’s, and we’ve been coasting ever since. We’ll get a whiff of them here and there from super-premium sets and woefully intangible digital offerings, but there’s not much you can pull from a pack you buy at Target in 2019 that can compete with the Ultras and Pacifics of yesteryear. And for my little (eventual) collector, that is a pity.

Until then, my son will just have to look upon all the amazing cards that came out of that very short period and be jealous that his old man got to live through it. And from the looks of things his generation’s music is going to suck, too. He and I have a lot of ground to cover over the next few years...

1997 Ultra #121

The longer I collect and the further removed we get from the late ’90’s, the more I appreciate the design of 1997 Ultra. This brand already has one of the greatest Design Timelines there ever was, and this set is one of the greatest of those. It set a new design standard for the brand with five of the last eleven Ultra base designs featuring that element of "script-on-a-slight-angle" (I dubbed it SOASA which is just never going to catch on) in the nameplate and six of those designs using all-holofoil nameplates.

This particular design is bright, exciting, and fun without seeming cheap. That handwriting font turned out pretty much perfect, and never was a team name better placed in a nameplate. While not my favorite Ultra base card, this is probably my favorite Ultra design.

As batting photos go, they don’t get much better than this barring a backwards-cap Home Run Derby shot or a far-away, impeccably-lit long-ball launch shot from behind. Or maybe a big, fat focus tongue. That pitch is a little high for me – I’d have probably swung right under it.

1997 Ultra #G121 Gold Medallion

The Gold Medallions this year gave us a completely different photo (as opposed to a simple foil stamp) and gold-tinted holofoil in the nameplate. I prefer the bright, mid-swing photo of the base card, but the backwards cap does help.

1997 Ultra #P121 Platinum Medallion /200

There is also a 1:100 Platinum Medallion parallel this year from an unnumbered edition of 200. As you can see the holofoil is hella sparkly. Despite a pair of 1:288 inserts from this year, make no mistake - this Platinum Medallion is the Holy Grail of ’97 Ultra Griffeys.

If you know anything about Ultra, you know their inserts are some of the best in the game; so get ready for some foiled frivolity and acetate awesomeness as we look at the incredible inserts of 1997 ULTRAAAAA!!!!!!

1997 Ultra Checklist #2

PSYCH! Ultra checklists are technically inserts (1:4), so two more boring paper cards before we get to the good stuff. Junior appears on two checklists in ’97 Ultra, both with trademark backwards caps. I call this one “Whistling ‘Stache.”

1997 Ultra Checklist #3

And this one is “Slouchy McBabyface.” The disparity in facial hair between these two cards is my favorite. Either he shaved the ‘stache sometime during the season, or his lip hair grows light years faster than mine.

Okay – actual fun insert time now:

1997 Ultra Top 30 #2

A characteristically Ultra insert with a full-bleed background design in team-specific colors. This insert also makes an appearance in the ’98 set but it didn’t have the staying power of other, more popular Ultra inserts like Power Plus, Thunderclap, or Hitting Machines.

1997 Ultra Top 30 #2 Gold Medallion

One of several die-cut inserts (or parallel of an insert in this case) from this year’s Ultra, these are actually pretty tough finds at 1:18 retail-only packs. They seem to have put a little work into the gold finish here because this sucker shines like Flava Flav’s teeth. Well done.

There is a version of this Gold Medallion that does not have the die-cutting. Whether they are errors or backdoored remains anybody’s guess, but they aren’t insanely rare. They are, however, at least a little rarer than the regular die-cuts. It’s on the want list…

1997 Ultra Double Trouble #9 (w/ Alex Rodriguez)

I get mixed feelings about A-rod cards from this era. He was so cool and good and everyone was so excited about this team and his future and all that. I still keep most of his early Mariners cards, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t resent them a little. Not as much as I do Bonds and McGwire and some of those other asshats; but yeah, still hurts.

That being said, look at this pair. I want to go to the mall with them on a Tuesday morning when no one else is there. Get pretzels, sip smoothies, and giggle in the “naughty” section of Spencer Gifts. Man, that would be a fun day.

1997 Ultra Fame Game #1

I don’t know why they tried to ruin this thing with a white border, but everything else about it is reasonably cool. The gold script nameplate and giant, embossed foil and holo-sparkle lettering in the insert title are the stars of the show, for sure. The back is also pretty darn colorful and dynamic as Ultra insert backs go – they’re usually just a picture and simple block of text. A lot of neat elements at work here.

1997 Ultra Leather Shop #1

We are still in the fairly easy part of this year’s crop of Ultra inserts which is also where the perennial leather-themed inserts can usually be found. Ultra skipped the Prime Leather inert this year (but would bring it back in ’98) and gave us Leather Shop instead. While not as bright and tactile as the excellent Prime Leather insert from the previous set, this year’s offering has a strip of team-coloring in a vertical nameplate with some lovely gold foil script.


I love this back because flipped-up shades and GIANT NEEDLE! Ever try and poke a hole in leather. You legit need a giant needle like this to do it. Just keep it away from my Griffey cards, yo.

1997 Ultra Power Plus Series 1 #4

So this is about as Ultra as inserts get – a big, bold, full-bleed design that eliminates any semblance of photo background. And holofoil – my God – TONS of holofoil. This particular card might be the most holofoil text by surface area ever to grace a card of any sport (seriously if you can find one with more, show it to me).


The back is your standard ho-hum Ultra insert back – text box, big ol’ player photo, and little else. This is why I get so excited about the backs of inserts like Fame Game and Leather Shop where they changed things up a bit.

1997 Ultra Power Plus Series 2 #1

Fleer liked the Power Plus Insert so much, they made it twice in ’97. This one from Series 2 is much rarer than its Series 1 counterpart at 1:24 where the latter is 1:8.

1997 Ultra RBI Kings #7

One of the challenges of being a card blogger is that sometimes a really awesome card simply doesn’t scan well, and the image you are forced to give your readers looks like the dark, indiscernible mess you see above. So don’t think for a second this insert isn’t totally baddass – it is. Loaded with filigree and medieval symbols that exude royalty, specifically that of a guy who it good at hitting the ball while other guys are on base. I feel like gold would have gotten the point across a little better, but overall no complaints.

Oh, and that might be the best card back of the year for Ultra.

1997 Ultra Thunderclap #8

Now I am a huge fan of the 1996 version of this insert as I actually pulled one from a pack back in the day, it came in the incredibly scarce Gold Medallion parallel (and in holofoil no less), and I’m a total slut for purple baseball cards; but objectively speaking if I were asked to design an insert called “Thuderclap,” this is exactly how I would do it. Black sky, cool foil lightning bolts, and a back design that stylizes the player name instead of the insert title.

Then again I would probably also include a subtle personal watermark somewhere on the card like so:


I really did miss my calling.

1997 Ultra Baseball Rules! #2


The front of this card got me like, “Heck yeah, dog! Baseball DOES rule! Dang, Fleer Ultra, you cool AF.” Then you flip it over and it’s more like, “Oh, it’s Baseball Rules. Like rule-rules. Buzz harshed.”

I suspect it’s also just coincidence that rules are made to be broken and at the same time finding one of these cards without damage, especially on that top edge, is damn near impossible. These were available in Series 1 retail packs only, and if you know anything about retail vs hobby, you know that retail packs are the ones you see spread out in a messy pile in the card aisle at Wal-Mart. This is one of those cards where the premium carried by a high slab grade is justified.

Still, it’s a fun design and great use of die-cutting. And prices have cooled on these considerably in the last few years, especially in the case of damaged copies (which is most of them). Great insert and a satisfying get for the budding Griffey collector.

1997 Ultra Hitting Machines #2

Can you imagine pulling one of these things from a pack in the ‘90’s? They weren’t even that scarce for such a crazy design. That’s 34 corners, y’all. There are worse cards for slipping into penny sleeves, but not many. And how about all that etched foil? How these were as common as 1 per box I’ll never know. They look more like a case hit to me, even for the ‘90’s.

1997 Ultra HR Kings #4

My favorite of the 1:36 inserts, these are all acetate with a tasteful smattering of holofoil in the clear bits plus a lovely gold foil logo. This is another one of those that seems bland in a scan but sparkles in person.

1997 Ultra Fielder’s Choice #6

I usually take issue with inserts that are so heavily designed around a logo, but damn it if this isn’t a perfectly executed version of that very faux pas.

Thick, simulated leather with a bold stitch forming the border, a light foil effect, and the iconic Ultra logo in lieu of a forgettable one-off insert logo. And most importantly it feels like a hit. As far as Ultra inserts are concerned, this is one of the greats.

Usually brands will have a “mirror” insert in terms of insertion ratio in each of the two series, but there is no 1:144 Griffey insert in Series 2; so today we get to jump straight to the 1:288’s:

1997 Ultra Diamond Producers #3

Of all the wacky inserts this year, Diamond Producers is a total warlock. The most noticeable design element is a deckled matte surface, pinstripes, and THAT’S IT. There’s a vague shadow effect going on in the background and the insert logo/nameplate combo is attractive enough but this thing is hella-scant for a 1:288. I don’t hate it or anything – actually the matte surface is pretty darn cool – but I can’t help feeling like they should have swapped this with Hitting Machines for the most difficult pull. I’m just not getting a “case hit” vibe from this card.

1997 Ultra Starring Role #2

Die-cut refractive acetate, anyone? While it is equally scarce as Diamond Producers, this is the most highly-sought after of the ’97 Ultra inserts for two reasons. First, it’s really cool. This card has the kind of curb appeal you should expect from a case hit. I still think that Hitting Machines insert has more. It was also at least a little harder to pull, only appearing in Series 2 Hobby packs while DP was in hobby AND retail of S1. Still, with the always-unpublished production figures of retail vs hobby product, we will never know how much more scarce Starring Role is.

If any set gave Stadium Club a run for its money, this was it. I think Upper Deck still owns the Fleer brands, so the likelihood of Ultra making a comeback in baseball in the same way Stadium Club did is as low is it can get. Hm. Kind of a bummer. I hate to end a post like this. Let me find a happy picture to cap this one off.


Oh....oh my God. Yes. Aaaaaaaand POST.