Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Design Timeline: O-Pee-Chee

This post is part of an ongoing feature The Great Griffey Base Card Project.

O-Pee-Chee is a candy and gum company that started making collector cards back in the 1930’s then baseball cards in 1965 through a deal with Topps. At first their cards were indistinguishable from the Topps versions in every way apart from one small aspect: “Printed in USA” was replaced by “Printed in Canada” on the back next to T.C.G. That’s it. Everything else was identical.

This changed over time; and while the cards remained more or less the same, logos were added as well as a little French in lieu of English for the Quebecois. Tres exotique, non? This made for more cards to chase which was a big deal in a time when there was only Topps and maybe a few branded oddballs. Even when Donruss and Fleer came along in 1981, there was still very little for card-crazy completionists to go after. O-Pee-Chee provided collectors with a whole base set of new trophies. Sadly, as with numerous other baseball card brands, it didn’t last.

Some quick trivia before we begin: According to Wikipedia, “O-Pee-Chee” is an aboriginal word meaning “the robin.” It was also the name of the summer cottage of one of the company’s founders. I’ve been wondering what the deal was with that name for 20 years. Boom: knowledge is power.

Here is every Griffey-wielding O-Pee-Chee base card design in order:


1990 O-Pee-Chee #336

As you can see there is no difference here compared with the regular Topps base card. Same bright colors, same wacky Buttafuoco-pants border – it’s identical. The card is printed on lighter card stock the way Traded and Tiffany cards were (but not quite as white), so the back is lighter here than the regular. That makes them easy to spot in a stack.

I’ve already done the Timeline for the Topps designs OPC uses through 1992, so I won’t go into the designs too much until the 1993 set - just the differences.


1991 O-Pee-Chee #790

Again, no difference between O-Pee-Chee and Topps on the front and a lighter brown card stock evident on the back. They even kept the massive but totally sweet 40th Anniversary Topps logo. There are more versions of this ’91 card than any other design on this timeline. Apart from the regular base card, there’s the OPC, Tiffany, Desert Shield, Micro, Cracker Jack, and uncut Cracker Jack versions. I’m probably forgetting some, too.


1992 O-Pee-Chee #50

For the first time since the 80’s we have an honest-to-goodness OPC logo in the place of the Topps logo here. That little detail made these a heck of a lot easier to spot. Apart from that, no differences here. Even the card stock is identical (finally).

I really hope you enjoyed the first half of the timeline, guys. After all, the real gems of OPC in my opinion have always been their slightly funky versions of the same Topps cards we’d seen a million times before but with a wild new name/logo and strange French verbiage. They’re fun, right?

Great. Well, say goodbye to that. Their contract with Topps came to an end and was not renewed for 1993. This means the remaining sets are all original designs, and without the Topps clout behind them they sorta skirt the line between bonafide base card and overproduced oddball.


1993 O-Pee-Chee #91

Here is O-Pee-Chee’s first original flagship design in 28 years. I don’t remember opening packs of this or seeing it around card shops or anything. I only dealt with this set when I started amassing Griffeys. I genuinely thought it was an oddball at first. So many 90’s oddballs have that washed out look you know?

Anyway, the bold team name up top doesn’t really match the understated nameplate. The best part of this design to me is the O-Pee-Chee logo in the little team-colored diamond. Overall, none of the elements here complement each other very well, and they’re all imprisoned together by that oppressive white border. I like weird stuff, guys, but I cannot get behind this one.


1994 O-Pee-Chee #22

The last independently-O-Pee-Chee flagship design, this one is actually not too bad. All the design elements have chemistry here unlike those of the previous year. No more full border, nice use of team-color and superimposition of the photography, and there’s even French on the back and front. It feels like a real set. The modernized logo I could live without, but overall this is not too shabby.

O-Pee-Chee ceased baseball card production after ’94 due to the MLB strike, and after being bounced around between card and candy companies for a while, the brand finally ended up belonging to Upper Deck. During this baseball card blackout of theirs they were prolific in the Hockey card market (which they still are) under their new owners. Only one more O-Pee-Chee baseball base set would be produced...15 years later:


2009 O-Pee-Chee #425

This is Upper Deck’s version of the classic brand, and as a whole the set is pretty solid. Upper Deck missed a fun opportunity to sneak a little French on the card back as a gesture to OPC's history, but this is probably for the best as I doubt many people would have gotten the joke. The photography is really good and the cards are colorful and attractive. They even went with the original logo over the one from ’94. Check out the little baseball position indicator – so throwback.

And that’s pretty much where it ends on the baseball front. The brand poked its head out a few other times with a trio of allegedly-higher-end “Premier” sets and a 1969 reprint insert from 2008 Upper Deck, but apart from those they were barely around at all after ’92. It just kind of went away. I assume somebody in Quebec was pissed.


There are not many mourners for this set save for the few old school guys endeared to the brand by having a few extra cards to chase in the days before inserts and parallels. The independently-O-Pee-Chee designs seem all but forgotten.

The brand remains under the ownership of Upper Deck, meaning our odds of seeing new baseball cards from this set are zilch to nada, for now, anyway. There was never much substance to the cards to begin with, so any rehashing of O-Pee-Chee would be gimmicky and totally unnecessary. I don’t feel like we’re missing much.

Wait, wait – I just made up an O-Pee-Chee joke.  Ready?

What has four corners and “pee” in the middle?
…wait for it…
A square toilet.

Sorry.  Once more, here is every Griffey O-Pee-Chee base card in order:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cavalcade of Keepers 5

Time for some more gems from the Keeper Box.

I love Josh Gibson cards.  This one is particularly nice with Josh glowing eerily in the foreground and an amazing stadium backdrop.  Something must have been tweaked to make him appear as in-focus as he is because the background is nowhere near that clear.  This guy should be a household name.

While I'm not an active collector of Mr. Larkin's cards, I have no excuse not to be.  He's a class act and has a ton of amazing cardboard out there.  This one from Topps Gallery shows him hovering in mid-air in the midst of turning a double play.  Just a great photo from a consistently photogenic player.

Note: I have two extras if anyone needs one.  First dibs to the known Reds collectors, but I'd be surprised if you guys don't already have this one.

There are two things I love when it comes to cards: Topps Gallery, and Stadium backgrounds.  Here's both.  Eric looks ten feet tall.

Javy is giving it his all in this Ultra offering, and really it could not have been framed better.  Oh, and it's a Tatooine card.  Who is it that collects those?  I've been setting them aside and have no idea who to send them to.  Anyway, go, J-Lo!

I have a bunch of Rickey Henderson cards featuring him sliding into one base or another (they were popping up everywhere in the 90's as he approached Brock's record), but this is by far my favorite.  He's cool and collected here, suspended in air as he slams into third.  I know it's subtle, but the ump watching him from the background makes this card.  Rickey did his part, too, I guess.

Thanks for reading!

Breaking the Seal(s)

Careful - this post may hurt.

"Breaking the seal" usually refers to the first pee after you start a night of drinking.  It usually feels amazing and leads to future pees that happen far more frequently than before the "seal" was broken.

This term used in terms of card collecting means something much more painful.

I have a lot of Griffey rookies, and until recently I had almost every one.  Almost.  The one official Griffey rookie that eluded me was the 1989 Topps Traded #41T Tiffany.  You probably know about Tiffany cards if you've ever actively collected - they're re the super-glossy versions of Topps, Bowman, and Fleer sets from the 80's and 90's printed on white card stock in very limited quantities.

Now, with the Traded set which is already printed on white card stock the only characteristic that differentiates a Tiffany card from the regular version is the gloss coating which can be difficult to spot on a card that is encased.  For this reason I've actually been through a couple of duds purchased online (Tiffany cards are tough to buy online because you can't verify them).  The way I figured, the only way I was going to land a true Tiffany 41T with absolute confidence was to buy the sealed set, so I did just that.

The set arrived, and it sat in my Griffey cupboard for weeks before I decided it was break the seal.

It hurt to do, but I wanted my Griffey, guys.  I wanted my Griffey.

And there it was, perfectly cut and shiny as the day the Good Lord made it.  The thing was more valuable with that little gold sticker intact, but this card is 95% of the value of the set, anyway.  Plus, I got these:

A pair of nice PC cards, and....

All these to boot!  Looking back I would do it again, and I have to admit that yes, I have mixed feeling about it; but I feel glad that the cards within are being enjoyed by me and anyone cool enough to read this blog.

And yet, I should admit here that on that fateful night, after dispatching the virtue of that little '89 Tiffany Traded set, I got what you may call a bit of a seal-breaker's high.

Here is a sealed 1987 Bellingham Mariners Team Set.

As you can see on the back here, Mr. Griffey appears on two cards: #15 and #33 which is this very checklist.  There is a team photo on the other side.  Know how I know?

That's right - I did it again.

What an amazing card!  Is it wrong that this card will no longer be sentenced to an eternity facing the back of card #14 Wade Taylor?  No!  This belongs scanned and on the Internet for all to enjoy, then secured in a nice, clean screw case where its edges may remain ever sharp.  It's real nice, too.  A little off-center, but otherwise perfect.

There were also a handful of other fun cards I wasn't aware of when I bought the team set, a pair of funny names and two little kids of whom I'm not totally jealous.  I'm not.

I have a few other items I haven't broken the seal on, those being a 1993 Stadium Club Master Photo jumbo set (the Griffey is stuck between two other cards),  a bunch of small sets with Griffeys I already own loose, and a few Starting Lineup figures with cards in the blister packs.  I'll probably leave most of those intact for now; but if there's a card I need for the collection with a layer of thin plastic between it and me, I'm not above breaking said plastic.

Actually, those Starting Lineup figures might not even last the day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

He Made Me an Offer I Couldn't Refuse

Say hello to my latest and greatest acquisition: the 2012 Topps Gold Team Coin Autograph #GTC-KGJ #/30.  It's an excellent specimen of on-card autography, bright and shiny, rich in color, and larger than life.

You may have noticed it includes a heavy gold coin embedded right into the card.  At first I thought the coin may just be foil-stamped paper or aluminum (which is how they make Mardi Gras doubloons), bu this thing is a real heavy metal of some kind.  It's a very impressive card.

The card was originally won by Jason of the now-extinct Joe Average Card Collector.  You can still see the post he did when he won this baby here.  I commented on it back then with great jelliness.  Jason contacted me recently in need of some funds for an amazing baseball-related experience, and he sold it to me for far less than I would otherwise ever hope to get it for.

I don't want to overstep my bounds, but here's a picture Jason sent me of him sitting with the owner of his heritage team, the Colorado Rockies:

That's awesome, bro.  I'm glad I was able to help make that happen.  We miss you, Jason!  Thanks for the amazing deal!

Monday, October 13, 2014

1992 Donruss: Overproduced and Underappreciated

Old sets are right in my wheelhouse, but this post took a while to put together for one simple reason: I want everyone to like this set as much as I do.  Massively overproduced as it was, '92 Donruss is a gem of the early 90's, especially when you look at it in the context of the Donruss designs that preceded it.  This was a brand trying to reinvent itself, and this was meant to be the set that laid the groundwork.

It’s hard to tell whether Donruss' fundamental design change happened in reaction to Upper Deck’s success or if it happened organically. Donruss was 12 years into the card business, after all, and its clients were growing up. What we see in 1992 is a more mature product and design than ever before. Clean lines, limited colors, and high-end paper stock brought an air of maturity and worldliness. Donruss had gotten its pubes, and it was time to show them off.

Whether the change can be attributed directly to Upper Deck’s success is up for debate. At this point everybody was moving to higher-quality white paper stock and two-sided, full-color printing. In my opinion, these were upgrades that were long overdue anyway, and improvements in printing allowed for better quality cards to be made at lower cost. Cards like this were inevitable.  You can't put it all on Upper Deck.

The design itself is dominated by a horizontal strip of light blue along the top and bottom of the card with the player name in a thick, heavily-shadowed font along the bottom. The letters are a prominent matte silver that resembles the part of a scratch-off you rub with a coin. I’m not normally crazy about monochromatic designs (’91 Fleer, ’90 Donruss, ‘01 Topps to name a few), but that blue is just muted enough to not be inappropriate for all teams.

The cards are advertised as glossy, but it’s funny what was considered glossy in 1992 considering ’93 Flair which featured what may be the glossiest surface ever created by science came out just a year later and glossed everyone’s eyes out. I will say that ’92 Donruss is smooth and sharp - there is definitely quality here.

The Donruss logo is different this year, too, in that it isn’t there at all - just the year and brand written in tastefully spaced-out letters along the top banner. I like to think this was meant to class up the design and signal Donruss’ transformation into a more modern look.

That quality extends to more than just the cards themselves: the photography in this set is some of the best Donruss ever had. I didn’t really know this until recently when I happened upon a pair of boxes, one from each series, priced at five bucks each from my LCS. The quantity of great shots I came across while flipping through those packs blew my mind. Here are a few from that stack I set aside just for this post:
Awesome action
Bonkers batting
Harrowing hitting
Captivating catching
Precocious pitching
And a whole lot of ragin' Rated Rookies

This is some solid photography, guys, even by today's standards; and the Rated Rookie portraits are everything I wish they had been back in ’89. I guess I always overlooked the photography in this brand because it’s right in the middle of the overproduction era. Never again. Donruss’ attempt at self-improvement is a hit with me.

Nothing signals the change Donruss was going through more than their new card back. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s look at a side-by-side comparison with the back of the previous year’s base set:

At first glance it’s like night and day, right? Look again. Notice that every aspect of the previous card back has been feng-shui’d into the new design, including Donruss-only favorites like the full name and contract status. No other brand took their modernization this far and with this much detail. In that respect this is arguably the greatest card back Donruss ever produced.

And did I mention the massive, full-color portrait that fades into the stat box? Did I need to?

After this year the full player name would disappear from the card backs, and the contract status would stick around for one more set only to be completely done away with by ’94. The only part that would stay is the stat box and player details, but with all the fun exclusives gone there was no comparative advantage left to set Donruss apart.  They gave up a little bit of their identity each year after this.  To me, '92 is the last true Donruss set.

OK, let’s get down and dirty:

1992 Donruss #165

Here’s a bright, sunny day game shot. Looks like a ground ball to second almost certainly sneaking by some unsuspecting infielders into right center. That’s just how Junior rolls.

Lucky for us they still had the full player name this year. I wish Donruss hadn’t missed the boat on including Chipper Jones in this set – the whole Larry thing would have blown my 11-year-old mind.

1992 Donruss #24 All-Star

I’ve been praising this set a lot, but Junior’s all-star card feels awkwardly-framed, badly-lit, and you can barely see his face (though what you can see is showing some mad focus, y'all). It looks like they were going for the candid action shot of Junior taking a lead off the bag, an idea that is much better-executed on other cards in the set.

Donruss went hard into the promotional market this year, making for some sweet branded oddballs. Check it:

1992 Donruss McDonald's MVP #22

This McDonald’s MVP card has a great action pic featuring the Kid maintaining a concentrated gaze despite being in a very compromised position balance-wise. In addition to having a superior photo compared with both Griffey base cards, the unique matte gold lettering instead of silver and an MVP logo that is not ostentatious about its fast food pedigree make this a pretty solid oddball. I’m lovin’ it.

1992 Donruss Cracker Jack Mini #12

Mickey D's wasn't the only company to get in on the baseball card craze with Donruss.  These Cracker Jack minis are actually really high-quality with designs kept as faithful as possible to the regular base design for being so tiny.  They feature a different photo than the original base card and a reasonably functional back tailor-made for smallness.

1992 Donruss Cracker Jack Mini Wrappers

“Toy Surprise.” Surprise! It’s not a toy – it’s a card. Cards aren’t toys; but thank you, Cracker Jack marketing department, for getting with Donruss and making these cool little things happen.

While the cards inside are identical, you’re better believe that different wrapper is a variant.

The Diamond King for the Mariners this year went to Randy Johnson. I like the Big Unit, so I’m not going to besmirch this choice (cough, All-Star Game MVP, ahem), but there is one card from the Diamond Kings insert that needs to be shown:

Yes, this is lifted from COMC.  Mine is filed away, and I don't feel like digging it out at this moment.  You get the idea...

There he is: Dick Perez himself. DP is a legend in the card collecting community for his polarizing player art. From the majorly tripped-out backgrounds of 80’s and 90’s Donruss to the questionable-at-best blotchiness of 2006 Allen & Ginter Dick Perez Collection zombie Griffey, we all have some kind of opinion of Mr. Perez. Like him or not, his work is fun to talk about.

One of the better generations of DK designs, though the checklist
could use some tweaking

Diamond Kings inserts appeared in boxes at around four hits per (though I managed to pull five from one box). Still, imagine being a kid and saving up your allowance for weeks until you finally have enough for an entire box of ’92 blue only to pull a DK checklist featuring Dick Perez’ bearded mug. I would have thrown a major hissy, but as an adult I cherish that card.

I should go ahead and mention here a common mistake made among collectors:

See this? The back of this card indicates it is from 1992, but this is really the Diamond King from the 1993 Donruss base set. The closest to a Diamond Kings insert Griffey got in ’92 was the Gallery of Heroes from Triple Play. I, too, am guilty of this mistake. You can’t always count on the copyright year (especially with Collector’s Choice and mid-90’s Score). Griffey collectors, update your checklists.

Oh, and this year's Donruss set featured a Rod Carew Puzzle.  Yes, I have the whole thing, but I won't be showing it here as that would entail me popping out the little pieces and putting the thing together, then finding a way to store said assembled puzzle.  All respect to Mr. Carew, but no thank you.

Here are the Griffeys I need from 1992 Donruss:

Promo #7
Elite #13 #/10,000
Leaf Preview #24

The stated odds of that Elite insert give something remarkable away about this set (and other sets from this period). At 10,000 copies of each of ten Elite Series cards plus 7,500 of the Rickey Henderson multiplied by stated odds of one Elite card per 55 boxes (according to Baseballcardpedia), we can extrapolate the number of boxes of this product to be 5,912,500. That's a hair shy of 3 B-B-Billion cards.  This is the bottom number as it’s not clear whether those odds include jumbos. There could be considerably more.

Let’s take this even further: Each card is 3.5” at its longest point. At 504 cards per box, that’s 1,764 inches of card per box which totals 10,429,650,000”. The Equator measures 1,558,010,995.2 inches around. This means you can lay out all the 1992 Donruss cards ever produced end-to-end around the world almost seven times. That’s just one set from the overproduction era. I think this may have a little to do with why some people hate ’92 Donruss. There’s far too much of it on this planet. Remember that stat next time you feel guilty about throwing away a bunch of junk wax.

Then again, the more you throw away, the more my ’92 Donruss cards are worth.

Thanks for reading!  Coming soon: two boxes of 1992 Donruss Series 1 and 2.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Beacoup Choses de la Belle France, Kevinsent

My dog just had surgery, and I didn't have the heart to cut her out of this picture.


Kevin of the great new blog The Card Papoy (which, incidentally, has some of my favorite post titles around), lives in France.  Unfortunately for him he is also a baseball fan, specifically the Blue Jays.  I offered to send him a bunch of Jays I have laying around in exchange for some yummy French stuff.  As for what he could send me in return, I gave the examples of chocolate, cheese, and mustard.  Well, Kevin sent all three in a big box with some sweet cards to boot.

But before we get to the cards, let's talk about the food.  The cheese is soft but strong-tasting, a tiny bit salty but a lot more sweet with a lot of that roof-of-the-mouth stinging goodness.  The chocolates are smooth and completely unlike what I buy here (mostly Russell Stover or Lindt's if I'm feeling saucy).  More soft and melty in the mouth than what I'm used to.  I'm trying to take my time eating them.  The mustards I have not gotten into yet, but I am super excited about the different flavors there.  Great stuff, all.

Okay, this is not a food blog:

Kevin has a good eye for fun and unique cardboard.  He also seems to love Stadium Club which I can relate to.  Whoever down at the Topps offices chose that picture for Erik Pappas is a sick man, but I love the brazen resolve on Tim Naehring's face that says "Watch your ass, umpire - I'm getting this bastard out."

It's amazing to me how many baseball cards feature a football.  It makes sense what with the slight overlap of the seasons and the fact that many of these guys must have played football in high school (apparently Rangers prospect Russell Wilson is also a footballer of some kind.  Isn't that wild?).  The BJ Birdy is one of my favorite cards from this package.

We are the Pelicans now, formerly the Hornets.  I really wish we had the name Jazz back.  It was pretty perfect.

Thanks for the card, Monsieur Kevin!  I'm already stockpiling Blue Jays for you, but if there's any American food I can send you (McGriddles?) I'd be happy to oblige.  I do live in New Orleans where we have access to some excellent sauces and spices.

Vive la France!