Friday, December 21, 2018

2000 Ultra: More Stadium Club Than Stadium Club


In 1991 Topps gave us the first Stadium Club set and Fleer the first Ultra set. In 2000, amid bankruptcies and acquisitions and a whole lot of scaling back in general for many brands lucky enough to still operate, both sets were miraculously still around. The vast, VAST majority of sub brands didn’t last five years let alone ten, but somehow Stadium Club and Ultra were still as good as ever.

I don’t believe Ultra’s photography was quite as good as Stadium Club’s, but it was damn close. There’s also no denying Ultra’s insert game was on point, and their various medallions absolutely blew away Stadium Club in terms of parallels (Matrix was the shit, tho). I’m making all these comparisons with Stadium Club because I will admit before God and the world that I am a pathetic Stadium Club fanboy through and through; and any given year Stadium Club is usually my favorite set of that year, but not in 2000. In 2000, Ultra is better.

2000 Ultra #100

Most sets were already on the Reds trolley by the time their cards were printed and released, and Ultra may have been as well; they had a ton of sub-brands at this point and most of them, Mystique, Focus, Gamers, Showcase, all got it right. I like to think someone at Ultra found out about the trade, but then said, “Screw that. This picture is PERFECT. Junior is a Mariner for one more set.”

The nameplate font looks familiar, and I’ve been trying to pin down where I’ve seen it before. Back to the Future credits? A J-Pop album cover? Whatever it is it’s AWESOME, and Fleer should have trademarked and sold it. It makes every player’s name looks like its own brand; and with that field of unobtrusive green behind it, it really stands out on Junior’s card. The only semblance of clunk in the whole design is the black bar behind the team name that is probably only there to keep the lettering legible, but it doesn’t really bother me here. This is a near-perfect base card.


The back is basically flawless, too. Ultra used to fill the back with photos, avoid blurbs, and abbreviate stat boxes. This year they gave us a single massive, card-high stunner of a photo with a face-melting purple and blue background that I want painted on every wall in my house, a mind-bogglingly complete 11-year stat box that is super-legible thanks to a little creative shading behind it, and a blurb in the same font as the nameplate that fills us in on Junior’s sick Grand Salami game.

Maybe the card number could be a little further in the corner? I don’t know - I’m seriously stretching to find a problem with this card back. There’s no way they were all this good. Wait…I think I have another 2000 Ultra base card laying around here somewhere…


Damn – that's pretty cool. It’s official – 2000 Ultra is on my list of favorite card backs. Well done, guys. Let’s check out the front of that Palmeiro just to be sure.


Uh, yeah. We’re good here.

2000 Ultra #100G Gold Medallion

This is one of my favorite years of the Medallion parallels. There’s no medallion proper anywhere on the card, but there is some nice arched die-cutting across the top, a line of text heralding the type of medallion you just pulled, gold holofoil where there was silver before, and a slight gold tint to the entire photo background. This last thing is barely noticeable on the Griffey as he is surrounded by grass, but trust me – that right there’s a gold tint.


There are two other medallion types in this set: a Platinum Medallion #/50 and a Masterpiece Medallion that is a 1/1. I have neither of these.


Let’s peep some insert swag:

2000 Ultra Diamond Mine #3

At 1:6, these cards were everywhere. And why not? Design-wise this is the most essentially Ultra insert in the lot: a large, simple theme that uses little to no photo background at all. Not much to talk about, though.


That photo of winded batting practice Junior is great, but it’s all about the blurb here. Second person voice? Yep – that is definitely a trademark of Skybox. Use of multiple consecutive exclamation marks usually freaks me out, as does adding an “s” to the idiom “the stuff of legend,” but the blurb itself is frickin’ awesome. I’m also a pretty prolific user of the mid-sentence parenthetic aside (see?) which they did twice here. Include this blurb in my obituary.

2000 Ultra Swing Kings #5

In 1996 Ultra had a really cool clear acetate insert called Season Crowns that I was always bummed about because Junior didn’t get a card there (he was injured for most of the ’95 season but still deserved a crown, dammit!). Swing Kings is kind of lacking in the design department because it’s mostly clear, negative space with a little text where Season Crowns had full, colorful designs that still took advantage of the acetate. 

One of the best acetate inserts evaaaaa

The photo on Griffey's Swing Kings card is sick as hell, and again I’m totally smitten with that 2nd person Skybox blurb. There’s enough good here to save the card, but design-wise it's only mildly cool and maybe even a smidge disappointing.

At least we can breathe a sigh of relief that the medallions didn’t apply to the inserts this year.

2000 Ultra Crunch Time #2

This is the rarest non-auto/relic/serial # pull in the set this year, and as you can probably tell it is a matte paper card with a bit of gold foil. The background is a large, weathered ball and bat with Junior playing the field in front, a little weird because the card seems to focus on his offensive performance.


I cannot stress enough how much I love these ridiculous Skybox blurbs. Do we have room for another J-pop reference? Good. These blurbs are like J-pop, guys. I know what I’m listening to is wrongwrongwrong and I resent the hell out of it, but why am I not skipping the song? WHY? Don’t even look at me.

2000 Ultra also had some auto and game-used stuff, but nothing with Griffey in it. Here are the Griffeys I still need, all of them numbered to 99 or less:

#100P Platinum Medallion #/50
#100M Masterpiece 1/1
Ultra Talented #5 #/99

I'm crazy about the base card here and would really love a shot at the platinum someday at a reasonable price. And to whoever has the Masterpiece, please know that I hella-covet your shit.

Now I invite you to plug in your headphones, turn your volume up, and release your inhibitions:


Thursday, December 20, 2018

2005 Topps Turkey Red: Your Great-Great Grandfather Would Frickin Love These


Remember tobacco cards? Yeah, neither do I. They were way before my time and, more than likely, yours as well. But we’ve all seen them, and pretty much everybody loves them. The color, tasteful design, and beautiful painted images along with the feeling of physically holding a little piece of history is enough to win over even the most modern collector.


So when the vintage-nouveau movement took over in the early 2000’s, Topps took it upon themselves to push the envelope as far back into history as it could by re-launching the long-defunct Turkey Red brand. Some of the first collector cards ever made were Turkey Red tobacco cards, and Topps did a heck of a job creating new cards faithful to the originals right down to the feel of the paper.


Personally I’m not a big Turkey Red guy, but I like the thought and effort that went into these. Design-wise I prefer the embellished frame of the 2007 set, but I do love the thickness and matte finish of the ’05 and ’06 sets (they are basically identical). While lacking that tangible history quality, the cards feel great.


2005 Topps Turkey Red #89


Something you can say about the ’05 set and no other one is that the image looks to be a direct transfer from a run-of-the-mill action shot. In subsequent sets we got images of Junior in front of large, sweeping stadium backgrounds all far away and bathed in sunlight. These were obviously painted (or at the very least, photoshopped) that way, but that extra step was not taken for the Kid this year. There are plenty of base card images in this set that are far more attractive than the Griffey.


That being said, this card back is damn near perfect. There is a slight patina to the paper color, almost a tea-stained quality that only adds to the vintage feel and appearance of these cards. And that blurb is one of the best accounts of Junior’s amazing career one could possibly fit into five sentences (up to 2005, that is). Bravo.
2005 Topps Turkey Red #89 Red

The parallels featured colored borders and not much else. Topps included a handy border color indicator on the back for the colorblind. The fact that Junior was with the Reds when these were made is a happy coincidence for this parallel. I like this version the best of the ’05 TR Griffeys I've seen.

Junior was still an Upper Deck guy when this set same out, so there are no autos or relics for him. Harumpf. Here are the Griffeys I still need from 2005 Topps Turkey Red:

#89 White
#89 Black #/142
#89 Gold #/50
#89 Suede 1/1 

As a set in and of itself, I’m not really a huge fan of these; but as a reboot of an ancient brand, the cards are pretty cool. And I love the backs. I give the Griffeys of 2005 Turkey Red a yawn-plus.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Batman and Robin and 1991 Donruss


You've got to admit that first Tim Burton Batman movie was pretty solid. A couple years later Batman Returns (also Burton) came out, and despite being considerably sillier than its predecessor, I can remember thinking, "Yeah - they've still got it." Batman Forever after that is where the franchise really started pushing that silliness envelope, but I still enjoyed it. I mean, it was watchable, and that soundtrack was poppin'.

Then Batman & Robin comes along with the suit nipples and cheesy....well, you name it, and RUINS EVERYTHING. We didn't see another Batman movie for a long time, and when we did it was all serious and real-world and.....totally amazing. Lessons had been learned, and like it or not, we can thank Batman & Robin for that.

And we can thank 1991 Donruss for being bad enough that it actually saved Donruss designs for years to come.

We have to look at certain sets (especially the bad ones) in the context of their respective timelines, and in that sense 1991 Donruss came at the end of an era. By 1992 a switch had been flipped and Donruss cards got really nice. High-quality white paper stock, neatly-assembled card backs, great photography, and an overall “adultier” aesthetic. We also started seeing inserts for the first time including ramped-up Diamond Kings and the legendary serial numbered Elite Series insert. 1992 was the year Donruss’ voice changed and its armpits started crying stinky tears.

Back in 1991, however, Donruss was still playing with Micro Machines, throwing mud at girls, and sneaking Transformers into church. It’s that time in everyone’s life just before they stop liking Animaniacs and start pretending to not like Animaniacs. We are at the tail end of Donruss’ innocence.

Bright colors, full-bleed printing, and garish design defined the closing years of adolescent Donruss. The late 80’s saw a lot of monochromatic designs from the brand (with the exception of the ’89 set with its excellent rainbow effect), culminating in the blue borders of 1991. This devotion to one color stuck around somewhat in the form of light blue top and bottom borders in the ’92 set, but let’s face it: there’s the “oh, that’s a nice tasteful touch of blue, isn’t it?” type of blue as in the ’92 set, and then there’s a color of sufficient wavelength that your eyes boil in their sockets a la that Nazi guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark that can only be classified as BBBLLLLUUUEEEEEEE. That would be ’91.

I’ve tip-toed around this long enough, so here goes: 1991 Donruss is ugly. I don’t want it to be ugly - I love Donruss – but it is. Even the 1990 set has found a soft spot in my heart that my eyes have been fighting against for years, but the ’91 set is hopeless. It’s that thing of putting bright primary colors on something normally boring or tedious for kids so they will like it. In that sense 1991 Donruss has a lot in common with a Paw Patrol toothbrush or a Phineas and Ferb alarm clock.

On top of that there’s just not a lot of redeeming qualities here. It’s the same old card back (which is actually my favorite part) and photography that is mediocre at best. I honestly believe this set is the reason so many people hate ’92 Donruss. They’re back-to-back in the timeline so everyone lumps them together when in fact a huge culture change occurred somewhere in between, and ’92 is the far superior set of cards.

We’ve been over the ’92 set, of course. For now let us wallow, and slum, and bum around the house in our PJ’s. It’s 1991 Donruss time:

1991 Donruss #77

As you can see it looks like it should have a Hot Wheels car attached to it. The nameplate is a slightly-angled stripe of fire engine red with a yellow bit showing the position. They broke up the stark blueness of the borders with multi-colored stripes and stippling that follow the angle of the nameplate. It’s the cardboard equivalent of a carnival ride. Not a fun one – one of those safe, one-ticket kiddie ones that just goes in a circle.

I’d like to say the photos make up for everything, but overall they really don’t. They are just vanilla pictures of baseball happening. There are a few exceptions, but not enough to make this a tantalizing set build.


The back is the same one we’ve gotten from Donruss for a decade: stat box, career highlights, and the full legal name of the player. I can’t really complain about this design because they obviously heard whoever did and gave us a streamlined, modern card back the very next year. Plus I don’t really mind the old Donruss card backs because I am aging and things from my childhood, regardless of how terrible and inferior they actually are by today’s standards, still seem better in my stubborn, embittered old man mind. For example I can still totally jam out to the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack. I'm in too deep.

1991 Donruss #77 Lines Variation

Like the 1990 set before it, 1991 Donruss has slight factory set variations of all its base cards. In the 1990 set the difference was in the speckles around the red border - this year it's all bout those wacky border lines. Because the world needs more versions 1991 Donruss cards.

1991 Donruss #49 All-Star

Griffey was an all-star in 1990 which Donruss celebrated with just the shadiest card there ever was. Not shady as in sketchy – shady as in, like, shade. As in an area of low light relative to one’s surroundings. You can’t even tell who’s actually at the plate here which would be OK if the photo was cool in any way, but it isn’t. Those arms are locked, my friend. He's lookin'. It might be the worst Griffey of 1991, and this was a year with reams of sub-par oddballs.

1991 Donruss #49 All-Star Lines Variation

Peep those different-ass LINEZZZZZZ tho, homie!

1991 Donruss #392 MVP

The MVP’s are green in this set which actually helps this design out a bit. The photos in this subset are portraits with a standard green background, so they were impossible to screw up. They’re not bad-looking cards, relatively speaking. I love that rainbow effect on the "MVP."

1991 Donruss #392 MVP Lines Variation

Please enjoy our fine local line variations for your carding pleasure.

Despite the complete and utter lack of inserts, parallels, or anything remarkable in general, there are two Griffeys from this set that are actually somewhat desirable:

1991 Donruss Preview #4

The 1991 Donruss Preview shows Junior a few feet off the bag, watching the pitcher like a hawk. It’s actually a damn good photo, and it could have changed completely my feelings towards the set. Unfortunately they ended up going with a run-of-the-mill batting photo in the end, and we’re left with this reminder of what might have been.

1991 Donruss Advertising Sheet

The rarest of all 1991 Donruss Griffeys (and the one most likely to give you rage headaches if you try to track one down) is this, the dreaded 1991 Donruss advertising sheet. It's printed on thin paper stock and has a blank back so it's decidedly sheety (as opposed to cardy), but just look HOW AWESOME IT IS. That photo is so much more appealing to me than any photo that made it into the final set, even the passable MVP portrait. LOOK HOW YOUNG HE IS!

1991 Donruss Advertising Sheet (cutout)

It took me years to finally track one down, and when I finally did I ended up a couple so I could keep one and trim another. Would PSA grade this thing, you think? Seriously, I want to know.

So the two best Griffeys in 1991 Donruss didn't even appear in packs - technically you couldn't even buy them. How frustrating is that?? And on top of that, if the preview and the sample are both superior to the final product, is that not the definition of false advertising?

Willie Stargell would be ashamed

The best part of 1991 Donruss is that if you bought the factory set, you got preview cards for 1991 Studio, one of my favorite sets of baseball cards ever made. I imagine finding those puppies in your factory set was like finding an onion ring in your French fries. Wait, no, that’s not a good analogy. French fries are good. It was probably more like finding an onion ring in your box of turds. Yep, that feels right.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Six Poems About Baseball Cards


I....don't even know what to say about these things - I guess we all just get bored sometimes. Just be thankful I didn't include any of the NUMEROUS baseball card haikus I've penned over the years. Some of you more english-major-y folks may notice what I was going for with a few of these, but even if you don't, you're not missing anything. I'm no 2Pac.


_____________________________________________________

1/1

Wherefore art thou, printing plate?
Or game-used patch on acetate?
A strand of hair from a famous actor
or sparkly chrome atomic refractor?
Signature cut from a dead man’s check?
Tobacco wad chewed by Rod Beck?
Is this the pack from which I'll snatch
that All-Star rookie auto-patch?
Seriously, though, what is your deal?
I wonder if you're even real.
I'd like to pull you before I rot.
Are you in this pack? Nope, you’re not.

_____________________________________________________


Acetate

They’re here.
They’re clear.
Get used to it.

_____________________________________________________

The Ken Griffeyjunior

so much depends
upon

a ken griffey
junior

dressed in mariner
blue

holding a black
bat

_____________________________________________________

Puig, Household Name

We're going out to dinner tonight, honey.
With whom?
The Puigs.
The what?
The Puigs.
Are you just making up words?
No, that's their name. Puig.
You mean like pug? Like the dog?
No, just Puig.  Puig.
Puig?
Puig.
Puig. Puig. Sounds weird to me.
Wear the blue tie.
Puig Puig Puig. Yep, still weird.

_____________________________________________________

nineteen eighty eight donruss number one ten

                   w
al                              ly j
oyner

                                    stole



e
  i
      g
        h
          t bases

                      in
nineteeneightyseven

_____________________________________________________

Short Prints

Pulling SP’s makes me holler,
But why is this card forty dollars?
Sparkle Glove, Sparkle Hat.
Sparkle Shoe, Sparkle Bat.
Sparkle Wrist, Sparkle Ball.
These prints are short and never tall.


Seamless: 1995 Pinnacle – Part 2


Welcome back – let’s get to it.

You’ve seen 12 Griffey base cards, but you know your boy totally counts cameos, right?

1995 Pinnacle Sandy Alomar #39 (cameo)

This is one of the first cameos of the Kid I can say I discovered myself completely by accident. It’s not the best cameo, but it is 100% unmistakable. What a photo. Nice stop, Sandy!

Okay, it’s precedent time. If I show the back of this cameo card I will have to continue to show the backs of cameo cards in perpetuity. There’s no Griffey-centric reason to do it. So should I?


Screw it. Here’s the damn back.

1995 Pinnacle Sandy Alomar #39 Museum Collection (cameo)

And the super-shiny version, of course. I do not yet have the AP of this one, but I don’t expect it to command much coin when it does pop up. Hoping to land one soon. Cameos count!

On to the inserts:

1995 Pinnacle Gate Attraction #GA01

There’s nothing particularly special about this insert. It’s flat foil, not Dufex; the blurb is a bit innocuous, and there’s no unique stat boxes or anything fun like that. They gave it its own logo, and I really like the photo and simple layout on the back, but I’ve seen better from Pinnacle in the 90’s. Let’s keep looking.

1995 Pinnacle Red Hot #RH2

Well damn – that is a pretty sweet-ass card right there. At a casual 1:8 packs, even I was able to pull a few of these in my time. I don’t know exactly how I landed a Griffey, but I know I’ve had it a long time. I probably traded a Frank Thomas to my cousin for it. It was amazing how often I would pull his favorite player and he would pull mine.

Ok, so it’s not Dufex, but this is what Pinnacle inserts are supposed to look like. Plenty of bold, primary colors on the front and a big, gaudy, full-bleed design on the back. Junior’s jersey appears even greener than normal against that fiery red. Another innocuous blurb, yes, but a much cooler (hotter?) card than that last one. And it gets better:

1995 Pinnacle White Hot #WH2

I went 20 years before I learned that these things even existed. It’s a blue DUFEX version of the Red Hot insert, and it is freakin’ beautiful. I am positively obsessed with the way Dufex interacts with the flame designs here. Definitely much hotter (cooler?) than the common red version. What a stunner.

There are no stated odds given for this insert parallel, but it is certainly far rarer than the regular old 1:8 Red Hot insert. I suspect it has roughly the same scarcity as the Artist’s Proof parallels based on how many I’ve seen in the wild (very few), and the price tends to follow this theory. They’re not quite expensive enough to classify as white whales – these tend to fall into the gray whale category compared with similar Griffeys, especially for rare inserts from this era. Despite high retail and Buy It Now prices, I see these sell around $50 or less. I think they’re a bargain.

1995 Pinnacle Team Pinnacle #TP7 Griffey Dufex (w/ Barry Bonds)

At 1:90 packs, this insert has the toughest stated odds of all the Griffeys in 1995 Pinnacle (although when you factor in the total number of cards in the set, any single Artist’s Proof card is significantly rarer), and there are TWO VERSIONS, both of which you need if you wanna be a cool cat Griffey completionist like your truly. The card has two sides, one with Griffey and the other…um, without.

As for the two versions, there is one with a Dufex Griffey side and foil on the other side, and the other with those same effects reversed. The two versions appear to be equally scarce:

1995 Pinnacle Team Pinnacle #TP7 Bonds Dufex (w/ Barry Bonds)

For how rare it is, I’m not 100% sold on the design here. I like the insert logo, and the Dufex side is great with the flames and large team logo, but the foil side always comes across as dark. Usually scanning is the culprit when it comes to dark foil but not here. Even in person those foil sides are too damn dark. Also I’d probably appreciate this one more if they’d have put something worthwhile on the flip side of the card. Too bad.

1995 Pinnacle Team Pinnacle Collector Pin Redemption Card #14

The second-rarest Griffey insert by insertion ratio, these were meant to be mailed in exchange for a pin of the player on the front. This offer ended back in November 1995, and according to the rules Pinnacle would not send you back your exchange card – you would receive the pin only. Personally I would have preferred to keep the card (which is a good thing because I have the card and not the pin), but a lot of folks went ahead with the exchange; and as a result there are plenty of pins available on eBay and at card shows and such. Plus you have to admit – that is one good-looking exchange card, am I right? Pretty neat, Pinnacle.

While we’re rolling through 1995 Pinnacle, I have one more card to show:

1995 Pinnacle All-Star Fan Fest #11

I’m just going to pull straight from Baseballcardpedia for this one: “1995 Pinnacle FanFest is a 30-card set, distributed in two-card cello packs at the 1995 FanFest in Arlington, Texas. This was the first year Pinnacle Brands was the presenting sponsor on FanFest.”

This is far and away the simplest design Pinnacle would use on their Fan Fest cards during their three-year sponsorship run. The biggest design element here is that gold foil ball field in the bottom corner beside the Fan Fest logo. The front has a run-of-the-mill batting pose and little else.


The back, though – the back is a masterpiece. Look at that great portrait, the beautiful widescreen stadium shot, the score board, the beer signs! To hell with stats and blurbs – they nailed this card back. These are ridiculously cheap – go grab one.

So technically I have completed the Griffey checklist for 1995 Pinnacle, but if you want to get strict (and I like to get strict), there is still one card I need because I count cameos and their parallels. The Artist’s Proof of Sandy Alomar #39 is the last card I need to truly finish this one off. In addition to that, while it’s a non-official “backdoor” item, I would like to own one of those holofoil Artist’s Proof prototypes as they’re not as rare as some other backdoored Griffeys I’ve seen. I don’t consider it part of the Griffey checklist in any way – I just want one. And yes, the stupid pin. Here are my remaining needs (and wants) for 1995 Pinnacle:

1995 Pinnacle #39 Sandy Alomar, Jr. (cameo) Artist’s Proof
1995 Pinnacle Prototype Artist’s Proof (backdoored) (any)
1995 Pinnacle Team Pinnacle Collector Pin #14

That about wraps it up. While the inserts did get a lot better for the 1996 set and they added a new dimension to help bolster the rare Artist’s Proof parallel, the availability of Dufex cards of your favorite non-superstar players was greatly diminished and Pinnacle’s base designs began to decline year-after-year from here on out. There are no really big chase cards from this set, but it remains one of my favorites from the mid-90’s.