Monday, December 15, 2014

Way Too Many Words About 1996 Pinnacle

I’ve always been a fan of Pinnacle (yes, even the uglified ’97 set) right up until they disappeared from the market. I ended up buying a lot of packs of the ’96 product (probably because it was one of the only brands carried by my local pharmacy) and was never disappointed by the cool inserts and parallels. Even the photography in the set was solid enough. Unfortunately I seem to be one of the only folks who feels that way. This is a set with a lot of positive attributes that is generally spurned by the collecting crowd.

Horizontal and vertical versions

The cards in the ’96 set are thicker than your average base card but highly susceptible to damage due to the relative softness of the paper stock and gold foil along the bottom edge. Slipping one into a penny sleeve without softening a corner feels like performing surgery. This is less true of the parallels which are somehow a little hardier against damage.

This set was swimming with Piazza's.

Despite the fragility of the cards, the quality of the full-bleed photo printing in this set is excellent. Nearly every card is bright and exciting. I’m also a fan of the foil texturing in the nameplate with the little player silhouette and foil effects. Despite all this, I must admit that the design as a whole is not all that appealing. I blame the awkward triangular nameplate and mind-bogglingly plain black font, both characteristics that would stick around for the ’97 design for some reason.

But what this set lacks in base design pizzazz it more than makes up for with some really great inserts, my favorite of which doesn’t even have a Griffey in it.

The Christie Brinkley Collection is among the most interesting inserts of the 90's. The whole thing is comprised of the biggest stars from the Braves and the Indians in fun, goofy, and heartfelt poses. You’ve got pictures with kids, autographs shots, gum bubbles, golf clubs, fun with equipment, and even Carlos Baerga’s nipple (which I don't have yet). What more could a kid ask for?

That sounded like a jab, but this is a really great set of cards. I’ve even started building the set, something I never do for inserts. I like it that much. The lack of a Griffey is its only problem.

Let’s take a moment to talk about Starburst, Artist’s Proof, and the mysterious Foil parallel. Starburst is unique in that it is a cross-series insert with all the attributes of a parallel. Artist’s Proof is the parallel of the Starburst insert indicated by the words “Artist’s Proof” stamped right into the Dufex. The Starburst checklist is 200 cards, 100 from each series, presumably only stars and a few of their subset cards. Griffey has seven cards in the regular base set, four of which were given the Starburst and AP treatment.

Regular vs. Starburst Artist's Proof

Foil is a parallel that was only found for Series 2 and seemingly only for a handful of cards. This is confusing to many collectors because every card in 1996 Pinnacle has foil on it. Take a look on eBay – plenty of sellers include the words “gold foil,” and some even use the word “version”in reference to the regular base card. Those sellers are either deceptive or misinformed. The real foil cards of ’96 Pinnacle are obvious: shiny foil permeates every square inch of the card including the photo. It’s that dark, papery foil that doesn’t scan well.

Regular vs. Foil

I suspect they came with factory sets or something like that, but to be honest their origin is a mystery even to me. Perhaps someone could enlighten us in the comments…?

Here are the Griffeys:

1996 Pinnacle #122

Here is one of my favorite Griffey base cards of the 90’s – a studio-taken hero shot. All he needs is a cape and the guy is ready to fight crime and bring peace and security to the people of Seattle. I don’t even mind the blue drop cloth as a backdrop like it’s elementary school picture day. It works.

The photo on the back is a great fielding shot of the Kid, or is it? Is that white speck on the right the ball? Pretty sure it is. Junior’s glove is closed, so he either just made a great leaping wall catch and that white speck is just a white speck (I doubt this), or that’s the ball and someone just hit a double. A Yankee fan must have picked this photo. Still, action packed, right? Can’t deny that. I don’t even mind the truncated stat box to make room for the photo. Overall, a really cool card.

I should mention that I do have one problem with the blurb here. We all know that Griffey homered from both sides of the plate three times in four days (I mean, who doesn’t?); but the writer neglected to mention that during the 1995 season Junior also created the perfect pancake recipe, saved the orphanage from a maniacal real estate investor, gave birth to a litter of fuzzy kittens, delivered the crystal of An’rak to the peaceful inhabitants of the planet Quango, and died saving a gerbil from a house fire only to be resurrected seventeen minutes later in a giant pot of sawmill gravy at a Cracker Barrel in Reno, Nevada. Because you can write whatever you want now regardless of things like accuracy and truth. A monkey in a track suit invented ketchup. There, now that happened.

So yeah, I was unable to find any information that would confirm nor deny whether Junior ever hit a right-handed dinger, but common sense tells me that someone at Pinnacle made a mistake there. Let’s move on lest you stop believing me that this set is actually pretty good.

Here is the Starburst parallel:

1996 Pinnacle Starburst #41

That's unmistakably Pinnacle's proprietary Dufex printing.  The only differences on the back are the Starburst logo and the card numeration which suggests an insert as opposed to a parallel.  While I am cataloging these as the former, they have all the attributes of the latter.

1996 Pinnacle #134 The Naturals

The Naturals has the feel of a subset that’s been around for ages due in part to the great logo, but there’s really not much to it. Okay picture, innocuous blurb, zero stats – this is that same old simple padding of the checklist with superstars that was so rampant in the 90’s. The Starburst version looks pretty cool, though.

1996 Pinnacle Starburst #61 The Naturals

This Dufex pattern is different from the base card with soft waves that emanate from the Naturals logo.  It's different for every type of card.

1996 Pinnacle #195 AL Checklist

You have to give Pinnacle credit – for setlist padding, the checklists are pretty damn awesome. There’s only 61 cards on here, leaving plenty of room for more checklists and, therefore more star cards in the overall checklist. Mix in parallels and that number triples or quadruples, depending on which series you’re looking at (the foil parallel exclusive to Series 2). But I digress. Here’s a nice portrait shot of a very smiley Junior representing the American League half of the checklist.

1996 Pinnacle #255 Hardball Heroes

The first Griffey in Series 2 is yet another subset sporting a unique logo. The design doesn’t stray far from the regular base design, but it does feature some of the baseball stitching reminiscent of the 1995 set. The subset as a whole isn’t anything special, but the photo here is great. It’s well-framed and prominently features that big MLB Anniversary patch. I can take or leave this as a card, but as a Griffey it is indispensable. I do have questions about the cocktail party going on in the dugout.

Here's the foil:

1996 Pinnacle #255 Hardball Heroes Foil

So dark.  You can barely make out the dugout box social.

1996 Pinnacle #301.8 .300 Series

Here is one subset I can really get behind – all the guys who broke .300. Pretty neat idea. Oh, and the cards are numbered each player’s lifetime average. Fun! Junior’s lifetime average on every other card from 1996 is .302, but Pinnacle decided to get technical with that fourth decimal place. Why? Because Will Clark hit .302, and you can’t have two #302’s (even though there are two #305's in this set. What?).  Hence Griffey is card #301.8 which I believe may be the first baseball card numbered with a decimal.

The card itself has a great horizontal design with the player average bold against a prominent field of gold foil. There hangs the team logo which radiates fun foil effects similar to the kind in the angular nameplate of the base cards. In the photo Junior hustles in from the outfield sporting his fly Oakleys and whistling a jaunty tune (the jauntiness is assumed – he’s a Mariner, after all). The whistling aspect is fun and unique as is the wide-angle ballpark refection in his sunglasses. The stat-a-riffic blurb and superimposed, cucumber-cool baserunning shot round out an attractive card back. 1996 Pinnacle #301.8 is a big hit with me and among my favorite Griffey subset cards of the 90’s.

1996 Pinnacle #301.8 .300 Series Foil

This one actually looks pretty good in foil.

1996 Pinnacle Starburst #185 Artist Proof

Here is the Starburst Artist's Proof parallel of that .300 Series card.  The AP text almost ruins the great Dufex swirl, but the solid gold field is downright microscope-worthy.  As usual the back is identical apart from the Starburst logo and numeration which now goes to 200 for series 2.  There is nothing different about the AP's.  Sadly this is my only AP parallel from '96.  They were such difficult pulls back in the day that they still command top dollar.

1996 Pinnacle #394 AL Checklist

Another AL checklist and another smiley portrait of the Kid. Not a bad Griffey card. A little dry, but not bad.

1996 Pinnacle #399 Chase Checklist (w/ Thomas, Ripken, Maddux, Jones, & Piazza)

Okay, what? This thing is bananas. The Kid, the Big Hurt, the Iron Man, Mad Dog, Chipper, and….Mike all on one card? Sure it’s a collage as opposed to a single photo (Select did a fun digital version of this), but it’s kind of awesome in the same way that eating salsa with Doritos is awesome. Yum, but also blech. Too much.

This is the insert checklist which Pinnacle refers to as the “Chase Program Checklist.” Fancy. And it’s really just close-cropped versions of all these guys’ respective base checklists. Hm. I’m so ambivalent about this card I don’t even know what to type. Thank goodness I don’t have the Starburst version as it would probably break my scanner with its heaviness. Let’s move on to the inserts before we hurt ourselves.

The inserts of ’96 Pinnacle are super disco, and by that I mean they are loud and flashy and maybe even a little obnoxious. They’re also pretty damn fun. Take a look:

1996 Pinnacle Power #3

Settle in. We’re gonna talk about this one for a sec.

When I first saw one of these inserts I was 15 - I pulled the Mike Piazza out of a pack and just beheld the crap out of it for minutes on end. I touched and rubbed and felt that thing up like it was taking me to the prom.

To this day it’s one of the most interesting cards texturally that I’ve ever seen. I know that giant ridged holofoil home plate leaps out at you like a cheetah on fire, but it’s not the wildest design feature here – it’s that matte black background. It makes everything that isn’t it explode off the card, into your retinas, and out the back of your skull like a SCUD missile made of gold foil and rainbows.

Take each element on its own: matte black background, soft to the touch and actively annihilating light in any form like a cardboard black hole. The player silhouette, embossed and glossy, lively against the still black. The home plate, ridged like an atomic Ruffle and gleaming from ROY to BIV and everywhere in-between (G). The gold foil, raised in perfect rounded arcs in the text and along the bottom edge of the home plate to give dimension to the great, spectral beast. This is basically an 8.75 square-inch theme park of textures and light effects. If you don’t like it, you probably also don’t like candy or America.

A blind person could spend ten seconds with this card and think, “Damn, that’s pretty baddass.”

I really only have two problems with this card: first, it is extremely tacky. Yeah, I get that. Then again, it’s a baseball card – it can be wild and fun. This is not a family sedan. Modesty be damned.

My second problem, and this one is far worse, is that it damages easily, and it’s all the fault of that matte black stuff I love so much. Apart from the obvious threat of soft edges and white corners, it could potentially be ruined forever with one swipe of even a mildly greasy finger. So don’t eat French fries before handling this card unless you use protection (penny sleeves at least, please).

That was like a whole post right there, wasn’t it? Sorry – I have strong feelings about 1996 Pinnacle Power.

1996 Pinnacle Team Spirit #2

So, yeah. This is the same basic card as Pinnacle Power without the ridges. So go back and read all that stuff I wrote up there, mentally removing everything about the “home plate” element, and you've pretty much got it.

1996 Pinnacle Slugfest #2

Slugfest is kind of the perfect Pinnacle insert: Dufex, obvy, but also lots of eye-catching color, different photos on the front and back, a solid blurb that is related to the title/theme of the insert, and its own logo. Plus it’s just a little over the top - one might say tastefully tacky. That pretty much sums up the 90’s for me.

Here are the Griffeys I need from '96 Pinnacle:

1996 Pinnacle Starburst #41 Artist’s Proof
1996 Pinnacle Starburst #61 The Naturals Artist's Proof
1996 Pinnacle Starburst #155 Hardball Heroes
1996 Pinnacle Starburst #155 Hardball Heroes Artist’s Proof
1996 Pinnacle Starburst #185 300 Series
1996 Pinnacle All-Star Fan Fest #3
1996 Pinnacle Essence of the Game #7
1996 Pinnacle First Rate #1
1996 Pinnacle Skylines #1
1996 Pinnacle Team Pinnacle #6 (w/ Reggie Sanders)

People don’t seem to appreciate Pinnacle this late in their timeline, but I think this is a solid B set. A little tweaking of the nameplate (shoot, just a cool font) would move it into B+/A- territory for me. Am I being too nice?

I can't even complain all that much about the rampant overuse of the same stable of star players on card after card. Frankly I’m impressed at the shamelessness with which Pinnacle padded their checklist. Seven out of the 400 base cards are Griffeys - that’s 1.75%. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. Their saving grace to your average collector is that the cards are cool; their saving grace to me is that I like Griffeys. Everyone wins.


  1. I always liked the Starburst parallels. Those Pinnacle Power inserts were sweet too.

  2. I'm pretty much too old for this set. I like some of the cards (mostly inserts) but the others -- GAH! I'll never understand the random foil shapes on the base cards. I can't get past it. It's like putting stickers on a live moose. Nobody is ever going to not say "why are there stickers on the moose?"

    1. Your anti-moose sticker agenda has been clear for some time.

  3. And now I have figured out just what is truly wrong with you, Junkie. '96 Pinnacle. Bleeeeech!

  4. I still say Pinnacle is the most underrated brand of all-time. I really need to try and pick up a complete set of those Christine Brinkley inserts. Such great photography.

  5. I have been looking at a lot of Pinnacle Griffeys on eBay lately - they had some SWEET inserts back then!!

    I guess I never looked at the back of that 1996 Pinnacle base card though, because one thing jumped out at me - "Ken homered from both sides of the plate three times in four days last season" - ...ummm, what now??

    1. LOL. Okay, I actually wrote a whole paragraph about that that somehow didn't get carried over to the final edit. But yeah, it didn't happen. I'll fix it...

    2. Fixed in the snarkiest way possible.

  6. Gots to get me one of those Kleskos, super cool!

    1. I only have the one, but if I come across another, it's yours.

  7. Great info man. Any idea if the foil parallels had gold inscription on the back like the Starburst parallels did? Just found one in my collection but the gold letters have faded and are indecipherable. Also, any idea on the insert ratio for the foil parallels? I can't find any info on the subject anywhere. Thanks for the knowledge man