Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Secret of 1998 SP Authentic


This first year of SP Authentic must have been wild for those first few box breakers. A radically under-designed base set, an autographed card in (almost) every box, and the most prolific exchange card program ever seen up to that point. The potential for a jersey exchange card was a lot better, too, than in the previous year when they were first introduced, not to mention the potential for other unique prizes like signed gloves, balls, jerseys, and standees. It was all pretty ambitious.

But there is one aspect of 1998 SP Authentic that I don’t see mentioned on the blogsphere or on any of my usual online cardboard haunts. And it’s a pretty big deal, especially given the state of the hobby which has become more and more hit-focused, even in the few years since I picked it back up. I’m not sure if it’s a really well-kept secret or if just nobody cares – I’m leaning towards the former – but we are going to talk about it today.

But let’s start as we always do – with the base cards:

1998 SP Authentic #180

The base design, like most of the designs from the 12-year SP Authentic timeline, is ultra-simple and modern with a clean, business card quality. While the image appears dark in this scan, in person it is shadowy and dramatic, backed by a colorfully-lit evening skyline. It is among my favorite base cards across all the SP brands.


I don’t think you could possible get more succinct in summing up Junior’s ’97 season than that one-sentence blurb. And please note not just the super-complete stat box, but also how much extra space they had left over. They could have fit stats through 2002 if they wanted with zero changes in card design. Why did they do it like that? I would expect this kind of thing from a sample, but not the final version.

Which brings us to the sample:

1998 SP Authentic Sample (#123)

The sample design is no different from the official release, but the base running photo they chose is a bit generic. The biggest surprise here is the fact that the back of the sample card is way better-looking than the final version with its centered stat box, great backwards-cap photo, and smidgen of extra blurbage mentioning Junior’s Gold Glove win. Every change they made to the back for the final version was a downgrade; thus, in my humble opinion the ideal 1998 SP Authentic base card would have been the regular card front and the sample back. I'm super nit-picky.

1998 SP Authentic #198 Checklist

Here is one of my favorite checklist designs of all time – no color, no problem. This card makes me wish SP Authentic had a wacky, super-rare base parallel just so I could see this checklist with some crazy holo-effects. This is the one and only checklist card in 1998 SP Authentic which means that is the entire 198-card checklist on the back. Not a lot of sets can claim such a feat. Well done. As checklists go, this is a 10.

1998 SP Authentic Sheer Dominance #SD1 Silver

As smitten as I am with most of the aesthetic of this set, Sheer Dominance is one insert I could take or leave. The front is a lot of papery foil filled with text describing what level of the insert you were looking at (which is weird in itself) with the single bright spot being (ironically) the darkest thing on the card: that glossy, jet-black, embossed Mariners logo. They could slap that thing on every card they make as far as I’m concerned.


The back is more comparable with the rest of the set with a beautifully grayscale (as in not-quite-silver but approaching it) image of the front and succinct blurb. Again, I like the back a lot better than the front here.

1998 SP Authentic Sheer Dominance #SD1 Gold #/2000

Not much difference on the gold parallel which says “GOLD GOLD GOLD GOLD” where the Silver other one said “SILVER SILVER…” and so on. The papery foil doesn’t scan well, so you can’t really see the slight gold tint to the background here, but trust me – it’s there. It’s also serial-numbered on the back out of 2000, a reasonably scarce run for the time, backed with a gold-toned representation of the front.

There is a Titanium version numbered out of only 100 that sells for a massive premium as most #/100 inserts from the late-90’s do, but I have no desire to chase it. The real prize (and secret) of 1998 SP Authentic is still to come…

So trade cards – we can’t have a conversation about this set without discussing them. SP Authentic has a buttload of trade cards. Trade cards akimbo. Trade cards out the wazoo. There are a whopping SIX different trade cards you could exchange for various Griffey items, and here’s a list of all of them:

Trade Card for 5x7 300th HR Card
Trade Card for 5x7 Game Jersey Relic Card /125
Trade Card for Chirography Autograph Card /400
Trade Card for Autographed Fielding Glove /30
Trade Card for Autographed Seattle Mariners Jersey /30
Trade Card for Life-Size Cardboard Standee /200

No other player got more than three trade cards, and only Griffey had cards that could be traded for non-card items (I want that glove!). I only have one of these trade cards, and it’s the most common one:

1998 SP Authentic Trade Card (for 300th Home Run Commemorative 5x7 Jumbo)

This card could be exchanged for a 5x7 jumbo card commemorating Junior’s 300th home run. While we have a print run for the commemorative card these could be exchanged for, we do not have one on the trade cards themselves. There could have been hundreds that never made it out of packs before the trade-in deadline of August 1st, 1999. Suffice it to say there are at least 1300 as that is how many 300th HR Commemorative jumbos were printed. I have no way of telling whether the card I own was ever exchanged for said jumbo, but I do have the jumbo:

1998 SP Authentic 300th Home Run Commemorative 5x7 Jumbo #KG300 #/1300


Look familiar? That’s because it’s practically the same design as the Upper Deck’s 11-card Ken Griffey, Jr. Most Memorable Home Runs jumbo set from this same year, only with white where the other set is gold. A bit of a design cop-out, sure, but not a bad-looking card.

It should be noted that most places I look online show the final print run to be 1000 – that is wrong. As you can see this card is numbered out of 1300. I know 1000 is a nice, round, tempting number, but it isn’t accurate here.

Now, I have no idea whether Upper Deck returned exchanged cards to their finders, so I have no way of telling whether there are exactly 1300 trade cards and the number of jumbos was already decided, or if they were printed to meet demand. Also, if UD didn’t return exchanged trade cards to the collector (which I suspect is the case to prevent multiple exchanges), that would leave far fewer trade cards out in the wild. The exact production figure of the jumbo is known – 1300 – but the exact production figure of this particular trade card and its scarcity compared with the jumbo remains up for debate. Neither is extraordinarily scarce.

1998 SP Authentic Chirography Autograph #KG /400

Despite the blurry scans (slabbed cards don't scan well), this is still hands-down one of the most beautiful autograph issues of all time. That’s a bit unexpected so early in the autograph game, but look at it. There is no element here you could add or take away that could improve this card. The photo is perfect, the design is perfect, and that bright blue on-card masterpiece of an autograph is nerfect. I mean, perfect.

From what I’ve read, all the cards from the Chirography insert were packed out EXCEPT for the Griffey. His card was the sole redemption. One of my favorite aspects of this autograph is the relative ease of acquiring one. They had a run of 400 which is kind of a lot for what (and when) it is. The high availability has kept the prices relatively low on these. If you’re a Griffey collector, it’s a must-get.

Okay, I promised you a juicy secret, and the time has come to deliver. Let’s talk about this card for a hot minute:

1998 SP Authentic Jersey Swatch 5x7 Jumbo Patch Relic /125

While I consider myself more knowledgeable than your average Joe Card Collector when it comes to Griffeys, I am no expert. I don’t claim to have the most enviable collection or to have all the answers. Most of my Griffey card knowledge comes from other sources – I just enjoy gathering it and putting it all together in one place on this blog in part for my own reference.

But this is different. I came across this card while casually shopping Griffeys on eBay, and I spent a full minute just staring at it, trying to figure out what I was looking at. I also took to a few spots in the online Griffey-collecting community to confirm what I was thinking, and it appears my suspicions were right.

Guys, this is not just a patch – it is the FIRST Griffey patch. Like, ever. Seriously.

What you are looking at is a patch relic before it was called a “patch” relic. The disparity among types of jersey relics wouldn’t be official – that is noted on the card itself, addressed directly by the manufacturer, or described as being in any way different from a standard plain jersey swatch – until 2000 Upper Deck introduced them via the Game Jersey Patch insert (cards of which sell for a small fortune). Patches in general didn’t start showing up on cards in any meaningful way until that same year, although since first posting this I was informed Leaf released a Frank Thomas patch set in 1997. However, the patches of 1998 SP Authentic, which came out a full two years earlier than Game Jersey Patch, appear to have slipped under the radar as the first-ever non-Frank Thomas patch cards.

At a stated print run of only 125 copies, they’re also far scarcer than the famed (and extremely expensive) Upper Deck Game Jersey relics from just a year before. And peep that swatch - they even appear to have been cut from the very same teal jersey as their exponentially more famous and valuable predecessor. I have no proof of this, but the back of the card says the jersey was worn "in the 1996 baseball season." That certainly checks out.

So how did I, a self-proclaimed Griffey cardboardologist, not already know about this? Or the seller? Or any one of the Griffey guys I’ve discussed it with online? And how was I able to get this /125 FIRST EVER GRIFFEY PATCH RELIC for less than $100 when the non-patch, non-autographed, non-anything cool Sheer Dominance Titanium #/100 (only 25 fewer AND seriously lame) would almost certainly break the bank? Is it something to do with the fact that these are exchange cards and were not packed-out? Or are people concerned with the validity of this set?

To address the latter point, I have seen limited forum discussion about this card, and a few people appear to think these are altered, non-genuine cards; but I’ve spent a lot of time examining this baby and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of alteration in any form. It looks perfect. On top of that, I’ve also come across images of these same cards with different bits of patch in them. I’ve seen no fewer than five different specimens in total, one of which was just a large swatch of teal jersey with no visible patch at all.

That’s right: the patches and plain jersey swatches were both included as relics in this same set, and the difference was not even addressed by Upper Deck, nor did they address the potential difference in value among jersey pieces when cutting up that teal jersey. It was simple luck-of-the-draw for the exchangers.

Nowadays they’d have set aside the patch cuts for more high-end or scarce insert cards, possibly with sticker autos and unbelievably low serial-numbering; but they didn’t do either of those things in 1998, just like they didn’t use sticker autos – nobody had thought of it yet. The results are the beautiful on-card autos of Chirography, and this little-known insert with the first-ever honest-to-goodness patch relics.

The best part about all this is that these cards are hardly ever properly listed on eBay because they’re not terribly well-known nor is their significance in the hobby. It doesn’t say “patch” anywhere on the card – it says “Jersey Swatch,” so it is listed as a jersey relic in your standard eBay listings even though it is clearly a patch. For now they’re the deal of the century – hurry up and grab one before people read this blog post, realize what this card really is, and drive the prices up (LOL no one reads this you’re fine take your time).

There are six players in the Game Jersey jumbo checklist (three of whom are Mariners), all of them with 125 relic cards to be had except for Tony Gwynn who had 415. Yes, THAT Tony Gwynn. The one for whom Upper Deck already had a bunch of leftover jersey from when he appeared in the 1997 Game Jersey insert. Unfortunately Rey Ordonez does not appear in the insert here, but if he did it would all but confirm my suspicion that the Griffey relic here is from the same jersey as the infamous 1997 Game Jersey. Even with no real proof that this is the case, I stand by it.

So let's pretend I'm right about all this: We have the second ever patch relic from ANY sport ( the Frank Thomas set from 1997 still holds the honor of being the first), a super-low print run for the '90's, the most heavily-collected player of the last 30 years who was just recently inducted into the Hall of Fame and whose cards command top dollar, and a relic that is most likely from the same jersey as 1997 Game Jersey (an extremely famous and expensive card) only much bigger and far more scarce and a patch. If any one of these perfectly reasonable theories of mine are true, how is this not an $800 card?

I’d love some input on this. I’ve consulted with a few Griffey scholars I know, and they all seem to agree with me. Until someone is able to present evidence of an earlier non-Big-Hurt patch card, the “secret” is out.

This is the part where I list the Griffeys I still need from the set in question, but that is kind of hard with 1998 SP Authentic because of all those trade cards. I decided to include all trade cards and the cards they could be traded for, but not the non-card items. That makes my want list look like this:

Sheer Dominance #SD1 Titanium #/100
Trade Card for 5x7 Game Jersey Relic Card /125
Trade Card for Chirography Autographed Card /400
Trade Card for Autographed Fielding Glove /30
Trade Card for Autographed Seattle Mariners Jersey /30
Trade Card for Life-Size Cardboard Standee /200

I don’t hold out much hope on all those trade cards, so if I land a Sheer Dominance Titanium someday I will happy mark this set as complete and count any of the trade cards I acquire thereafter as lagniappe.

4 comments:

  1. UD did not send back the redemptions. That's why I didn't send in the Michael Jordan standee instant winner I pulled in 1998. I didn't want to give up the card. If only I had known then that in just a couple short years there'd be internet, with Ebay and COMC and a much greater chance of replacing the redemption card itself. Nice research on the patch. I've mentioned a few times on my blog about how they started out by treating them as just regular jersey cards, and then started treating them as something special later. I wasn't aware of which set was the first to do that, though. The earliest I had seen was from a 1999-00 NHL set. I was lucky enough to pull a few during the era when they were just treated as base cards, including of my all-time favorite player.

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  3. That's crazy that this 1st "patch" card isn't well documented especially seeing how the Upper Deck 1997 Game Jersey Card is so famously flaunted as the face of game-used cards to follow. Great article and I'll definitely keep my eye out for these.

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