Tuesday, September 1, 2020

1997 Fleer and the Value of Eye Appeal

Ladies and gentlemen, the final “Fleer” flagship set. I worded it like that because after this year Tradition was anointed Fleer’s defacto flagship set. This is the second year they used matte card stock so beloved by TTM and autograph seekers, cleverly reserving the gloss for their Tiffany parallel.

They were really proud of this matte stuff. They even used it for the scarce Ultra Diamond Producers insert this same year. Some folks must really like it because that Griffey is not cheap. I mean, it’s different, I’ll give it that. It’s also rougher than newspaper.

The base set is massive, rivaling just about every other set out there. What that means to guys like us is that if there is a rare parallel, you already know it’s going to be a massive pain to find. And wouldn’t you know it? There is a rare parallel.

I can usually gauge the popularity of post by how much I see the cards outside of the post. For example if I ever get around to a 1993 Upper Deck post, I know it will be popular because those cards get plenty of attention around the blogsphere. Finest posts will likely be a hit with the refractor-crazy Facebook groups (those refractors do photograph well).

Based on how much of ’97 Fleer I see out in the world, this post is not going to be very popular. Maybe a couple of the inserts will help save it, but I won’t get my hopes up.

Let’s not dawdle. There’s a lot to go over:

1997 Fleer #206

The photography is great pretty much across the board, so there’s no faulting them there. My only real qualm is that matte paper stock washing out all the colors. I admit an appreciation for how it offsets the foil text. And again, I know you TTM guys love this set because it takes ink well, and I don’t blame you. It’s just not for me.

The backs are great with complete stats & deets, a big color photo, and even a short blurb. And oh my God. Are those minor league stats? Dang, Fleer. You alright. It really is a well-designed set in general. On an unrelated note it also makes excellent kindling.

1997 Fleer #206 Tiffany

I love that Fleer took the Tiffany concept from the ‘80’s and made a whole parallel out of it. The addition of holofoil and glossy stock really brought the whole thing home, too. This is a collector’s parallel, no doubt.

It’s also a tremendous pain with an insertion ration of 1:20 across both series. That’s just shy of two per box, a far cry from the 1:1 of the previous year. Add to that the massive base set, and you have a pretty challenging parallel on your hands. Add to that the FOUR Griffey base cards and you have some pretty challenging Griffey-getting on your hands. Make no mistake: ’97 Tiffanies are a beast.

The backs are nearly identical save for a small "Tiffany" indicator on the bottom and much brighter colors. It's just the nature of that card stock.

1997 Fleer #492 Checklist

Some nice photography of a black-batted, backwards-hatted Junior all blued out on the front and colorized on the back. Not bad as checklists go. This is the only base card from ’97 Fleer for which I do not have the Tiffany. Yet.

1997 Fleer #701 Encore

Junior ended up on this uggo subset in Series 2 which really seems like just a Series 2 repeat of the base card. I suspect that’s where that “Encore” name comes from. “Hey, here he is again!” Anyway it’s ugly.

And being that it’s basically an “Encore” of the Series 1 base card, the back is still pretty damn good despite the negative space.

1997 Fleer #701 Encore Tiffany

Gloss does help this one a little. Now it looks less like matte, grayish, blech green and more like deep, shiny emerald green. Once again, Tiffany saves the day.

1997 Fleer #745 Team Checklist

This is one of those equipment shots collectors love. I really like the team chase checklist concept and wish we saw more of it. Check out the opening day lineup, reserves, and even the injured guys. That is seriously handy.

1997 Fleer #745 Team Checklist Tiffany

Oh, man even better. This is a real banger for a checklist, and one of the few where I actually get a little enjoyment out of the "checklist" side. A+

That's it for the matte stock. All the inserts this year are...well, kind of every other kind of stock you can imagine. And while some of you love the matte, I say good riddance. You could sand a pinewood derby car with these things, but at least we can take solace in that the base cards will never have a sticking problem.

There’s a lot of inserts to go over. Let’s take them in order by scarcity:

1997 Fleer Headliners #6

Wow! Player of the Week! Is there any higher honor Griffey could attain in 1997? 

Full disclosure, May 24h, 1996 was a banner freakin' day for Griffey fans. I just had to know more about that crazy game. The Yankee pitchers were Scott Kamieniecki, Jim Mecir, Jeff Nelson, and Steve Howe with Junior going long on all but Jim who was somehow able to hold Junior off for 1.2 innings. Altogether those three homers were accomplished in four at-bats with one walk and zero strikeouts.

Side note - Junior would come in 4th in the 1996 AL MVP voting despite having the highest WAR in the league. He did have that one solid week, though.

This card is an anomaly in that it strikes me as a subset in just about every way, but it’s actually a 1:2 insert which, with the base set being so huge, is actually easier to pull than the same card as a subset would otherwise be. Is that only interesting to me? Okay, then.

1997 Fleer Soaring Stars #4 Star Foil

Am I wrong for not loving the inserts so far? There are some doozies coming up, don’t get me wrong, but this I could take or leave. Wacky-ass ‘90’s font, geez.

This thing comes in three different variations. Whether that was intentional or not remains up for debate, but it doesn’t appear to have been as there were no insertion ratios for the variations despite the fact that there is a major variation with monstrous stated odds still to come from this very set. The consensus seems to be that Fleer simply switched paper stock mid-run. Twice, apparently.

Pictured above is the most common variation: little confetti stars.

1997 Fleer Soaring Stars #4 Sparkle Foil

Then there’s this one that has smaller, four-pointed sparkles exactly like the ones found on 1997 E-X2000 Essential Credentials. They are easy to mistake for the star foil version and seem to be at least a little rarer though not significantly so.

1997 Fleer Soaring Stars #4 Glowing Foil (courtesy
of Rodney Vallejo)

And then there’s this “glowing” version which, again, is just different paper stock. If you go by BBCP’s estimate of 10-20% of the run on "glowing" stock, that would put the insertion ratio of this variation at around 1:60 to 1:120 packs. Nothing outrageous, but folks do seem to like them. Personally I’m slow-playing these until I luck into one.

Uh, here's one more shot of that one:

1997 Fleer Soaring Stars #4 Glowing Foil (courtesy of Marco Bisio)

Marco captured the foil of this one so perfectly that it scarcely even looks like itself; so I couldn't use it as the main photo for this variation, but I also couldn't not show it. I mean look at that thing. Geez, maybe I do want one.

1997 Fleer Lumber Company #9

It’s hard to find a better iteration of the great Lumber Company insert than this one. What it lacks in real wood grain it more than makes up for with some extreme die-cutting and massive curb appeal. Seeded at a generous 1:18 S1 retail packs (or two per box), they could have gotten away with a little more stinginess here. Nice use of sepia on the card back.

BTW, Fleer was pretty ambitious with the die-cutting this year as you will see.

1997 Fleer Team Leaders #12

Okay, so it doesn't appear ambitious on first glance, but for a lot of these cards they originally included the brim of the player’s cap as part of the die-cutting. Apparently the brims were getting damaged, so they just did away with them mid-run, resulting in yet another accidental but scarce variation.

But in the case of Griffey’s card his head is angled towards the camera rather than in profile, and the brim is pretty much cut out completely even on the common “corrected” version; so it is unlikely he has any of these rare “brim” variations at all. The missing brim is much more obvious for the guys in-profile like Gary Sheffield and Chipper Jones whose cards are obviously missing brims and even look a little silly without them.

Is there a Griffey die-cut with a tiny sliver of brim out there that I just haven’t seen yet? Man I hope not. It would look stupid and almost certainly be needlessly expensive.

1997 Fleer Bleacher Blasters #4

Not to be confused with "Bleacher Reachers" (these guys blast bleachers, not reach them), these sport a TON of intricate die-cutting and even more wacky ‘90’s font. All this die-cutting was pretty amazing when it started popping up in inserts in the late ‘90’s (’96 Topps Laser remains a favorite). The arch never sat right with me, though. Maybe it’s supposed to be a batting cage backstop, but you wouldn’t see that in a game. Also if you look at the way the card is engineered the whole thing would probably fall apart without said arch supporting it.

And by the way, that is the exact font Brenda uses for the break room sign reminding everybody to cover their plates in the microwave. Quit trying to run my life, Brenda, or I will so tell Dale you made out with the IT guy in the supply closet at the Christmas party. I am not kidding.

Holy mackerel. That face. How is that not a "that face when" meme yet? Looks like an Ace Ventura mug.

This blurb is fantastic, too. As a fan of both Griffey and Buhner, I am kind of ashamed at never having heard that before. God my friends suck.

1997 Fleer Zone #7

Now we’re getting somewhere. These puppies were 1:80 (S1 Hobby), making them the first insert you weren’t guaranteed to pull from a box. And they have a lot of eye appeal with that massive holofoil swirl. More on eye appeal later...

1997 Fleer Night & Day #4 (courtesy of Bruce Laney)

I'm glad we finally reached the point where lenticular designs were relegated to inserts instead of whole damn sets. It just never clicked with me. Some did it better than others but a whole base set plus inserts was overkill.

That said this one is pretty nice, and basically a space card which is like my favorite kind of card. And it freakin' better be nice given its killer 1:240 insertion ratio. It's attractive enough on both the front and back, but the blurb trails off like it forgot what the theme of the insert was supposed to be (performance in day vs. night games).

I own this card, but shipping requests from COMC are currently experiencing a slowdown what with the....you know. So anyway, this one belongs to Bruce. Thanks, Bruce!

1997 Fleer Diamond Tribute #4

This is the 1:288 (series 1 only) monster of '97 Fleer, and it really looks the part. It always seemed like a holofoil mess to me until the moment I held one in my hands. That's when I "got it." They call that imprint pattern "Diamond Burst" and how it didn't make it onto more cards I will never understand. It is incredible.

Let me try and capture the coolness for you:

If you ever make it to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, on the far left wall of one of the big rooms near a corner is an interactive display wherein you can move magnets around a viscous black ferrous fluid. The fluid forms these little spiky cones that reach out towards the magnet and move around pretty much on their own, combining and separating, changing shape and size. It's actually pretty eerie. 

Pretty much this, but moving

My wife and I played with that thing for a full half hour before we had to tear ourselves away. I never forgot how fun it was. The embossing on this card looks exactly like that wacky magnet fluid. My wife-to-be and I would get engaged just hours later at a concert, but that weird magnet thing was still one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Maybe that's part of why I like this card so much.

I haven't moved this one to the safe deposit box yet because I still love looking at it, but it belongs in there. I officially regret sleeping on these back when they went for around $50-75 because nowadays a price in the low-200's would be a deal.

Baby got back, too. An all-around excellent insert, but not the big get of '97 Fleer. Not even close.

1997 Fleer Goudey Greats #2

Look at Fleer repping the ultra-vintage designs before anyone else. This is how you cement your place in cardboard history, folks: by reminding everyone about ol’ Frank who invented freakin' bubble gum and who was one of the earliest pioneers of baseball cards way back in 1923, long before Topps went mainstream.

The cards are neat, too, as vintage releases go with an excellent blurb and some great, authentic-feeling vintage paper stock. And knowing the history here I don’t so much mind Frank’s name being significantly bigger than that of the player on both sides of the card. This is a statement insert through and through. You do you, Fleer.

At 1:8 (four per box) this insert is not terribly rare, nor should it be. When you’re making a statement with an insert, you need to get it out there. But there is a parallel to contend with. And not just any parallel: the toughest pull of 1997 Fleer and among the toughest Griffey pulls of the '90's.

At a truly ball-busting 1:800 or one in 22 boxes, that little gold foil stamp – the only difference here – might as well be a damn diamond. With the 15-card checklist that puts the Griffey at 1:12,000 packs or one in 333 boxes. On top of that these were available in Series 2 Hobby packs only which translates into what must be an exceptionally tiny print run.

Behold the gold

Let’s talk about eye appeal some more, because it applies here in a major way. The above card cost me 60 bucks (PSA 7, granted, but bear with me) while the Diamond Tribute regularly sells in the 200-300 range. There is the possibility that this parallel of an insert is just relatively unknown in collecting circles, but even that is likely a function of simple eye appeal. 

I mean honestly, which card is cooler?

Yeah, not even fair. 

So even by loose estimates there are significantly more Diamond Tributes than there are Gold Foil Goudey Greats. It’s not even close as DT was available in Series 1 Hobby and Retail while the GGGF was in Series 2 Hobby only.

What would really help is to figure out Fleer's total pack production from that year which would, in turn, tell us how many Goudey Greats Gold Foil cards exist for each player, but the challenge here is that Fleer didn’t give stated odds on any numbered inserts from their flagship sets for several years.

*Note: this is where I previously made what I thought was a defensible guess as to how many Goudey Greats Foils had been produced. It was paragraphs long with lots of math and ballparking of figures. I can assure you that I agonize over the quality of my write-ups, and I aim to be as factually accurate as possible particularly when it comes to numbers. I was informed my guess and the process that led to it was not up to snuff, so I have removed that part of the post. I welcome any assistance in determining the total print run of these cards. Until then...

Here's what we do know: one insert is seeded at 1:288 across both series, and the other is seeded at 1:800 in only one series. That's a massive difference in scarcity. The only explanation for the Goudey Foils'  epic underperformance in the market compared with most other inserts of the time (but specifically Diamond Tributes) is eye appeal. The DT is as cool an insert as I’ve ever seen, and the little gold foil stamp is simply not enough to elevate that Goudey Greats into the pricing tier its scarcity should otherwise demand.

A Diamond Tribute recently sold for $250. A GGGF for $60. That’s a premium of $190 for a cooler-looking card with far less scarcity but higher desirability.

And that, my friends, is the value of eye appeal.

Here are the Griffeys I need from 1997 Fleer:

#492 Checklist Tiffany
Soaring Stars #4 Glowing Foil
Team Leaders #12 With Cap Brim

I'm thankful I was able to get the big guys out of the way and can just coast on these last few. I would normally be at least a little interested in a condition upgrade on that PSA 7 Goudey Foil, but with such a small print run, a little off-centering doesn't really bother me. Some of my most priceless Griffeys are 7's. Hell, my wife is a 7.

Oh god please don't tell her I said that.


  1. I've come across a fair share of Soaring Stars inserts over the years. Never knew there were 3 different variations. Also had no idea there was a rare Goudey parallel either. It'd be pretty easy to pass one of those up without knowing how rare it actually is.

  2. Super interesting post (as always) but it was the ending that killed me...and might get you killed too if your wife reads your blog!

  3. '97 Fleer rules! Kind of gets lost in the muddle of late '90s sets, but this one's always had a soft spot in my heart. But they REALLY didn't have binder-oriented collectors in mind when they designed some of those inserts. I have the Mo Vaughn from that "Bleacher Blasters" set and it was like trying to perform surgery getting it into a nine-pocket page.

  4. So comprehensive, and I guess I didn't realize it was the last one "before Tradition". I have a few autographs on this set - including a Tino. Cards were indeed great for autographs. The inserts really hold up, between die cuts and shine.

  5. I was so bummed when I accepted the fact that the "Glowing Stars" inserts don't actually glow in the dark. Lots of holding cards up to the light then taking them into the closet in vain.