Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Design Timeline: SPx

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

In the patriarchal hierarchy that is mid-90’s Upper Deck brands, SPx is the tech-savvy son of SP who is in turn the middle-aged son of grandpa Upper Deck flagship. Where SPx uses an iPhone 6 connected to an Apple Watch, his father SP still rocks his old Motorola Razr flip phone and grandpa flagship dials in on the old school rotary. While SPx picks up early-20’s liberal arts majors on Tinder, SP is busy using the yellow pages to find a decent plumber. Grandpa flagship just fixes that shizz himself.

Alright, enough of that.

What I’m really saying here is that SPx is to SP what SP is to Upper Deck flagship. It’s a cool, techy, forward-thinking version of its predecessor loaded with shiny bits and cool gimmicks. It’s also the longest-running spinoff set Upper Deck ever produced with a total run of 14 years (1996-2009). A close second at 12 years is SP Authentic which got its start two years after SPx.

Each year of SPx is characterized by different combinations of five fundamental elements: extreme die-cutting, 3-D holograms, imprinted foil, excessive holofoil, and ultra-modern design. The SPx timeline is not unlike Taco Bell’s menu – constantly coming out with new products, but when you look they’re really just a different combination of the same ingredients. Don’t let that sour you to the idea, though – Taco Bell is awesome.

Here is Griffey on every SPx base card design in order:


1996 SPx #55

The first year of SPx was a bold statement, combining shiny team-coloring, Upper Deck’s newfound love of die-cutting, and multi-image versions of those 3-D holograms you got at Denny’s. This set is comprised of a base set, a gold parallel, the Bound for Glory insert, and a sweet Ken Griffey, Jr. commemorative card with an autographed parallel, all of which have the exact same die-cut pattern. Upper Deck really played up the set’s gravitas by including only one card per pack, and their weighty thickness and mirror finish gave a high perceived value. Despite that, these cards don’t command all that much on the secondary market.


1997 SPx #45

In the Taco Bell analogy, this design is the Burrito Supreme. Where the previous design was completely cornerless, this one is an eight-cornered cardboard octopus with three of those corners being sharp, acute angles. It’s a condition snob’s worst nightmare. Still, the design is well-thought-out, spelling out “SPX” with shapes built right into the card (S on the left edge, P in the horizontal swoosh containing the hologram, and X in…well, that big X). You may also notice the textured foil background in the action shot the color of which differs by which parallel you are holding. This one is arguably the busiest base card in the timeline.


1998 SPx #130 #/9000

I’ve always thought of the next two designs in the timeline as twins. They look nothing alike, but they both make liberal use of a substantial, heavily-imprinted foil logo element on their base cards and inserts. The massive logo elements are deeply-embedded in the card surface of both sets, and they give a unique, three-dimensional quality to what has been a two-dimensional product for over a century.

This first of the twin designs is a horizontal layout in papery foil with the large bronze SPx logo embedded in a vertical field of opposing green split-fades. The color of both the field and the foil logo changes by parallel, so you get to see the same layout in different color combinations. When it first came out I wasn’t too crazy about the design (SPx with no die-cuts?!?), but having seen the inserts and parallels, I’ve come around. With all those colors and massive foil logos, the 1998 SPx page is one of my favorite pages in the Griffey binders.

This year’s product was also called SPx Finite because every card was serial-numbered; but this would only be the case for one year, so it’s not a substantial shift in the timeline.


1999 SPx #70

The overall design of this other “deep foil” twin is simpler, but the embedded foil element has also become more refined. This year we get a complicated shape, realtexture, and smoother raised elements within the foil logo. They even went so far as to include a little batter silhouette (even for pitchers) beside the SPx logo and a little baseball centered beneath. The deeply-embedded, raised foil logo is fun to run your fingers over, but the rest of the card falls flat design-wise. Where the ’98 design was organic and attractive, the ’99 design is kind of boring apart from the embedded foil bit. Despite this, the inserts are cool and the base parallel is a knockout.


2000 SPx #67

This year’s base design lacks any of the unique elements that have been the hallmark of SPx up to this point. What we have here is essentially a very modern design that’s been bathed in holofoil. They’re not bad-looking cards, but they don’t feel like base cards to me. They have the look of an insert, and the compressed portrait and random arrangement of text feels thrown together (check out the little “SPX” in the bottom right corner that is presumably there just to fill negative space). This one is reasonably cool and rich-looking, but also forgettable in this timeline.

This is where the salad days of the SPx timeline really come to an end for a few years. As you will see the cards that are coming would be more appropriate under the regular SP banner. That is not to say they’re bad cards by any stretch (far from it – some of my favorite designs are coming up soon), but apart from some noticeably modern designs and a bit of foil here and there, they have very little of that old SPx moxy. Maybe grab a cup of coffee.


2001 SPx #85

I like this design a lot, though there’s nothing particularly unique about it. They do make great use of contrasting color, and the abstract layout is certainly attractive and modern. Perhaps the most interesting element at work here is the use of both gold and silver foil in the base design which doesn’t happen very often. Apart from that, it’s a lot of lines and boxes and one of the biggest jersey numbers you’ll ever see in a base design. A good-looking card that feels out of place after the wackiness that began the timeline.


2002 SPx #85

This is simultaneously among the most understated and attractive designs in the timeline. It’s nothing like one might expect from an SPx card, but this simple, classy layout with limited team coloration and just a touch of foil makes for a pretty nice set. I’m a big fan of the corner-mounted (albeit a bit random) focal point on the bottom left as well as the contemporary fonts and the ultra-mod logo in the background. The 2002 SPx base design is “less is more” done right.

This set started a trend, too. Going forward, every design but one will incorporate heavy use of black and white with limited team color.


2003 SPx #35

This year Upper Deck combined the horizontal configuration that began the timeline with the black-and-white motif of the previous year. The focal point in this design is an action shot superimposed over a large X that transverses the card vertically. We also get a portrait that is less black-and-white than grey-and-slightly-lighter-gray. Bits of lines, foil, and hatching are spread around the card seemingly at random along with a touch of team color. It’s another “lines for the sake of lines” Upper Deck design, but it’s one that has grown on me. This card is beautifully modern, and would be just as attractive without the holofoil. Plus the inserts and relics look great in this layout.


2004 SPx #97

Here we get the black-and-white aesthetic again, but just a touch bolder than we’ve seen in the past few years. I like the old computer font in the nameplate and the look of the holofoil against the white background. I’m also a fan of the translucent color bars and the multiple split fades that runs the length and breadth of the card. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. The background is clunky, and the massive black bar up top heralding the name of the set is heavy and kind of ruins the card. This one could have used some editing.

It gets worse from here, but hold tight just a little longer. Redemption is near.


2005 SPx #72

I just don’t get this design. It’s like a less attractive take on ’95 Select. Every card has that huge brown field behind the player and heavy black bar below, and the little white lines that frame the player are awkward and unnecessary. Why are they there? It would seem to me they were added last-minute to pull focus away from the massive team-colored, kind-of-an-X shape on the right. The one interesting design element on this card is the barely-visible explosion that appears to be going on behind the player but that is covered up by the big, ugly brown section. Then you have the non-foil nameplate just kind of hanging out on the bottom of the card. It looks so lonely down there. As SPx designs go, this one’s a lame duck.


2006 SPx #24

The picture is cool, but that’s one of the few things to like about this oddball of the timeline. That massive side-mounted SPx logo bar dominates the entire layout, effectively shrinking the card and making the viewer claustrophobic. The only bit of innovation worth mentioning here is the addition of a line of text below the player’s surname heralding some great career accomplishment. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of that in other sets. The inserts are decent, and the brighter holofoil version of the base card is a significant improvement, but those are not enough to save this unfortunate base set. My least favorite design in the timeline.

I could be wrong as I don’t have any sales figures at my disposal, but I like to think this set’s performance in the card market made Upper Deck realize it was time for a return to the roots of this once-groundbreaking, envelope-pushing, awesomely gaudy and overdesigned brand. Look what happened next:


2007 SPx #59

YES. This is the kind of stuff I think of when I think of SPx. Excessive holofoil, heavy-handed die-cutting, shiny, busy, seizures, drool, rainbows – all that. This is my SPx, and I could not be happier to see it in this timeline. In the Taco Bell analogy, this is the A.M. Crunch Wrap because its Upper Deck finally waking up to what SPx is supposed to be. And why not? It’s the 10-year anniversary of the burrito supreme set, after all.

So, what did we get? A massive holofoil X? Check. Action shot and portrait? Check. Lots of team color, black and white, and multi-angle die-cutting? Check, check, and double check. It’s the most SPx design in years! How will they possibly top it?


2008 SPx #23

Oh, that’s nice, too. This 12-cornered beast is all about balance and centering with card-spanning elements on multiple axes each offset by identical elements on the opposite side. You’re looking at what is probably the most bilaterally symmetrical baseball card ever made. Throw a bunch of holofoil on that with some neat little raised-printing baseballs in the corners and you’ve got yourself a beast of a base card. The inserts in this set were heavily Griffey-centric, too, so you better believe I am biased. A very fun design.


2009 SPx #27

This last one has me ambivalent. Let me explain.

Upper Deck has a history with the X as a design element. They did it in several SPx sets, most notably ’97, ’03, ‘05, and ’07. They did it for the Looming Large relic insert in 2002 40-Man. They also did it, albeit to a less obvious extent, in 2008 Star Quest and 2009 Spectrum. Then in 2008 they decided to base a whole new brand on the concept which they called - go figure - Upper Deck X. It lasted for two years and contained X-shaped die-cut parallels and multi-tiered inserts with multi-colored holofoil X’s. You see where I’m going with this.

The 2009 SPx Griffey is not a bad-looking card. First and foremost it’s one of a handful of Griffey base cards featuring him as a White Sock (Is that the singular? It can’t be…). The X element is intricately stylized and looks great in holofoil. The nameplate is simple and modern. I even like the subtle use of Junior’s new team colors in this design. It’s a looker, for sure. I want to hang out with it, maybe grab some food or something.

But I take issue with the originality of this design. I know Upper Deck was going through a bit of legal trouble around this time, but that’s no excuse for slapping the SPx logo onto what looks to me like a concept design for the third Upper Deck X base set. Go look at the 2009 Upper Deck X base card and tell me you’re not a little suspicious, too. Heck, even if that’s not exactly the case, you’re really going to have two nearly identical base designs come out in the same year under different sub-brands? Isn’t there someone whose job it is to make sure stuff like that doesn’t happen?

Sadly this is where the timeline ends. 2010 SPx was less than two months from release when a settlement with MLB put the kibosh on the whole thing. The cards sound really cool, too. Double and triple relics, Exquisite Patch cards, and something called SPx “Shadowbox” which was probably cool AF. Sadly, I have yet to come across images of any backdoored cards from the set. Too bad. I’d like to have seen where they were going next.


There’s a lot of cool stuff in this timeline, but it’s so all-over-the-place design-wise that it’s hard to see a natural progression. There are periods in which each design seems to follow the previous one naturally, and others that leave you scratching your head. Regardless, it’s still an above-average timeline if you’re into shiny, forward-thinking designs. I’m a big fan.

It’s pretty cool that a set like SPx was allowed to continue this long what with the shift in the market towards vintage designs. I also think it’s pretty cool that you never really knew what you were going to get from SPx. With sets like Flair and Finest, you had a pretty good idea what was coming next year. With SPx it was die-cut holograms one year and raised-printing foil stamps the next. The only real connective tissue here is that it was always modern, and that in itself makes it a quintessential Upper Deck brand.

Here’s one more look at Griffey on every SPx base card design in order:

Wallet Card Wednesday: Metallica Cover Band Edition

We were sitting in a dive bar in Luling, La called The Pit Stop with a few people following an engagement party (sticking out like sore thumbs due to out semi-formal attire) when we learned that a Metallica cover band was getting ready to perform. Everyone in our group seemed saddened by this fact except for me. I was pumped. I'm a white man aged 30-45 which means I like Metallica. Not all of it, but enough that getting to see a cover band by accident was serendipitous for me.

I used every ounce of my influence in the group to postpone the inevitable change of venue to a friend's house because I just had to hear these guys first. And you know what? They were freakin' awesome. I knew I had made a good call when they opened with "Hit the Lights," off the album Kill 'Em All, a personal favorite. They nailed it, too, even the super-hard-sounding guitar parts.

As we left I wondered if they were going to play "One" off of "And Justice for All." I hope they didn't. I'd kick myself for missing it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

4000th Griffey Card Giveaway Results!

The time has come to find out who won the big giveaway! As a reminder the prize was 100 Griffeys from the Griffey Overflow Box.

Here's another look at that sweet 4000th unique Griffey:

Was there any ever doubt it would be a 90's insert?

We'll get right to it, but first, here is a big chunk of text to fill space in the preview on Blogger. As you probably know, your blogger feed is full of previews with thumbnails of what is usually the first picture in the post as well as a few lines of text to give you an idea of what's ahead, sometimes affecting your decision as to whether or not to click and read said post. For example, a post with a photo of a Griffey rookie may be enticing to someone like me, but a quick glance at the preview text could say something like, "There are many fine underpants to be had in this world, but in this post we are going to talk only about my personal favorite underpants: Twilight brand underpants. They're the only brand of underpants with Twilight characters printed right on the underpants." Okay, that should do it.

Alright, here's the screen shot of the randomization I did with the time stamp referenced in the original post:

The winner is The Lost Collector! His guess of 2430 put him only 48 away from the correct answer. Congratulations, TLC! I'll have 100 lovely Griffeys on their way to you this week.

Thanks everybody for playing!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Design Timeline: SP

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

The regular SP brand (which you could call SP flagship and get away with it) was only around for five years, but in that time it made a pretty big impact. This is a brand that showed the old-timers just how cool and modern cards can be, and with the newfound influx of young collectors into the market, it was a hit. It wasn’t long before Upper Deck split SP up into a bunch of spinoffs, each with a different focus. Those spinoffs with names like SP Championship, SPx, SP Authentic, SP Signature Edition, and SP Legendary Cuts would be produced right up until the end of Upper Deck’s baseball products. That makes SP one of the most successful sub-brands ever created.

SP stands for “super premium” (not “short print”), a term that must have been impossible to escape in the card shops and shows of the mid-90’s. In fact 1993 was the first year of several super premiums including high-tech, Chromium-printed Finest from the big boys at Topps, and ultra-glossy and befoiled Flair from the scrappy Fleer company. Everybody had a dog in the SP fight.

Now imagine you’re a young collector in 1993, and you just heard that those three companies are each producing their own super premium set. Which would you be most excited to see? Topps, the guys your Dad used to collect? Fleer, the folks who came up with that awesome all-yellow base set just two years before? Or game-changing Upper Deck, masters of quality and innovation from the get-go? Do I sound biased? Well, I am.


Here is the Griffey from every SP base card design in order:


1993 SP #4

This first year of SP is a simple, lighthearted design with a few fun, modern elements. To us, the most obvious is that great foil home plate with the SP logo stamped right into it below a crown of spikes. I say “to us” because back in ’93 collectors would have been quicker to notice the use of full-bleed photography. That barely gets addressed as a design element anymore, but back then it was far from the norm outside of Stadium Club.

Up top we get Junior’s All-Star designation heralded via that arch shape that showed up in so many Upper Deck die-cuts of the 90’s (and even one in 2010). I really like the use of team color in the split-fade of the nameplate as well as that funky little bar of alternating color in the top left corner. I don’t know what inspired them to add that bar, but I can’t imagine this set without it. It really ties the card together, not unlike Mr. Lebowski’s rug.


1994 SP #105

A much more serious design on shiny silver foil stock that renders the card pretty much unscannable, Upper Deck did this set up exclusively in black and gold. It’s that papery foil stuff Upper Deck used so much (and that I’m not too crazy about). The nameplate is vertical here for the first and last time, but this is not the last time SP would make use of a vertical logo element as you will see.


1995 SP #190

That big red thing on the left edge there? That is not a nameplate – it’s the SP logo. Actually it’s more like a shrine to the SP brand. The massive side-mounted chevron comes in two colors, red and blue. There is also a SuperbaFoil parallel that replaces the blue/red foil with textured silver holofoil and looks kind of awesome with the gold foil. The actual nameplate is that small, low-impact writing on the bottom of the card. Bright and rich-looking, this design is a personal favorite.

This is also the year of the first SP spinoff set, SP Championship, a bizarre one-set wonder that would slip in and out of existence without anyone seeming to notice.


1996 SP #170

In ’96, Upper Deck figured out a way to use wood grain in the design and still keep the aesthetic modern and cool. That combined with a tasteful layout of black and silver elements comprises the most significant borders in the timeline. They also threw in a small inset portrait on the right border of every card to balance out the full-bleed left border. There are a lot of great cards in this set, but this one of Junior in the locker room presumably celebrating the M’s pennant win In ’95 is no doubt among of the best.

Another new SP spinoff set, SPx, also debuted this year with its extreme, all-sided die-cutting and prolific use of Denny’s-grade 3-D holograms. I have a suspicion that the sudden use of borders and wood grain were to further differentiate regular SP from the super tech-forward SPx. Of course, SP would only be around for one more year while SPx would roll on right up until Upper Deck’s demise in 2010.


1997 SP #165

I’m not really certain where to start with this one - suffice it to say there’s a lot of stuff happening on the front of this card. The loudest element here is the large amount of holofoil on either side of the card which differs in tint by team. Griffey, being a Mariner, gets a blue-green split-fade while Texas Ranger Will Clark, for example, got red-orange. That combined with a plethora of lines, boxes, and mid-90’s Upper Deck bronze foil makes for a super-busy card front that doesn’t seem to get all that much attention from collectors.

And that is where the standalone “SP” timeline comes to an abrupt end. Upper Deck introduced “SP Authentic” in 1998 and “SPx” continued through 2010. Now, if I had to pick which spinoff was most like the original SP brand, it would be SPx due to its high-tech aesthetic and focus on modern design and printing methods; but the 1996-1997 overlap negates any chance of the timeline continuing in that direction. In addition to that, SP Authentic, while a perfect fit time-wise, was geared more towards “hits,” those being relics and autos as opposed to just cool, modern base cards and inserts. Even the brand name itself suggests a specialized focus that is just not in line with the first five years of SP.

So, in keeping with the spirit of the Design Timelines, when an evolution of a design is interrupted by a ground-up re-branding that changes both the name and the whole philosophy of a set, I just can’t justify calling it a continuation of the original set. SP Authentic and SPx will get their own timelines.


The short SP flagship timeline averages out better than most. I find it strange that despite the inundation of new brands into the market that was going on around this time that Upper Deck didn’t think there was room for an unspecialized SP set. Then again, there’s a lot of mystery to this era of cardboard.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure Topps won the super premium fight with their groundbreaking Finest brand, and the prices those cards command to this very day pretty much prove it. It’s not a very fair comparison, though, as I’ve always found that SP is more comparable to Stadium Club in market segment. At least SP has the ultimate Derek Jeter rookie.

If Upper Deck ever gets their license back I would expect to see new SP sets. I think they would be welcome, too - sort of an anti-Ginter focused on the future of cardboard as opposed to its past. That’s always been Upper Deck’s specialty: trailblazing. Maybe someday…

Here's one last look at the SP design timeline in its entirety:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wallet Card Wednesday: Lego Edition

There's a girl in the French Quarter who sells nothing but Lego minifigs; and in addition to having an extremely impressive selection of figures, she's also pretty cute. 

I feel like the very meaningful conversation she and I would have had about Legos was being prevented by that guy in the black t-shirt. Someone preventing someone else from having a good Lego conversation with a third person is called "block-blocking." He block-blocked me.

This photo was taken in Dallas, TX at some big mall there. This business, called "Legoland Discovery Center," probably should have been called "Lego Store." because that's what it was. I should mention, though, that while it did not have as big a selection as the Lego section of the Toys 'R' Us in Times Square, it does have a significantly bigger selection than the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center.

Sadly, I just don't have the space for this.

Monday, August 17, 2015

1994 Topps: My Baby's Got Gloss

1994 is the year the whole cardscape changed. After the previous year’s array of new printing techniques and entire brands built around said techniques, ’94 is when we saw those techniques applied even to regular base cards. My adolescent friends and I liked the change, but vintage fans had to watch in horror as set after set began coming out of packs beset in glossy, full-bleed, heavily befoiled modernity that could hardly be described as cardboard anymore (and most of it wasn’t). When Old Man Topps jumped on the trolley, everyone knew this was less a fad than a sea change in the industry.

Cue 1994 Topps, the first in a series of all-gloss Topps base sets that continues unbroken to this day. It’s more than just glossy – the design is more colorful and intricate than ever before. The print quality of the base card photos is the best they’d ever had (it even holds up to early Stadium Club which, if you remember, had a Kodak logo on the box), and the content of the photos themselves is as good as the collector favorite ’91 set.

Despite ’94 Topps’ overall likeability, it has some minor issues. The cursive font in the nameplate feels a little dated. I can live with that, but I have a lot of difficulty dealing with the color palette. Despite being grounded in the green of the nameplate below, the palette tends to jump between attractive, team-appropriate color fades and seemingly random colors with no point of reference in the photo. There are Yankees cards with red borders, A’s with blue borders, and Cardinals with green and yellow. I hate to admit it, but it reminds me a lot of ’92 Fleer in that way. That’s super mean because ’92 Fleer sucks. Still, the good outweighs the bad here by a huge margin.

Last month I got a whole box of this stuff for a measly sawbuck, and while I’ve decided to build sets based on box breaks in the past, it became obvious early in this break that that was not going to be the case. The cards all stuck together from age with less than half being serviceable specimens for a decent set build. Still, there were a few great moments in this break I’d like you to see.

That may be my favorite Alomar of all time.
The Maddux would have made pretty nice trade fodder if not for being so sticky. And Mark Lewis is hardly the focal point of his own base card.
Too much quirky photography to speak of in this tiny little space under the scan.
I am obsessed with meta-cards: that being cards that show other cards.
Simply one of the greatest base cards of the 90's.
A pretty decent subset with an extremely above-average checklist
This cards was the bee's knees when I was a lad

I got a nice selection of base cards and subsets out of that box, but when it comes to inserts, I only got one:

Imagine my surprise – a ’94 Finest card in a pack of ’94 Topps flagship. Turns out this isn’t so rare after all. A set of these special preview cards were randomly inserted at 1:36 packs. I’d like to have pulled a different player, but I was excited all the same. This is for trade, btw.

Let's go to the Griffeys:

1994 Topps #400

Here is a very simple but beautiful shot of the Kid in that peaceful moment when he, along with everyone else in the stadium, watches the ball float in apparent slow motion over the right field wall.
The lighting is perfect, the static field of mixed crowd in the background gives focus and singularity to Junior in the foreground, and the angle lets us see both the back of his jersey and his face gazing at what is presumably a very long fly ball. Even he looks amazed. Just a fantastic photograph.

The back gave us a reasonably nice layout with easy-to-read stats and even a blurb. The flipped-up shades photo is one of my favorite categories of Griffey photo.

Here is the third iteration of the Topps Gold Parallel:

1994 Topps #400 Gold

Unlike the gold versions of the ’92 and ’93 sets, the name and only the name is in gold foil here with the Topps Gold logo up top. In previous versions the entire nameplate was done in textured gold as opposed to just flat gold in the lettering. The look here is more modern and less garish than the Topps Gold of ’93, but I still prefer the ’92 version.

1994 Topps #388 All-Star Outfielders (w/ Lenny Dykstra)

These dual-sided All-Star cards appeared in several consecutive mid-90’s Topps sets, and it wouldn’t be the only card Griffey would share with Dykstra. I like the big lump in Lenny’s cheek here (it’s massive, like he’s chewing on a rolled-up sock), but I must admit that I did at one time have a problem with this card.

When I was young and didn’t yet think like a collector, these cards confused me because of the big “1993” emblazoned across the top of the card despite it being from the 1994 set. Similarly, the 1993 version with Griffey and Any Van Slyke reads “1992” and the one in 1995 has him with Barry Bonds and says – you guessed it – 1994. Part of me wished they would just say “All-Stars” and let us assume they were from the previous year. Whatever - it’s not as big a deal as the card’s flagrant tobacco use and tacky speckled dirt background (or is that also chewed tobacco?).

Here’s the Topps Gold version:

1994 Topps #388 All-Star Outfielders Gold (w/ Lenny Dykstra)

As subsets go, I prefer this one:

1994 Topps #606 Measures of Greatness

This subset is a veritable who’s who of mid-90’s stars, young and old. The front design here is kind of vanilla (the background of famous names and stats is pretty neat), but the back more than makes up for that. There we get one of my favorite stat boxes of the 90’s wherein we see Junior’s career stats up to this point compared with the average among all Hall of Fame outfielders. Below that we also get a career line for Stan Musial (with whom Junior’s career is often compared – they were both born in Donora, PA). Other stars in this subset got similar treatment: Frank Thomas’ numbers are set against Jimmie Foxx and Kirby Puckett’s against Joe DiMaggio. The recycled image FROM THE SAME SET (ARGHH!) is a little off-putting, but overall this is a really cool subset that I’d like to have seen more from. Oh, and the card back is purple. I like purple.

Here’s the Topps Gold version:

1994 Topps #606 Measures of Greatness Gold

1994 was also the second and final year of the massive Topps Black Gold insert:

1994 Topps Black Gold #8

I mean "massive" in that there are 44 guys in the checklist - I don't recall these ever being considered especially rare or valuable, And yet I had no idea these were such tough pulls until I checked the back of the pack. The regular cards were 1:72 packs with several partial set winners even rarer and the grandaddy ABCD set winner seeded at 1:3600. Do I need that card? Yes, I do.

In fact, the last few cards I need to complete the Griffeys of '94 Topps are all Black Gold redemption cards, so I'll just go ahead and list those here:

1994 Topps Griffey needs:

Black Gold Set AB Winner
Black Gold Set ABCD Winner

Before we get to this last thing, you should know that there were two different versions of the factory set you could buy back in '94, the retail and hobby versions. The hobby version included more Pre-Production Finest samples than the retail as well as a sealed pack of special preview cards featuring three cards of one player, those cards being each of the three biggest Topps releases of that year: Bowman, Finest, and Stadium Club. There were 45 different players for which you could pull one of these "Superstar Sampler" packs, one of which was...

1994 Topps Superstar Sampler Set (sealed)

This appears to be the rarest 1994 Topps Griffey item there is to find. I've seen loosies for sale between 15 and 30 bucks a pop, but a sealed pack is very rare, indeed. The cards within are almost indistinguishable from their regular set counterparts save for a small stamp on the back of each card that looks like this:

To be honest I only recently learned of these things' existence, and I've been checking the backs of all my '94 Stadium Club, Bowman, and Finest cards ever since. I've found zero more, but they're out there, guys. Check your stacks. In the mean time, this pack is going to remain sealed and top-loaded as long as I have anything to say about it.

Overall I'm a fan of '94 Topps. I like how they eased into modernity slower than everyone else, pretty much keeping it classic longer than anyone else did. By this time Donruss, Fleer, Upper Deck - they were all decking out every one of their base cards in foil. Topps really let the photography do the talking this year, and the result is an above-average set.

Enjoy it while it lasts, though. Any "easing" Topps was doing into the modern age was certainly done by the time the '95 set came out. That thing is nuts.