Saturday, December 24, 2016

Introducing the Griffey Generosity Project

On Tuesday I started a project that is now more or less completely out of my hands. Simply put: I mailed a box containing 500 Griffey cards to a fellow Griffey collector along with a note containing instructions. Here’s the box:

The goal here is to help build everyone’s Griffey collection a few cards at a time. The idea is simple: you take what you want out of the box, put in what you don’t need (duplicates and such), and send the box on to another collector. It’s a fun and, apart from the cost of shipping the box, inexpensive way to spread the Griffey love.

I’ve also included a section where folks can write their name, city, the date, and any comments they want as they receive the box and send it out again.

This project depends entirely on the generosity of other Griffey collectors. I honestly have no control over what happens next, and that is kind of exciting. Is it possible that someone could decide they want all the Griffeys and keep the whole thing? I suppose it is, but I don’t think that is going to happen. I like to think my fellow Griffey collectors are going to embrace this thing and use it as a tool to contribute to the card collecting community, find some trading partners, and maybe even make some friends.

500 Griffeys!

The project has a built-in “opt-out” option, too: I’ve included my contact information (on the letter and also taped to the inside of the lid), so as patriarch of the project, anyone who doesn’t want to participate can simply shoot me an e-mail, and I will gladly pay for shipping back to me so I can send it on to the next Griffey collector. My goal is to keep the box going as long as possible.

Then again, the ultimate opt-out would be for them to simply keep the box and call it a day, but I am hopeful that won’t happen. While I didn’t include any specific rules against that, it is totally against the spirit of the project and of being a decent person in general. Most of the cards in the box could be had for less than a buck or so on COMC (or just for the asking from most Griffey collectors), so that would be pretty lame. Plus if it did happen, the last person to mail it would know exactly where they sent it, so it’s not like we wouldn’t know who it was. Then a quick drive over to that dude’s house with a hammer to dispatch them from the gene pool, and we’re back in business.

Try me.

Anyway, this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I finally had some time this week to get it done. I figured if it gave me the chance to clear out some space in my Griffey Overflow Box and help out a bunch of fellow Griffey collectors in the process, it was time well-spent.

Godspeed, little box.

Here's a link to the 18-month update posted 12.14.2018. It's still going!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

2006 Fleer Episode 7: The Fleerce Awakens

In 2004 Upper Deck offered to buy the Fleer company for 25 million dollars. Fleer, who had been in financial trouble in the years leading up to the offer, thought their business was on the verge of a major upswing and rejected the offer. Only a year later in 2005 Fleer ceased trading card operations and began liquidating assets to pay back their creditors. It was then that Upper Deck swooped in and bought the Fleer brand…for a mere $6 million.

The following year Upper Deck did the Fleer brand justice with three all new Fleer sets; and I’m happy to report that they did a reasonably good job at it. There are hints of Upper Deck influence in the card designs, but you can also see the effort that went into keeping them as true to their Fleer pedigree as possible.

First they did something maybe Fleer should have done years before: simplify. They stripped away all the spinoffs and ran with the three core Fleer sets: flagship, Tradition, and Ultra. I have to wonder if maybe Fleer had done this they would have been able to weather the great cardboard slowdown of the 2000’s.

Next, it appears to me they also tried to streamline the Fleer aesthetic to that of a modernized vintage brand. Across all three Fleer brands we see a lot of bold, full-bleed, colorful cards with very little foil compared with previous issues. This direction made sense for Upper Deck, too, as Fleer was now their connection to the past having made cards in one way or another since the ‘60’s and continuously since 1981.

The acquisition of Fleer by Upper Deck is something I would have been skeptical about were I actively collecting in 2006, but looking back now I consider it to have been a good thing, while it lasted. A few years back when I heard that Disney bought the Star Wars franchise I was pessimistic to say the least, but having seen Episode 7, I feel a lot better about it now. That’s what 2006 Fleer is to me: proof that maybe Upper Deck would do this right.

2006 Fleer #316

The base cards are simple in a way comparable with the Fleer base designs of the early ‘90’s (wait...let me finish the sentence before passing judgment) but cleaner with more team-appropriate coloring (see? Not that bad). Upper Deck kept the great old crown logo that Fleer had already resurrected in recent sets. Also they refrained from including their own logo anywhere on the card backs, so the only way you could know these were Upper Deck cards was from the micro-printed legalese.

Speaking of the backs, if any part of this card is meant to say “throwback set,” it’s this part. Simple, clean, no photos, and a small blurb – it’s like an 80’s card back slightly modernized.

2006 Fleer Lumber Company #LC-16

Fleer made the Lumber Company insert for over a decade, and in that time they had their highs and lows as could be expected. When Upper Deck got a hold of it they were strong right out of the gate. Look at this wood-grain on this puppy! The cool insert logo, the tasteful foil – this is one of the better-looking Lumber Company designs in the whole timeline.

2006 Fleer Team Leaders #TL-7 (w/ Aaron Harang)

There’s not a whole lot to this card – it’s the same offensive/defensive leaders pairing by team we’ve seen many times before. It’s well-executed for what it is and probably the most valuable Aaron Harang base card available. On a side note, did every card in 2006 mention Junior’s Comeback Player of the Year honors? Because we are three-for-three at this point. Damn.

2006 Fleer Top 40 #T40-1

The Top 40 players in baseball according to Upper D….er, I mean Fleer. And Griffey got #1! Yeah! Take that, Harang.

I’m not 100% sure whether they gave Griffey card #1 because he was the best. Albert Pujols put up better numbers in 2005 pretty much across the board. My guess is they did it, at least in part, because everyone was still reeling from the steroid scandal and Griffey was a popular, All-American, non-implicated face to head up the set with. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it altogether.

Four-for-four on the comeback player thingy, btw.

2006 Fleer Autographics Autograph #FL-KG

Now we’re talking! This card is a bit historical in that it is the first officially-released Junior autograph on a Fleer card. Fleer Griffey autos had been sold before in the form of aftermarket releases from companies like Scoreboard who sold their wares in places like HSN and QVC, but this one is a legit release and one of the better things to come out of Upper Deck’s acquisition of Fleer (UD had an exclusivity deal with Griffey when it came to his autograph on cards). This is one of the short-printed cards from the Autographics insert limited to 150 copies.

The only drawback here is that the card fails to mention Griffey’s NL Comeback Player of the Year Honors. Scandalous! So, I grabbed a sharpie and fixed it:

So much better.

Here are the cards I still need from 2006 Fleer:
#316 Glossy Silver
#316 Glossy Gold
Fabrics Jersey Relic #KG

That glossy insert is not easy to come across but it shouldn’t be terribly expensive when I finally find it. The jersey relic is on eBay right now for $15.00 but that’s just a little more than I’d like to spend on it. Unfortunately the photos on that auction fail to show the card back, so I have no way of knowing whether Griffey’s NL Comeback Player of the Year honors get a mention. If not, well, that’s why God made sharpies, isn’t it?

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Great Griffey Frankenset: Page 18

Welcome to Page 18 of the Great Griffey Frankenset!

If you're not familiar with the idea of a frankenset, it is a customized set of cards properly sequenced by card number that all tie into a connecting theme. Some frankenset themes include whole teams, mini-collections, and even just generally great cards or photos. This is the first frankenset I'm aware of that is made up of just one player: Ken Griffey, Jr., the man of a million cards. I took the liberty of including things like inserts, parallels, cameos, and oddballs for the sake of variety and because it's just more fun that way. Enjoy!

Here is page 18 of the Great Griffey Frankenset:

Completeness of page: 9/9

Completeness of the Frankenset so far: 99% (161/162)

Team distribution so far: Mariners: 112/161 (70%), Reds: 44/161 (27%), White Sox: 2/161 (1%), No team indicated: 2/161 (1%)

Approximate retail value of this page: $39.00 ($3090.25 running total)

Page 18 Notes: Unfortunately this is the first Frankenset Friday you've seen from me since March. I have the whole checklist planned out well into the hundreds - I just don't have the time to put the actual posts together. Despite that, I had some free time tonight, so here is Page 18 only six months late! With this one we are doubling up the quantity of White Sox Griffeys in the set which means they now have the same number of Griffey cards in this set as cards with no team indicated. The pride is back!

Page 18:

154. 2006 Fleer Tradition #154

This is one of my favorite faux-throwback designs from Fleer Tradition. I love the use of the cap instead of the team logo.

155. 2014 Panini Prizm #155 Camo

Regardless of how you feel about Panini Prizm, the camo refractor is pretty cool and seems popular among collectors. Just don't drop it in the jungle.

156. 1990 Upper Deck #156

This one is all about the picture. It's also the card I think about when I think about why they call him The Kid.

157. 2000 Upper Deck MVP #157 Silver Script

I call these "surprise parallel," because it's not so obvious in a stack of cards as, say, a refractive camo pattern. I just remember noticing one day that this one had a signature on it and the others didn't. Boom: surprise parallel.

158. 2003 Victory #158 Laying it on the Line

A game card from the last year of Victory. This is not the best Victory card in this Frankenset, or even the best one on this page.

159. 2000 Victory #159

This is. They also made Junior a special card to celebrate his trade to the Reds and tacked it onto the end of the base set this year, but this shot of backwards-hatted Griffey at the Home Run Derby is just awesome.

160. 2009 Topps Heritage Chrome High Number Series #CHR160 #/1960

My favorite player on one of my favorite vintage designs with a big ol' smile done up in mirror-like chrome. I'm pretty psyched Junior got a card in this set with this high a number.

161. 2008 Upper Deck Timeline #161 1994 UD All-Time Heroes

There it is! A White Sox card! Only the second one in the Frankenset. Savor the flavor, guys, because there aren't many of these coming...

162. 2002 Upper Deck UD Authentics #162 (1989 design)

Finally, while I'd like to have seen an updated portrait instead of a run-of-the-mill action shot, I still love a throwback design from Upper Deck. Maybe we'll get more someday.

Here's the back of page 18:

Thanks for reading, and look for page 19 coming...ugh, Lord knows when.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2010 Finest: 18 Years Later, Still the Finest

Just three months before Griffey would leave MLB forever he would get his final Finest base card. He would make into a few inserts here and there in the following years as well as a super fun, 10-card, die-cut insert of his very own in 2016; but as Finest doesn’t put retired players into their base sets, this would be the last time Junior would ever have a card there.

It should be noted that the Kid appeared in every Finest base set from the inaugural set in 1993 all the way through 2010 – that’s 18 straight years of Finest base cards. In fact Griffey was the last remaining player from the original 1993 checklist to still appear in the set this late. By 2010 every other player with a 1993 Finest card was retired. That stretch may be some kind of record, and if I had the time you better believe I would look into it further. But, doody calls.

No, that’s not a typo.

2010 Finest #65

The base design this year is one of my favorites of the 2000’s – a silvery, full-bleed, larger-than-life team logo with the player superimposed over it and a simple nameplate below. I’d like to have seen a player-specific blurb in lieu of that Finest Trivia box, but as a Junior sunset card, we could have done a lot worse here.

Here's the refractor:

2010 Finest #65 Refractor #/599

It's really not all that different, but I must admit the silvery logo background works well with the different color refractors:

2010 Finest #65 Blue Refractor #/299

I say that only having the blue, but I can imagine the others look pretty darn good, too. The blue is probably the most team appropriate here, though, so we've got that going for us.

Here are the Griffeys I need from 2010 Finest:

#65 Green Refractor #/99
#65 Gold Refractor #/50
#65 Red Refractor #/25
#65 Purple Refractor 1/1
#65 Framed Printing Plates (four of each)

I have a real shot at the Green and Gold, and maybe even the Red someday if the price is right, but I can't imagine ever owning the purp. That's a shame, too, cuz I really want that purp.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Stop the Presses: 2002 Fleer Box Score

Baseball is hardly ever televised in my hometown. We don’t have an MLB team in New Orleans, and the closest one to us never brought locals any excitement, even in the few-and-far-between good years. All this made me a bit of an anomaly in the mid-to-late 90’s when I followed baseball closest. The only outlets for my MLB fandom were Baseball Tonight, the occasional TBS Braves or WGN Cubs game, and the newspaper box scores which I would read each morning, even before the comics.

So the look of those box scores is very much burned into my memory, and seeing one even now brings up the excitement of seeing a stat line full of numbers next to “Griffey Jr” in tiny black and white print, and scanning the home runs breakdown to see if my favorite player was any closer to that hallowed #61.

Of course these mornings eventually got harder and harder to swallow for Griffey fans like me as McGwire and Sosa pulled away in 1998, leaving Junior with *only* 56. By the time Bonds took every bit of fun out of the home run race in 2001, I was back to reading comics first again, and I’ve never looked back.

So I have a big ole soft spot for this set. On the surface the idea is simple: a set of cards based on the iconic and universal baseball box score. Personally I would have taken the idea and made an insert for another one of Fleer’s myriad sets, but I’m not one of the creative geniuses Fleer had working for them in the early aughts. They stretched it into an entire sub-brand with numerous relics and numbered parallels and everything.

2002 Fleer Box Score #28

The obvious highlight here is the real box score used right in the design. Thanks to context clues in the box score and a little sleuthing on, I was able to deduce that this from the Reds’ first game of the year on April 1st, 2002, a mere seven days before Griffey would suffer a major knee injury. The Reds would lose that game to the Cubs with Junior putting up one hit and a sac fly.

It makes sense that Fleer would use the box score from Opening Day as the idea for this set probably came during the off-season when brands are brainstorming new ideas, Fleer moreso than most. I’m too lazy to do the research, but I’m willing to bet that all the box scores used in the base set are from that same day, April 1st, 2002.

The design itself uses a lot of gray and white which can come across washed-out and boring, but in this case it makes the color in the logo and player silhouette seem to pop off the card. The design carries over to the back of the card nicely.

I just can’t help wondering how great this would look, you know, super tiny.

Ah, there we go. This is the Classic Miniature version which looks exactly like its regular base card counterpart only pint-sized and serial-numbered. It’s just your basic parallel - nothing to write home about, really.

2002 Fleer Box Score #28 Classic Miniature #/2950

It is numbered out of 2950. That's a nice, round number.

2002 Fleer Box Score #240 All-Star #/2950

A generous chunk of the base set is broken up into subsets that could each be its own decent insert. My favorite is this All-Star subset. It’s printed on glossy plastic in lieu of paper and features a slight sparkle to that giant star background. This card is brilliant despite looking a bit like a page out of a coloring book. It includes complete All-Star stats on the back and heralds Junior’s ASG MVP status right on the front in addition to his years of ASG nomination. The blurb needs an Oxford comma, but apart from that it is very much above-average. This is also one of those not-often-seen Griffey Mariners cards that came out while he was well into his career in Cincy. There weren’t many of these after 2000.

There is parallel in this set called First Edition that is very much a gray whale in that it is not terribly expensive but I just don’t want to spend the money. There are three cards available as First Editions: the base card, the miniature parallel (yes, a parallel of a parallel), and the All-Star Subset. Each is numbered to just 100 which would mean a lot more if this set came out four or five years earlier. Apart from the serial number and little “First Edition” banner on the front of the card, the only real difference on the base cards is that it uses silver foil instead of gray. Ho-hum. Here’s hoping the other two are more exciting.

2002 Fleer Box Score Press Clippings Base Relic

By this time relic cards were very much run-of-the-mill, but Fleer made this one fun with tasteful use of foil and the kind of good old fashioned overcooked patriotism that one could expect in post-9/11 America. I love that close-up portrait on the card back, too. Shine on, you crazy relic.

Here are the Griffeys I still need from 2002 Fleer Box Score:

#28 First Edition #/100
#28 Classic Miniature First Edition #/100
#240 All-Star First Edition #/100
All-Star Lineup Game-Used Quad Relic (w/ Bonds, Walker, Manny)
All-Star Lineup Game-Used Quad Relic (w/ Bonds, Piazza, Bagwell)
Press Clippings #16

In terms of PC checklist completion, I am doing a pretty shameful job here. That Press Clippings insert is not rare at all, and the somewhat desirable quadruple relic from this set is pretty affordable. Yet I still don’t have either one. This set is a shining example of how my (and the market’s) attitude towards acquiring Griffey’s cards changes when it comes to sets made after 2000.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

2001 Fleer Tradition: F-Bomb Ahead

When the vintage nouveau explosion arrived in the early 2000’s, all brands that weren’t Topps suddenly had a decision to make: openly steal Topps’ vintage designs or create new designs that only borrow from Topps. All the major companies did one or the other at some point in this short span.

So it’s no surprise that the base cards of 2001 Fleer Tradition sport a design reminiscent of the 1955, ’56, and ’60 Topps sets. Like its predecessors in design, each card front features a portrait on one side and an impressionist painting of an action shot on the other. The big, bold name plate along the bottom and a small cartoon on the back also look familiar.

I don’t blame Fleer for borrowing – it could be argued that they wanted this to have the look of a “vintage baseball card,” not a “Topps card.” The fact that the vast, vast majority of vintage cards were made by Topps couldn’t be helped. Like if surf music made a big comeback and suddenly the early-60’s Beach Boys albums started flying off the shelves – new bands would play surf-style music that would no doubt sound a lot like The Beach Boys because they were the standard-setters (no disrespect to Jan & Dean and the other surf bands of the 60’s – BTdubs, I would be 100% behind a surf music revival happening).

If anything I respect the fact that they created an original design in the vein of the vintage Topps designs, but not an overt rip-off. That being said, there are still several missteps in 2001 Tradition that can’t be ignored. Gird your loins for a little classic blogger bitching and moaning.

2001 Fleer Tradition #140

A few minuses and one big plus with this one. First, the big, black nameplate is uggz. Many of these vintage sets were colorful and fun, but this one comes across a little dark. Second, Griffey looks like he’s watching TV on this card. This guy has one of the most expressive faces in baseball, but they picked the most deadpan portrait they could find. At least we get to see the signature backwards cap, and for the first time it is a Reds cap. That fact alone is the plus that saves the card. I also like the painting, and the back is pretty cool, too.

2001 Fleer Tradition #427 Checklist (w/D. Graves, S. Casey, P. Reese, S. Parris)

Fleer got creative with the checklists, and nothing says vintage like floating disembodied heads. I really do like these cards. They’re fun and kind of playful. They were also fun and playful when Topps did them in ’63:

I’m not mad, though. Nobody owns the copyright on the human head.

It appears that the Reds pitcher that led the team in wins and ERA in 2000 did not have a base card in this set or even a photograph of his disembodied head on file with Fleer. Steve Parris retired in 2003 after nine seasons with four teams and a 44-49 record, 4.75 ERA, and just shy of 500 strikeouts. He had gone 12-17 for Cincy in 2000. Steve even appears on a card with Junior in the 2001 Victory set, but remains (noticeably?) missing from 2001 Tradition.

2001 Fleer Tradition Diamond Tributes #24

Pinstripes!!! Photography-wise this card has the same problem as the base card: a deadpan portrait that also happens to be a sweet backwards cap shot. Then again, it’s also nice to have an insert point out a player’s off-the-field heroism as this one does for every player in the checklist. A fun design whose fonts, pinstripes, and simple design all scream classic baseball.

2001 Fleer Tradition Warning Track #8

Everywhere that Diamond Tributes insert excels, this one falters. I suspect they were trying to stick with simplicity in the design, and while the concept is good the execution is a little lackluster. It’s plain and the colors clash something horrible, particularly in the area of the grayed-out crowd above the wall. This insert was a rare pull at 1:72 packs, and it included names like Josh Gibson and Larry Doby which I love, but I just never found these cards very desirable. It doesn’t seem like they put a lot of time into them - even the back feels thrown-together. Of course, that didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of the Gibson and the Doby for my collection.

The background wall is embossed which is kind of cool....I guess.

I read a quote once that a critic is someone who puts on a suit of armor and attacks an ice cream sundae. Since then I try not to be overly critical when I do write-ups of cards (especially with Fleer inserts which are usually pretty neat). I really don't want to be that guy, but bear with me on this next one. 'Cuz I fucking hate it.

2001 Fleer Tradition Lumber Company #3

Lumber Company has been a standard insert of Fleer sets going back to 1996, and it was almost always cool….until now. This year they completely blew it. While most years of Lumber Company use wood grain and texture right in the design of the card, the 2001 version is just a big, team-colored rectangle with a massive team logo and a bat sporting the insert name. It really sucks. This insert would bounce back design-wise (the forthcoming 2006 design is a favorite), but 2001 is just the worst. Boo this card.

2001 Fleer Tradition Grass Roots #14

This card makes me laugh. It’s an attractive design and talks about Junior’s similarity with Willie Mays, but that image of Junior running through gigantic blades of grass is such a literal treatment of the insert name that it boggles the mind. The fonts and design are balanced and classy, but really this card looks like a scene from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Or should I say, The Kid?

2001 had a lot of problems, but there were some bright spots, too. There are plenty of decent non-Griffey base cards, the “Stitches in Time” insert is an attractive tribute to the greats of the Negro Leagues, and the inclusion of a few retired legends in regular inserts was still pretty innovative. The way I see it, had they fixed the color on Junior’s base card, not fudged up Lumber Company so bad, and included Griffey in the “Turn Back the Clock” relic insert, I’d have a very different perspective on this troubled set.

I'm sorry I cursed, but you were warned...