Thursday, April 21, 2016

1997 SPx: Ludicrous Speed

This is arguably the SPx-iest set in the already wild and garish SPx timeline. It includes a little bit (a lot) of every element that characterized the SPx brand as the high-tech showcase it was: holograms, etched foil, extreme die-cutting – basically every design element vintage collectors spurned was integrated into this one lunatic set. I’m a 90’s nut and even I think it’s too much, but that’s also what I love about it.

I mean, just look at it.

It’s like a 90’s cardboard monster. In the context of all the baseball cards ever made, this should by all reasonable standards be an insert of the rarest kind; but it’s just a lowly base card. Given the tiny 50-card checklist and massive price point ($5.99 retail for 3 cards), 1997 SPx looks and feels more like a really big insert with parallels than a base set.

It's the design equivalent of ludicrous speed.

There are a lot of unique elements at play here, my favorite of which is the creative die-cutting that spells out “SPX” right in the shape of the card. This and Upper Deck X are the only brands I know of that integrate the brand name into the shape of the card using die-cutting. And Upper Deck X is just one big letter – this was much tougher to make work. Also, while plenty of sets have given us both an action shot and a portrait on the same card front, ’97 SPx pushes the envelope with a 3D hologram portrait, giving us a good look at Junior’s All-Star ears and cheeks in the process.

One aspect of this set that can be confusing is the differentiation of the parallels. There are seven versions of the above Griffey card available: the regular base card, a sample version, and the Steel, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Grand Finale parallels. Here’s a quick list of all the versions and how you can tell them apart (and I really wish this list existed back when I was doing research for this post):

Base card: etched silver foil behind action photo, holofoil on X and nameplate are both team-colored
Sample: etched green foil behind action photo, holofoil on X and nameplate are both team-colored, says “Sample” across the back – derp.
[All Parallels: Black nameplates, photo on back of card is black and white]
Steel (1:2): smooth, mirror-like foil behind action photo
Bronze (1:4): bronze foil (almost orange)
Silver (1:7): etched silver foil behind action photo and on X, holofoil on X is silver
Gold (1:17): gold foil, hologram portrait is silver
Grand Finale: gold foil, hologram portrait is gold

Basically if you have a black nameplate, you have a parallel. Keep in mind that while the Grand Finale parallel is /50, it is not serial numbered. You may have a Grand Finale parallel and not even know it.

Here are the Griffeys I have from 1997 SPx:

1997 SPx #45

The hologram portrait is the star of the show here with the bespectacled fielding shot just along for the ride. I’ve said before how Upper Deck is the master at detailed etched-foil printing which we get a taste of in the background of the action photo. The team coloring in the X is a nice touch here and helps a lot in spotting parallels.

The back is that foil that hates scanners. They had to abbreviate the stat box and wrap the text around it to accommodate the card shape, but it doesn’t take away from the card. And is that a bat flip on the back? Kinda?

I hope you like this card, because here it is five more times:

1997 SPx #45 Sample

Not much changed from sample to final product. Here we have green etched foil in the action shot instead of silver. The blurb is also different, describing a few power-hitting highlights from 1996 while the final version describes Junior’s amazing start to 1997, the year he would go on to win AL MVP. And if you’re a real Griffey card lunatic like myself, you may also have noticed the image of the bat flip on the back was taken just a few milliseconds later than the one that made it onto the final version.

1997 SPx #45 Steel

This is my personal favorite among the parallels, despite being the most common one.

1997 SPx #45 Bronze

This one, apart from being one of the more obvious parallels, has far and away the most legible blurb.

1997 SPx #45 Silver

Don’t confuse this one with the Steel version. The silver has etched foil in the fielding photo and on the X while the Steel is smooth, mirror-like foil in those places. The back of the silver is identical in every way to the back of the Steel.

1997 SPx #45 Gold

This is the rarest of the 1997 SPx Griffey rainbow that I have, and it’s a looker. There is only one rarer, the Grand Finale parallel, which is similar to the Gold parallel but with a gold front hologram where this one is silver. It is in an unnumbered edition of 50, a very tough get for a parallel from 1997. Grand Finale parallels command top-dollar, especially the Griffey, but if you ask me they seem kind of thankless. An un-signed, unnumbered card with a tiny part in gold instead of silver doesn’t seem like enough to justify the expense. There’s one on eBay as I write this with a $1500.00 BIN, and while I am sure it will sell for far below $1000, it will still be too much for such a small difference.

Of course I still totally want one.

1997 SPx Bound For Glory #19 #/1500

This thing is awesome. HUGE field of gold etched-foil behind SuperGriffey who’s soaring through space probably to make some gravity-defying save at the wall. We have a flipped-up shades portrait on the back bathed in golden late-afternoon sunlight and a perfect combination of gold and Mariner green. Plus we have a big ol’ motherfriggin’ backwards cap holo-portrait.

I’ll say it again: backwards cap holo-portrait!

Masterpiece. Given the constraints on the design from the die-cutting, I don’t think this insert could possibly have been done any better short of having a hundred dollar bill stapled to it. Bravo.

Oh, wait – there’s an autographed version of this card #/250. Guess you can do it better. Dang, I need that card.

1997 SPx Cornerstones of the Game #1 #/500 (w/ Barry Bonds)

At only 500 produced these Cornerstones cards are rare pulls for this early in serial-numbered inserts. Some of the pairings are really amazing, too. They gave us a Pudge with Piazza, a Maddux with Chipper, and even an A-Rod with Jeter. Pretty cool.

Then there’s this card where Junior, one of the all-time heroes of the game, got stuck with one of its biggest anti-heroes. Harumph. The design is great – a pair of holofoil portraits with a large side-mounted swing shot featuring a solo Junior (at least they got that part right) over an extra-trippy field of black and gold etched foil. Then again, Barry Bonds is on it, making me resent how much I like this card.

As if the parallel confusion wasn’t enough, there is a #/500 insert called SPx Force that looks an awful lot like it should be an SPx card, but it’s actually from Upper Deck’s SP brand. Take a look:

You can see where the confusion may come in.

Here are the Griffeys I still need from 1997 SPx:

#45 Grand Finale /50
Bound for Glory Supreme Signatures #2 #/250

Just the two rare ones as you can see. While it would be nice to track down a reasonably-priced Grand Finale, I’m not really itching for one. What I’d love is one of those Bound for Glory autos as, being signed and all, their value seems less abstract.

I'm back, y'all!



  2. Man those are amazing. That's one of my favorite Spx designs and possibly the my favorite design on a base card all time. You got me beat here to, I don't have a single parallel or the inserts :p

  3. Do you have any doubles of any of these?

  4. I have and has owned a 1997 spx bound for glory K Griffey jr # 746 of 1500 since new from the box (card not yet graded). It, from day one, has and still is encased in a 9by14and a half by 2 cm acrylic case.

  5. If U want to purchase this card, call me at 850-681-0002. If no answer, please leave a msg.