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 baseball-almanac.com, 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...

Friday, September 2, 2016

1998 Upper Deck UD3: It's Complicated

In 1998 just about every card company tried in their own way to redefine the “set” with new configurations and the introduction of extremely complicated tiered base sets. Donruss did it with Preferred, Topps did it with a newly-complicated version of Finest, and Fleer did it harder than anybody with Flair Showcase. Everyone jumped on the complication trolley, leaving many collectors (including yours truly) scratching their heads at what they just pulled from packs.

“Look! I pulled a Class 6, Level B, Rainbow Gold, semi-common domino
refractor polka-dot edition, Seat 12!”
"Is that good?"
"No idea."

Upper Deck’s foray into the inconceivable was 1998 UD3. And while ridiculous by most standards, this set was a cinch to understand in 1998.

What we have here is a 270-card checklist with three tiers of subsets in three different effects. So it’s really a series of nine 30-card subsets. On top of that we have a die-cut parallel that is also tiered and serial-numbered with the rarer cards appearing later in the checklist.

The result is that each card has three numbers: a set number (out of 270), a subset number (out of 90), and an effect set number (also out of 90).

I don’t want any heads exploding, so I’m going to stick with just the Griffeys. Here’s the breakdown:

Each player appears in only one of the subsets, Griffey’s being Power Corps (there is also Future Impact and The Establishment, but don’t worry about those), and each subset shows up three times in the main checklist, once per effect. Each of Griffey’s three base cards is the same subset card in one of the three printing effects, so there are three regular Griffey base cards. Each of the subset/effect pairings are also seeded at differing rarities.

Each of those three base cards comes in a die-cut parallel as well, doubling the number of cards for each player to six. Add two to that as there is also a blurry background Griffey cameo on the Jay Buhner Rainbow card and its die-cut parallel. Those, along with the Sample card and Blow-up box topper card, gives us a total of 10 Griffeys from 1998 UD3.

Here is the full Griffey checklist from 1998 Upper Deck UD3:

#S1 Sample
#60 (Power Corps Light FX)
#60 (Power Corps Light FX) Die-Cut #/2000
#60 Power Corps Blowups 5x7
#150 (Power Corps Embossed)
#150 (Power Corps Embossed) Die-Cut #/1000
#240 (Power Corps Rainbow)
#240 (Power Corps Rainbow) Die-Cut #/100
Jay Buhner #213 (Power Corps Rainbow) (cameo)
Jay Buhner #213 (Power Corps Rainbow) Die-Cut #/100 (cameo)

So let’s start at the top:

1998 Upper Deck UD3 #60 (Power Corps Light FX)

The first 90 cards in the checklist are in an effect called “Light FX,” which is a fancy way of saying “etched foil.” These are 1:1, making them the easiest Griffey pulls in the set.

1998 Upper Deck UD3 #60 (Power Corps Light FX) Die-Cut #/2000

The die-cutting and numbering are the only differences here from the regular card. It doesn’t add much design-wise. I do appreciate the pre-rounded corners, though.

1998 Upper Deck UD3 #150 (Power Corps Embossed)

The next 90 cards are all in the Embossed effect. The Power Corps in this effect are only slightly rarer than those in the Light FX at 1:4 packs. As you can see this effect is bordered in bronze.

1998 Upper Deck UD3 #240 (Power Corps Rainbow)

The last 90 cards are in the Rainbow effect which is really just a refractor. At 1:12 packs these are the rarest non-parallel Griffey base cards, but this effect also includes the rarest subset/effect pairing at 1:24 packs for cards from The Establishment subset. The gold looks good, too, I must admit. The die-cut for this baby is limited to only 100 produced, a super low run for its time. It’s probably very expensive, too, so I’m in no hurry to complete this one.

And to make things more complicated...

1998 Upper Deck UD3 Jay Buhner #213 (Power Corps Rainbow) (cameo)

It's a cameo! Junior is sitting in the background by the dugout, hat on backwards, watching his buddy at the plate. Yeah, it's pretty blurry, but come on - that is so our guy.

Here are all the Griffeys I need from 1998 Upper Deck UD3:

#S1 Sample
#60 Power Corps Blowups 5x7
#150 (Power Corps Embossed) Die-Cut #/1000
#240 (Power Corps Rainbow) Die-Cut #/100
Jay Buhner #213 (Power Corps Rainbow) Die-Cut #/100 (cameo)

As for the design, it was a hot minute before I realized this was even a base card. I was already used to UD3 and its base set made up of multiple subsets from the 1997 product, but this year’s set is much more complicated and frankly looks a lot less like a base set. I always mistook it for a multi-tiered insert - I think it’s that big “1997” on the card front and plethora of text boxes that make it look that way. Those characteristics just aren’t very base-y, ya know?

I don’t know where they were planning on taking this brand, but whatever it was didn’t happen. I suppose it should be no surprise that I’ve never seen 1998 UD3 mentioned on the blogsphere apart from this post. 1997 UD3 comes up every now and again, but I think a lot of folks are content to just forget 1998 UD3 even happened.