Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Secret of 1998 SP Authentic

This first year of SP Authentic must have been wild for those first few box breakers. A radically under-designed base set, an autographed card in (almost) every box, and the most prolific exchange card program ever seen up to that point. The potential for a jersey exchange card was a lot better, too, than in the previous year when they were first introduced, not to mention the potential for other unique prizes like signed gloves, balls, jerseys, and standees. It was all pretty ambitious.

But there is one aspect of 1998 SP Authentic that I don’t see mentioned on the blogsphere or on any of my usual online cardboard haunts. And it’s a pretty big deal, especially given the state of the hobby which has become more and more hit-focused, even in the few years since I picked it back up. I’m not sure if it’s a really well-kept secret or if just nobody cares – I’m leaning towards the former – but we are going to talk about it today.

But let’s start as we always do – with the base cards:

1998 SP Authentic #180

The base design, like most of the designs from the 12-year SP Authentic timeline, is ultra-simple and modern with a clean, business card quality. While the image appears dark in this scan, in person it is shadowy and dramatic, backed by a colorfully-lit evening skyline. It is among my favorite base cards across all the SP brands.

I don’t think you could possible get more succinct in summing up Junior’s ’97 season than that one-sentence blurb. And please note not just the super-complete stat box, but also how much extra space they had left over. They could have fit stats through 2002 if they wanted with zero changes in card design. Why did they do it like that? I would expect this kind of thing from a sample, but not the final version.

Which brings us to the sample:

1998 SP Authentic Sample (#123)

The sample design is no different from the official release, but the base running photo they chose is a bit generic. The biggest surprise here is the fact that the back of the sample card is way better-looking than the final version with its centered stat box, great backwards-cap photo, and smidgen of extra blurbage mentioning Junior’s Gold Glove win. Every change they made to the back for the final version was a downgrade; thus, in my humble opinion the ideal 1998 SP Authentic base card would have been the regular card front and the sample back. I'm super nit-picky.

1998 SP Authentic #198 Checklist

Here is one of my favorite checklist designs of all time – no color, no problem. This card makes me wish SP Authentic had a wacky, super-rare base parallel just so I could see this checklist with some crazy holo-effects. This is the one and only checklist card in 1998 SP Authentic which means that is the entire 198-card checklist on the back. Not a lot of sets can claim such a feat. Well done. As checklists go, this is a 10.

1998 SP Authentic Sheer Dominance #SD1 Silver

As smitten as I am with most of the aesthetic of this set, Sheer Dominance is one insert I could take or leave. The front is a lot of papery foil filled with text describing what level of the insert you were looking at (which is weird in itself) with the single bright spot being (ironically) the darkest thing on the card: that glossy, jet-black, embossed Mariners logo. They could slap that thing on every card they make as far as I’m concerned.

The back is more comparable with the rest of the set with a beautifully grayscale (as in not-quite-silver but approaching it) image of the front and succinct blurb. Again, I like the back a lot better than the front here.

1998 SP Authentic Sheer Dominance #SD1 Gold #/2000

Not much difference on the gold parallel which says “GOLD GOLD GOLD GOLD” where the Silver other one said “SILVER SILVER…” and so on. The papery foil doesn’t scan well, so you can’t really see the slight gold tint to the background here, but trust me – it’s there. It’s also serial-numbered on the back out of 2000, a reasonably scarce run for the time, backed with a gold-toned representation of the front.

There is a Titanium version numbered out of only 100 that sells for a massive premium as most #/100 inserts from the late-90’s do, but I have no desire to chase it. The real prize (and secret) of 1998 SP Authentic is still to come…

So trade cards – we can’t have a conversation about this set without discussing them. SP Authentic has a buttload of trade cards. Trade cards akimbo. Trade cards out the wazoo. There are a whopping SIX different trade cards you could exchange for various Griffey items, and here’s a list of all of them:

Trade Card for 5x7 300th HR Card
Trade Card for 5x7 Game Jersey Relic Card /125
Trade Card for Chirography Autograph Card /400
Trade Card for Autographed Fielding Glove /30
Trade Card for Autographed Seattle Mariners Jersey /30
Trade Card for Life-Size Cardboard Standee /200

No other player got more than three trade cards, and only Griffey had cards that could be traded for non-card items (I want that glove!). I only have one of these trade cards, and it’s the most common one:

1998 SP Authentic Trade Card (for 300th Home Run Commemorative 5x7 Jumbo)

This card could be exchanged for a 5x7 jumbo card commemorating Junior’s 300th home run. While we have a print run for the commemorative card these could be exchanged for, we do not have one on the trade cards themselves. There could have been hundreds that never made it out of packs before the trade-in deadline of August 1st, 1999. Suffice it to say there are at least 1300 as that is how many 300th HR Commemorative jumbos were printed. I have no way of telling whether the card I own was ever exchanged for said jumbo, but I do have the jumbo:

1998 SP Authentic 300th Home Run Commemorative 5x7 Jumbo #KG300 #/1300

Look familiar? That’s because it’s practically the same design as the Upper Deck’s 11-card Ken Griffey, Jr. Most Memorable Home Runs jumbo set from this same year, only with white where the other set is gold. A bit of a design cop-out, sure, but not a bad-looking card.

It should be noted that most places I look online show the final print run to be 1000 – that is wrong. As you can see this card is numbered out of 1300. I know 1000 is a nice, round, tempting number, but it isn’t accurate here.

Now, I have no idea whether Upper Deck returned exchanged cards to their finders, so I have no way of telling whether there are exactly 1300 trade cards and the number of jumbos was already decided, or if they were printed to meet demand. Also, if UD didn’t return exchanged trade cards to the collector (which I suspect is the case to prevent multiple exchanges), that would leave far fewer trade cards out in the wild. The exact production figure of the jumbo is known – 1300 – but the exact production figure of this particular trade card and its scarcity compared with the jumbo remains up for debate. Neither is extraordinarily scarce.

1998 SP Authentic Chirography Autograph #KG /400

Despite the blurry scans (slabbed cards don't scan well), this is still hands-down one of the most beautiful autograph issues of all time. That’s a bit unexpected so early in the autograph game, but look at it. There is no element here you could add or take away that could improve this card. The photo is perfect, the design is perfect, and that bright blue on-card masterpiece of an autograph is nerfect. I mean, perfect.

From what I’ve read, all the cards from the Chirography insert were packed out EXCEPT for the Griffey. His card was the sole redemption. One of my favorite aspects of this autograph is the relative ease of acquiring one. They had a run of 400 which is kind of a lot for what (and when) it is. The high availability has kept the prices relatively low on these. If you’re a Griffey collector, it’s a must-get.

Okay, I promised you a juicy secret, and the time has come to deliver. Let’s talk about this card for a hot minute:

1998 SP Authentic Jersey Swatch 5x7 Jumbo Patch Relic /125

While I consider myself more knowledgeable than your average Joe Card Collector when it comes to Griffeys, I am no expert. I don’t claim to have the most enviable collection or to have all the answers. Most of my Griffey card knowledge comes from other sources – I just enjoy gathering it and putting it all together in one place on this blog in part for my own reference.

But this is different. I came across this card while casually shopping Griffeys on eBay, and I spent a full minute just staring at it, trying to figure out what I was looking at. I also took to a few spots in the online Griffey-collecting community to confirm what I was thinking, and it appears my suspicions were right.

Guys, this is not just a patch – it is the FIRST Griffey patch. Like, ever. Seriously.

What you are looking at is a patch relic before it was called a “patch” relic. The disparity among types of jersey relics wouldn’t be official – that is noted on the card itself, addressed directly by the manufacturer, or described as being in any way different from a standard plain jersey swatch – until 2000 Upper Deck introduced them via the Game Jersey Patch insert (cards of which sell for a small fortune). Patches in general didn’t start showing up on cards in any meaningful way until that same year, although since first posting this I was informed Leaf released a Frank Thomas patch set in 1997. However, the patches of 1998 SP Authentic, which came out a full two years earlier than Game Jersey Patch, appear to have slipped under the radar as the first-ever non-Frank Thomas patch cards.

At a stated print run of only 125 copies, they’re also far scarcer than the famed (and extremely expensive) Upper Deck Game Jersey relics from just a year before. And peep that swatch - they even appear to have been cut from the very same teal jersey as their exponentially more famous and valuable predecessor. I have no proof of this, but the back of the card says the jersey was worn "in the 1996 baseball season." That certainly checks out.

So how did I, a self-proclaimed Griffey cardboardologist, not already know about this? Or the seller? Or any one of the Griffey guys I’ve discussed it with online? And how was I able to get this /125 FIRST EVER GRIFFEY PATCH RELIC for less than $100 when the non-patch, non-autographed, non-anything cool Sheer Dominance Titanium #/100 (only 25 fewer AND seriously lame) would almost certainly break the bank? Is it something to do with the fact that these are exchange cards and were not packed-out? Or are people concerned with the validity of this set?

To address the latter point, I have seen limited forum discussion about this card, and a few people appear to think these are altered, non-genuine cards; but I’ve spent a lot of time examining this baby and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of alteration in any form. It looks perfect. On top of that, I’ve also come across images of these same cards with different bits of patch in them. I’ve seen no fewer than five different specimens in total, one of which was just a large swatch of teal jersey with no visible patch at all.

That’s right: the patches and plain jersey swatches were both included as relics in this same set, and the difference was not even addressed by Upper Deck, nor did they address the potential difference in value among jersey pieces when cutting up that teal jersey. It was simple luck-of-the-draw for the exchangers.

Nowadays they’d have set aside the patch cuts for more high-end or scarce insert cards, possibly with sticker autos and unbelievably low serial-numbering; but they didn’t do either of those things in 1998, just like they didn’t use sticker autos – nobody had thought of it yet. The results are the beautiful on-card autos of Chirography, and this little-known insert with the first-ever honest-to-goodness patch relics.

The best part about all this is that these cards are hardly ever properly listed on eBay because they’re not terribly well-known nor is their significance in the hobby. It doesn’t say “patch” anywhere on the card – it says “Jersey Swatch,” so it is listed as a jersey relic in your standard eBay listings even though it is clearly a patch. For now they’re the deal of the century – hurry up and grab one before people read this blog post, realize what this card really is, and drive the prices up (LOL no one reads this you’re fine take your time).

There are six players in the Game Jersey jumbo checklist (three of whom are Mariners), all of them with 125 relic cards to be had except for Tony Gwynn who had 415. Yes, THAT Tony Gwynn. The one for whom Upper Deck already had a bunch of leftover jersey from when he appeared in the 1997 Game Jersey insert. Unfortunately Rey Ordonez does not appear in the insert here, but if he did it would all but confirm my suspicion that the Griffey relic here is from the same jersey as the infamous 1997 Game Jersey. Even with no real proof that this is the case, I stand by it.

So let's pretend I'm right about all this: We have the second ever patch relic from ANY sport ( the Frank Thomas set from 1997 still holds the honor of being the first), a super-low print run for the '90's, the most heavily-collected player of the last 30 years who was just recently inducted into the Hall of Fame and whose cards command top dollar, and a relic that is most likely from the same jersey as 1997 Game Jersey (an extremely famous and expensive card) only much bigger and far more scarce and a patch. If any one of these perfectly reasonable theories of mine are true, how is this not an $800 card?

I’d love some input on this. I’ve consulted with a few Griffey scholars I know, and they all seem to agree with me. Until someone is able to present evidence of an earlier non-Big-Hurt patch card, the “secret” is out.

This is the part where I list the Griffeys I still need from the set in question, but that is kind of hard with 1998 SP Authentic because of all those trade cards. I decided to include all trade cards and the cards they could be traded for, but not the non-card items. That makes my want list look like this:

Sheer Dominance #SD1 Titanium #/100
Trade Card for 5x7 Game Jersey Relic Card /125
Trade Card for Chirography Autographed Card /400
Trade Card for Autographed Fielding Glove /30
Trade Card for Autographed Seattle Mariners Jersey /30
Trade Card for Life-Size Cardboard Standee /200

I don’t hold out much hope on all those trade cards, so if I land a Sheer Dominance Titanium someday I will happy mark this set as complete and count any of the trade cards I acquire thereafter as lagniappe.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

1996 Ultra is Not Your Friend

It’s not the photography or card design or anything obvious that makes this set so whack-a-doodle – it’s one thing: the Gold Medallion parallel. This set is impossible to talk about at all without that bloody parallel coming up and bumming everyone out. Let’s start with the nuts and bolts.

The trick (as you may already know) is that this parallel isn’t just for the base set. Every single insert, even the one that is seeded at 1:288 packs, is subject to the Gold Medallion parallel which immediately multiplies the scarcity of your card tenfold. Every pack had a Gold Medallion card and an insert, but every tenth pack had a Gold Medallion insert.

That being said, ’96 Ultra has some pretty baddass inserts with radical designs, die-cutting, and materials. A few of the more desireable inserts have insertion ratios that range from 1:20 up to 1:75 (and yes, one that is 1:288). You have to multiply these by ten to get the ratios of Gold Medallion pulls. Here are the GM insert pulls we’ll be focusing on today (the ones with Griffeys – derp):

Prime Leather Gold Medallion 1:80
Rawhide Gold Medallion 1:80
Power Plus Gold Medallion 1:100
Respect Gold Medallion 1:180
Diamond Producers Gold Medallion 1:200
Call to the Hall Gold Medallion 1:240
Thunder Clap Gold Medallion 1:720 (retail only)
HR King Gold Medallion 1:750
Hitting Machine Gold Medallion 1:2880

Bear in mind that this is for a non-player-specific pull of each general insert in Gold Medallion. To get the ratio for a specific player, you have to multiply these ratios by the number of cards in the checklist. Then the ratios look more like this:

Prime Leather Gold Medallion 1:1440
Rawhide Gold Medallion 1:800
Power Plus Gold Medallion 1:1200
Respect Gold Medallion 1:1800
Diamond Producers Gold Medallion 1:2400
Call to the Hall Gold Medallion 1:2400
Thunder Clap Gold Medallion 1:14400 (retail only)
HR King Gold Medallion 1:9000
Hitting Machine Gold Medallion 1:28800

You could do this with any set – that is multiply the ratio by the number of cards in the checklist and get some astronomical number to impress the readers of your card blog with what an amazing collection you have. THAT IS NOT THE PURPOSE HERE. I did this to illustrate not just the scarcity of these Griffeys, but the massive quantity of difficult cards in this set as a whole. This is not bragging – it is warning.

Maybe you are a cock-eyed Griffey completionist, and you are looking to get started on your set of 1996 Ultra Gold Medallions. I’ll admit that I like your enthusiasm, but I also feel a duty to discourage you from letting this parallel into your life. Those little round bits of foil can make or break your average Griffey collector. They can bring a grown man to tears of frustration or tears of joy. Neither of those tears are well-spent, my friend.

Occasionally I read about how the Earth is overdue for an extinction-level asteroid strike, and I get a little depressed. Then I think that if the Earth were to be struck by a big enough asteroid, we may not ever know it. The shockwave from the collision would travel faster than the speed of sound, so we wouldn’t hear it first – it would find you in dead silence. It would have to come around the horizon to kill you, and if it’s travelling faster than the speed of sound odds are you wouldn’t even see it until the very last moment, certainly not enough time to know what was happening. You would disintegrate where you stand, and that would be it. You would simply blink out of existence with no realization that it was even happening – just a quick, peaceful end. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about 1996 Ultra Gold Medallions because you would be star meat.

Just trying to make you feel better is all.

1996 Ultra #126

The base card this year is lovely. I am super into the bright green cap with the all-gray uni and heavily-tinted Oakleys. Plus his pose is easy-breezy – you just can’t get Griffey down. The silver nameplate gets a little lost in the mix of lighter colors here, but I couldn’t possibly care less. This is a nice base card.

The back is weird but solid. It’s a collage of baseball poses, presumably all taken on the same day, possibly in the same inning. Ultra has always been about flash over substance, and they’re great at it; so it’s easy to excuse the total lack of blurb and the small, abbreviated stat box. The photos more than make up for it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the first Gold Medallion of 1996 Ultra:

1996 Ultra #126 Gold Medallion

This was far and away the biggest year Gold Medallions would ever have, so it’s no surprise they decided to do it REAL BIG in the base set. The Medallion is everything – literally – with the player superimposed on top. Junior’s pose here makes the Medallion logo itself looks like a big tire swing.

You may notice a dusty buildup on the surface of some base Gold Medallions - if you're any kind of collector, you've encountered it before. I have no plans on cleaning the card surface, but it can be done. On any other card that stuff would indeed be called "gunk," but on the Griffey it is a "patina."

The backs of GM cards are identical to the regular versions of every card apart from a little indentation on a few of them, so we will not be giving them separate scans today. Later sets would include a “G” behind the card number for the parallels, and even that would be enough of a difference for me to bother showing them; but these are literally the exact same. You’re missing nothing.

1996 Ultra Promotional Sample

There’s also this sweet sample version with plenty of promo pizzazz, that being the stuff printed all over the card letting you know that this is a promo and you are special for having one. To those promos that have only a tiny indicator hidden on the bottom of the back of the card that says “sample” in minuscule letters, I say BOO. I’m a sample celebrator, and this one really cups the balls.

1996 Ultra #579 Ultra Stars

Griffey appeared on one subset in the Ultra base set this year, a star-studded, mildly patriotic number with an expensive-looking foil font and nameplate. As subsets go this one is pretty decent, and have I mentioned the seriously epic Griffey smirkage?

Oh, man. Griffey knows you got jokes. You in trouble now. Again, I’m pretty sure this and every other photo apart from the one on the front of the base card was taken in the same game. It’s that same uniform combo in every picture. I’m cool with it and everything, but damn.

1996 Ultra #579 Ultra Stars Gold Medallion

The Gold Medallion is, again, everything. They only embossed a few of the stars here, but you get the idea.

1996 Ultra Checklist #3

In case you couldn’t tell by the giant text heralding the fact, this is a CHECKLIST, or a card that lists all the other cards that are also cards. Ultra’s checklists were not included in the base set – they’re actually a 1:4 insert this year. How would you like to reach that tenth pack and finally get your hands on a Gold Medallion insert and it’s a checklist? I know for a fact that happened to at least two people because I ended up with their cards:

1996 Ultra Checklist #4 Gold Medallion

The GM inserts are, as usual, ten times rarer than the regular inserts, making this a 1:40-pack checklist. This is a good time to mention that there are several variations on the Gold Medallions this year: the all-encompassing EVERYTHING Medallion found only in the base set, the all-new “low-profile” Gold Medallions, and the classic Medallions (as seen in the 1995 set). You will notice throughout this post that in addition to changing size and design, the medallions will also change color. The Medallion here is the low-profile variety, and as you can see it is silver. The Gold Medallion is SILVER. Just go with it, man.

1996 Ultra Checklist #4

So this photo was probably taken only seconds before (or after) the photo on the base card, and it’s one of my favorite Griffey checklist cards ever made. I think it’s the Oakleys and green cap – something about that combo makes him look like an alien soldier from the planet EATTLE. And with that bat equipped it’s obvious he’s a total melee character.

1996 Ultra Checklist #4 Gold Medallion

For Series 2 as the foil used for the checklists was already gold, they went ahead and gave us gold Gold Medallions. This time it’s not just a cute parallel name. Also the Medallion is of the classic variety, that being a whole, embossed medallion slightly smaller than the low-pro Medallion on the other checklist. This is the kind of GM you will see on most of the inserts here.

Sick of checklists? Good. Prepare to be sick of inserts and the prolific use of verbiage describing rarity. That’s pretty much the rest of this post.

We’ll start with the most common inserts and work our way up – way up.

1996 Ultra Prime Leather #6

Hey, it’s more photos from that same game! The two most common inserts in 1996 Ultra are both leather–themed, meaning they both focus on fielding. This is the Series 1 leather-themed insert, and personally I consider this the better of the two. It is heavily-embossed, feels leathery, and prominently features a great insert logo and organic nameplate. I’ve had this card for over 20 years, and it’s still an old favorite.

You might already have noticed that I am a big fan of nicknames of which Griffey has a few; but this is my first time coming across “The Grifter.” I’m into it, too, as it’s a cute play on his name and the fact that he steals other guys’ runs in the outfield. I will actively try to work this nickname into future posts.

1996 Ultra Prime Leather #6 Gold Medallion

The Gold Medallion version of this insert fell at 1:80 packs. Here they gave us the classic version of the medallion, and it looks great against the reddish-brown leather of the card. While this one is far from the scarcest GM in this set, the big 18-card checklist can make it a challenge to pin down the Griffey (or any specific player for that matter).

1996 Ultra Rawhide #4

Here is the leather-lovin’ insert from Series 2, and while it’s not as fun or tactile as its cousin from Series 1, the design is bright and attractive. And again, I still think the photos here are from the same game.

I really like this blurb. It basically says, “Of course he broke his damn wrist – dude thinks he can catch everything!” You sassy, Ultra. I like you.

1996 Ultra Rawhide #4 Gold Medallion

Classic Gold Medallion on leather – still digging this combo. These are 1:80, but with a measly 10-card checklist this is the easiest GM insert Griffey pull in the whole set (not counting checklists). Go get it.

1996 Ultra Power Plus #3

Power Plus is a carry-over insert from 1995 and would continue for several more years. The design of this insert is always colorful, incorporating either a spectrum of color or a large quantity of holofoil. The 1996 version is unique in that it features a spectrum of swirling etched foil with plenty of gold foil text. I will never hide my deep love for rainbow-themed cards.

Finally, a photo from a different game! The blurb here features a quote from the Scouting Report that positively gushes about how awesome our guy is, so yeah – I like it. Mighty are his sea-sons!

1996 Ultra Power Plus #3 Gold Medallion

These GM’s step up the rarity slightly to 1:100 packs and also have a slightly bigger 12-card checklist. Despite this, it is still easier to find GM’s of a specific player in this insert than Prime Leather.

1996 Ultra Respect #2

I don’t remember ever seeing this insert again in any Fleer set after this year, which would make it a one-and-done. There’s not a whole lot to the design here – just large embossed letters in a sparkly silver holofoil, a tiny nameplate, and a big ol’ portrait. The back is a simple but solid blurb against a white background.

Both photos on this card again appear to be from that same game. I may be way off about all that, but I hope I’m not. I like the idea of going to a single game with one camera and shooting someone so photogenic that you come away with enough material for an entire set plus inserts.

1996 Ultra Respect #2 Gold Medallion

At 1:180 packs multiplied by ten cards in the checklist, to guarantee a Griffey pull in this set would set you back a whopping 1800 packs. Here we see my personal favorite color of the low-pro medallion, a rare sparkly silver holofoil version – the same foil as on the “Respect” lettering.

At this point it’s obvious that Ultra went with the most cost-effective foil color for each insert – gold on cards that already have gold foil, silver when they already have silver, and so forth. I’d have liked to see them change the parallel to just “Medallions,” but it’s nothing to get your panties in a twist over.

1996 Ultra Diamond Producers #3

This insert tricks me every now and then into thinking it’s a few years older than it is because that insert logo is pretty similar to Ultra’s 1994 logo. Here they put all the photography on the front in grayscale, but also added a layer of holofoil sheen that give the entire surface every color in the spectrum. A simple but high-end-looking design.

Oh man, so much info in that blurb guys. Love it. And I’m getting a little weary of seeing “Junior” in “parentheses.” Just say Junior, bro. Anyway, great photo.

1996 Ultra Diamond Producers #3 Gold Medallion

Tied for fourth as the most difficult Griffey pull from 1996 Ultra, this is the first insert to break the 1:200 pack barrier. The 12-card checklist puts it at 1:2400 packs to pull a specific player. That’s a lot of Mylar.

1996 Ultra Call to the Hall #2

Pre-Panini Donruss Diamond Kings would always reference their artist-in-residence Dick Perez. Sometimes it would be just a simple signature on the illustration itself, and sometimes it would be a complete autobiographical write-up with a portrait of Dick himself. Heck, even Topps gave Mr. Perez his due eventually. There’s no mention of the artist on this one, though, which is a shame because the illustration is good – better than some Perez work I’ve seen. I’m even willing to forgive the orange background here as well as the fact that it has both the look and feel of a Topps Gallery card. Oh, and if you ever come across the Tony Gwynn from this set, do not look directly at it. Promise me!!

A fun and inviting card back that keeps with the theme and palette of the front. I can’t imagine it being any better without including a little info about the artist.

I'd better come clean here - Call to the Hall Gold Medallion is the only Griffey I don't have from 1996 Ultra. It's not even super rare or expensive - I just haven't come across one for sale since I began writing this post. I'll have it soon enough. In the meantime, consider this duck a placeholder for the actual scan once I do have it in-hand:

This space reserved for 1996 Ultra Call to the Hall #2 Gold Medallion

Exactly as scarce as the Diamond Producers insert, Call to the Hall is the last of what I consider the “gettable” Griffey Gold Medallions of 1996 Ultra (which is kind of stupid because it's also the only one I don't have). The rest, HR Kings, Thunder Clap, and Hitting Machines, are all exponentially scarcer than any of the cards we’ve seen so far. Get ready for a big step up in Medallion rarity.

1996 Ultra HR King #6

These were printed on real wood grain, so every card is a little different with minor imperfections in the printing and foil application that I find endearing. The red-bronze foil looks great with the wood, too.

The back is not super different – nice photo, great blurb (I love that first sentence), no complaints. Overall this is a very well-executed wood card.

1996 Ultra HR King #6 Gold Medallion

This is one of my favorite GM’s because of that unique foil color. At 1:750 this is the second-rarest GM insert by ratio, but as you can see I listed it third-to-last in this post. That’s because the smaller checklist gives us a specific player ratio of 1:9000, well below the 1:14400 Thunder Clap. Don’t get me wrong – that’s still a ridiculous ratio, but numerically this rare Griffey is still a lot more common than Thunder Clap for reasons I will go into later.

1996 Ultra HR King #6 Exchange Card

According to Baseballcardpedia, Fleer was not happy with how the printing turned out and swapped out these insert cards with a redemption card late in the game. I am unsure how these exchanges worked in terms of the Gold Medallion parallel; but I have never seen a GM redemption card, so I assume whether you got the regular or the Medallion version was decided at random.

What all this means for us is that the real balls-to-the-wall collectors out there need to get their hands on the regular, the Gold Medallion, AND the exchange card. Work it!

Alright – final two.

1996 Ultra Thunder Clap #11

I’m not bragging, but I actually pulled one of these 1:72-pack Thunder Clap cards back in 1996 – it was Eddie Murray. Sure it was one of the less-desireable pulls in the checklist, but you better believe I kept that thing and still have it to this day. I’m super into purple cards, after all; and I like Eddie Murray a lot. Also this scan does not do justice to the holofoil in the lightning bolts here. They absolutely make the card. You need to see one of these in person to get the full effect.

I’d like to mention one thing that Thunder Clap taught me. To me Ultra inserts always seemed a bit garish and candy-like; not in a fun way, but in a cheap way. That may sound snooty of me, but it’s how I felt, even when I was busting packs at 15 – they were cool but cheap. Then one day I actually looked at the set in a Beckett and saw what even my little unlisted Eddie Murray Thunder Clap card was “worth,” and I was shocked (I think it was like 20 bucks which was a ton to me). Despite how they looked, these were some tough cards to find. Knowing what I know now, I have a weird appreciation for these inserts. They’re not the prettiest or most expensive-looking cards, but their audacious scarcity is endearing to me.

I forgot to take a nice scan of the back before locking this one up in the safe deposit box, but I was so excited to finally have a post for you today that I borrowed an image from COMC for this one. It won't be the first time I've resorted to this.

Anyway, you’ve got classic backwards-cap Kid looking at somebody who just said something a little too quietly and he’s like, “Hm?” With all the inserts in this set it’s no wonder we’ve started to get some repetition in the blurbs, but I forgive them. Some great factoids there.

1996 Ultra Thunder Clap #11 Gold Medallion

So as we just mentioned there are 20 cards in this checklist. The insert itself was retail-only so you couldn’t pull It from hobby packs (which explains how I landed the Eddie Murray – I was always more of a retail kid), and on top of all that they were seeded at an astronomical 1:720 packs. This puts specific player pulls at a staggering 1:14400, making this the second rarest overall Griffey GM pull by the numbers.

HOWEVER, I’m convinced that there are approximately the same quantity (or the numbers are at least very close) of the relatively unsung Thunder Clap Gold Medallion as there are the “rarest” Griffey card in 1996 Ultra.

Hitting Machines Gold Medallion, the final card in this post, is widely regarded as among the scarcest insert cards of the 90’s, but it follows that if only retail packs contained Thunder Clap inserts, then there could be the same quantity or fewer of those than the insertion ratio would have you believe. This is despite the fact that Hitting Machines appears twice as scarce by the numbers. After all, the latter was available in both Hobby and Retail packs and Thunder Clap was retail only. On top of that the much larger checklist for Thunder Clap only adds to the scarcity of the Griffey.

The trouble here is that we may never know for sure as we do not have production figures for the sets as a whole nor the ratio of retail versus hobby packs produced. What we do have, however, are production figures from 1997 Ultra from which we can extrapolate the potential production figures of 1996.

Danger: there are a lot of assumptions ahead, but just go with this for a sec.

All we need to get approximate production figures is a serial-numbered parallel or insert with a stated insertion ratio. 1997 Ultra put Gold Medallions to shame by giving us Platinum Medallions which are #/200 with a 1:100 insertion ratio and 533 cards in the checklist. That gives us 1,066,000 hobby packs produced split between series one and two. That is a nice, hard number, and it’s probably reasonably close to what they put out just a year earlier, wouldn’t you think?

Now, let’s say Fleer made a comparable number of retail packs as hobby packs (This is the biggest, most scoff-worthy assumption, I know). That would give us 2,132,000 packs total.

Given those figures, the math says there are about 74 Hitting Machine Gold Medallion Griffeys (hobby and retail) and 74 Thunder Clap Gold Medallions (retail only) in existence. That’s a weird number, sure, but it’s probably not far off from the correct one.

Let’s say that I’m wrong about there being comparable quantities of retail and hobby packs produced, and there were twice as many retail packs as hobby. In this case the math says there are 111 of each Hitting Machine GM and 148 of each Thunder Clap GM. Again, this is all guesswork, but my guesses tend to be pretty well educated or I wouldn’t publish them on the Internet, bastion of accuracy that it is.

All I’m getting at is that while the Thunder Clap GM is generally regarded as the second-rarest Griffey in this set, it is probably about as scarce as or potentially scarcer than the Hitting Machines GM.

1996 Ultra Hitting Machines #4

I kind of feel like I took all the jam out of this card’s donut with my whining about how Thunder Clap is probably just as rare, but there’s no denying that 1996 Hitting Machines is one truly awesome insert. Look at that die-cutting, the design, the color. It’s not just a randomly rare card that is rare for the sake of rare – it’s a real beauty with massive curb appeal. At 1:288, these were the toughest non-parallel pulls in Ultra history up to this point, and unlike Thunder Clap they look the part.

And that's kind of the best blurb ever (I'd like to have seen a question mark at the end there, but whatever). My only issue with these is probably the same issue a lot of unlucky collectors have: it’s incredibly easy to damage. All those points – 28 to be exact – and long bits of paper card that jut out several millimeters, just waiting for sticky kid fingers to carelessly jam them into sleeves and damage them forever. This card sold a lot of screw cases.

Alright – they don’t get much rarer than this:

1996 Ultra Hitting Machines #4 Gold Medallion

I'm still thrilled to have found one of these. It was a while before the HOF induction (when prices started skyrocketing on many white whale Griffeys), so I’m certainly glad I snagged it when I did – I definitely couldn’t afford one now, even one with a crease in one of the gear spokes like on the one you’re looking at. There is currently a PSA 8 specimen with a $2,000 opening bid, and a PSA 10 is listed for $4,500.

Now I’m the first to admit that condition matters a lot, but I find this card is not quite as subject to heavy price degradation due to condition issues. Sure, near-perfect specimens should and do command massive premiums, but lesser specimens still appear to hold their value. If you want to take this as me saying, “My card is damaged, but here’s why that doesn’t matter,” fine – I’ll own that. But the fact remains that once you reach this level of scarcity, condition tends to matter less. A hole in your collection is a hole in your collection, and whether you have a PSA 10 or a PSA 5, they each fill that hole the same. The thriftier Griffey collectors out there know what I’m talking about.

So how many of these things exist? We will never know for sure, but I do so love extrapolating a mathematically sound guess from available data. As I mentioned before, if we assume that 1997 Ultra production figures are comparable to 1996 figures and that there are about the same quantity of retail packs produced as hobby ones, there are as few as 74 copies of each player. If there are twice as many retail packs produced as hobby packs, there may be as many as 111. Regardless, there are not freaking many, and the prices these fetch reflect that.

Now I’m sorry to do this again but IT’S IMPORTANT: I want to touch again on this card’s scarcity and demand relative to Thunder Clap. The reasons Thunder Clap is not as expensive are obvious upon looking at the cards side-by-side: right off the bat there is less curb appeal and a total lack of die-cutting on the Thunder Clap side. On top of that there is also no insertion-ratio wow factor and an almost total lack of legend surrounding it.

When I say “legend,” I’m talking about word-of-mouth within the collecting community. A perfect example of said legend is this post from 2011, the link to which I’ve seen make the rounds on various online collector forums whenever this insert comes up in conversation. At the time that post was made (September, 2011) there were a lot of owners of this card who had seen the numbers and knew what they had, and plenty more who did not. I feel like this article may have changed that. A lot of Griffey collectors old and new have happened upon this article, myself included, and decided then and there that this is a card they had to own.

By the way, the author of that blog post is Patrick Greenough, and his site, Radicards, contains a blog that is pretty solid. And we're accidental friends now on Facebook.

I’ll sum it up this way: MAGICPAPA doesn’t have the 1996 Ultra Thunder Clap Gold Medallion Griffey. For those of you who don’t know Magicpapa, allow me to illustrate how crazy that fact is with a Venn diagram of my own design:

I like to think that if Thunder Clap got the recognition it deserved, he might have bothered picking one up a few years back when cards of “The Grifter” were a lot cheaper and he was picking off legendary cards one-by-one. Or maybe they’re so rare that he couldn’t find one (I doubt this – he would have found one). It remains the only Griffey I am aware of that I have and he doesn’t. This has never happened.

Put it on my tombstone: Thunder Clap is more than likely as scarce as Hitting Machines or at the very least their respective production runs are very close, closer than most collectors think. If you want to shoot for the moon and show off to your Griffey-collecting friends, spend a fortune on a Hitting Machines Gold Medallion and link them to that Radicards post; but if it’s simple rarity you’re after, the Thunder Clap Gold Medallion is where the value is.

Alright - that dead horse has been beaten enough.

I’m happy to report that at great expense and patience, I have acquired all but one of the Griffeys from 1996 Ultra, and the last one I need isn't all that rare. Here is a complete list of all 28 Griffeys from this set:

1996 Ultra #126
1996 Ultra #126 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra #126 Sample
1996 Ultra #579 Ultra Stars
1996 Ultra #579 Ultra Stars Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Series 1 Checklist #4 of 10
1996 Ultra Series 1 Checklist #4 of 10 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Series 2 Checklist #3 of 10
1996 Ultra Series 2 Checklist #3 of 10 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Call to the Hall #2
1996 Ultra Call to the Hall #2 Gold Medallion (I still need dis)
1996 Ultra Diamond Producers #3
1996 Ultra Diamond Producers #3 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Hitting Machine #4
1996 Ultra Hitting Machine #4 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra HR King #6
1996 Ultra HR King #6 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Power Plus #3
1996 Ultra Power Plus #3 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Promotional Sample
1996 Ultra Prime Leather #6
1996 Ultra Prime Leather #6 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Rawhide #4
1996 Ultra Rawhide #4 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Respect #2
1996 Ultra Respect #2 Gold Medallion
1996 Ultra Thunder Clap #11
1996 Ultra Thunder Clap #11 Gold Medallion

I recommend you do not try this at home. There are worthier parallels and inserts out there to be had. Stadium Club Matrix, for example, is a beautiful and reasonably scarce parallel that is very satisfying to collect. And the Heading for the Hall insert from 1995 Leaf is gorgeously-executed and features some great early die-cutting and serial-numbering. Get out while you can; there is only woe for you here. There are simply not enough Gold Medallions to go around - it’s simple numbers.

Don’t be the odd man out, forever unsatisfied, obsessing over the gaps in your collection, forever checking and re-checking your eBay saved searches as you waste away into a groveling, desperate hermit, begging other collectors on various card forums for a simple glimpse of the Griffey cards you will never own. Those little foil circles are not worth it. I implore you, collect something else. 1996 Ultra is for NOBODY.


Bruh I just wrote a 5000-word treatise on 1996 Fleer Ultra I am a f***ing loser omg damn