Thursday, December 13, 2018

1998 SPx Finite Explained (Finally!)

In the late 90’s everybody was trying to re-invent base sets and infuriate set builders. Personally I think Donruss probably failed the most miserably at it, but Upper Deck was guilty, too. Just take a look at 1998 SPx Finite.

[On a personal note, I should have made this post years ago for my own good. This set has boggled my mind for ages, but after a little research now I finally loosely understand it a little bit of sorts kind of. Progress!]

There are three characteristics that make this set unique:

#1: Technically, 1998 SPx Finite is one big base set. The catch here is that in lieu of regular inserts there are eight subsets (and to make things interesting, there really is one regular insert, but you can forget it because you're never going to find one). However, if you removed all the card numbers this brand would look more like a small base set with eight inserts which is nothing out of the ordinary. And let’s be honest: if you have eight short-printed subsets plus a tiny base set, you basically have eight inserts and…well, a tiny base set. The number on the card is kind of arbitrary.

#2: There are two parallels, Radiance and SPectrum, that are along for the ride. Parallels that apply to both base cards and inserts (I still consider these inserts) are nothing new - they’ve been around since Fleer’s 1995 Ultra Gold Medallions – but this is the first time Upper Deck did anything like it on this scale.

#3: Every card is serial-numbered, hence the name. Individually-numbered cards were still pretty exciting in 1998.

The end result is a single base set with six “base” Griffeys and two parallels for each. That makes 18 Griffeys in the base set which, combined with five sample variations and one legitimate insert, gives us an overall total of 24 Griffeys of which I have 19. This is exactly the kind of off-the-wall Griffey checklist one should expect from an Upper Deck brand in 1998.

One more thing about this set: it contains a few cards that would fetch several hundred dollars and three in particular that would easily surpass four figures at auction – and that is with no autographs and no relics, just cardboard. All Upper Deck had to do was print them differently and serial-number them. While we may be touching on something outside of the scope of this post, does that feel weird to anyone el$e?

Let’s get started:

1998 SPx Finite #130 #/9000

We are starting in the middle of the base set because, not having a subset name attributed to it, card #130 is Griffey’s de-facto base card. At 9000 produced this is also his least rare card in the set.

The base version of each card looks pretty much like this: papery foil, dark green accents, and a raised-print, copper-colored badge heralding the subset. It’s an attractive, tactile card that just begs you to run your fingers over that raised badge.

The back is pretty standard: a tiny blurb, portrait, and stat box. Griffey’s portrait is a good one - him in flipped-up-shades with “a Taylor on the earlobe” and an all-business RGF (resting Griff face). Probably best to steer clear of this fella.

While I like the overall (albeit busy) look of the regular cards, the designs really start to pop in the parallels; and they only get better with scarcity.

1998 SPx Finite #130 Radiance #/4500

The Radiance parallel keeps the papery foil; but they are all done up in blue accents in lieu of green, and the badges are gold instead of copper. Looks nice.

1998 SPx Finite #130 SPectrum #/2250

SPectrum is the rarest of the two base parallels. While I am frequently guilty of holding down the shift key a split-second too long and accidentally capitalizing the first two letters of words as I type, that is not what happened here. SPectrum is correct (starts with SP – get it?!). Both MS Word and Blogger are super pissed I won’t let them correct it.

SPectrum cards are foil board instead of the papery foil of the more common versions. Also the accents are red and the badge is holofoil. It’s an absolute monster and forces your eyes to recognize its scarcity.

“Bling!” – SPectrum card
“Ugh - I get it, you’re rare.” – your eyes
“Damn right.” – SPectrum card

One weird thing about this parallel is that because papery foil scans so dark, the SPectrum parallel looks like a completely different card here. Suddenly you can clearly see the photos, and the badge practically leaps off the card. I assure you, in person they look more like three versions of the same card.

Now that you’ve seen the three versions of each card, here is a short key to differentiate them:

Regular: paper foil, green accents, copper badge
Radiance (parallel): paper foil, blue accents, gold badge
SPectrum (rarest parallel): foil board, red accents, holofoil badge

The checklist is not in order by scarcity – it kind of jumps around. In this post we are going to take the five subsets in order by scarcity starting with the two most common:

1998 SPx Finite #165 Star Focus #/7000

As you can see the general design is the same as the regular base card only with a subset title in the badge that is vaguely reflected by its shape – here the shape is pointed like a star...kinda? Instead of a stat box on the back we get a top ten list of total runs scored the previous season on which Junior is #3.

We’ve covered all the major differences among the parallels, so we should be able to move pretty fast from here on out. Here are the Radiance and SPectrum versions:

1998 SPx Finite #165 Star Focus Radiance #/3500

1998 SPx Finite #165 Star Focus SPectrum #/1750
Sorry to use the blurry COMC image here - this really is my copy.

I owe you guys some better scans.

This next subset is the same level of scarcity as Star Focus, so all the serial numbering is the same:

1998 SPx Finite #240 Power Passion #/7000

Power Passion is weird in nearly every way. The text on the badge can be a bit hard to read, so seeing that giant P on there and not having a magnifying glass to read the subset title may have been confusing for some. There is also gigantic text on the front of the card that reads “105 Home Runs,” a string of words that makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t read the blurb in its entirety, again, with a magnifying glass (the text is super tiny). No, he did not hit 105 home runs in 1997. And that’s just the beginning of the weirdness here.

Where most card backs in this set are quite busy, have photos, include unique stats in lieu of a standard stat box, and also show a non-foil version of the front badge, this subset has none of that. Frankly the back here looks like it came from a completely different set. Even the serial numbering is printed differently here. Why?? Were these printed before all the subsets were designed? I don’t trust you, Power Passion.

Here are the parallels:

1998 SPx Finite #240 Power Passion Radiance #/3500

1998 SPx Finite #240 Power Passion Spectrum #/1750
The last one!

I dig the purp on this one.

From here we take big leap in scarcity and, sadly, start building the list of 1998 SPx Finite Griffeys that I don’t have. There will be plenty more of those before this post is done.

1998 SPx Finite #50 Power Explosion #/4000

The Power Explosion subset badge is baseball field/kaboom-shaped. Fun! All but two of the Griffey-having subsets are horizontally-oriented – this is one of the two vertical ones. The colorful back gives us a lovely chart outlining Junior’s home run distribution over the past season. Despite the blurb being kind of pointless, I like the look here a lot.

1998 SPx Finite #50 Power Explosion Radiance #/1000

I am very sad to report that this is the rarest card I own from 1998 SPx Finite. There are five (well, six with the lone insert) cards rarer than this one, all numbered 100 or less with two 1/1’s. The SPectrum parallel of this card is #/50. Abandon all hope, ye who set-build here.

But I have seen one:

Pretty killer, right?

These last two subsets are the rarest in 1998 SPx Finite, and they are identical in scarcity. Their respective Radiance parallels are #/100 – an incredibly tough get for 1998. Their SPectrum parallels are the two 1/1’s I was talking about. I have none of the parallels for these last two subsets. Got the base cards, though. Let’s take a look:

1998 SPx Finite #178 Heroes of the Game #/2000

Welcome to Heroes of the Game, my favorite subset in 1998 SPx Finite.

First, it’s got a lovely round badge that domes out in the middle and feels delightful against the fingertips. I’m glad I didn’t acquire a card like this when I was six – I’d have smashed that badge in like so many fast-food soda cup lid buttons (that nobody ever uses for their intended purpose). The swing shot on the front works beautifully with the layout. A few of the cards in this set have multiple photos on the front, but this card with its one measly photo is better than all of them.

And the back – THE BACK, my friends – is spectacular. Warm and inviting like a hot hearth in a cozy log cabin on a dark, snowy night; yet informative like a kindly bearded baseball sage replete with Griffey knowledge who will fill you in on interesting baseball factoids, then smile and send you on your way with a Mariner pennant and a lollipop. If this card back were a subset in 1998 SPx Finite, it would be Heroes of the Game.

I’m not a wealthy man, but I legitimately want the Radiance and SPectrum parallels of this beauty. I mean, just look at these things (not mine):

1998 SPx Finite #178 Heroes of the Game Radiance #/100

1998 SPx Finite #178 Heroes of the Game Spectrum (backdoored, unnumbered)

Neither of these are mine, and that unnumbered SPectrum is clearly a beauty of the backdoor variety, but damn if those parallels don't pop on this one.

One subset left. How can it possibly follow that? Well, frankly, I’m afraid it can’t. This last one is not all that good:

1998 SPx Finite #360 Cornerstones of the Game #/2000

Cornerstones of the Game, with a badge featuring plenty of sweet corner action, is one of the weakest designs in the whole set. It’s the other vertical design in the base set, and it’s got the same weirdo card back as Power Passion complete with the differently-printed numbering and one seriously weak little stat box. I’m not even sure I’d want one of the incredibly scarce parallels of this one. Of course I’d still totally over-pay if given the opportunity. I’m a card nerd – sue me!

Speaking of which, here's the Radiance (still not mine):

1998 SPx Finite #360 Cornerstones of the Game Radiance #/100

I've never even seen the SPectrum of this one, but THERE'S ONLY ONE SO.....

That’s it for the base set, but guess what? This set has five sample cards. FIVE. We’re going to group those accordingly because this post has enough scans in it as it is.

1998 SPx Finite Sample #1

1998 SPx Finite Sample #2 (Power Passion)

The blurbs are different (maybe even a little better?) and – wait a minute. The Power Passion sample got a full stat box? What the hell? Who decided that was too much information for a card back and opted for the abbreviated stat box and negative space on the official release? That subset just keeps on giving me reasons to throw it into the Mississippi River. Notice how specific I got there – got the body of water all picked out and everything. I have legitimately given this thought.

Here's a three-fer of colored and NUMBERED Finite samples:

That would be 1998 SPx Finite Sample Green #/10000, Blue #/10000, and Red #/2500.

Okay, so I don’t actually know exactly what the story is here. I assume this was a proposed direction for the parallels being that the colors are the same as the accents on the final releases, complete with red being the rarest. It would seem they opted to use different effects for the rest of the card in terms of the colors and on top of that add the three different foils in the badge ordered by scarcity. These are some very cool sample cards in that it kind of gives us a look into the evolution of the design. It also makes me appreciate the final product more because these would have been incredibly boring, especially given the scarcity of some of these parallels.

Oh, and I defy you to find one of these – any color – in good condition. Seriously – I DEFY YOU. 22,500 of these colored sample cards were produced, and all 22,500 have soft, dinged-up edges. It's a fact.

There’s one last card here that we need to talk about: the Home Run Hysteria insert, the only legitimate insert in this shindig. Each card was numbered to 62, and I’ve never seen one in person or on eBay. This insert is on a very short list of ultra-scarce 90’s inserts that most collectors haven’t even heard of let alone had the chance to own. Goobmcnasty from the fabled Freedom Cardboard Griffey Collector's Thread was nice enough to lend us scans of his (I assume you're a dude?) copy. Isn’t that nice?

1998 SPx Finite Homerun Hysteria #HR1 #/62

Soak it in. A white whale if ever there was one. Thanks, Goob.

Here are the remaining Griffeys I need from 1998 SPx Finite:

1998 SPx Finite #50 Power Explosion SPectrum #/50
1998 SPx Finite #178 Heroes of the Game Radiance #/100
1998 SPx Finite #178 Heroes of the Game SPectrum 1/1
1998 SPx Finite #360 Cornerstones of the Game Radiance #/100
1998 SPx Finite #360 Cornerstones of the Game SPectrum 1/1
1998 SPx Finite Homerun Hysteria #/62

With the way Griffeys have been selling since the HOF induction, I predict it would cost somewhere well into four figures to complete this set, and that’s not counting the 1/1’s (I usually don't for my purposes). And none of these cards are autos or relics or anything like that – not one in the whole set, in fact. It’s all about the serial numbering. Let’s face it – this set was basically Upper Deck printing money. At least give me a snippet of uniform, a used napkin, a booger – something. There are more worthy Griffeys to chase than these.

Except for that Heroes of the Game card. That thing is tight.


  1. Ouch. My head hurts after reading the first 5 minutes of this post. I've bookmarked it and will come back to it when I'm not half asleep. Great stuff though. This set has always confused me.

  2. This set has always confused me. Now I know why.

  3. This is a huge help, and I need to print this out. Tino has about 100 cards in this set and I can never tell what I need and don't.

  4. I have these laying around here............ somewhere ;)

    Here are the remaining Griffeys I need from 1998 SPx Finite:

    1998 SPx Finite #50 Power Explosion SPectrum #/50
    1998 SPx Finite #178 Heroes of the Game Radiance #/100

    1998 SPx Finite #360 Cornerstones of the Game Radiance #/100

    1998 SPx Finite Homerun Hysteria #/62

  5. That was a ton of info. I wasn’t too happy with this product even though I do like it being all numbered . I preferred the regular Spx with holograms

  6. I had no clue about this set. I'm
    much smarter now .thanks for the post and those are cool cards.

  7. I have a completely different sample card from the ones you've shown. Maybe it's just a base set sample? Not sure. Can't upload a pic either. :(

  8. Excellent as always TJ! FYI I have a black sample /100 if you want to add that to the list as well