Friday, December 21, 2018

2000 Ultra: More Stadium Club Than Stadium Club

In 1991 Topps gave us the first Stadium Club set and Fleer the first Ultra set. In 2000, amid bankruptcies and acquisitions and a whole lot of scaling back in general for many brands lucky enough to still operate, both sets were miraculously still around. The vast, VAST majority of sub brands didn’t last five years let alone ten, but somehow Stadium Club and Ultra were still as good as ever.

I don’t believe Ultra’s photography was quite as good as Stadium Club’s, but it was damn close. There’s also no denying Ultra’s insert game was on point, and their various medallions absolutely blew away Stadium Club in terms of parallels (Matrix was the shit, tho). I’m making all these comparisons with Stadium Club because I will admit before God and the world that I am a pathetic Stadium Club fanboy through and through; and any given year Stadium Club is usually my favorite set of that year, but not in 2000. In 2000, Ultra is better.

2000 Ultra #100

Most sets were already on the Reds trolley by the time their cards were printed and released, and Ultra may have been as well; they had a ton of sub-brands at this point and most of them, Mystique, Focus, Gamers, Showcase, all got it right. I like to think someone at Ultra found out about the trade, but then said, “Screw that. This picture is PERFECT. Junior is a Mariner for one more set.”

The nameplate font looks familiar, and I’ve been trying to pin down where I’ve seen it before. Back to the Future credits? A J-Pop album cover? Whatever it is it’s AWESOME, and Fleer should have trademarked and sold it. It makes every player’s name looks like its own brand; and with that field of unobtrusive green behind it, it really stands out on Junior’s card. The only semblance of clunk in the whole design is the black bar behind the team name that is probably only there to keep the lettering legible, but it doesn’t really bother me here. This is a near-perfect base card.

The back is basically flawless, too. Ultra used to fill the back with photos, avoid blurbs, and abbreviate stat boxes. This year they gave us a single massive, card-high stunner of a photo with a face-melting purple and blue background that I want painted on every wall in my house, a mind-bogglingly complete 11-year stat box that is super-legible thanks to a little creative shading behind it, and a blurb in the same font as the nameplate that fills us in on Junior’s sick Grand Salami game.

Maybe the card number could be a little further in the corner? I don’t know - I’m seriously stretching to find a problem with this card back. There’s no way they were all this good. Wait…I think I have another 2000 Ultra base card laying around here somewhere…

Damn – that's pretty cool. It’s official – 2000 Ultra is on my list of favorite card backs. Well done, guys. Let’s check out the front of that Palmeiro just to be sure.

Uh, yeah. We’re good here.

2000 Ultra #100G Gold Medallion

This is one of my favorite years of the Medallion parallels. There’s no medallion proper anywhere on the card, but there is some nice arched die-cutting across the top, a line of text heralding the type of medallion you just pulled, gold holofoil where there was silver before, and a slight gold tint to the entire photo background. This last thing is barely noticeable on the Griffey as he is surrounded by grass, but trust me – that right there’s a gold tint.

There are two other medallion types in this set: a Platinum Medallion #/50 and a Masterpiece Medallion that is a 1/1. I have neither of these.

Let’s peep some insert swag:

2000 Ultra Diamond Mine #3

At 1:6, these cards were everywhere. And why not? Design-wise this is the most essentially Ultra insert in the lot: a large, simple theme that uses little to no photo background at all. Not much to talk about, though.

That photo of winded batting practice Junior is great, but it’s all about the blurb here. Second person voice? Yep – that is definitely a trademark of Skybox. Use of multiple consecutive exclamation marks usually freaks me out, as does adding an “s” to the idiom “the stuff of legend,” but the blurb itself is frickin’ awesome. I’m also a pretty prolific user of the mid-sentence parenthetic aside (see?) which they did twice here. Include this blurb in my obituary.

2000 Ultra Swing Kings #5

In 1996 Ultra had a really cool clear acetate insert called Season Crowns that I was always bummed about because Junior didn’t get a card there (he was injured for most of the ’95 season but still deserved a crown, dammit!). Swing Kings is kind of lacking in the design department because it’s mostly clear, negative space with a little text where Season Crowns had full, colorful designs that still took advantage of the acetate. 

One of the best acetate inserts evaaaaa

The photo on Griffey's Swing Kings card is sick as hell, and again I’m totally smitten with that 2nd person Skybox blurb. There’s enough good here to save the card, but design-wise it's only mildly cool and maybe even a smidge disappointing.

At least we can breathe a sigh of relief that the medallions didn’t apply to the inserts this year.

2000 Ultra Crunch Time #2

This is the rarest non-auto/relic/serial # pull in the set this year, and as you can probably tell it is a matte paper card with a bit of gold foil. The background is a large, weathered ball and bat with Junior playing the field in front, a little weird because the card seems to focus on his offensive performance.

I cannot stress enough how much I love these ridiculous Skybox blurbs. Do we have room for another J-pop reference? Good. These blurbs are like J-pop, guys. I know what I’m listening to is wrongwrongwrong and I resent the hell out of it, but why am I not skipping the song? WHY? Don’t even look at me.

2000 Ultra also had some auto and game-used stuff, but nothing with Griffey in it. Here are the Griffeys I still need, all of them numbered to 99 or less:

#100P Platinum Medallion #/50
#100M Masterpiece 1/1
Ultra Talented #5 #/99

I'm crazy about the base card here and would really love a shot at the platinum someday at a reasonable price. And to whoever has the Masterpiece, please know that I hella-covet your shit.

Now I invite you to plug in your headphones, turn your volume up, and release your inhibitions:


  1. We share so many similar POVs. 1996 Season's Crowns are the best. I have a Gwynn signed TTM from that set and it's one of my most treasured cards.

    I liked 2000 Gold Medallions, but my favorite were easily 1996.

  2. Those Ultra acetate inserts are sweet! Although a lot of those 90's Ultra designs sort of blend together, I did really enjoy the 1992 set. It's one of my favorite sets from the decade.ccI went all in on that product and wasted a ton of money. Never held its value... but it's still fun to look at.

  3. Do you still have you Leaf 25th Griffey? Would like to purchase if possible. Possible trade if you’d want.

  4. I have some Griffey Jr. cards and such that might interest you. Pics?