Monday, March 30, 2020

2001 Stadium Club: Smooth Trooper Lovers Yo' Mammas Flap-Jacks

For those of you sitting at home bored as an Amish electrician, welcome. The Junior Junkie is here for all your reading-about-baseball cards needs. Community involvement and social responsibility are at the forefront of everything we do here at TJJ, so here's a list of the steps we are taking during this national crisis:

1. Writing about baseball cards
2. Posting what we wrote
3. Reading our own posts
4. Laughing at our own jokes
5. Re-watching all 12 hours of The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions
6. Falling asleep right before the Battle of Helm's Deep
7. Waking up and rewinding the Battle of Helm's Deep
8. Crying in the bathroom

Okay, that's it. Wash your hands, I guess.

I hate to give you fine folks an ultimatum, but here it is: if you don’t love Stadium Club, we can’t be friends. It’s awesome every year they decide to make it, and I am ecstatic not only that it seems to be back for good, but that it is just as good as it ever was.

That said, the ’01 design is hardly my favorite. It’s one of their more heavy-handed designs with that big, honking (by Stadium Club standards, at least) nameplate weighing down the bottom of the card. At least they stuck with that aesthetic across the set with lots of color and bold, simple designs. And the photography was stellar this year pretty much across the base set.

Come on, that's awesome.

Where this set really shines, though, is in the inserts. It's got everything: dirt, pearl, film cels, die-cutting, serial-numbered insert parallels, exchange cards, and plenty of respectable scarcity. They're even kind of all over the place which I love.

Base card first, tho:

2001 Stadium Club #125

Griffey’s base card sports a fielding shot this year which Stadium Club (and Ultra) did more than most brands. This particular shot is especially fun in that we get a clean, unbroken field of green behind the Kid broken up only by his shadow (probably early in a noon game) and a peek at the ball a split second before it enters the basket. Junior is trotting forward, so I’m thinking either this catch ended the inning or he was preparing for a long put-out throw to third after securing the ball. Either way, Junior is fielding his ass off.

A rare (the only??) Stadium Club card back without a baseball field theme, but they stuck with the non-traditional stat box with a detailed breakdown of his previous year’s batting performance. To all you right-handed pitchers on turf during a day game, be afraid, fellas. Homie’s got ANALYSKILLZZZZ.

By the way, ANALYSKILLS? I don’t know if your mind lives in the gutter as much as mine, but take away one letter and….um, nevermind.

2001 Stadium Club Diamond Pearls #DP1

Stadium Club usually gives us at least one “techy” insert, but this year they gave us a couple. This first one is characterized by some lovely pearlescent printing over holofoil combined with the same color as my grandma’s guest bathroom (that’s not me being snarky – I love this color and my grandma).

While this insert is attractive and unique, there were some problems. First, they were pretty common. Even I pulled one from a pack, and I did not bust many packs. A slightly higher scarcity would have added to the fun here.

Second, these were incredibly prone to damage the most common of which came from the tacky (meaning sticky, not ugly) card surface leaving bits of card surface stuck to the card in front of it in the pack. As I write this there are three Griffey Diamond Pearls on COMC, ALL of which have that characteristic surface damage. These enjoy a slight premium for good condition, but nothing major, again, because they were not terribly scarce.

When I first came across these I wondered why we hadn’t seen this pearlescent effect on more cardboard, but I think that damage issue is probably why. If you have one of these with a complete surface, please keep it in at least a penny sleeve.

Oh, and it bears mentioning that Griffey is not just A Diamond Pearl – he’s THE Diamond Pearl Number 1. And since they never made this insert again, that shit is forever. Smile, #1 Diamond Pearl forever – you’ve earned it.

By the way, you know those Japanese T-shirts that have American words on them that make no sense but sound amazing together? "Number One Diamond Pearl Forever" would be the best one of those I've ever seen.

Okay, second best.

2001 Stadium Club Beam Team #BT9 #/500

The other techy insert is the heavily die-cut Beam Team. They still make this one (though it’s not as cool as it was in 2001), but it actually began as a basketball insert back in 1992 and has also made appearances in Upper Deck’s football and hockey sets over the years. This was the first baseball Beam Team insert, and it’s a real knockout with some super-detailed die-cutting and plenty of fun holofoil. I love the helix in the "beam" along the left edge. It's downright Ghostbustersian.

(Fun fact: whichever way you pronounce "Ghostbustersian" in your internal monologue, it's wrong.)

The back is pretty scant, but the internal die-cut lines prevented anything of substance appearing on the back, anyway. Pretty front, though.

2001 Stadium Club Capture the Action! #CA9

Capture the Action is a real straightforward insert depicting action shots. I think the idea was to capture a moment as depicted on the front in the always-excellent Stadium Club photography and describe it on the back. It’s a good idea, but more context in the blurb might have driven the theme home a bit better. The banners here appear to be a throwback to the 2000 base card design whether that was intentional or not.

2001 Stadium Club Capture the Action Game View #CAGV9 #/100

The toughest pack-pulled Griffey of 2001 Stadium Club was this insert parallel with a bit of translucent film dressed up like a photo slide and embedded right in the card. It wasn’t a new technology – Upper Deck had done it before in 1997 SPx Game Film – but it goes great with a set that focuses on their photography.

Again I still think some detailed photo context would help this thing out a lot, but maybe Topps didn’t want to admit photo context was a good idea when Upper Deck used it in their base set a full four years before.

2001 Stadium Club Play at the Plate Game-Used Batter's Box Dirt Relic #PP4

Everybody loves these things. I remember seeing a commercial for real stadium dirt from Ripken’s 2,131st game and kind of wanting it. Well, here’s that on a baseball card.

The blurb gets real specific about one of the great moments in Griffey’s career, but stops just short of saying this dirt is from that game. I’m going to go ahead and guess that it is NOT from that game, but man that would be something, right?

Anyhoo, these were not all that uncommon if you could find the Home Team Advantage packs they were in. Most could be pack-pulled, but some, including the Griffey, were packed out via exchange cards. I'm guessing DIRT was had to come by in a timely manner. Oh, and bummer alert – the exchange cards say the cards were autographed, but none of them actually were. Oops.

Also, THIS:

1996 Ultra Cal Ripken, Jr. Diamond Dust Dirt Relic #/2131 (w/ COA)

This is the earliest card with dirt in it that I have. Not 2001 nor Stadium Club, but certainly worth a mention.

2001 Stadium Club Superteam Exchange
Prize Card #STP24

Now if you were really lucky, there was a chance you could pull a “Superteam” exchange card out of your pack of 2001 Stadium Club. And if you were even luckier, the team on your exchange card would go on its respective League Championship Series. If both of those happened, and you pulled the card before the exchange deadline, and paid enough attention to baseball to know your team won, and you remembered you had it in the first place, and mailed your winning card in to Topps, they would send you a complete set of enhanced 2001 Stadium Club Superteam cards that included the Griffey you see above.

With so many conditions to meet, it should be no surprise that these are some seriously scarce cards.

Superteam in general is just a cool parallel of the base set with plenty of gold, foil, and a shiny not-quite-chromium effect. The backs are similar save for a blurb in lieu of ANALYSKILLS (good riddance) and the addition of a full-team stats breakdown from the previous season (a 2001 breakdown would have been something, but these were probably printed around the same time as the base set). I don’t have any of the exchange cards (yet), but I am hopeful for a Reds one someday…

So there is not enough information for us to figure out exactly how many of these there are, but there are hints to their scarcity all over the place. First, the insertion ratio of the exchange cards was 1:874 in Hobby and Retail boxes and 1:339 in HTA (Home Team Advantage) boxes. Since only four teams go to a League Championship Series, only four of the thirty cards were winners. That changes the insertion ratio for WINNING Super Teams cards to 1:6555 and 1:2542, respectively.

The highest possible mathematically-defensible number of packs produced is based on the stated odds of Beam Team cards and their insertion ratio in Hobby packs. 30 cards in the checklist x 500 of each card at 1:175 = 2,625,000 packs. At 1:874, that means 3003 Superteam Exchange cards or roughly 100 per team or 400 winning cards. That’s not an unreasonable number. BUT, that is not the only estimate we have. There are, unfortunately for those of us who like nice, clean numbers, SEVERAL estimates.

Also this doesn’t even take into account the fact that Retail boxes ALSO had Superteam cards in them as well as Beam Team cards and allegedly Capture the Action Game Views as well. Hence, all these numbers are wrong wrong wrong and why did I even try to figure this out?

Suffice it to say that there were somewhere between 1 and 1,032 WINNING exchange cards. My laughably educated guess based on what I’ve seen in the market is that, oh, maybe a few dozen were actually exchanged. That would also mean that there may be a box in a Topps warehouse somewhere that contains hundreds of unexchanged Superteam Griffeys in need of a forever home.

This is how I picture it, but honestly it's probably not this nice. Also it's probably in Jersey.

If you are a night watchman at a certain aforementioned warehouse, my e-mail address is near the top of the screen. Hit me up.

Here are the Griffeys I still need from 2001 Stadium Club:

Superteam Exchange Card #ST8 Cincinnati Reds

As that’s not actually a Griffey, for player collecting purposes, my 2001 Stadium Club checklist is complete. This does not happen a lot for prolific post-2000 sets. Halle-frickin-lujah.

Thanks for reading, smooth troopers.

Monday, March 23, 2020

1998 Studio: Still Studious

Studio is to the Pinnacle brands what Gallery is to Topps; and if you’re as big a Gallery fan as I am, you probably like Studio, too. Typically as a brand evolves you see a shift in the general theme of the set, but that didn’t happen quite as much with Studio. Even in 1998, seven years after their inaugural set, the focus is still very much on the portrait, even going so far as to include a set of Glamour Shots-style 8x10’s. It shouldn’t be that big a deal that a set is able to stick with a theme for so long, but it is.

And since this set came out in 1998, there are plenty of inserts, parallels, samples, and variations to talk about. Let’s dig in…

1998 Studio #112

There are Studio designs I like better than this, but not many. And while I like this backwards-cap photo, I am positively smitten with the Swingman logo on Junior’s …shirt? Would you call that a shirt? Anyway it’s baddass.

One thing Studio began doing not long into their timeline is ditch paying for portrait studio time and start being selective within the pool of existing photos. I always assumed it got cost-prohibitive to get every player in the checklist to a photo studio to take pictures, so I really don’t blame Donruss for the change. In fact I appreciate the creativity and relatively high standards in their photo selection.

The card back is fairly standard with that characteristically-Studio total lack of stat box in favor of a bit of inside information on the player. Here we get an anecdote about how Ken, Sr. first taught Junior to beware the path of pride which is the very lesson Hrothgar taught Beowulf after he defeated Grendel and Grendel’s mother. After this Beowulf went on to become king of the Geats, and Griffey went on to hit 56 home runs in 1997; so you know it’s got to be a pretty valuable lesson.

1998 Studio #112 Studio Proof Silver /1000

Now THAT is a freakin’ parallel! You hear me, every other card brand in history? THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE. You want me to blow reams of my hard-earned scrilla on pack after pack of your product so I can land your little parallel? Well I’m not quite as willing to do that if said parallel is as boring as doing your taxes. I don’t want tiny stamps or little circles of foil, guys – I want centimeter after square centimeter of retina-blistering holofoil. This is the most common parallel in this set and completely lacking in die-cutting, and it’s still better than 80% of the parallels that have ever been made. God bless you 1998 Studio Press Proof. You get it.

1998 Studio 8x10 Portraits #19

Here is a big, giant version of that base card. They did us a service by tweaking the photos on the front and back at least a little bit. That doesn’t seem like that big a move, but the way photos are reused and recycled these days even across different inserts within the same set, having different photos here is a treat.

I even have an autographed version:

I have no clue who autographed it, but I’m very, very proud of it I think or whatever I guess and stuff. VERY-ish.

1998 Studio Chase Checklist

The unnumbered checklists use the same design as the base cards and 8x10’s but with different photography and a surprisingly attractive back. Pretty darn nice as checklists go. Strong B+.

1998 Studio Chase Checklist Studio Proof Silver /1000

Here’s more of that sweet, sweet Press Proof sugar – or as I’m going to start calling it, “God’s own parallel.” Look upon it, ye boring-ass mid-90’s Stadium Club First Day Issues, and despair.

1998 Studio Chase Checklist Studio Proof Gold #/300

The gold is over three times as rare and yet I still like the silver better. The only real difference is that fact that the gold was serial numbered in holofoil.


Damn right.

Now according to Baseballcardpedia, there is also a set of Executive Proofs of which 300 were produced for each player. It seems these were backdoored after Pinnacle went belly-up. The cards are identical to the gold Studio Proofs but numbered “XXX/300.” I have zero of these, but I do kind of want one.

1998 Studio Freeze Frame #1 #/4500

Baseball cards as a medium lend themselves well to photography-themed inserts, and a few took it a step further by going meta and incorporating film right into the design. I think I list these off every time I bring up such inserts, and I have no reason not to do it again here: 1997 SP Game Film, two years of Stadium Club Capture the Action Game View, a couple of years of Leaf Slideshow, and a couple more of this one, Studio Freeze Frame. All of them are just delightful.

That said, this one is the least desirable among them. It’s very shiny, and I like the design in general. I think it’s especially cool the way they work the number and position into the film on the card back. And I really want a taste of the meth that blurb writer was on. I mean, come on – Batman makes an appearance. The hell, dude? Who you think you are with them wacky-ass blurbs? Skybox?

But overall the card is dark and scans horribly; and on top of all that I’m also not totally sold on all that empty space above and below the diagonal film strip. Not a bad card; but as film cards go, this is the weakest of the lot.

1998 Studio Freeze Frame #1 #/4500 Die Cut #/500

A buddy of mine has his Dad’s original vinyl pressing of Abbey Road, and the legend goes that his Dad hated the song “Maxwell Silver Hammer” so much that he scratched it out of the record. Like, he literally took something you should never touch a record with and ssscccrrraaaattttchhhedd it out. The moral of that story is that one way to get rid of something you don’t like is to remove it completely, and Donruss did exactly that for the first 500 numbered cards – they just cut off the excess to match the angle of the film strip. Yes, this version is rarer and more expensive, but to me the design is also more or less saved by the die-cutting. That being said, I think Abbey Road would not be improved by the removal of “Maxwell Silver Hammer” and remain horrified at my friend’s Dad’s actions to this day.

There are only 500 of the die-cut version (again, the first 500 of the total run), the same number as there are the 1997 SP Game Film insert. Even with the die-cutting, if you are ever given a choice between the two, go with Game Film.

There is an uncut sample version of Freeze Frame numbered “XXXX/5000” currently on COMC that somebody is way too proud of. If I ever come across one for $20, I’d be a buyer. Above that I don’t see the appeal.

1998 Studio Hit Parade #6 #/5000

Hit Parade is the most common hit in 1998 Studio even counting the parallels, but you would never know it from the design. Every bit of this card outside of the player silhouette is either team-colored spikes or textured foil, even in the giant “Hit Parade” lettering. You can tell somebody put some real thought into this design (check out how the arch of spikes also makes an appearance on the back). I think this card also could have benefited from some wacky, spiky die-cutting, but you can’t die-cut everything. I suppose.

1998 Studio Masterstrokes #20 #/1000

This insert has a few neat things going for it. The title font is great (though the nameplate is a bit sterile), and the card stock has a canvas feel. The theme here is a pencil sketch that morphs into an action photo, but at the bottom is a paintbrush where maybe a pencil would have made more sense. Also the title suggests painting, but that ain't no painting - it's a sketch. Maybe call it Mastersketches?

And for the record I really do like the TWO SQUARE INCHES of shin illustration here, but it's a bit understated for how cool it is. Maybe flip-flop the photo and drawing bits so it's not just the space below his knees that gets the treatment that is the theme of the whole insert? There should be 10,000 of these. No one should have to pay /1000 prices for these pretty but overall underwhelming things.

I am happy to say I have pretty much all the Griffeys I really want from 1998 Studio; but technically there are a few I still need if I’m going to finish off the Griffeys:

1998 Studio #112 Studio Proof Gold #/300
1998 Studio #112 Executive Test Issue #/300
1998 Studio Chase Cards Checklist Executive Test Issue #/300
1998 Studio 8x10 Portrait Jumbo #19 Studio Proof Gold #/300
1998 Studio Freeze Frame Sample

Backdoored cards carry a hefty premium, so I’m not desperate for those. My faves here are the Freeze Frame die-cut and the Silver Studio proofs, and I have those. The rest will come.

Monday, March 16, 2020

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition: Thanks for the Manu-Relics

It’s hard to get excited about every single brand that popped up in the early 2000’s, especially when the set was made by Fleer. Nothing against them – they churned out above-average inserts at an almost Pacific-level pace for years – but it seems the word “overkill” is not in their corporate dictionary. In 2002 alone Fleer flooded the market with no fewer than fourteen different products. Only Topps made more.

So you can’t really blame collectors when sets like this one fall by the wayside and into obscurity, or designs all blur together to the point of relative meaninglessness. There was a time when there were only four TV stations, too, and everybody watched the same few shows. They all had opinions about them and could talk about them with any other TV viewer without missing a beat. “Doby Gillis was on point last night. Bob Denver got jokes.” Now that there are hundreds of stations and thousands of shows, most conversations start with “Hey, have you seen any of these six things?” and end abruptly at “Oh, I don’t have time for that. I’m watching these twelve other things.” That must have been what collecting was like in 2002.

So the question at this time was “What sets this particular set apart from the rest?” Well, some unique die-cutting and the introduction of the first manufactured relic are the two hallmarks of 2002 Fleer Focus et cetera  (I am not typing that whole thing every time). That’s two more things than most sets from this era of glut can say they gave the world.

Here’s the base card:

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition #84

Looks like they were going for different, and they more or less got it. The border and picture flow in and out of one another with the nameplate separated by the team/position below. And I suspect that’s the wordiest logo ever committed to cardboard: “Fleer Focus Jersey Edition MLB 2002” (fine I'll type it all one more time). That’s thirty letters in six words. Upper Deck probably made something longer, but this one remains quite impressive.

As for the photo, it’s a standard fielding shot complete with flipped-up shades. It does that body outline thing we’ve seen on previous Fleer Focus base cards. The background is a little ho-hum as I guess we’re supposed to “focus” on the player image here, but that’s still an awful lot of negative space. Luckily it’s broken up by the green of the field.

The back is the saving grace here with a big, beautiful stat box, small portrait, and Mr. Red himself repping Cincy with gusto. Fleer always did know their way around a card back.

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition Kings of Swing #5

Here is some of that unique die-cutting I was talking about. It appears to be a crown shape to go along with the “Kings” aspect of the insert and the Fleer logo. Again we have a lot of white with some slight team-colored tinting in the background. There’s also an awful lot of negative space between the nameplate and insert name that is just begging for an auto parallel, but apart from that this is not a bad-looking card.

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition Materialistic #10 Away

Here is the dubious crown jewel of 2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition: the first manufactured relic. What Fleer gave us here is a large swatch of non-relic fabric complete with a cloth-printed player image. I do like the finished product here, but I have to feel bad for the kids who pulled one and thought they had a jumbo swatch. I’m sure there were more than a few.

This card is ahead of its time in the same way that the guy who took the first selfie was ahead of his time. Some people love selfies, and some shake their head. I tend to understand both sides – there have been some cool manu-relics in the past few years. Like them or not, this is where they began.

2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition Materialistic #10 Away Jumbo

Hot damn, it’s a big one! It’s the same basic card, sure, but again there’s something about the player image artfully printed on fabric that I really like.

I have all the common Griffeys from this set – everything else I need is a serial-numbered parallel. I'm not bananas about this set, so I'm in no hurry here. Here are the Griffeys I need from 2002 FFJE:

#84 Century #/130
#84 Jersey #/30
Materialistic #10 Home #/50
Materialistic #10 Home Jumbo #/50

I have to wonder if someone at Fleer thought they were giving something substantial to the collecting community with this set. I can’t imagine anyone is standing around their LCS in 2020 saying, “Topps and Panini are doing an OK job, but you know who really got it right? 2002 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition, man. THOSE were the cards.” Like many, many sets from this era, this is more a page from cardboard’s past than from its history.