Monday, February 22, 2021

2000 Upper Deck Ionix: the Best for Last

After a year like that, this feels like a good time to look to the future not unlike Upper Deck did at the turn of the millennium when they gave us some of the coolest futuristic-themed card sets ever made. It's Future-phile month at the Junior Junkie when we take a look at the complete 2-year lifespans of two shiny, forward-looking sub-brands with a whole lot in common: HoloGrFx and Ionix.

I keep saying this, but it bears repeating: it’s easy to confuse Ionix and Hologrfx. They have the same exact timelines (two sets each in 1999 and 2000) and share many similar themes (and even a few insert names). But one thing remains true in both years: Ionix is better.

Of the four Upper Deck future-phile sets, 2000 Ionix is my favorite. The inserts kill, the base cards are above-average, and it has some of the wildest designs in Upper Deck’s history. Somebody put a massive amount of work into these designs, and their effort shows. Every card is attractive and fun. I’d have bought boxes of this stuff had I been an active collector in 2000.

I don’t say this lightly – as a set, 2000 Ionix is a solid 10/10. The cards are all well-designed, it’s got a great spread of scarcity, and the general aesthetic remains in force on every card.

2000 Upper Deck Ionix #29

Just a well-put together base card in general. They included a film strip effect along the bottom sporting the back photo possibly to hammer home the whole idea behind the Reciprocal parallel. That at-bat shot, despite being a bit lost in the design here, may be Junior’s best card photo of the year. My favorite base card of the future-phile sets.

2000 Upper Deck Ionix #R29 Reciprocal

Hey, someone finally figured out that refractors look great on Chromium. The film strip on the Reciprocals shows the reverse photo in sepia; and it looks great, bringing out all the great colors and refraction in the rest of the card. Very nice parallel here, and at only 1:4 still pretty easy to track down.

2000 Upper Deck Ionix Shockwave #S4

Again all the inserts are refractors this year. Somebody put some real work into this design, but despite the fact that the word “5H0[KW6A3” (or a part of it) appears a whopping 17 times on this card, it still manages to look good. The gamertag font is very Snow Crash, and the shockwave effect seems to originate from around where the ball would have been in relation to the photo. The inset portrait skews dorky with those ridiculous sunglasses, but overall this one remains pretty darn fun.

2000 Upper Deck Ionix Atomic #A3

This super busy 1:8 insert approaches the nuttiness of the infamous Stadium Club Ring Leaders but holds truer to the theme of the insert. The electron microscope background has been done before but has never been more appropriate with the theme. Personally I am super into the Periodic Table symbol unique to each player. The little homerun graph is great.

BTW, I want to see the full "Periodic Chart of Players," please. Also, why "chart?" Why not "table?"

2000 Upper Deck Ionix Biorhythm #B7

The 1:11 Biorhythm insert is probably the most normal-looking card in the bunch, but it's also a real beauty and looks like a marquee poster for a movie about, like, a guy who was genetically engineered to be the perfect ballplayer. But in the midst of his meteoric rise in the majors he develops bonds with other players who had to work hard and overcome obstacles to earn their place on the field. And towards the end of their incredible season he grows ashamed of his unearned skill, and they get to the World Series but he fakes an injury so he can't play, but the team has worked so hard that they still win even without him because they have the power of hard work and perseverance on their side (kind of like in Ladybugs). Shoehorn in a romantic interest for the ladies and a wisecrackin' bat boy for comic relief and we got a real Summer smash. Plus the whole thing could be a veiled statement about PED's and the purity of the game that we could all groan at. But it stars Ken Griffey, Jr., so I would still watch the shit out of this movie.

I wouldn't be much of a blogger if I didn't have at least one gripe, and here it is: what is the theme of this insert? The back mentions playing with his Dad and a community service award, so....what? Why is it called Biorhythm? I was expecting some physical information about the Kid that made him so good at baseball. Like maybe that he's a lefty which gives him an advantage vs. certain pitchers or he has 20/20 vision so he's really good at seeing the ball or his arms are especially long allowing further extension and, therefore, ball placement. Just anything bio-related would have been cool to read about. It's a missed opportunity. Overall Biorhythm is a lot like 36% of the Star Wars film franchise - fun to look at but lacking in substance.

2000 Upper Deck Ionix Awesome
Powers #AP1

At 1:23 or about 1 per box, this reasonably-attainable card probably seems like just another wild, wacky insert to the uninitiated. But those of you who were born before, oh, say 1993 are surely in on the reference, right? Well, just in case:

We're all on the same page, right? The name even rhymes.

My favorite aspect of this card is that it came out in 2000, a full three years after the first Austin Powers movie was released. The film did not do particularly well in theaters, and it was a considerable amount of time after it was released on VHS that it became the worldwide phenomenon and cultural touchstone that it would. I mean, do you remember how big this movie was? It's hard to believe now, all these years later, how engrained in pop culture this thing got. People quoted it unironically for literally a decade. The proof is in the pudding, my friends. Even baseball cards could not escape the gravitational pull of the International Man of Mystery.

By the way, Elizabeth Hurley, right?


What were we talking about? Oh, right, the card or whatever. Here's the back:

Another missed opportunity: how 'bout an AP reference in the blurb, guys? Come on, if you're going to go so far as to make this insert in the first place, go ahead and tack on a shameless "Yeah, baby, yeah!" or even an "Oh, behave!" for goodness sakes. The back of this ridiculous baseball card is no place to suddenly tone it down.

2000 Upper Deck Ionix Pyrotechnics #P11

At 1:72 we are now firmly in the pricy part of the checklist. Can we talk about the border here? It's a tattletale. If your Pyrotechnics card was mis-cut even the tiniest bit you are going to notice. Mine is quite mis-cut but still not the worst I've seen. Additionally the bright orange makes print lines pop. Everything about this card is directing you to its own imperfections. But also check out the warning on the bottom-right. How cute is that?

You don't see a lot of diagonal stat boxes, but I do like the look.

OMG look at this thing. It’s just full-bleed awesome with bold Scooby-Doo colors and a massive Twilight Zone-style hypno-door, all bathed in a sheen of glorious refraction.

I believe we are looking at the funkiest 1:288 insert in history.

No photos, no stats, no problem. This thing holds its own beautifully. I have zero complaints. I want a hundred of them, please.

2000 Upper Deck Ionix UD Authentics Autograph #JR
(courtesy of Kevin Conley)

While not a pre-2000 auto, these are still tough gets as he is still a Mariner here and the auto is on-card. The design here could have worked with just about any Upper Deck set, so it's not particularly Ionix-esque. Independent of that it's a great-looking card.

(courtesy of Jordan Ebener)

I'm surprised how few of these I've seen give that at only 1:144 these are half as rare as Warp Zone. The checklist isn't even that big, only 13 card vs. Warp Zone's 15. Is there some short-printing at work here?

Oh, and if that insert name is familiar, it may be because UD Authentics is a shared insert with the Hologrfx brand which had an autographed insert with the exact same name in 1999.

This also brings us to the list of Griffeys I still need from 2000 Upper Deck Ionix:

2000 Upper Deck Ionix UD Authentics Autograph #JR

Yep, just the auto. Another want list I bet I have in common with a lot of Griffey collectors.

So that was it for the two great future-phile Upper Deck brands. The ultra-modern/futuristic theme was always a hallmark of Upper Deck design since their inception and through their remaining years in baseball, but few sets would embrace it quite like HoloGrFx and Ionix. They remain challenging and gratifying builds for collectors of guys who made it into these killer inserts.

Monday, February 15, 2021

2000 Upper Deck HoloGrFx: the Coolest Card is NOT a Griffey :-(

After a year like that, this feels like a good time to look to the future not unlike Upper Deck did at the turn of the millennium when they gave us some of the coolest futuristic-themed card sets ever made. It's Future-phile month at the Junior Junkie when we take a look at the complete 2-year lifespans of two shiny, forward-looking sub-brands with a whole lot in common: HoloGrFx and Ionix.

Where the designs of the previous HoloGrFx set were all pretty similar in aesthetic, this year’s offering is a little all-over-the-place. We got everything from simple, understated portraits to bold, wacky cartoon elements to spacey fields of stars and swirling intergalactic detritus. The thread of futuristic design that binds them remains intact, but homogenous they are not.

One of the coolest highlights of this year’s HoloGrFx set is a relic insert featuring game-used swatches from the 1999 World Series. Some were even autographed. It was probably the timing of this release and not the design that made Upper Deck include these in this particular set.

A quick note: as cards from the Ionix and HoloGrFx timelines can be a bit confusing, one helpful tidbit is that all 2000 HoloGrFx cards are horizontally-oriented. Also they say "HoloGrFx" right on the front which helps too.

2000 Upper Deck HoloGrFx #73

The card is cool, but the design is a little weak. I mean, it’s shiny. A little sparkly. The lines are cool? I suppose my biggest gripe here is all that negative space that is seemingly there just to give you a good, uninterrupted look at the sparkly and also the lines. I’ve spent a measurable quantity of time looked for a watermark or a hologram or something that might be hidden in that big ol’ field of lines, and there is nothing. Just the lines. Lots of them. They remind me of the tesseract at the end of "Interstellar." Maybe there's black hole data hidden somewhere in there...

The back is nice enough. I really do like the way they blued out the whole thing, including the photo. It’s not blowing anyone out of the water, but it’s reasonably attractive.

That’s it for the base set. Just one okay base card. No cool parallels or subsets to redeem this one. Here’s hoping the inserts show up.

2000 Upper Deck HoloGrFx Longball Legacy #LL3

The easiest pull at 1:6, Longball Legacy give us some unique, logo-matched colors and a great stat box featuring Junior’s longest dingers. That same photo of the Kid makes three separate appearances on this card, but my favorite photo here is that crowd background in the dinger chart - specifically the kid in the middle having the best day ever.

I bet it was all downhill from here. I mean, come on - a moment like this has got to burn up, what, ten years of karma? Longball Legacy Kid, if you're out there, comment below and let us know how you're doing.

2000 Upper Deck HoloGrFx Starview #SV1

StarView is really cool this year. Where the previous set’s StarView insert was characterized by emerald green cracked foil, this one is much more literal with a field of small holographic stars filling the negative space. Said curved space carries over to the back where in lieu of stars it is a monochromatic photo background. At 1:11 they’re pretty easy to track down, too. A highly-recommended value get for the budding Griffey getter.

2000 Upper Deck HoloGrFx Future Fame #FF5

At 1:34 this insert ties for the toughest get of 2000 HoloGrFx. Once again this card features one photo recycled three times on the same card. It’s a good shot of our guy and works better as a portrait than a full-body shot. Apart from the surface-wide gold-tinted foil and a very flattering blurb, there’s not a whole lot going on here. Simplicity seems to be this card’s strength, but just the year before every design was so off-the-wall and interesting. Am I the only one who finds this year’s designs a little underwhelming? Nice pic, tho.

2000 Upper Deck HoloGrFx Bomb Squad #BS1

At 1:34, these are the toughest pulls at just shy of one per 1.5 boxes. How we went from ultra-simple and understated Future Fame (the exact opposite of last year’s version, btw) to this wild comic book card with one of the coolest stat visuals ever to grace a card back, I will never understand. I will say that the only thing that could improve this particular card would be Seattle colors. Apart from that it’s basically perfect and an absolute blast to spend time with. Rest in peace, Mr. Aaron...

There is just one more insert from this set that I want to show because it really struck a chord with me:

This gorgeous piece of eye candy is Stars of the System, and it is the coolest 2000 HoloGrFx card I own. I am fruit for space-themed cards, and I don’t believe I’ve seen one better-executed than this. The placement of the center of that starburst/nova is a little suggestive, but apart from that the whole thing is damn beautiful. THAT is how you do a sci-fi baseball card, people.

There’s nothing here that will break the bank – you can actually complete the entire Griffey checklist PLUS a common Stars of the System card for less than 20 bucks. It’s worth it for a few reasonably cool Griffeys and two very cool ones.

Next week we will take a look at my favorite of the Upper Deck’s millennium futurephile sets: 2000 Ionix. Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 8, 2021

I Bust Four Packs of 1999 Upper Deck Ionix and Also Write About It

After a year like that, this feels like a good time to look to the future not unlike Upper Deck did at the turn of the millennium when they gave us some of the coolest futuristic-themed card sets ever made. It's Future-phile month at the Junior Junkie when we take a look at the complete 2-year lifespans of two shiny, forward-looking sub-brands with a whole lot in common: HoloGrFx and Ionix.

Having just done a post about HoloGrFx, it's clear that it doesn’t take a “card guy” to notice the similarities between the two sets. But why two thematically and aesthetically identical sets? Sure, this kind of stuff was right in Upper Deck's wheelhouse, all decked out with crazy lines, shapes, and patterns and set off generously with foil and refractor effects. 

I can't really complain. It’s like they took the techy inserts of Stadium Club and made whole brands out of them. Every card right down to the commons could be a prize in any other pack. And speaking of prizes, this is the set that contained the Frank Robinson Piece of History 500 HR Club card.

The market-wide shift towards vintage designs was on the horizon, though. I suspect that had a lot to do with this one disappearing. That and possibly the expense of producing them at all. If that really was a factor, I can't help wondering if sticking with just one set might have made a difference.

1999 UD Ionix #52

There is a lot going on here, and while I’m tempted to just say “Look at all that! Crazy, huh?” and move on, I am also determined to fit every design element here into one sentence: SO, here we have a rainbow-colored topographical chrome background bordered on one side by a vertical nameplate, a stippled-fade partial border with a black corner square to accentuate the foil logo, a small inset portrait in shiny yellow, and a starburst effect radiating from behind the large, centered action photo, all made extra shiny by Chromium stock. That is at least seven more elements than a base design really needs, a fact which, in itself, is a good general description of all Ionix cards.

Personally I am a bigger fan of the back which appears to be at least a little more focused on subtlety. They carried over only the stippled borders and the starburst which is a much more reasonable number of elements. The slight highlighting of the top edge of the stat box is a nice little touch.

1999 UD Ionix #R52 Reciprocal #/750

While Chromium historically lends itself well to a refractor parallel, there is none here which sucks because with everything that’s going on, a refractor of this thing would look wild. The parallel instead features a swapping of the front and back photos which they called “Reciprocal.” I like the idea, but I’d have liked it more were it a “true reciprocal,” that being a straight-up reversal of the entire card front (or even just the photo). It would have been fun just to see ol' blurry-arm batting righty.

I mean, it’s okay. I still think my original interpretation of “reciprocal” would have made for a more fun and memorable parallel.

1999 UD Ionix #R86 Techno

The short-printed (1:4) Techno subset is a better design than the actual base cards all day. Where the base is a random conglomeration of clashing elements, the Techno cards are a lot more balanced and attractive. And yet again, they’d have looked killer as refractors.

Don’t get excited about the “R” prefix – in the case of this subset (and ONLY this subset), the “R” stands for “Techno.” They included an additional year of stats as well as a better blurb than the base card. Man, Techno could have been yet another brand if they really wanted to churn out the future designs. I’d have been a buyer.

-86 Techno Reciprocal #/100

Here is where I would put the flip-flopped photos Reciprocal version, but it's #/100 and I have yet to even see one.

You will notice that as the cards get more scarce they also get exponentially cooler. It's like a logarithmic curve of awesome.

1999 UD Ionix Hyper #H1

The 1:9 Hyper insert looks like what the subset might have looked like had Techno been the base design. Honestly all the cards so far would have made perfectly reasonable base designs. At least we finally have some refraction now.

1999 UD Ionix Nitro #N1

Again, a great base design that they designated an insert. These fell 1:18 and sell more or less in the base card price range which should come as no surprise because everything about it is super base-y.

Oh, and I hope you like American Gladiator names, because Ionix is full of them.

1999 Upper Deck Ionix Cyber #C1

This is the point at which Ionix cards start getting really cool. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s also where prices start going up. While this does use the same nameplate as the Techno subset, the 1:53 Cyber is the first Ionix card that really looks like an insert. The highlights here are the colorful front and the stat boxes unique to the strengths of each player in the checklist. And they only get cooler from here on.

Wasn't there an American Gladiator named Cyber? It was a hot-but-very-muscley lady, right? Who am I thinking of?

1999 UD Ionix Warp Zone #WZ1

At 1:216 we are now deep into the Ionix insert game, and this thing really looks the part. The brighter colors here, particularly the white borders, bring out all the fun visual effects at play. The only question I’m left with is do we call it “Warp Zone” or “In Da Zone?” because they are both very much on there.

Um, shield your eyes or something....

1999 Upper Deck Ionix HoloGrFx #HG1
(courtesy of Rodney Vallejo)

This….THIS is the big get from all four HoloGrFx/Ionix sets. The one pictured here is not mine and probably never will be. Some inserts are so cool I will try and pick up a cheaper one just to show it on this blog, but there are no “cheaper” ones to be had. These 1:1500 bad boys are simply expensive and always will be.

It’s obvious why: it’s just indulgent as all get out. The grid design has a slight rainbow gradient to it that sets off the refraction like few other cards can. It makes me think of this quote from Season 3 of Futurama:

Fry: "I just saw something incredibly cool! A big floating ball that lit up with every color in the rainbow, plus some new ones that were so beautiful I fell to my knees and cried."

Amy: "Was it out in front of Discount Shoe Outlet?"

Fry: "Yeah..."

Amy: "They have a college kid wear that to attract customers."

I would imagine a card collector in 1986 seeing this insert and having a similar reaction to Fry. It’s a hobby wonder regardless of what era of card technology you’re living in.

If you’re like me you may also be wondering why 1999 HoloGrFx didn’t have an insert called “Ionix.” I don’t have release dates for the two sets, but my guess is that Ionix came first; and Upper Deck just really liked that insert name, missing letters and all, and devoted a whole other brand to it.

Which brings us to my 1999 Ionix want list:

#86 Techno Reciprocal #/100
HoloGrFx #H1

And now let's try and remedy that. On to the packs!

Pic from the auction

I would absolutely lose my mind and never buy a pack again if I pulled a HoloGrFx insert of any kind. The Techno Reciprocal would be nice as would the Frank Robinson Piece of History 500 HR Club, but the HoloGrFx is the real prize today. And always. Forever.

Maybe let's just hope for a Griffey or two...

Okay, there are worst ways to start than a Captain card, and a Pudge to boot.

Wow! A lovely, pack-fresh 1:9 insert hit of the man himself. I'd say we're pretty ahead of the game at this point.

Okay, I like Tony Gwynn. And that would be a "pitcher at the plate" card, too. One more...

A Griffey insert and a base card? Yeah, that's a win. Go us. I can all but assure you these will not be the last 1999 Ionix packs we will be opening.

We’re now halfway through Upper Deck’s two-year run of futurephilia. Up next will be the HoloGrFx and Ionix sets of 2000. Spoiler alert: one of those is the best of the four sets. Thanks for reading.