Jan 28, 2011

Card Spotlight: 2008 Upper Deck Heroes Quartet Card (Griffey, Clemente, Guerrero, DiMaggio)

Here is the header on th rear of the card:  Ken Griffey Jr/Roberto Clemente/Vladimir Guerrero/Joe Dimaggio-a quartet of dazzling outfield defenders.   The only other information on the back was that Griffey and Clemente won a lot of Gold Gloves, Guerrero has a cannon for an arm, and DiMaggio is the standard for outfield defense by which all others should be measured. (I'm paraphrasing a bit here.)

Despite the players involved on this card, I don't really like the card. If I had any one of these players' cards standing alone with that information (and more), I wouldn't even think twice about the banality of the facts on the back of the card. But this set and this card were to represent "Heroes" in a baseball sense. Players and/or performances that transcended the seasonal grind to be ingrained in the subconscious.

That's not really waht I dislike about the card; I think I just wanted to use the word "transcended" in a blog post (I hope it was the first time)

It's actually simple why this card is unappealing. There are aesthetic and conceptual issues governing this piece.

Aesthetically, there is too much tan/brown/beige oer the whole of the card.  By itself, this isn't a bad thing.  However, the majority of the space that has been used has been by player name and team logo.  For a dazzling quartet shown here, that sure isn't elegant.  The team logo is especially egregious because it obscures the player head shots (no, they can't even be called images).

Interestingly enough, the players' head shots can all be characterized differently:  Griffey (happy), Clemente (bemused), Guerrero (chillin'), DiMaggio (stoic)

Conceptually, the card falls flat because it doesn't lead to a smooth finish.  In a personality driven card such as this one, give mental images which would lead to their fielding excellence.  Maybe a dual sided card with two images on each side, showcasing what made each of them a worthy fielder in the eyes of the baseball fanbase. 

Imagine a card with Griffey scaling a fence scraping the heavens with the juxtaposition of Guerrero coiling up to sling a ball at unimaginable speeds on side.  On the other side, you can have DiMaggio gliding under a flyball deep in the gap and Clemente exhibiting grace with a fielding move that defies convention.  I would like that card.

On a completely related note, except for league leaders, rookies, and team cards, I'm not a fan of multi-player cards.   There has to be better themes out there then what we've seen.  I did enjoy Passing the Torch from Donruss Elite and 2001 Topps Combos.  But the combo cards in Topps Update and Upper Deck Ballpark Collection are not for me.    Anyone else have an opinion on how to improve multi-player cards or make them more or less relevant (depending on your preference)?

Jan 24, 2011

Junior High Coundown: 43. 1993 Flair

1993 was a banner year of changes in the hobby in terms of type of baseball cards that entered the market. Today there is base, mid-end, and high-end. During this time, there was base and premium (Stadium Club, Ultra, Leaf, Upper Deck, Pinnacle) heading into 1993. All that changed during this year with the introduction of the self-named "superpremium" brand introductions.

Described here is Fleer's foray into this market with Flair.
The Stats
Issued in a one series 300 card set, coming in a 24 pack box with 10 cards per pack. I believe the suggested retail price at the time was $4.99 per pack.
The Design
I believe these were the first cards produced on all laminate card stock. They were much thicker than the normal card of the time (almost the thickness of three cards). The front consisted of two images, one usually an in-game pose with the second usually a close-up ghosted upon the first. The back has the last ten years of stats etched over another ghosted image of the player.

The Rookies
There was JT Snow....and not much else. A lot of 1993 sets did not have a lot of rookies because of 1992 Bowman.
The Inserts
One insert set was included which can almost be a continuity now until the brand's demise...Wave of the Future, which was a 20 card set inserted 1:5 packs or so. Notable names included Mike Piazza, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Edmonds. The image in the set looked like an ocean wave about to swallow the young, up and coming ballplayers.

The Impact
This set became a key component escalator upon which the card companies are riding up to this day in terms of offering packs of continually increasing SRPs. It used to be that the card quality itself carried the day without any thinking about return on investment or pack outs of special cards. 1993 Flair only offered a base set and one relatively obtainable insert set.

Unfortunately, the brand changed dramatically in 1997 to Flair Showcase, though while it had great ideas, did not follow the same pathway as the progenitor of the series. Flair essentially established itself as the first multi-image brand (greater than two) that I can recall (for both front and back combined) and was true to it through all of its incarnations.
The packaging was also novel. For the first time, cards were not issued in the standard sealed wrappers. The packs were little two-piece card board boxes that could classily house the cards after revealing the contents within.

1993 Flair was a foundation builder for many aspects of the proliferation of superpremium (and beyond) card sets. As a set itself, it didn't have much to offer except the classy look and the ultra-classy (for the time) packaging. It is still a collectable set because the set size is small and limited to one series (assuming decent collation). Flair began the revolution of struggling to put cards back to back in 9 pocket pages, and for that I'm not grateful. Of course, it was a thrill to open one of the packs and know one would be getting cards that could look good on the wall in a frame.

Jan 19, 2011

My Favorite Relic Card Purchase of 2010

I haven't done a retrospective of 2010, mostly because my mind has not yet advanced past August. Speaking of which, if your body and mind were separated along two different planes among the space-time continuum, how would you be able to distinguish when and where you were? Your mind (i.e. consciousness) would "see" your body and your body would look back at your mind from the past....so which one would be in the present?

Also, if the past were rooted in the future, would Bowman Heritage come before the original Bowman? Can there be a heritage from a past which has not yet existed? Are sepia tones really reminiscent of a past time or is that the color that happens when color fades and oxidizes away?

This Chase Utley is a bat relic from the 2006 Bowman Heritage. It is also the white parallel type of a relic and is #d to 49. When you see this card, you know of the shadows of the past, represented by the ghostly Bowman Heritage logo and the shadow thrown by the brim of Utley's past. When you hold this card, you're reminded of a simpler time, when the only color from a summer's evening was from a baseball cap and grass stains. Before foil stamping, before metallic coloring, there is and always will be cardboard, wood, and a piece of greatness in the ballplayer in all of us. Let Utley show you the way.

Jan 14, 2011

Stat Anomaly: 20 game loser Glen Hobbie

There is an irony inherent in this card. Glen Hobbie is presented as "Batter Baffler" after a year in which he went 16-20 with a 3.97 ERA (95 ERA+), leading the league in earned runs allowed. However, he was the ace of that Cubs staff, having been conferred the honors of starting Opening Day.

On the text on the back of the card, it mentions his 16 wins in both 1959 and 1960 (while neglecting the 20 losses aspect). In addition, it mentions carrying a no-hitter into the 7th inning of a game against the Cardinals before it was broken up by that notorious hitmaker, Stan Musial.

Let's find out about that game a little bit more. According to the game logs for Hobbie's 1960 season.....I was unable to find it. So, there's a mystery. I wonder which year this start mentioned on this card occurred?

The real question with the entrants in this series is did he deserve this fate of ignominy for a starting pitcher?

I would classify only four of his losses as hard-luck losses (pitching a greater than 7 innings and allowing three runs or less). Surprisingly, three of his losses came as a relief pitcher (including two games he entered before the 7th inning). There were 9 losses in which he started the game and did not make it through the 5th inning.

His 2nd half was much better than his 1st half (3.09 ERA vs. 4.93 ERA) and he had a 1.41 ERA in his 16 wins vs. 6.05 ERA in his 20 losses.

I would say, on the whole, Hobbie had a season (high volume of starts and innings) on a losing team (the Cubs finished in 7th place) with an uneven performance which led to his plight.

Jan 12, 2011

Junior High Countdown: 82. 1996 Pacific Crown Collection

NOTE: I will be doing these out of order from now on because I don't like looking at all the sets I don't remember fondly first

I will admit this, I have a soft spot for 1996 Pacific because it's actually a brand I actively collected during those years. I may be one of the few people left on this blue, green, and brown earth still trying to hand collate this set. I am down to three cards: 117, 317, 382.

The Stats
Issued in a one series 450 card set, coming in a 36 pack box with 12 cards per pack. I believe the suggested retail price at the time was $1.99 per pack.
The Design
Pacific tried to position this in the same realm as Stadium Club and Fleer Ultra by using a full bleed design. The Pacific logo was conspicuous in the upper left. The team logo was at the lower left. In a nice touch, the player's last name was accented by team colors and the triple crown of Pacific. All hail the gold foil of the '90s.

The back was adorned in a primary team color with a headshot of the player in a fading halo. There was the previous year's stats and card copy in Spanish (large font) and English (small font)

The Rookies
There really weren't that many (I count 4 on the checklist). The most significant that I've heard of was Matt Lawton (remember him? traded for Roberto Alomar?)
The Inserts
These range from forgettable to flashy to iconic. (there are other insert sets as well.
Forgettable: Hometown Heroes, had the stars of the day on the checklist with the requisite amount of '90s gold foil (half the card)
Estrellas Latinas: black cards with gold foil in the background like lightning left no impression.
Flashy: Milestones: obscene amounts of blue foil and etching, you will be blinded by this card
Cramer's Choice: a rare insert that was prismatic and die-cut in the shape of a pyramid
Iconic: Gold-Crown Diecuts: this design begat a franchise that lasts to this day. Who doesn't like royalty in cards?

The Impact
I would say in terms of content there isn't much impact on future generations of card sets. The one lasting design feature that has maintained itself beyond Pacific's demise is the gold-crown diecut design as evidenced by even this year's Panini Crown Royale set. In addition, the Cramer's Choice inserts were pretty snazzy (though I haven't seen one in person). A case hit of an insert were pretty steep odds (1: 720 packs) and led to actual scarcity. Otherwise, it continued the 'mid-90s trend of full bleed photos with gold foil stamping.

1996 Pacific was a mid-level set that appealed to those who didn't want to chase two series of Stadium Club or be inundated with the inserts of Fleer Ultra. The Spanish language aspect of Pacific was appealing, but until 1996, the card stock did not lend itself to collectability and handling. This set was a precursor to the full-bore Pacific license of the 1998-2000 where they fully embraced the "locura" of paralleling the base set and took die-cutting to an unbelievable arena of whimsy. Luckily, this set only had die-cuts for the most desirable inserts and no parallels, so in the end, it was fairly collectible, though largely unpursued by a majority of collectors since Pacific had not distinguished itself before.