Sunday, December 26, 2010

1986 Fleer Update

It’s 1986. You’re the Cleveland Indians. Last year you lost 102 games. What do you do?
You sign 47-year old knuckle ball pitcher Phil Niekro. That’s what.

Hold the laughter. Phil starts 32 games and eats 210.1 innings. That’s remarkable and that’s why he is in the Hall of Fame.

About the Card

In 1984, Fleer as usual, completely ripped off a significant new concept that Topps had developed in 1981. The Traded set.  Fleer titled theirs “Update”. That’s about the extent of their imagination. How hard would it have been for Fleer to come up with a different design for the update set? What we get it a better card stock but that’s it. It’s the same design, which you can categorize under: haven’t we’ve seen this before?

This beautiful Beckett slab is sitting on eBay for a BIN price of $24.95 which is about $24 more than it's worth. Nothing remotely rare about this card and considering you can buy the entire factory set which includes a Barry Bonds rookie for $12 - I'd say this slab will never be bought at this price. Furthermore, these used a different stock for the update set so it's not its even condition sensitive like the regular issue.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

1986 Donruss

In 1986, Gary Carter led the league in GIDPs & Sac Flies. Who Knew?

About the Card
Ben Henry's Baseball Card Blog made the astute observation that 1986 Donruss invokes the popular TV show at the time Max Headroom.

There is no getting around the fact the Donruss was either inspired by or trying to capitalize on the success of the show by utilizing a blue stripe border.

I find this set to be the best design of the year. Not only because of its use of pop culture emblematic of its time and place but Topps & Fleer were particularly uninspired in 1986. The card quality was better too. Topps & Fleer seemed to be printed on toilet paper. 1986 Donruss doesn’t have any chipping issues as the others exhibit. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

1985 Donruss & 1985 Topps

Tony Perez had a very exceptional but unremarkable career that lasted 23 years. However, in 1985, at 43 years old, he was a productive bench player for the Reds with a 138 OPS+.

Cal Ripken, in 1985 was in the midst of being the prototypical modern day shortstop.

About the Cards

In the side-by-side comparison you can see that both cards are similarly designed.

Brand logo in the upper left & official team logo in bottom right.

The borders are the same size. Topps using white and Donuss using black.

Topps doubled down on the team name with a somewhat clumsy slanted stamp but Topps never was subtle.

1985 Topps is a tough set to grade due to the prevalence of poor centering. 1985 Donruss isn’t nearly hard to find correctly centered but as with any black border card – chipping can be an issue. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

1991 Leaf Blower

Leaf followed up its landmark premium 1990 set with an ill-conceived heavy border design usual reserved for their regular issue Donruss set.

Where Leaf gets credit is that they went in the complete opposite art direction. However, the credit goes to the premise not the execution. This design is hideous. There is nothing about the design that evokes baseball.

About the Card

This Barry Bonds card in particular looks as if it doesn’t have licensing rights from MLB.
There isn’t a great rookie nor a great subset or even a chase card in this set so 1991 Leaf is junk wax. The good news is that the production was solid and these cards grade gem fairly easy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

1989 Upper Deck

When discussing 1989 Upper Deck you can’t overstate the impact on the baseball hobby.

Counterfeit-Proof Cards using holograms! Better quality card stock and photography. Tamper-Proof Pack.  The Junior Griffey rookie.

1989 also happened to be a horrendous year for card designs.
Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Bowman & even Sportflics all fought for the title of worst set of the year.

Let’s face it -1989 Upper Deck without the context isn’t that great of a design itself but the upstart company literally caught everyone else sleeping and forever changed baseball cards.

However, Mike Schmidt’s card wasn’t the beneficiary of all the newness. We see arguably the best 3rd basemen of all time being interviewed - presumably because his bat stopped talking.

On May 2nd, 1989 vs. Houston Astros, Jim Deshaies served up his world famous meatball to Schmidt in his first at bat and he hit what turned out to be the last home run of his illustrious career. It was the 548th time he rounded the bases and left him at #6 on the career HR leader list. At the end of 2010, Schmidt stands 15th.

Monday, December 6, 2010

1991 Upper Deck Final Edition

In 1991, according to Dave Jamieson’s Mint Condition, Upper Deck printed a “staggering 4 billion baseball cards” (Personally, I believe that number is either a misprint or misinformation). Unfortunately, the base card design happens to be a low tide moment in their impeccable design history.  Considering only two years earlier Upper Deck set the baseball hobby ablaze, this design surprisingly similar to the 1990 design left Upper Deck stuck with the year’s most pedestrian set.

The adage of ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” was never more suited than for Upper Deck in 1991. Against better judgment they hit the snooze button in the art department focusing more on inserts and autograph chase cards.

About the Card

In an era where most players have several rookie cards to choose from - Pedro Martinez has only one. How he slipped through every company's player selection except Upper Deck's is remarkable. Even more remarkable is that it arrived in a year-end factory set that turned out to be a one-off idea. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

1984 Drake's Big Hitters

Saturday, May 28, 1983, Veterans Stadium Phillies vs. Expos

Mike Schmidt comes to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 3.
There are 2 outs and the winning run is on second base.

On the day, Schmidt is 0 – 4 with 4 strike outs…on 12 pitches.

On the first pitch from Jeff Reardon – Schmidt hits a 2 run home run to win the game.

About the Card

Food issue cards! 1984 Drake’s Big Hitters came in mini boxed sets and 500 ct. vending boxes. I’m not sure if this particular series was also distributed into Drake’s cakes products but most likely were. I remember buying Devil Dogs or Ring Dings to get cards so I’ll have to do research on that.

Drake’s defined a “Big Hitter” as 'a clutch player' whom ‘consistently produces that key hit’.
In 1983, Mike Schmidt batted .281 in Late & Close situations.

Late & Close are PA in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.

1978 Topps

In 1977, the Red Sox finished 2.5 games behind the Yankees. In November, they signed Mike Torrez away from the Yankees. In December, GM Haywood Sullivan traded their ace and future Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins to the Rangers because Don Zimmer, the Red Sox manager, didn’t like him.[1]

But in order to win the eastern division they would need a true front line starter and not just a ‘scoreboard’ pitcher in Torrez.  On March 30, 1978 they traded for Cleveland Indians’ 23 year-old ace Dennis Eckersely.

From June 21 – July 3, 1978 Dennis Eckersley face the Yankees THREE consecutive starts.
He won all 3 starts with a combined line of 24 IP, allowing 23 Hits, 8 ER, 6 BB, 19 Ks, 3.00 era including holding Reggie Jackson to 2 -11 with just 1 run, 1 walk & 4 ks.

After the July 3rd win "Eck" had buried the Yankees 9 games back.

About the Card

1978 Topps is perfectly simple.   A classic design.   
When it comes to graded cards PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) dominates the vintage market but I prefer Beckett Grading Services.  
Their vintage grading division is titled Beckett Vintage Grading and subjectively speaking slightly more stringent.
Aside from the BVG moniker the slab itself is the same as a BGS slab although it doesn't feature sub grades. A practice I find to be a questionable mistake. 
If you're looking to purchase or grade vintage cards for resell value you have to go with PSA. Their registry competitions have given PSA a major premium over BVG.
If you're looking for the best protection - Beckett slabs are superior. 

1. Bradley, Richard (2009), The Greatest Game, Free Press, pp.68-69

Saturday, November 27, 2010

1981 Fleer....Mr. Sutton, say "Cheese"

Prior to advances in high-speed photography most baseball card photographs consisted of poses.  One of the most common was the ‘arms folded on bended knee’. This was the least artistic of the poses because it doesn’t resemble any movement you would see in the game of baseball.

Fleer, which fought for 5 years in the courts to produce a baseball card set, decided to employ precisely the same type of poses.  Which once again showed that Fleer was only interested in selling their dubble bubble gum more than bringing innovation to a growing baseball card market. 

The 1981 Fleer design would best be summed up as basic.

Friday, November 19, 2010

1990 Leaf...Leaves are falling all around

In 1990, after the success of Upper Deck’s inaugural set, Donruss decided to revive the Leaf name to produce an upscale set.

1990 Leaf was the first premium set produced by an existing manufacturer signaling the dramatic change the hobby would undertake after Upper Deck debuted.

In contrast to their heavy border designed Donruss sets, 1990 Leaf was just a simple white border and a silver design in the left hand corner.

The specifics of the production run weren’t made available but its generally believed that Leaf was the lowest produced set of 1990.

To this day, it’s considered a landmark set and still very popular.

About the Card

Of the cards that get submitted to Beckett Grading Services - 1990 Leaf grades out gem roughly 8% of the time. That's a good indication that this is a tough set to get a gem on.  In my handling of this set I find that edges are your primary concern. You don’t want more than one edge to be rough and most of the time all the edges are rough. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

1983 Topps & Bottoms

In this side-by-side base card comparison of 1983 Topps & 1983 Fleer you can see why Topps was still considered the only card worth collecting.

Fleer’s one cool move was to use the actual team logo for the team name, which hadn’t been seen on a card since 1965 Topps. But what’s up with the color on the borders? It’s somewhere between fog & granite on the Solar Graphic Window Advertising & Design Color chart.

Although a great improvement over the 1982 Fleer set, this design still was mundane even by early 80s standards. 

The Topps design was bold and colorful. It sported two photos & had several shapes used in the design. It was spaced nicely as well.

As for the players – George Brett & Carlton Fisk both had very solid seasons. Brett led the league in Slugging & OPS. Fisk had one of his best seasons at the age of 35. He finished 3rd in the MVP voting by leading the White Sox to a western division championship.

About the Cards

These gems are hard to come by. First, you don’t see them available that often and secondly both sets are tough gems.

I collect and prefer BGS slabs because they are built to last & you can’t get better protection.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

1981...The Choice Is Yours

In 1963, Fleer issued its set using players signed to non-exclusive contracts, apparently unaware that Topps held exclusive contracts with some of the same players.

In an out of court settlement Topps prohibited Fleer from effectively producing any licensed player cards for the next 17 years.

In 1975, Fleer, led by Gilbert Barclay Mustin, the grandson of Frank Fleer, who founded Fleer in Philadelphia in the 1885, began a long antitrust case against Topps. The suit alleged that Topps and the MLBPA used exclusive five-year contracts for the cards to freeze out competition. Fleer won in Federal District Court in 1980 and began offering the player cards with its Dubble Bubble gum in 1981.

When Fleer won, Donruss took advantage of the relaxed regulations, and rushed into production their own set.

But Topps appealed successfully in August of 1981. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that there wasn’t an illegal restraint of trade solely because cards could be produced for minor league players.

In 1982, Fleer found a loophole in Topps’ contracts. Players were restricted from appearing on any other brand card packaged either alone or with candy. Fleer maintained the contract said nothing about cards packaged with something else. They then replaced the gum with MLB team stickers. More lawsuits ensued.

In 1983, Fleer and Topps settled out of court; Fleer could continue to sell cards, but not with gum.

Either way, hobbyists suddenly had three choices and Topps had a rival.

You would think that the inaugural set that you fought years to have the privilege to produce would be something stunning.

But instead Fleer was more interested in finding a way to sell more gum than making a great baseball card.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

1993 Upper Deck

During his final season, 37 year-old Robin Yount had 7 consecutive hits over 2 games versus the Blue Jays in May at the SkyDome.

On May 27, 1993 his single in the top of the 5th, was his 2120th single of his career passing Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn’s mark for 23rd place on the all-time list.

Robin’s single in the 6th tied him for 22nd place with Hall of Famer George Sisler.

About the Card

1993 Upper Deck is a very simple, clean & elegant design. White borders with a monochromatic stripe highlighting the players name in script.

Pictured is what's known as a “true gem” copy. Due to Beckett’s grading algorithm you don’t need to have every sub grade be gem in order to obtain a gem grade.

In general, true gems fetch a slightly higher price than a regular gem.

As a side note, centering is weighted more in the algorithm. Which is unusual considering it’s the one aspect of the card condition that the collector has no control over.

Monday, October 25, 2010

1992 Ultra

Frank Thomas injured his right shoulder during a 19-inning game vs. the Brewers on May 1, 1991 in County Stadium.

After that game he started to DH fairly regularly during the 1991 season because he wasn’t able to throw.

The injury didn’t effect his hitting. His line for the season was a staggering .338/.453/.553

However, since he exploded onto the scene as a DH it was hard for him to shake that perception even though he didn’t serve as the ‘Good Guys’ primary DH until 1998.

About the Card

1992 Ultra was Fleer’s response to Topps’ seminal 1991 Stadium Club set. In both design and concept Fleer copied what Topps had done with little improvement. The only difference between the sets is that 1992 Ultra had three insert sets. The All-Stars insert was inserted at a very particular ratio of 1 per 6.5 packs.

The front design is virtually the same as ’91 TSC but ’92 Ultra features a slab of grayish green granite topped with a gold trim.  This invokes another American pastime - the kitchen countertop.

The player’s last name is one font size bigger than his first name. Which comes across like a mistake more than an artistic choice.

’91 TSC used a clever marketing ploy by calling attention to the players’ first Topps rookie card on the back. Without a glorious history to reflect on, Ultra went into a different direction for the back of their card. I will examine that on a later post.

I find that 1992 Ultra is an easy card to grade gem. With all its design flubs the production was rock solid. Surfaces are clean. Centering is always dead on and the edges are always sharp.

Although it’s very uninspired and somewhat odd - it’s still a good set that helped make premium cards the norm more than the exception.

The granite slab functions as a background to a monochromatic color scheme, with graph paper on top. The player then has a shadow effect on his photo for depth. Cohesiveness is not today’s key word. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

1977 Topps

The Montreal Expos inaugural home opener at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on April 15, 1977 hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 57,592 hockey fans.

Steve Carlton, en route to his second Cy Young award, throws a complete game giving up 10 hits, 2 er, 1bb, & 6ks. He also had an RBI single in the win.

Three future Hall of Famers started for the Expos. At first, batting clean up Tony Perez, behind the plate batting 6th was Gary Carter and batting 7th the eventual rookie of the year, Andre Dawson manned centerfield.

They combined for 1 hit in 11 at bats against Carlton. 

About the Card

The 1977 Topps design is a tone-downed version of the flashier 1975 set. However, its concept still owes a lot to graffiti. Big block letters letting you know what’s up. The team, player name and position have their own color making it a very colorful card. Throughout the set some color combinations worked better than others.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

1991 Stadium Club

After the 1991 season Cal Ripken became just the 2nd player in Elias Sports Bureau ranking system to achieve a perfect score of 1.000 in its 11-year history.

About the Card

A landmark set.  The borderless design with crystal clear photography made this easily the set of the year. Prior to this you could categorize baseball cards photography as nothing more than documentary. 1991 Stadium Club was closer to artistic modernism. The influence this set had on the artistic direction throughout the 1990s can’t be overstated. Not only was Topps the first to take advantage of new printing technologies to use photos taken with better lens, they did it in brilliant fashion restoring Topps as the leader in the hobby.

Making this a well rounded card, the back featured the players’ Topps Rookie card and a pioneering take on baseball analytics. 

Topps believed so much in the photographs that the 600 card set had no subsets or inserts. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

1986 Sportflics

At the 1986 All-Star game, Dick Howser dubiously had Kirby Puckett batting lead off ahead of Rickey Henderson! Facing the best pitcher on the planet at the time, Dwight Gooden, Kirby singled. A Star Was Born. This was the first of Kirby’s 10 consecutive all-star appearances.

About the Card

In 1986, Sportflics became the fourth fully licensed card producer. They released a TRIPLE ACTION motion card.

The set was basically ignored. Intended as innovation - it appeared to be gimmicky. Three cards to a pack weren’t helping matters either. Neither was the fact the set only had 200 cards. What’s worse is that it seemed as though 50 of them had Pete Rose on it.

They came in tamper proof foils packs and in 1986 that just wasn’t cool.

The front design is based on the 1953 Bowman set. Whether that is intentional or not I don’t know. It’s the same printing technology as the 1984 Seven-Eleven Coin set.

The photos consisted of one headshot and two action shots.

One upside to the card stock is that it’s fairly easy to grade gem. The two issues you run into constantly is centering and edges. Whatever press they were using left tiny punch holes in the middle edges.

Monday, October 4, 2010

1980 Topps

In 1979, Paul Molitor established the Brewers’ franchise record for batting average in a single season, .322

On August 3, 1979 at County Stadium vs. the Red Sox, Molitor hit his 10th triple of the year off Steve Renko, breaking Robin Yount’s year old franchise record for most triples in a season.

Molitor finished the season with 16. The record still stands as of 2010.

Three other Hall of Famers appeared in that game - Jim Rice at DH, Carlton Fisk behind the plate and Carl Yastrzemski in left field.

About the Card

The design is an improved variation on the 1974 set. 1980 Topps is the last set considered ‘vintage’ by BeckettEdges being chipped are an issue with the condition. Centering is a factor as well.

This card more accurately should have read 2B-SS because Molitor only made 9 starts at short.

I bought this card raw on eBay for $1.99 shipped! The scan wasn't that great but the centering alone was worth taking a shot. When I got it in hand I immediately felt it had a good chance at a gem mint grade but for reasons lost to me I waited to 2 years before submitting to Beckett.

When the grade popped at "9" I was really excited - not disappointed at all. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

1992 Donruss, The Elite Series

Kirby Puckett was called up in 1984, played 12 seasons, retired & was elected to the Hall of Fame 5 years later in 2001.

During that entire time, Rickey Henderson was playing. 
Granted, Kirby's career was cut short but the fact remains; Kirby’s Hall of Fame career was encompassed during the playing days of another Hall of Famer. Not sure if that's happened before.

In the last 12 years of his career, Rickey didn't receive an all-star nomination or even an MVP vote but was still a fairly productive player. Overall, he amassed 13, 346 plate appearances.

About the Card

In 1992, it was no exaggeration labeling Rickey a 'Legend'. Donruss went ahead and did just that with this special insert card that was limited to 7,500 copies.

In today’s low serial number world 7,500 sounds like a lot but this was in the era of mass production where close to a million of each card was being produced.

Couple that with the fact that cases and boxes of 1992 Donruss are still widely available The Legend Series doesn’t circulate much.
Famed artist Dick Perez used a two-dimensional hologram and metallic foil to design the card.

It’s not clear to me why Dick put a headshot of Rickey in front of what appears to be a dartboard but nevertheless it’s an excellent card in line with his realistic portrait art on the Diamond Kings.

I bought this incredible Beckett slab in February, 2007 for $132. I felt I got a bargain then and even more so now.