Barajitas estadounidenses: ’78 Zest

A while back I received a package of Tampa Bay football cards. One of the cards in it was a 1991 Spanish-language ProSet card and it got me wondering why I had never seen any Spanish-language baseball card issues. I grew up in the Bay Area and even as a 6th grader realized that learning to speak Spanish would be an  important skill to have. I even occasionally listened to Tito Fuentes broadcasting Giants games in Spanish on KLOK but I never saw any of that creep into my baseball card hobby. So I resolved to start looking for non-English cards and Spanish-language cards in particular.

The only non-English cards I remembered were the French/English O Pee Chee and Leaf cards from Canada. Those were cool but very clearly weren’t intended for the US market and as I’ve thought about the novelty of the 1991 Spanish ProSet card, I realized that it was the idea of releasing Spanish-language cards explicitly for the US market which most interested me here. So while I learned about of the Venezuelan Topps cards,* they weren’t what I was looking for.

*Which are very cool and also up my alley.

After asking the Twitter hive mind and searching through the Standard Catalog I started to put a list together of sets and things to look for. Some of the cards (or card-related ephemera) like the 1972 Esso Coins or 1989 Bimbo Discs are from Puerto Rico and, like many other things Puerto Rican, fall into a grey area where they’re both part of and completely distinct from the US. That these two sets are also either impossible to find or ridiculously expensive when they do pop up encouraged me to further limit my search to cards released just in the continental US.

So I consulted the Twitter hive mind and searched the online Standard Catalog and have a list, of sorts, that I’m pursuing now. There aren’t many sets and there were only two which came out when I was actively collecting as a kid so I’m no longer surprised that I hadn’t encountered any of these. Anyway, the list which I currently have is as follows.*

  • 1978 Topps Zest
  • 1991 Kelloggs Leyendas
  • 1993–2001 Pacific, Pacific Crown, etc.
  • 1994 Topps Spanish
  • 2002–2004 Donruss Estrellas

*There are also a few Topps Now Spanish-language cards from the 2017 World Baseball Classic. They’re neat but are Spanish-language variants of specific cards rather than a general Spanish-language release. So those are more akin to the occasional per-player Japanese-language variant releases for me.

I’m sure there’s more. I’m pretty also sure that I didn’t miss much. I’ve been going down this search list and grabbing cards which also fit my other projects since I don’t want or need complete sets of everything. And in the process I’m enjoying seeing how the companies are creating and designing cards for a segment of the US market which obviously doesn’t get a lot of cards marketed specifically for it.

I also plan on posting about the different sets on here. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on and through both their target demographics and the way so many of the sets fall into that post-strike period of baseball history a lot of these sets don’t appear to be that well known.

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The Topps Zest is in many ways the perfect way to start this series. It’s a small five-card set which predates the rest of the sets by a dozen years but it covers many of the things that I’m noticing in the other sets.

But first, some background. This was a promotion aimed at the Spanish-speaking market with a mail-in coupon which was completely in Spanish. Mailing Proctor & Gamble the redemption certificate along with the wrappers from two bars of Zest bath soap got you the set of five cards in return. It was a short promo too—August 1 to November 1—so you only had three months to take advantage of this.

The front of the cards are mostly indistinguishable from their 1978 Topps base cards. Eagle-eyed readers who know their 1978 cards will recognize that Topps updated Willie Montañez’s card with both a new photo and team to reflect that he was traded from the Braves to the Mets. My eye caught instead how Topps didn’t change the position abbreviations. Joaquin Andujar is a Pitcher instead of a Lanzador and Manny Mota is an OutFielder instead of a Jardinero.

montanez1978zest

The backs are where things get interesting because of how Topps made them bilingual. Again it’s Montañez’s card which deserves the most attention because of how Topps added the tilde to his last name* in addition to the other translations. I also can’t help but look at the statistic headers to see how the different stats got translated—or how in the case of Batting Average Topps still used .AVG.

*Some early #PonleAcento action and the reason why I’ve been writing his name as Montañez in this post.

One of the nice things about a statistically-heavy back is that since numbers don’t have to be translated, fitting everything in isn’t too bad. When there’s more text on the back like with Ed Figueroa’s card, the designer has to figure out how to avoid things getting too confusing. This appears to have involved working with the translator to create text which is about the same size in both languages as well. I found it especially interesting that while none of the team names were translated anywhere else on the cards that Red Sox did get translated as Medias Rojas on Figueroa’s.

Author: njwv

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area.

6 thoughts on “Barajitas estadounidenses: ’78 Zest”

  1. I believe that Pacific’s original license specifically stated that they had to produce cards that included Spanish language. I think they were granted a full MLB license in 1998. If you compare the backs of 1995 Pacific and 2000 Paramount you can see the backs of 1995 Pacific have both English and Spanish text while the backs of 2000 Paramount are only in English.

    http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-2nd-circuit/1139727.html

    A little background on Pacific and MLB Properties in 1998.

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    1. Yeah Pacific kept releasing Spanish-language cards under the Pacific Crown mark (and a few other ones but holy crap they had a lot of releases) after they got the full license. I’ll have another post with samples of Pacific’s Spanish-language run from 1993-2000. I haven’t found any of their 2001 cards to be Spanish-language yet though.

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      1. 2001 was Pacific’s last year. I think they only produced Pacific and Private Stock.

        Pacific was actually on the lower end of releases/brands over time. For 1999 I have Fleer with 12 products, Pacific 10, Topps 14, and Upper Deck 17.

        Upper Deck was reasonably low until 1999, but had Black Diamond, SP Authentic, SP Signature, SPx, UD Choice, UD Ionix, Upper Deck, Upper Deck Century Legends, Upper Deck Challengers for 70, Upper Deck HoloGrFx, Upper Deck MVP, Upper Deck Ovation, Upper Deck PowerDeck, Upper Deck Retro, Ultimate Victory, and Victory in 1999. Wait, that’s only 16. There’s number 17 – 1999 Upper Deck MVP Preview.

        There were a lot of products in the late 1990s. To some it’s overkill, but I see it as an interesting time period from which to pick and choose what one collects.

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      2. Yeah the late 1990s confuses the heck out of me with the number of releases from everybody. That I’m only looking for the one or two Spanish-language ones in that pile is why I get frustrated with Pacific. It’s one thing to look for whatever the Flagship set was called but figuring out when Pacific switched from being the Spanish-language brand to the crazy die-cuts in English brand with the Spanish-language set as one of its many lines is tough.

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  2. Although my Spanish is limited to a handful of words, including some NSFW words I learned from (of course) a co-worker, I’ve long been intrigued by Spanish language cards. I’m looking forward to seeing more barajitas.

    I used to collect Pacific in the late 1990’s and one of the reasons was that the checklists would often include Latino players left out of the other sets (i.e. Norberto Martin, Antonio Alfonseca, Melvin Nieves).

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    1. Yeah I’ll be getting to Pacific next and that’s a great point—especially given the extremely small checklists in late-90s Topps. In addition to being in Spanish, Pacific was clearly focusing on Latino players both in many of their subsets and in their commons.

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