This is my second post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. The first post features an introduction as well as 1978 Topps Zest.
Before 1993 Pacific had released a number of Legends or All-Time-Greats sets. They also had a number of massive player-specific sets such as their 220-card Nolan Ryan. But it was only in 1993 that they received a license to make a set of baseball cards for current Major League players. The catch was that the set had to be Spanish-language.
So from 1993 to 2000, Pacific Trading Cards released a set of Spanish-language trading cards. Even after they received* a full license in 1998 and began releasing a umber of English-langauge sets—as well as really pushing the limits of what you could do with baseball cards in terms of diecutting and other fancy post-printing effects—they maintained at least one Spanish Language release.
*If you can say “received” to describe winning a court case against Major League Baseball (hat tip to ArtieZillante for this).
Rather than going through each set individually, I’m going do two posts. This first one will look at the “flagship” Pacific/Pacific Crown sets on a year-by-year basis. The second will cover a handful of other Spanish-Language releases.
Pacific’s 1993 set feels very much like a first set; it’s basically the 1993 version of 1981 Donruss and Fleer, i.e. kind of a generic design which hasn’t aged particularly well. The beveled edges and gradient mania fit right in with 1992 Ultra, 1993 Donruss, 1993 Ultra, and 1994 Topps and suggest that everyone had just gotten computers with which to design their cards and had succumbed to all the temptations that the graphics programs offered.
Of special note here is that this is a Spanish-only card. The position on the front is in Spanish as is the bio and statistical information on the back.* While Pacific’s license was for Spanish-language cards, 1993 would be the only year that Pacific’s cards did not have any English on them.
*The less said about the typesetting of the stats the better.
1994 has a stronger sense of identity as Pacific introduced its crown logo but this set on the whole still exhibits growing pains. The photo processing for example is really weird. Many of the cards feature images which are very low contrast and almost faded and the typesetting of the player names is just bad.
These cards though are now bilingual and the stats are in English. Where 1993 lists things like J (juegos) and C (carreras), 1994 lists G (games) and R (runs). This is also the only year that there’s no player biography so we have a huge photo on the back.
Pacific’s 1995 set is still a bit of a work in progress. Those beveled edges return on the backs and the front isn’t exactly a cohesive design yet. But by keeping things minimal and staying out of the way of the photo these cards still look pretty good.
Biographies return on the card backs and while the back design has both English and Spanish in the same size font, the English translations omit a few words like “tambien/also” which appear in the Spanish and as a result are much smaller blocks of text.
1996 is the first set that looks like a Pacific™ set. Pacific’s design in the late 1990s is like nothing else in the card collecting world and their Spanish-language cards have designs which feel akin to boxing posters—especially for lightweight or welterweight fighters.*
*Yes we’re talking boxers like Julio Cesar Chavéz.
On the backs we can see that the font for the English translation is now smaller than the Spanish translation. But we’re still seeing things in their own boxes rather than being a cohesive design on the back. I do have to call out how the position abbreviation is also in English. Pitchers are P instead of L (lanzador). Catchers are C instead of R (receptor). Outfielders are OF instead of J (jardinero). etc. etc.
1997 though is peak Pacific™ and peak boxing poster. We’re getting into cards now that are not many people’s cup of tea but I appreciate how much this one commits to the design. On the back we’ve finally lost the multiple text boxes for each language and the the English text continues to get smaller. Stats though remain in English as do the positions.
I really like the 1998 set. It’s not as over-the-top as 1997 but it retains a lot of the character. This is the first year since 1993 that Pacific put positions on the front of the cards only this time they’re are in English just like in 1996 and 1997.
Not much has changed on the backs. They still emphasize Spanish and continue to have a more cohesive design.* And I’m happy to see bilingual positions return here even if it makes English-only choice for the front design even more mysterious to me.
*Although this one is kind of a train wreck for my taste.
1999 continues the retreat in terms of design. Where the previous three years had a lot of character this one verges on boring. This is the first year since 1993 without full-bleed printing too. The backs are a huge improvement though and the English-text has gotten even smaller.
The most-noteworthy thing about 1999 is that the set size has decreased to the point where there are only 11 cards per team. From 1995–98 there were 16 cards per team, still not a lot but enough that you had most of the starters as well as a handful of Latino players.
In 1999 and 2000? Just the stars and then the rest are Latino players. This is both a good thing in that it allows some more fringe players to have cards—especially given how few players got cards in many of the other sets in the late 90s—but it also means that Pacific didn’t think that Latino baseball fans cared about anyone other than Latino players.
Pacific’s last year of Spanish-language cards was 2000 and I find this set to be kind of boring. The only change of note from 1999 is that the English-language text continues to decrease in size—something that is no doubt easier to do when it’s black text on a light background instead of reversed text on a black background.
Outside of the Spanish-language stuff in these sets, I also have to call attention to how Pacific handled horizontal images from 1995–98. One of the most interesting things for me is seeing how flexible Pacific’s designs were with accommodating both vertical and horizontal images.
1997 and 1998 are the clear standouts here in how the design elements are basically just rotated with the card layout. In 1997 the Pacific logo and the Giants logo rotate 90° and everything else stays the same. Pacific could’ve (should’ve) done this in 1995 as well but instead kept the design exactly the same for vertical and horizontal cards.
In 1998 the logos rotate 90° and the name/position graphic rotates 180°. 1996 is very similar except that instead of rotating the name graphic 180° it rotates 90° and shifts to the corner of the card instead of staying centered on the side.
The end result is that when these cards are paged on a sheet there’s much less visual jarring in the design of the cards. This is something that many card designs don’t do particularly well and it kind of amazes me that Pacific seems to have figured it out so quickly.