More from Uncle Dan’s Mystery Box of Baseball: A Real Jambalaya

Inside the big box was a smaller box.  A crooked smile crossed my face in curious wonder as I reached for some unknown treasure.  I had just sorted through several things in Uncle Dan’s mystery box of baseball when I came across the familiar white cardboard baseball card box.  Slowly I unpacked the contents as my curious wonder intensified.  The cards I pulled out were just a random hodge-podge.  I was flipping through cards from Score, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, several Bowmans and only a few of my favorite, Topps.  The majority of the cards were 1989s and 1990s.  A few 1988s, and 1991s, as well.  Interesting enough, I found a stack of 1990 Upper Deck hologram logo stickers, too.

Being somewhat compulsive with a need for order, I sorted this jambalaya of cards into stacks that made sense to me: by manufacturer and by year.  I’ll sort them by number later.  With a little bit of hope, I sorted through the 1989 Upper Decks, looking for “The Kid.”  Hoping, maybe, maybeee … Nope, no Junior.  Oh well.  I knew it was too much to hope for.  Regardless, there are some good names in the stack.  I turned to the Donruss pile.  A couple of good things, including a Bart Giamatti card.  I don’t recall if I had ever seen a card for the commissioner of baseball before, but it was good to see.  I like Giamatti, and for a moment I reflected on the scenes from the Ken Burn “Baseball” documentary, wondering what his tenure would have been like had he lived to serve a full term in office. 

In the 1990 Donruss stack, I also found something cool: the Juan Gonzalez (#33) reverse-image card.  The card manufacturer erred when they reversed the image of this Ranger “Rated Rookie” so that we see him batting in what appears to be on the left side of the plate, and of course, his uniform number 19 appears reversed.  Fortunately, the correct image card is among the stack, as well.  

The short stack of 1990 Fleers included #635 “Super Star Specials” called ‘Human Dynamos” picturing Kirby Puckett and Bo Jackson.  I’m guessing since both players are sporting their home jerseys, the photo was probably taken at the 1989 All-Star Game, which was played at Anaheim Stadium (where Jackson was the game’s MVP).  It’s an educated guess, but I would love to hear confirmation from someone.  

I was a little more intrigued with the small pile of 1990 Bowman cards, which warranted a little research.  As it so happened, by 1990 Bowman scaled down the size of their card, to a more standard dimension.  A couple of things piqued my interest.  First, this stack of cards featured a cool Art Card insert by Craig Pursely.  My stack featured Kevin Mitchell.  The reverse side gave a little blurb on the player, while the card also doubled as a sweepstakes entry.  This Art Card insert set included 11 cards.     

The other thing that piqued my interest is how the player’s information is presented on the reverse side.  In this instance, only one year of data given, but the analytics are compiled by competitor.  That is, the rows include the player stats, while the columns feature the specific teams.  For example, the Red Sox first baseman/outfield Danny Heep played in 113 games in 1989: 8 vs Orioles; 9 vs Angels; 7 vs White Sox; 8 vs Indians; and so on.  It’s a squirrelly way to present the data, if you ask me.  I feel bad for the person that had to put all that together for all 500+ cards. 

A couple of interesting things that stood out was a 1990 Score Tombstone Pizza Kirby Puckett card (number 25 of 30), a 1992 mini-set of three “Special Edition Combo Series” cards from French’s Mustard.  The three in my set include: Julio Franco/Terry Pendleton (#3), Don Mattingly/Will Clark (#11) and Cal Ripken Jr/Ozzie Smith (#13).  Brief information on each player (bio, stats, two-sentence blurb) is found on the card’s reverse side.  The 1992 Combo Series featured 18 cards with 32 players.  That is a lot of mustard to buy!     

I’m still struck by this unusual collection of cards, and wonder about the original collector’s motivation and frame of mind.  Such a wide assortment.  It also makes me want to read up again on this era of cards, when it seems like the wild west of cardboard and baseball players, with everyone and his brother looking to cash in on the collecting craze of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Uncle Dan’s mystery box of baseball cards continues to provide an ongoing sense of wonder, if not source of amusement.  But wait, there’s more …

Author: sabrlatino

Anthony Salazar is the chair for SABR's Latino baseball committee, and editor of its publication, "La Prensa del Béisbol Latino." He has written on the Latino experience in the national pastime, and has consulted with baseball teams, museums and programs looking to tap into the US Latino market.

3 thoughts on “More from Uncle Dan’s Mystery Box of Baseball: A Real Jambalaya”

  1. Regarding a commissioner having a card, I recall Ford Frick having at least one and he probably had several and also the league presidents. Somewhere I still have one with Warren Giles and Will Harridge when they were the league presidents.

    However, I’m pretty sure that Bart Giamatti is the only person to have baseball card who had a Ph.D. in renaissance literature and is certainly the only former president of Yale to have the honor. (And yes, I know that there have been George H.W. Bush baseball cards honoring his career at Yale but while he may have been the country’s president, he never was just Yale’s.)

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  2. The Puckett/Jackson is almost certainly from the 1989 All-Star Game. It looks like there is bunting in the upper deck behind them. And that sure looks like the 1989 ASG patch on Puckett’s sleeve. (Can see it here: http://bit.ly/3lpmrxO). Topps’ 1990 set also had a Giamatti card.

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  3. It’s not my collection, but it’s something I could have had in a box at some point growing up. As a young collector I didn’t discriminate much in collecting – cards were cards. French’s, Bowman, Upper Deck, Score – whatever I could get my hands on. Were they ordered by team or alphabetically or anything that might have suggested some type of organization? I ask because in my younger days I would regularly reorder what I had in various ways based on how I was feeling (by product and year usually wasn’t one of those ways unless I was trying to build a set – I wanted to know how many Tim Teufel cards I had or how many Pirates cards I had). Or maybe it was just this person’s “trade box.”

    I’ve occasionally purchased binders of random cards at shows (more for the binders and pages than the cards). The last time I did it I wish I had taken some pictures of how the binders were originally organized because it was like a time capsule. It was easy to determine how some were organized (one binder was 500+ cards of Jeff Kent; another had about 250 Darrell Evans cards – my type of collector, collecting underrated players, though I don’t collect Kent or Evans specifically). Others were clearly smaller collections (a page or two) of other players. Others were partial sets (like a 1993 SP set – no Jeter). But my favorites were the rookies and early cards of the prospects who ran the gamut from really good players (think Ray Lankford) to prospects who didn’t pan out (think Todd Van Poppel) to prospects who really didn’t pan out (think Brien Taylor). One binder had 6 cards stuffed into each pocket. It’s always fun going through random stuff.

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