The Express Expressed Exponentially

When conditions are optimal, a perfect storm may form. Three decades ago, the collision of an athlete at his peak and the excesses of the “Junk Wax” card era resulted in a “Texas tornado” cutting a swath across the cardboard landscape.

The legendary, laconic Texan, Nolan Ryan, was at the height of fame from the early eighties to the end of his career in ’93. (I attended his final game, played at the Kingdome.) This coincided with the emergence of new card companies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, all of which needed product lines. Ryan was the perfect subject for numerous “odd ball” and promotional card sets. Over 30 different sets featuring the “Express” would find their way into the hobby

Star

The first company to cash in on the Ryan phenomenon was Star, who introduced a 24-card set in ’86. They follow up with 11 card sets in ’89 and ’90. The cards have simple designs with white backs featuring stats and highlights. Only one card out of the three sets show Nolan on the Mets.

Postcard

Next in the “shoot” are two postcard sets consisting of 12 cards each in ’90 and ’91. The postcards were distributed under the name “Historic Limited Edition” and all featured original art work from Susan Rini. Since the company produced 10,000 sets each year, their definition of limited is questionable.

Mother's

In my humble opinion, the best of the lot was produced by Mother’s Cookies, which included four different cards in the cookie bags in ’90 and four more in ’91. They returned with a eight card “No-Hitters” set in ’92 and culminated with 10 cards in ’93. The design follows the Mother’s template: simple design, excellent photography and a glossy finish. I have a few of these from each series

Coke

Donruss teamed up with Coca-Cola in ’92 to issue a 26-card career retrospective set distributed in 12-packs of Coke products. I collected these at the time and have 12 different cards.

Classic

Classic cards chimed in with a 10-card set in ‘91 that resembles all of their “crap” cards of the era.

Barry Colla

Other Ryan sets were issued by Spectrum, Barry Colla, Whataburger, Bleachers 23K. ‘95 MLB All-Star Fan Fest and Classic Metal Impressions. Also, Upper Deck produced a mini-set within the “Heroes” issue in ’91.

 

By any definition, this number of sets is excessive. But one company, Pacific Trading Cards, ‘jumped the shark.” The Seattle area company produced a 222 card, two series set in ’91. Add to that, a ’93 Nolan Ryan Limited regular and gold issues, plus a special 30 card box set called: “Texas Express.” But wait, there’s more. Pacific teamed with Advil — for whom Ryan was a spokesman — to produce a set in ’96.

Horse

Producing hundreds of cards for the same player results in mind-numbing repetitiveness. Even throwing in cards depicting Nolan on a horse, with other animals and his family doesn’t break up the monotony.

The next time you curse the Aaron Judge card explosion, remember how Ryan’s “heater” caused a “junk wax” era meltdown.

 

Barajitas EEUUs: más Pacific

This is my third post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown

Where the previous post covered Pacific’s “flagship” Spanish-language sets, this post will touch on some of their other Spanish-language sets. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list but rather a recognition that Pacific had other, smaller sets—general release, inserts, oddballs, etc.—which were also aimed at a Spanish-speaking market. These are what I’ve encountered so far and I know there are many more issues out there.

From what I can tell the 1997 Gems of the Diamond is a 200-count insert set for a 150-count base set—in this case Pacific Prisms. In 1994 Prisms were the insert set but from 1995–1997 Pacific Prisms was a 144-card set with all kinds of crazy stuff going on on the fronts and a sentence in Spanish about the players on the backs. In 1999 the mark returned but as an English-language set.

In many ways the Gems of the Diamond insert set is more interesting from a Spanish-language point of view since it includes a lot more text about the players. The copy on this Bonds card interests me because it feels like it was written in English first and then translated to Spanish since it uses evocative words like “smacked” and “tallied” in English while in Spanish it just repeats “conectó” (literally, connected) when describing his home run hitting.

In 1998 the Gems of the Diamond set became an insert for Pacific’s Invincible line. This was the same deal as Prisms where the insert set outnumbered the base cards.* It looks like Invincible took over from Prisms since the invincible line ran from 1998–2000 and featured a different flavor of over-the-top designs.

*While not the point of this post I’m beginning to wonder when an insert set stops being something I can conceive of as an “insert.”

Less biographic text this year and there are now stats on the back. Stats are in English which really stands out when the text references them in Spanish.

While I don’t have any of those tricked-out Prism cards I do have some Invincible cards. This one from 1999 has a weird translucent circle which features the player headshot so you can see him in mirror-image on the card back. Or maybe the point is you can hold the card up to the light and get a bit of a slide effect. I don’t know.

I don’t have much to note on the Spanish language usage here except to point out that the positions are in English. It’s weird, in many ways Prism and Invincible are both cards lines which would be better served by not having any text on the backs and just embracing themselves as two-sided graphic design. The only reason to have text on many of these is so you know which side is the front.

Be still my beating heart. In 1998 Pacific partnered with Nestlé on an oddball set. I’ve been unable to find out much about how the set was released but it’s a pretty good checklist featuring twenty Latino stars.

Five of the cards are a distinct design and function as something like inserts. The fronts don’t scan well because of all the foil but they’re distinct among all the cards I’ve seen in having bilingual position information. This is a pretty regular feature on Pacific’s backs but is a lot of information to include on the fronts. Sadly the team names are the English version as I would’ve loved to have had a Vigilantes card instead of a Rangers card.

The backs meanwhile continue to feature English-language stats. Given the size of the type being used for the statistic categories this is kind of a disappointing use of space and it would’ve been fun to see bilingual stats here too.

The other fifteen cards are what I guess you’d call the base design. No position information on these fronts and the same huge English-language stats on the back. I do appreciate how the smaller, italic font is used for English though. Still readable but very clear these are primarily for the Spanish-language market.

Barajitas EEUUs: ’93–’00 Pacific

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.

Christmas Cards

The week before Christmas has been a good one for cards. That’s too bold; the week before Christmas has been a good one for me getting cards. I have no idea how cards in general are doing. A few random stories:

Though a long time collector, my re-immersion into the hobby the past year and a half has come with some re-education. I am consistently surprised by the variations in pricing and how, with patience, there’s always an opportunity to get what I need at a price I can bear.

My pursuit of a 1956 Topps set has been slow in comparison to the pedal to the metal pace of my 1960, 1968 and 1969 set building. I’ve gotten lots on eBay of cards in EX or better for less than $3 a card, low numbers and high, but there are usually too many cards in those lots that I already have. I never end up selling my doubles for more than $2 per card.

On Monday an eBay seller, justcollectcards, had a big 40% off sale. I was almost late for a lunch appointment because I went through all their EX listings. It was worth it though. I got 60 cards, including Minnie Minoso and a couple of teams, for $2.75 each. That put a huge dent in my checklist. Now I know I’m not going to get the big dollar cards for any discount from book, but if I keep getting the rest of the set for about 1/3 of stated value, I should have enough savings to make the Mantle and Ted Williams somewhat easier to swallow.

s-l1600 (1)

Cooperstown definitely needs more general interest stores, but that’s a difficult hurdle to jump with a year round population of around 1,800, slightly more if you add the surrounding area. Are there too many baseball stores? Sure. Do I want there to be no baseball stores? Absolutely not.

I’m not a binder and sheets person by nature but it has definitely been easier to put sets together when I can add a few cards into pages, rather than pull out boxes and sort through all the cards to put the new ones in their proper numerical place every time I get two new cards.

Yesterday Joey met me at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St., where I usually buy my supplies. I decided I’d put my 1967 set in sheets, since all my pre-1970 sets seem to have ended up stored that way. Joey needed sheets for his hoped for misprinted, psychedelic card collection.  

We got what we needed plus I found a 1988 Pacific Eight Men Out set for $5! Any set with four Studs Terkel cards is worth having.

25508079_10213139965288181_4895838764657330545_n

From there we headed to Baseball Nostalgia by Doubleday Field. I’m sure I’ve written how BN is my favorite store, filled with cards, cheap autographs, yearbooks and more. It’s been in Cooperstown, in a few different forms, since the mid-1970’s. Pete at the store had read the post I wrote about Joey’s quest for cards with messed up printing and he emailed me to say that he had a bunch of 1976 SSPC misprints. (Baseball Nostalgia began as a TCMA flagship.)

Boy, did he have misprints! Joey bit the bullet and bought all 140 of them, each a trippy nightmare of color mistakes. The Bruce Bochte card (left) looks like a still from a Peter Fonda movie and our buddy John D’Acquisto (right) seems to have two sets of eyes. Freaky stuff.

IMG_3167

A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!

DRcGNScX0AAXiqO

And so, that’s how my card year is ending. The 1956s are on their way, as are 4 more 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

I’ll wrap things up as I did last year, with great thanks to Mark Armour and Chris Dial for not only restarting the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, but dragging me, quite willingly, into participating in a big way. That’s been the best gift of all.