Our collecting habits are almost certainly influenced by time and place, and my own certainly are. The players I collect were primarily active in the 1980s and 1990s, the team I collect was on top of the baseball world in 1986 with their spring training site moving about two miles away from my house, and, with my formative collecting years being the late 1980s and early 1990s, I find having a single card producing company with a full MLB license maddening.
At some point, probably in the early 2000s, I began collecting “cards” of players from the area in which I grew up. “Cards” is in parentheses because I have other items of the non-card variety, including Starting Lineup figures for the few who had them as well as other assorted card-like items. While the definition of a card varies by individual, my own definition of a “card” is broad.
Port St. Lucie was small when I lived there – the title of the post shows how much the area codes changed due to population growth over the span of about 15 years. There was not actually a high school in the city of Port St. Lucie until 1989 (I was in the second class that could possibly have attended the school all four years) – so I branched out a little into the rest of St. Lucie County as well as neighboring Martin and Indian River counties. But despite its size there were a few players who made it to the show.
The most famous player from the area is almost certainly Rick Ankiel. A highly touted pitching prospect who likely would have gone higher in the draft if he didn’t have Scott Boras as his agent, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Rafael Furcal then proceeded to struggle with control against the Braves and Mets in the playoffs. He of course made it back to the majors as an outfielder, which, according to his book, may not have happened had he not had Boras as his agent. It’s that story which likely elevates him to the most famous player from the area.
Charles Johnson went to Fort Pierce Westwood and was drafted in the first round twice – once out of high school and once out of the University of Miami. I believe his dad was the baseball coach at Westwood for many years. He is probably the best player (at least according to WAR) to come out of the area, or at least he was until Michael Brantley came along. Again, there are dividing lines for a collection – I don’t collect Brantley because I had left the area before he became a local player. He was in the right place just at the wrong time. Brantley’s time in that area did overlap perhaps an even more famous individual from the area – you may have seen Megan Fox in a movie or two.
There are other players from the area, more minor players in the history of the game. Ed Hearn, who was born in Stuart and went to Fort Pierce Central, was a favorite of my best friend’s mom. He also happened to play for the 1986 Mets, which is good enough for me. Like Charles Johnson, Terry McGriff is a catcher out of Westwood and is actually Charles Johnson’s uncle. He’s also a cousin to Fred McGriff (who I also collect in a limited fashion though that has nothing to do with location – it has everything to do with time). A friend of mine in elementary school got Terry McGriff’s autograph when Terry visited my friend’s elementary school. Eventually that card ended up in my collection through a trade of some sort.
Danny Klassen, who went to John Carroll High School, is the closest in age to me, and while I didn’t play baseball with him (I was on the north side of Port St. Lucie and played at Sportsman’s Park; he was playing on the south side at Lyngate Park) I know many people who played on teams with him in Little League and Legion Ball. I believe he has a World Series ring with his time on the Diamondbacks. Wonderful Terrific Monds was a player I didn’t know much about, but (1) a good friend of mine’s parents couldn’t stop talking about how good he was and (2) his name is awesome. He never made it to the majors, but he has minor league cards and a handful of cards from mainstream sets due to being in the minors at the right time (a prospect in the early 1990s).
I should probably have a Jon Coutlangus collection, but alas, I think he was a year too late. At one point I identified Joe Randa as the best MLB player to attend Indian River Community College (which is now Indian River State College), so I started a Randa collection, though I don’t remember much about his IRCC career.
The more prominent players (Ankiel, Johnson, and Randa) have some game-used and autographed cards; most have parallel cards in one product or another. Okay, Ankiel has over 100 different autographed cards and over 50 memorabilia cards according to Beckett; he was a hot prospect at a time when there were multiple fully-licensed producers. He’s also popular enough that he has autographed cards in recent Topps issues, well after his retirement from baseball. Hearn, McGriff, Monds, and Klassen only have a handful (or what I would call a handful – less than 75) of cards. It’s usually easier to find the rarer cards of the bigger names because sellers will list them, with the cards of the less popular players coming up occasionally.
While the cards of these players aren’t going to set records at an auction or allow me to buy an island, the collection provides a tie to my formative baseball playing and baseball card collecting years. For me, those types of connections are why I collect.
Some serious nostalgia set in when I read Chris Kamka’s recent post on the 1990 Pacific Senior League set, and the dosage was doubled when I looked up the full checklist on Trading Card Database. The Senior League players, coaches, and managers in the set were not simply players I watched growing up. More importantly, they were the names I collected, sorted, and idolized when I began my lifelong obsession with cardboard back in 1978.
As the mind has a way of playing tricks more than four decades later–I could have sworn John D’Acquisto have a 1978 Topps card!–I decided to check my foggy memories against the honest to goodness 1978 Topps checklist. Or in the parlance of the SABR Baseball Cards blog, I did a Cardboard Crosswalk!
John D’Acquisto aside, my memory wasn’t so bad after all. More than half the cards in the 1990 Pacific set (122 out of 220) feature players or managers from 1978 Topps. Leading the way were the Fort Myers Sun Sox, with 22 of the 29 cards in the Pacific set having 1978 Topps predecessors.
While the Sun Sox were clearly the frontrunners, the other seven teams in the Senior League were all represented with 1978 Topps ancestry.
St. Petersburg Pelicans – 16
Bradenton Explorers – 16
St. Lucie Legends – 15
Winter Haven Super Sox – 14
Orlando Juice – 14
West Palm Beach Tropics – 13
Gold Coast Suns – 13
I also organized the crosswalk by 1978 Topps team. Most of the 1978 Topps team sets contributed 4-5 players to the Senior League set, paced by the Cleveland Indians with 10 (or 11 if we count Dobson twice).
At the other end of the spectrum, one team from 1978 Topps, the Minnesota Twins, contributed no players at all.
Something that may have already caught your eye from the various graphics presented is the large number of 1978 Indians who were also 1990 Sun Sox.
The 1990 Pacific Senior League set featured additional 1978 Topps reunions, which I’ll define here as groups of at least three players who were teammates in both sets.
The same Sun Sox also included three 1978 Topps A’s (Steve McCatty, Tim Hosley, Joe Coleman) and three Royals (Amos Otis, Dennis Leonard, Doug Bird). Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg Pelicans reunited four players from the 1978 Topps Mets checklist (Steve Henderson, John Matlack, Lenny Randle, and Pat Zachry), three 1978 Phillies (Jerry Martin, Randy Lerch, Bake McBride), and three Tigers (Ron LeFlore, Steve Kemp, Milt Wilcox). Finally, three members of the 1978 Topps Pirates family (Bruce Kison, Omar Moreno, Al Oliver) got back together on the Bradenton Explorers.
However, the reunion to end all reunions came courtesy of the Winter Haven Super Sox, who more than lived up to their name with seven Red Sox from the 1978 Topps set.
This same team included several other players with Beantown ties, among them Cecil Cooper, Gary Allenson, and Mario Guerrero. While the actual 1978 Red Sox won 99 games and missed the postseason by the narrowest of margins (BFD!), their 1990 redux went 29-43, landing firmly in the cellar of the Senior League’s Northern Division.
With the prices of unopened packs of 1978 Topps largely out of reach, the 1990 Pacific Senior League set may well represent my best chance to relive my first year in the Hobby. Sure there’s no Steve Garvey, Reggie Jackson, or Dave Parker, but let’s be honest…neither did most of the packs I opened as a kid. In truth the only thing that would break the illusion would be that the 1990 Pacific set has no Warren Brusstar, a player I seemingly pulled from every single pack of 1978 Topps.
Still, about half the cards I’d pull would have 1978 Topps counterparts, and if my math is correct a pack of 12 Pacific cards would have a (roughly) 50-50 chance of yielding at least one pair of 1978 Topps teammates. (I’m now tempted to buy a box and test this out.)
Of course, this article has only scratched the surface of all the interesting connections between 1978 Topps and 1990 Pacific Senior League, but rather than highlight all of them, only to end up with a SABR Bob Davids Award my shelf has no room for, I’m turning my source data over to you. Good luck in your research, and definitely feel free to write it up for our SABR Baseball Cards blog!
Author’s note #1: The 1990 Pacific Senior League set includes four cards with incorrect photos. My analysis was based on the name on the card rather than the actual player photographed.
Author’s note #2: Okay, just for kicks, I ran a simulation of buying six packs of Senior League cards using the random number generator at random.org. Let’s see if those predicted 1978 Topps teammates showed up.
Pack 1: SUCCESS!
Pack 2: FAILURE
Pack 3: SUCCESS!
Pack 4: SUCCESS!
Pack 5: SUCCESS!
Pack 6: SUCCESS!
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m heading to Bradenton to win some bar bets with a box of 1990 Pacific!
The phrase “Alternate Site” has become part of baseball’s vocabulary over the past year, and it will always sound weird. It’s like there’s an alternate universe where everything you know is wrong. It sort of made me think of when a few years back I found a book on the shelf at a used book store – Peter Golenbock’s Forever Boys, where the author spent a year with the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association.
I had NO idea this league even existed! I was 9-10 years old, and surely I’d have had some recollection of this league, but nope. Nothing. It’s as if there’s an alternate history of baseball that I was unaware of. It’s too bad, because if this existed today, I’d be into it for sure. A bunch of players I grew up watching getting together again? Let’s go! Anyway, the book was fantastic. Everything was completely new to me.
Fast-forward another year or so after reading the book, and I discovered that there were Senior League card sets too! Looking at the checklist, I had to have them, and eventually I found a set for sale for five bucks at a card shop.
There were a few sets for sale, and I intended to get the one by a company called T&M Sports. Later, I opened up the box and started looking at the cards and realized that they gave me the Pacific set instead. I’m glad they did.
A simple silver border with 22 stars (I counted) along the top and side, with a logo in the bottom corner next to the player’s name. Not terribly exciting, but not horrible. Mostly posed shots, so you can see some of your favorite players from the 60s 70s & 80s up close some 5-15 years removed from their playing days.
Dock Ellis on the St. Petersburg Pelicans? Yep.
Fergie Jenkins & Spaceman Lee on the Winter Haven Super Sox? You bet.
Luis Tiant managed by Earl Weaver, wearing the blue & orange of the Gold Coast Suns? Why not.
Don’t forget about Amos Otis of the Fort Myers Sun Sox.
And what about the power trio of George Foster, Oscar Gamble (sans afro) & Bobby Bonds of the St. Lucie Legends?
Rollie Fingers clearly broke out the mustache wax before being immortalized in his West Palm Beach Tropics duds. Tom Paciorek is resplendent in his freshly squeezed Orlando Juice uniform.
For those scoring at home, the set features four Hall of Famers: players Fergie Jenkins & Rollie Fingers, and managers Earl Weaver & Dick Williams.
My favorite card, though, is Jim Nettles #126. He was a teammate of his brother, who was a star infielder, much like Billy Ripken. Also like Billy Ripken, he is featured with some colorful language on the knob of his bat.
This set came one year after the infamous 1989 Fleer F-Face fiasco, but as the Senior League was on a much smaller scale than the big leagues, this card flies under the radar.
The 220-card set ends on a pretty cool note: a suit-and-tie card of Commissioner Curt Flood.
It’s too bad the league couldn’t stay afloat; it folded shortly into its second season. It would have been fun to see who else would have given it one last shot. If anything, fans were afforded the opportunity to get one last (okay, two!) Dave Kingman cardboard treasures.
Author’s Note: Pacific also released a 1991 Senior League set (using nearly the same design as its 1991 Football issue).
Editor’s Note: If you’ve never used the Trading Card Database “view checklist by age” feature, these would be the sets for it!
Historically, the New York Yankees’ AAA teams were in the East or Midwest. The Newark Bears of the International League were owned by Yankees and played in Ruppert Stadium, named for Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert. The Kansas City Blues were a Yankees affiliate in the American Association at the time of the Athletics move to Kansas City in 1955. Additionally, Syracuse, Columbus and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre have had long stints as Yankee outposts. But in 1978, the Yankees found themselves affiliated with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League.
The Bronx Bombers’ stay in the Pacific Northwest was planned from the outset to be for only one season. The Yanks were set to play in Columbus, Ohio, but the ballpark would not be ready until 1979. The Twins pulled out of Tacoma after the 1977 season leaving “The City of Destiny” as the only destination for New York.
This one and done season is commemorated by a 25-card, team-issued set sponsored by Puget Sound National Bank and produced by Cramer Sports Promotions. This is the same Cramer who would go on to form Pacific Trading Cards. I have owned the set for years and always found it intriguing. My favorite aspect of this set is the “TY” logo on the cap, jacket and jersey. It is a great take on the traditional Yankees script.
The 1978 PCL Co-Champion Yankees (Final series against Albuquerque was rained out) were managed by ex-Seattle Pilot, Mike Ferraro. Mike was originally signed by the Yankees as a player and returned to the fold as a minor league skipper. His success in Tacoma may have helped earn him the Indians’ managerial job in 1980.
Like Mike Ferraro, Jerry Narron would go on the be a big-league manager. The career backup catcher would pilot Texas and Cincinnati.
The most interesting card in the set belongs to pitching coach Hoyt Wilhelm. Apparently, The Hall-of-Fame knuckleballer could teach pitching mechanics beyond mastering a knuckleball grip.
In addition to Hoyt’s card, there are several other shots snapped in the Cheney Stadium clubhouse. Since the photos were taken early in the season, inclement weather may have forced the photographer inside. I can attest to the fact that few stadiums are as cold and damp as Cheney in April and May. One such example is this flattering image of Dave Rajsich.
Generally, the photos are of poor quality, with faces obscured by shadows. The low-angle photos coupled with the shadows make it hard to discern faces, rendering some players almost indistinguishable. Domingo Ramos and Damaso Garcia are prime examples.
The card for Tommy Cruz is another example not being able to see facial features. He is the sibling of the great Astro and Cardinal, Jose Cruz, and the uncle of Jose Cruz, Jr.
Another brother of a long-time major league player is Brian Doyle, whose brother Denny toiled with the Phillies, Angels and Red Sox. Brian’s photo is the only one not taken at Cheney Stadium. He is pictured in the road uniform, which features a basic (Tacoma) Yankees away jersey plus a logo patch on the sleeve.
Several other players saw some action with New York and other clubs. Dell Alston had a stint with Oakland, while Kammeyer, Werth and Zeber played in the Bronx.
Also, Mets fans may remember Roy Staiger. The utility man always reminds me of the actor Roy Steiger.
Now that you know more than you ever hoped to know about the 1978 Tacoma Yankees, I am sure you will race over to eBay or COMC to grab your own set. If you are willing to settle for a card or two, I have some duplicates.
For most of baseball card history there have been two basic types of card designs. Either the photo is placed in a box* or the player is silhouetted onto a background.** Both of these designs are pretty straightforward with their image requirements in that designers only have to think about what is and isn’t shown in the photos.
*Straightforward but none more pure of an example than 1953 Bowman.
**1914 Cracker Jacks, 1949 Bowman, 1958 Topps, and many of the inserts from the 1980s to today.
There’s a third design though which took over cards in the 1990s and has made photo cropping difficult ever since. Rather than putting photos in boxes the trend toward full-bleed cards has created design after design that layers text and other graphic elements on top of the photo itself.
While it’s true that this design took over in the 1990s and was made extremely easy to do by foil stamping, it’s important to realize that its ancestry has been in cards for decades and in fact tended to surface every decade. So let’s go back to one of the first such designs.
Yup. 1957. I sometimes jokingly refer to this as proto-Stadium Club except that the photos themselves are pretty standard Topps photos that you’d expect to see until about 1991 or so. Posed shots showing a player’s upper body, headshots, and a few full-body “action” (at this point still posed) images.
The first thing to point out here is that Topps likes to put the players’ heads as high in the frame that it can. The next thing to look at—specifically in the Kluszewski and Thompson cards—is how Topps deals with the text overlapping the image. Topps likes to crop at players’ waists and at their necklines. In 1957 this is frequently where the top of the text starts but there’s another half inch of image visible under the text.
On the upper-body portraits this extra half inch can give us a little more information about the location of the photo and allow us to see the field and stadiums.
Photographically, these photos were also composed somewhat loose since the image area of the film is huge* and the photographer knew things would be cropped later. This is why in the Gomez card there’s so much grass in the foreground.
*at least 2 and a quarter inches square and quite likely more like 4 inches by 5 inches.
Now we flash forward a decade. On a lot of other sets* before this the image frame is knocking off a corner of the photo. This isn’t the same kind of design/photography issue since most of the photos are somewhat centered so there’s rarely something of import in the corners.
*eg. 1962, 1963, and 1965. Plus in 1966 there’s a layering effect in the corner.
1967 though is exactly like 1957 only there’s text at both the top and the bottom of the card now. Topps is doing the same thing as it did in 1957 too except that the players’ heads are now a little lower in the frame so that the names and positions can fit. The waist and neckline croppings though are pretty close to the 1957 croppings.
The net result here is that we get to see a lot more stadium details in many of the cards—giving the set a photographic character which differs from the other 1960s Topps offerings.
The Fuentes card though shows the dangers of this kind of design. Unlike the 1957 Gomez, Fuentes’s feet—and even his glove—are covered by the team name. This isn’t a big problem with a posed “action” photo but becomes much more of an issue when we move into the age of action photography.
I’ll jump to Japan for the 1970s since the Calbee sets of that decade deserve a mention. It’s obviously doing something very similar with extending the photo under the text. At the same time the simplicity of the text almost makes it an absence of design. In a good way.
It might be because I can’t read the text but the way it’s handled encourages me to not see it. Not because it’s not readable. Quite the opposite in fact. The way the text changes from black to white on the Sadaharu Oh card is handled masterfully in how my brain barely notices it. It’s there as information but manages to not take anything away from the photos.
It is worth noting though that the cropping on Oh and Davey Johnson is pretty similar to Topps’s standard cropping. And that third card of Hisao Niura tying his shoes has enough foreground space to give the text plenty of room to be legible.
Toppswise I skipped 1969 since it’s such a photographic nightmare that I don’t feel like it’s a fair to look at the photos. (Offhand though it’s interesting to note that it tends to crop the photos tighter at the bottom than 1967’s or 1957’s designs do.) 1980 is close, super close, to being included but it still feels like more of a corner-based design. Which brings us to 1988.
Not much to note with 1988 except for the layering of the player on top of the team name which is on top of the background. This is a wonderfully subtle bit of design that allows the photos to feel like they’re cropped similarly to the rest of Topps’s cards. Instead of getting more image area the layering doesn’t affect the image too much.
1991 brought us Stadium Club and the beginning of the full-bleed era of cards. Looking at this first set shows both that Topps was being pretty considerate with its cropping and how things would start to break.
Where earlier sets had the benefit of posed photos which could be cropped, as action photography began to be the priority for card companies the room for cropping started to decrease. For every card like Kent Anderson where there’s enough room for the graphics there’s a card like Damon Berryhill where the graphic is starting to intrude into the image.
1992 Stadium Club shows an alternative to just slapping a graphic on the bottom of the card. That Topps moves the graphic depending on where it best fits the photo is fantastic.
It’s also a lot of work since it requires each card to be designed individually. Instead of positioning an image into a template, this design requires the image and graphic to be adjusted until they work together. Find the best cropping, then adjust the graphic. This extra amount of work is probably why this approach hasn’t really been revisited since 1992.
By 1993 the standard operating procedure had been set. This design captures the way most sets ever since have been designed. A basic template, drop the picture in. Don’t worry if the graphic obscures an important part of the photo.
One of my pet peeves in the full-bleed era is when there’s a photo of a play at a base and the graphic obscures the actual play. The Bip Roberts is a textbook example of this. Great play at the plate except the focus of the play is obscured by the Stadium Club logo.
This is a shame since in 1993 Upper Deck showed how to do it right. The layering effect like 1988 Topps at the top allows the image to be cropped nice and tight at the top of the frame. Upper Deck though selected photos and cropped them to have empty space at the bottom.
You wouldn’t crop photos in general this way but as a background for the graphics it works perfectly. It forces the photos to be zoomed out enough that you can see the entire player and get a sense of what he’s doing within the game.
Most of the 1990s and 2000s however look like these. I could’ve pulled a bunch more sets—especially from Pacific and Upper Deck—here but they’re all kind of the same. Big foil graphics that cover up important parts of the photo. Some sort of foil stamping or transparency effect that cuts off the players’ feet.
Instead of cropping loosely like 1993 Upper Deck most of the cards in these decades feel like the photos were cropped before being placed in the graphics.
It’s easy to blame the card companies here but this is also a photography thing. Portrait photographers often find the crop after they take the photo. They use larger-format film and understand that the publication might need to crop to fit a yet-to-be-determined layout. Action photographers though get in tight and capture the best moment. This is great for the photos but not so great with baseball cards.
Baseball is a horizontal sport and there’s no reason to include dead foreground space. The only reason to include that space if you know that you’re shooting for a baseball card design that’s going to need it.
We’ll make a brief stop at 2008 though. This isn’t a transparency or overlay design but it’s doing something similar. Rather than the usual cropping at a corner of the image box, Topps placed its logo in a uvula at the top of the image box. Right where it would normally place the players’ heads.
The result? Very similar to 1967’s effect where the photos get zoomed out a little and you see more background. The problem? These photos are already somewhat small and the change to mostly-action means that in most of them you’re just seeing more blurry crowds.
Fred Lewis is emblematic of the standard cropping. Small player image with lots of wasted space in the upper corners. That the posed photos like the Matt Cain are often bare skies at spring training locations instead of in Major League stadiums makes the added “information” there generally uninteresting.
All of this is a shame since the Tim Lincecum shows that when a selected photo is not impacted by the uvula, not only is the photo area not that small but the design can actually look pretty nice.
Okay. To contemporary cards and Topps’s recent dalliance with full bleed designs in flagship. I’m looking at 2017 here since it’s kind of the worst but 2016 to 2018 all do this. The transparency at the bottom of the cards is huge now. Yes it gets blurred out a bit but the photo information still needs to be there and as a result the cropping has to be even tighter.
As much as Topps was drifting toward in-your-face all-action shots, the actual designs of these cards sot of prevents any other kind of action. They also prioritize action that focuses in the top half of the frame. Any plays at a base gate stomped on by the design and even photos like the Chase Headley which don’t focus low in the frame are pretty much ruined too.
It’s easy to blame the TV graphics in Flagship but even Stadium Club—a set I love—has this same problem. On action photos the name/type often gets in the way of the image (compare Tim Anderson to the 1993 Upper Deck Lou Whitaker) but it’s the otherwise-wonderful wide-angle photos which fare the worst.
As the angle gets wider and the players get smaller, the odds that the text becomes intrusive increase tremendously. On Dexter Fowler’s card he’s the same size as the text and, as great as the photo is, the design of the card ruins it. Same goes with the Jose Berrios where the text is covering the entire mound and the ground fog Topps adds for contrast covers the whole playing field.
Which brings us to 2020 and a design that gets a lot of flak because it features sideways names.* What isn’t mentioned very frequently is how moving the transparency effect to the side of the card results in tremendously better photos and photo cropping.
*I don’t mind the sideways names except that I think they should’ve been rotated 180° so that when paged the horizontal cards don’t end up upside down.
All of a sudden we can see players’ feet again. Images aren’t all as in-your-face. We can have action images at second base where you can actually figure out what’s going on. Instead of cropping out the bottom of an image which a photographer has already framed, this design uses the space the photographers already provide for players to “move into.”*
*In action photography you’re generally trying to give the subject some room to move into the frame.
More importantly, it opens up the possibility for great photos that would never have worked in the previous full-bleed designs. For example, Omar Narvaez’s image is impossible to use in any design that puts transparency at the bottom of the card. Even Stadium Club. But 2020 Topps is flexible enough that it can use a wider variety of images.
I hope Topps learns some lessons from 2020 and that if we’re to see further full-bleed designs that they’ll be done in such a way so as to not get in the way of the images or to take advantage of the Transparency to give us more interesting photos.
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
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.
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.
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
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 cards chimed in with a 10-card set in ‘91 that resembles all of their “crap” cards of the era.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!
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.