Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Up in the Skybox

I'm posting today about some cards produced by Skybox, a card company that was merged with Fleer during the time that the latter was owned by the Marvel Entertainment Group. Marvel barely had any time to release anything under the Skybox brand before selling the whole Fleer/Skybox concern during a bankruptcy fire sale. The new owners decided to use the Skybox brand for a few sets each year, but a bit like the Fleer sets at the time, these ranges didn't last very long.

Skybox seem to be fairly high end cards, but they feature some odd photos and design choices, which might be why they have become cards that nobody really seems to talk, or care, about.

Card Number 382: Skybox Premium, 1999; #119

I don't have a non-premium card to compare this with, although I have blogged about a Skybox Premium card before - when Tony was having a Spring Fling.

The photo is kinda artsy, with an orange and blue squiggle across the background, and a florid TG in gold foil. 

On the back there's an interesting design lay-out.

The prominent number 19 is not to be confused with the set number - which is 119! I don't like the perpendicular stats box. What was the design team thinking with that?

Card Number 383: Skybox, 2000; #48

They added a 'zoom effect' to this photo by blurring out and recolouring half the photo.

The photo on the back is a hot mess of the PhotoShop blur feature.

That's a nice font for his name on the back. However, a truncated stats box normally sees me ding a point from any card. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that Tony is wearing a different shirt from the photo in the front because it doesn't have the white edging around the collar and down the front. He's also wearing different wrist protectors - the number 19 is really easy to see on these.

Card Number 384: Skybox Dominion, 2000; #101

"Dominion" is definitely the name given to a card set named after all the good names were taken.

The background of the photo has been recoloured black and white. This was a photo from the 1999 season, judging by the 30th anniversary patch on Tony's sleeve.

The photo on the back is very odd. That's not a game jersey, so this is probably a close cropped action shot from batting practice.

The truncated stats box leaves room for some factoids, which maybe makes it more acceptable. The reference to Lou Brock is a bit poignant, given his passing a few weeks ago. 

The odd design choices on this cardback extend to including the beginning of 'Gwynn' under the Padres logo and disappearing behind the photo of Tony. It's unnecessary and the card composition would have been fine with just the logo. 

Total: 384/394 (just 10 to go!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tuesday Twins - is it DonRuss or not?

A couple of 'twins' to show today, that illustrate how the boundaries between DonRuss and Leaf were blurred.

DonRuss's 1988 set is ubiquitous in 'lots' of cards from the 80s. It is possibly the junkiest of 'junk wax' sets. But just in case you can't remember what it looks like, here is Tony's base card from 1988.

Recently another version of this card tipped up in a joblot.

Card Number 380: Leaf, 1988; #90

Exact same card, but with a different manufacturer's logo and the frame reversed. 

On the back, we have a bit more of a clue as to what is going on. The card is bilingual in English and French, meaning it was sold in Canada. (Well, it's sort of bilingual - this wouldn't pass muster in Wales in terms of meeting the legal requirements for bilingualism. And,yes, I know the main reason for that is that it's in English and French not English and Welsh!)

The main things to notice are the lower set number and the changes to the career highlights. For comparison, here is the DonRuss cardback.

They basically dropped the last highlight so they could fit in the French translation. There were 264 cards in the Leaf release, compared to 660 in the DonRuss version, hence the renumbering.

Fast-forward a few years and Leaf and DonRuss took turns in claiming the "Studio" brand. In 1997 when it was issued as DonRuss Studio. Tony's card looked like this:

(I blogged about this back in July) Well, as was often the case back in the 90s, cards like this had parallel version released as well. 

Card Number 381: DonRuss Studio Silver Press Proof, 1997; #124

There are shiny silver foil tramlines down either side of the card, and the other lettering is picked out in silver too.

The back is exactly the same as the regular release. 

As I noted previously about this card, his entire career in baseball to this point (6 batting titles, 1 world series, 5 gold gloves, the modern record for batting average) is summarised in one throwaway line at the end of the paragraph. I've also just noticed that this could be a recent Panini-era DonRuss card photo as there are no easily recognisable club logos anywhere.

This card looks nice sat next to the regular base card. There were also gold press proofs as well, but they were harder cards to find. The set of three would look pretty sweet.

Total: 381/394

Monday, September 28, 2020

Modern Monday (no, really, it is, honest)

Today's brand new card is masquerading as an old card.

Card Number 379: Topps Archives, 2020; #106

Yes, it's Topps Archives, which this year has resurrected a few card templates from the history of the Topps company. Players are allocated a design based on either the 1955 card set, the 1974 card set, or the 2002 card set. (That one is quite clever because Topps included the year on the card front in 2002, which they have replicated but transposed the last two digits so it reads Topps 2020.) Tony appears on a card in the '74 template, which means he features on a card template from a year earlier than one he was given last year.

On the back the stats box misses out Tony's rookie year. The cartoon stat is accurate, in a way, but it includes the season Tony turned 33 (1993) as well as the ones after. 

Given that the player in question has retired, and in Tony's case has actually passed on, it feels a bit mean to include his weight on the back. Particularly as Topps have chosen the upper end of the spectrum that Tony's weight moved along during his career. 

Overall, however, it's a nice-looking card set in a 'classic' template.

Total: 379/394

Sunday, September 27, 2020

One Card Only - Champion

Card Number 378: Upper Deck Goodwin's Champions, 2014; #93

This card set featured sportsmen from a variety of sports, and historical figures like Napoleon and Beethoven. Upper Deck didn't have an official license from Major League Baseball so depicted some of the featured baseball players in normal clothes.

This painted portrait of Tony in suit and tie combined with a baseball cap immediately reminded me of photos of his induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame. 

The Goodwin's Champions sets have been issued by Upper Deck over a few years and are deliberately retro in their look and feel. Like some of Topps's retro ranges, "Goodwin" refers to a tobacco company which incidentally originally owned the "Gypsy Queen" tobacco brand that is now the name of a Topps set. The Upper Deck Goodwin cards in this set are a heavy stock and the card has a subtle varnish finish making it a really nice card to look at 'in hand'.

Total: 378/394

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Never been peeled

The cards I'm blogging about today are from Topps Finest sets. They are heavy duty shiny cards that came with a thin layer of peelable plastic film over them to keep them pristine. 

There is something slightly sad about cards that have had a protective film on them for upwards of 20 years. They have never had that layer peeled away, and their true beauty admired, and now they never will. Because if you try and peel that protective layer away now it could rip away the top layer on the card and that's a risk not worth taking. 

And so, these cards have sat for decades, their lovely shininess forever dimmed and hidden behind the ignored words "PEEL AND REMOVE".

There's a metaphor for life in there, somewhere.

Card Number 373: Topps Finest, 1995; #196

Look, it even instructs the owner to peel and remove coating. That never happened.

The "Finest Moment" on the back is pretty noteworthy - 10 hits in 13 At Bats. That series was against the Phillies and was probably the highlight of a losing season where the Padres finished fourth out of four teams in the division. It was the season when Tony recorded a .394 batting average, of course, and those early season hits helped set him on his way. 

Card Number 374: Topps Total Bases, 1995; #12
In 1995 there were also inserts in Series 2 of the regular Topps flagship release that looked like Finest cards. Just to add to the confusion, Topps used the 'Finest' protective film on them. Andy M from the UK Baseball Card Collectors group on Facebook sent me this as he had been busting some junk wax era boxes, so this is a freshly opened 25 year-old unpeeled card.

The back lists the "Total Bases" that Tony reached with his hits in 1994. About half his bases came from singles, which is remarkable really as they only count as one base each compared to Home Runs which count as four bases.

Tony's Major League ranking in Total Bases matched his card number in the insert series. 

Card Number 375: Topps Finest, 1996; #61
All the cards in this set had different words written across them. Like Finest Gamers or Finest Intimidators. They were also given different colours of gold, silver or bronze. Card number 61 was a Sterling Bronze card. 

The peeling instructions are right over Tony's face.

On the back we get a quote from Tony. He rather simplifies things.

That is a strange stats box because it picks the best stat in his career, up to that point, but it doesn't say what year he achieved those bests. In order it has taken stats from 1986 (# games), 1986 (at bats), 1987 (runs), 1987 (hits - he would pass this total in 1997!), 1993 (doubles), 1987 (triples), 1986 (home runs - another total he surpassed in 1997), 1995 (RBI), and 1994 (batting average). 

Card Number 376: Topps Finest, 1998; #90
This has an odd ripple effect on the front. The peeling instructions now run vertically down the card instead of diagonally across it. 

The back has Tony looking directly at the camera while milling about with his team-mates. 

The write up manages to contradict itself in the first sentence saying that Tony's hitting ability "defies adjectives", after using the adjective "superhuman" to describe it.

That arm patch on the sleeve of the guy to Tony's left (as we look at him) is the Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary patch worn in 1997. 

(I don't own the patch; photo just for illustrative purposes.)

Card Number 377: Topps Finest, 1999; #
The final unpeeled card of this post.

Topps were still using the offset vertical peeling instructions, but this time it still managed to go over Tony's face.

There's a slight 3-D effect on this card, but otherwise the design is quite plain.

There are two "Finest Moments" on the back - one from 1998 and one from his career. The obvious Finest Moment in 1998 was his home run in Yankee Stadium during the World Series, so kudos to Topps for picking something more obscure, and arguably more impressive.

I own some peeled Finest cards as well, but those can wait for another post.

Total: 377/394

Friday, September 25, 2020

Scanning nightmares - Upper Deck Ovation

My wife laughs about how much I like shiny things. You know that giant crab in the Disney film Moana who lives at the bottom of the sea and hoards shiny things? That's me. I like shiny cards too. Right up to the point where I want to scan them and put them on my blog. And then I hate them.

Today's post is probably the first in a series I'm going to call "scanning nightmares". I'm sorry in advance.

Card Number 370: Upper Deck Ovation, 1999; #55

It's only the bottom portion of this card that is foil and has scanned as a big black block. Here's an awkwardly angled photo showing what it actually looks like.

I really like the baseball stitching design on this card, which is embossed. You can see the embossing on the back, where it really stands out.

On the cardback, Upper Deck predicted Tony would reach the 3000-hit mark sometime "early in 1999". In fact, it took him until August to record his 3000th hit.

Card Number 371: Upper Deck Ovation, 1999; #R16

The foil on this insert card scans so badly it makes Tony appear like a ghost on a photo negative on one of those silly ghost hunter shows on late night cable channels.

This is what the card looks like when photographed.

It's still not that great a photo really. Tony is pulling a rather odd expression.

The write up on the back talks about Tony leading the Padres to the National League pennant, rather than mentioning the World Series. It also hails Tony as a "future Hall of Famer". 

Card Number 372: Upper Deck Ovation, 2000; #ST9

The difference between the scan (above) and the poorly positioned photo (below) is striking.

This card was so shiny it kept reflecting me taking the photo as I was trying to photograph it.

There were 20 cards in this insert series featuring the really big names in baseball at the time. Tony is one of seven who have subsequently been inducted in the Hall of Fame.

A few posts back I picked up on the description of Tony as an "icon" for my collection of ways Tony is described on cardbacks. Upper Deck use it here as well, so it's not that rare a descriptor. 

Thank you for putting up with the awful scanning and amateur photography!

Total: 372/394

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The most 1995 card ever

I've mentioned "Nineties Design" quite a few times on this blog. The 1990s were an interesting decade for design as just about everything swapped onto computers for good. All the old ways of laying out printing disappeared. Computer-aided design made it much easier to play around with fonts, manipulate photos, add colours and jazzy bits and bobs, and the trend was for card companies to mess around more and more, until they peaked and gradually retreated down into sensible territory. 

Today's card is from the absolute zenith of that peak. In it's own way it's beautiful. As an artifact of a decade that is so far removed from today's world it may as well have been in a different century, it's incomparable.

Card Number 368: Fleer, 1995; #560

The multiple repeating tinted images of Tony make a stained glass effect. What's odd about this set is that most of the cards looked nothing like it. This design template was reserved for the National League West teams - the Rockies, Dodgers, Padres and Giants. Other divisions had much more normal looking cards.

How much of an outlier is this card? Well here are 8 other base cards from 1995 for comparison.

Admittedly, we do have the three cards there that could well have been photographed at the same game, and the Pinnacle one bottom right is weird too, but it's quite clear that the Fleer '95 card is in a class of its own.

The back is also weird.

The stats box is spaced out to cover the whole card, but only shows the last 10 years' worth of stats. Meanwhile there is a close up of Tony's face cropped from an action shot. Half the logo is included. The legalese is printed in tiny font over the player name and the card number encroaches on the picture as well. 

There is something so pure about the aesthetic wrongness of this card it is literally breath-taking!

As I was compiling that 9-card comparison graphic, I decided to include a card that I hadn't yet blogged about. As a counterweight to the incredible nineties design from Fleer, here is Tony's Topps card from that year. 

Card Number 369: Topps, 1995; #431

It's an unremarkable card until you turn it over.

Topps teamed up with Mitsubishi Diamond Vision - the company that produce the huge screens at sports stadia - in 1995 and rendered player portraits on the back as if they were on the big screen. The way they have added a cut-out image of Tony underneath makes it look like he has a huge head on a tiny body, reminiscent of the memorable Score cartoon All-Star card. I find it amusing.

Total: 369/394

Pop Quiz answers - from yesterday's quiz

a) Fred McGriff went to San Diego in the trade that saw Joe Carter move to Toronto.
b) Joe hit a walk off home run to win the Blue Jays their second World Series in a row in the final game of the 1993 season.
c) Joe is older - born 7 March 1960.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Know the Score Part 2

This is a sequel of sorts to "Know the Score" which I published way back in May. In that first post I said that Score cards tended to have more interesting card backs than fronts, and I feel the same is true of the cards in this post. So I am going to show them back to front.

Card Number 365: Score Baseball's Hottest 100, 1989; #40

Even though he had spent 1988 dogged by injury, Tony Gwynn was included in the 100 players featured in this set from Score. It was sold as a complete set along with a book and some "magic motion trivia cards" that were about Hall of Famers rookie seasons. (Checklist)

There's a solid portrait photo on the cardback. The way the write up is phrased makes it sound like he had just two gold gloves and batting titles at this stage in his career, but in fact he had three batting titles by 1989 (and he earned his fourth in 1989).

The front is fairly run-of-the-mill. The red border is nice and there is a presage of 90s card design with the different font for the T in Tony compared to the rest of his name.

But red border apart, I think this is still one where the back is better than the front. 

Card Number 366: Score, 1990; 685
This is one of the "Dream Team" subsets within the Score base series. You may well be thinking there is no way that this cardback is more interesting than the front. 

But this is the front.

The photo on this card is bizarre. Recently I read a Facebook post from someone who busted a box of Score '90 and they raved about the Dream Team subset cards, which all looked like this. But I can't see the appeal. It's kind of fuzzy and washed out and has no context to it. If they were going for trying to capture waking up from a confusing dream, then they succeeded.

The write up on the back about Tony's scrutiny of video replay as a use of cutting edge technology feels amusingly quaint now. It doesn't mention how he bought the first VCR for the club to use because they wouldn't shell out for it. The descriptions of him compiling his own highlight reels against certain pitchers intrigues me. I wonder where those video tapes ended up.

Also, there's an amusing typo. Four lines from the bottom it talks about Tony winning his third straight "battling title". Now, I'm guilty of my own fair share of typos, but it is funny to see one on a card. And it's another reason why the cardback overcomes its plain-ness and is more interesting than the front.

Card Number 367: Score 100 Superstars, 1991; #94
Tony isn't quite looking down the lens in the photo on the back, but it's still a nice card. This is from another one of the sets that Score sold as a complete unit. 

I'm going to add the description by his team-mate Joe Carter to my list of unique descriptions on cardbacks: "He's on a cloud by himself!" Joe Carter, incidentally, was playing for the Blue Jays in 1991, having only been a team-mate of Tony's in San Diego for one year in 1989. Score didn't reference Joe being Tony's former team-mate, or give a date or context for that quote. How long were they sitting on it before they used it?

The front features Tony fielding. It almost looks like he's pitching in the photo. The whole pose is so ungainly and the composition of the photo, with a team mate behind him, is awkward. The designer didn't help by plopping the Padres logo in the corner up by his hand, when there is loads of dead space below it.

And now a pop quiz.
a) Which powerful hitter travelled the other way in the trade that took Joe Carter from San Diego to Toronto?
b) What did Joe Carter do in the last game he played in 1993 that contributed to his induction in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (despite not being Canadian)?
c) Both Joe Carter and Tony Gwynn were born in 1960, but who was older by two months and two days?

I'll pop the answers in tomorrow's post!

Total: 367/394

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

We all adore an Aurora

Pacific Aurora, in fact. One of the few card sets to share a name with a Disney Princess, and one of the multiplicity of card sets issued by Pacific into the turn of the Millennium.

Card Number 363: Pacific Aurora, 1999; #160

This is one of 15 different cards of Tony Gwynn I own released by Pacific in 1999. It's also the bluest card in the 15. 

The  main photo of Tony on the front of the card has a slightly glowing aura. I presume that was a deliberate aesthetic choice for the Aurora range.

Pacific used up all their coloured ink on the deep blue hue of the card fronts and had to print the photos on the back in sepia.

That's an unusual way of presenting the season/career statistics, but it is a lot easier to read than the standard horizontal lines. Even as late as 1998 (when he was 38), Tony still managed to steal 3 bases during the season. His batting average of .321 was enough to land him his eighth and final batting title. 

Card Number 364: Pacific Aurora, 2000; #125

Somewhere there is a card set issued in the year 2000, that didn't include the year 2000 on the card front. This is not that card set.

Tony, complete with aura, has been placed over a wood effect background on this background. It's not as striking as the blue from the previous year.

The designers have stuck with sepia for the photo on the back.

There is minimal information on the back of this card, which gives them space to spread out the two line stat box and make is nice and readable. Because of the landscape orientation of the card, they haven't used the vertical stats list, but it's still one of the more comprehendable representations of data in a stats box to grace the back of a card. 

Another tip of the hat to Pacific for being a card company that started to include the name of the card set in the circle with the set number. Although, it's fairly obvious on these cards with the big set logo on the front and back, it's still really helpful information to include for collectors.  

Total: 364/394