Saturday, October 31, 2020

Forgotten Fleer - Tony the Gamer

Happy Halloween! No tricks here, just some treats of the cardboard kind!

Fleer cards from the start of the 21st century are always slightly surprising when they appear in job lots (like most of these did for me), mainly because they released a large number of sets that only lasted for a year. In 2000 they released a range called "Gamers". That's a term that's become far more common in the intervening twenty years and it feels odd that the Gamers range isn't linked to computer games. 

It was a reasonably pricey range ($3.99 for 5 cards) and had lots of bat relics to collect. It also had short printed rookie cards and a 15-card insert series dedicated to Cal Ripken Jr. There were two other 15-card insert series as well and Tony had a card in each.

Card Number 447: Fleer Gamers, 2000; #90

Tony's base card in the set. I think this does look like the cover of a computer game.

The cardback is laid out a bit differently to a lot of cards. The career totals are easy to read. It's also very orange.

Card Number 448: Fleer Gamers, 2000; #120

The last 10 cards in the set were players in the "Fame Game" (whatever that was). Tony actually had the final card in the set, #120. 

The filmstrip edging up the side are a rare design element on a baseball card. It's a foilboard card hence the dark scan.

Tony's credentials for Cooperstown on the back took a slight dent when his career batting percentage dropped by .01 after his final season. He has also since been passed by 4 players on the all-time hits total ranking.

Card Number 449: Fleer Gamers, 2000; #10CG

"Change the Game" was one of the 15-card insert series, along with "Dominators". Tony actually had a card in both series.

This card is a shiny foilboard that scans blue. I like the effect.

It has a very simple (and very orange) cardback. It references Tony's batting style. He was well known for swinging at the first pitch, and often connecting. The hours of preparation studying video of pitchers paid off and he often knew exactly where the ball would be thrown.

He also was a "tough out" - Tony very rarely struck out and only ever struck out three times in a game once in his entire career.

And a bonus card...

Card Number 450: Fleer Game Time, 2001; #49
Gamers got changed to Game Time in 2001 (but kept the font for the logo). This 121-card set was another relic-heavy expensive set. There were two insert series as well (including the bizarrely-named "Sticktoitness" insert series), but Tony didn't feature in either one. This base card was his sole appearance in the set, although there was a memorabilia card with a game-worn uniform patch.

There was an unusual choice of photo montage on the front with a small version of Tony dwarfed by a large version of the same image of Tony. A small cameo shot is obscured behind a grid.

The back, by contrast is more traditional, with a truncated stats box and no write-up.

Fleer have added the year under their logo as well, which gets this card a bonus point, but otherwise there is very little to make this card stand out.

Total: 450 cards

Friday, October 30, 2020

Back to Base - sweeping up the Leafs

It's autumn. There's no more apt time than to show some Leaf cards. I've been patchy in my posting about Leaf, unlike other card makes where I've shown all the base cards in order. Today's post is just posting the ones I've somehow missed up to now.

Card Number 445: Leaf, 1990; #154

In 1988, Leaf cards were just DonRuss reprints. I don't think there was a set in 1989. Then in 1990, Leaf came back with a bit of a bang. 

I've talked about the UD-boundary when the Upper Deck asteroid collided with the baseball card planet and basically wiped out the pre-existing fauna. The card sets that appear after that boundary soon take on the appearance of Upper Deck cards. This is one of the most obvious early transitional designs, with its white borders and a photo on the back.

Cardbacks from the time between Tony's first four and second four batting titles are always interesting because they capture a moment when his career could have gone either way. He could well have left the Padres due to the toxic atmosphere in the clubhouse towards him in 1990. He was yet to have his conversation with Ted Williams that would cause him to change his bat, and his batting. And his career batting average was lower in 1990, midway through his career, than ten years later when he retired. He went from second among active major leaguers in 1990 to breaching the all time top twenty - the only player to play after 1960 in that illustrious group.

I was curious who Tony was second to in 1990. I am relatively confident that the one player with a better career batting average than him at that point was Wade Boggs. Unlike Tony, Wade's batting average declined after 1990, with a few seasons below .300. His final career total when he retired in 1999 was a very respectable .328, which puts him 33rd on the all-time career average list.

Card Number 446: Leaf, 1997; #17
Fielding photo!

Just in case you wanted a batting photo, though, here is Tony in mid-swing in a full bleed photo on the back. Bonus point for having the year in the shiny foil set logo on the front.

There's a one year stats box and no room for any factoids. I'm a little bit disappointed this is card number 17 in the set instead of #19. So close!

Total: 446 cards

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hitting the sweet spot

Upper Deck released several ranges that were themed around relic or autograph cards. The "Sweet Spot" sets featured autographs on pieces of leather cut from baseballs. The autograph was in the 'sweet spot' between the seams of the baseball. Like all sets with high-end collectibles inserted into them, the base cards for this are effectively just pack filler. However, they are still nice cards.

Card Number 443: Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic, 2003; #84

In 2003 there were two 'sweet spot' sets, Upper Deck Sweet Spot, and Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic. The 'classic' range featured retired players, while the regular range featured active players.

The card is printed on slightly heavier stock than usual and the foil edging at the top and bottom has a milled edge.

The back is very neatly laid out and outlines Tony's batting achievements.

While I appreciate it's traditional to have a stats box on the back of a baseball card, this is an odd choice as it shows the final 5 years of Tony's career. If they were going to show an excerpt of his career, they could have shown his stats from 1994-1997, which are the years mentioned in the write-up. That would have made more sense.

Card Number 444: Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic, 2005; #89

As a retired player, Tony featured in the Sweet Spot Classic set again in 2005. The photo is printed in black and white, which is in keeping with a lot of photos in the set. A lot of the other players featured are from an era when only black and white photos exist.

At first glance, I thought Tony was holding a bat in his left hand, but actually the handle of his bat in in his right hand. The bat that looks like it's in his left hand, with the batting donut on it, is being held by his team-mate Ken Caminiti, who is standing on the on deck circle behind him. That would date the photo to sometime between 1995 and 1998, as Caminiti left the Padres after the 1998 World Series. Based on the arm patch, I think this is a photo from 1998.

It's also a bit poignant that when this card was released in 2005, Ken was sadly deceased. He died in 2004 at the tragically young age of 41 from an overdose, on the same day that Superman actor Christopher Reeve passed away. He is in the San Diego Padres Hall of Fame, having achieved one honour that always eluded Tony. In 1996, Ken was the National League MVP. 

The stats box on the back has the stats for five seasons when Tony won the batting title. It doesn't say that. They aren't the highest scoring seasons, though - that would be his four title-winning seasons in the 1990s and his .370 average in 1987. It seems they have picked his first title season, his last title season and the three highest ones in-between.

Total: 444 cards

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Examples of samples

It was Fuji who first alerted me to how much promotional work Tony Gwynn did with the Pacific Card Company, and how he was the subject of sample cards distributed to card shops. 

You can read Fuji's entertaining post here, and see his 10 Tony Gwynn sample cards. I didn't think I would ever get to own any myself. But then Gawain sourced me a mammoth stack of cards and there were two sample cards in there. One of them is even one that isn't in Fuji's blog post. Does that mean I have one that he doesn't have?

This is one I know he has:

Card Number 441: Pacific, 2000; #SAMPLE

See if you can spot how to tell it's a sample card.

As is ever the case with Pacific, nothing is simple. This is a sample of one version of Tony's base card. I blogged about the different version of this card on the anniversary of Tony's first hit in the big leagues, although I didn't note at the time that it was a variant version. 

Sadly, I don't have the regular numbered version of this version of this card, so that's one to try and add to the collection at some point.

Card Number 442: Pacific Omega, 1999; #SAMPLE
I didn't see this on Fuji's blog, although there were 4 other sample cards from 1999 in his post.

The silver foil panel has a sort of outline of Tony in as well.

Omega was one of Pacific's posher lines, although the cards look a lot like other Pacific cards. It has a very simple 'totals' stats box, and earns a bonus point for having the year in the set logo. That's always useful.

I also don't have the regular version of this card, so it's another one I will be keeping an eye out for.

Total: 442 cards

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Tuesday Twins - a green parallel retro

My main supplier of Tony Gwynn cards, Gawain, managed to squeeze a parcel to me just before the "Fire Break" lockdown began here in Wales. Along with some other cards I didn't have, Gawain included a parallel which is one of today's Tuesday Twins.

This is the card it's a twin of, which I blogged about back in September. It's the DonRuss retro card released in 2018.

Card Number 440: DonRuss (Green Parallel), 2018; #258

These foil-edged parallel cards were exclusive to blaster boxes with five green parallels per box (on average).

While the green foil edging is nice and shiny, unfortunately that makes the edges curl slightly, which makes the back harder to line up on the scanner. This is my excuse for the shamefully wonky scan of the cardback!

Last time I wrote about this cardback I commented on the term "Professional Batting Totals" and ignored the summary paragraph. One of the good things about parallels is revisiting cards and looking at them afresh. I hadn't clocked the description for my side-project of  'different ways Tony is described on cardbacks'. "As steady as the San Diego climate" is going on that list!

Total cards: 440

Monday, October 26, 2020

Modern Monday - Panini (yes, Panini) Diamond Kings

Since 2009, Panini have owned all the DonRuss-associated brands. I've seen these referenced as "Zombie brands" because they are issued as DonRuss or Leaf or Pinnacle, with a small Panini logo on the back. Panini have issued their own cards as well and this year I noticed they have taken one of the most well-known DonRuss spin-off sub-brands - the Diamond Kings - and branded them as a Panini range. 

So, after almost 40 years of DonRuss Diamond Kings, today's cards are ultra-modern. I present to you two Panini Diamond Kings cards. I'd like to thank Andrew S and Drew O from the UK Facebook collectors group, for sending me these cards.

Card Number 438: Panini Diamond Kings In the Zone Insert, 2020; #INT-1

A #1 card, albeit in an insert series.

Panini don't have a Major League Baseball license, but having illustrated cards rather gets round the logo issue. They just don't draw them in! The guy sitting on the bench in the background has a suggestive smudge that looks like a Padres shirt-front, though!

The write-up on the back explains why Tony was "In the Zone", in his case, the strike zone, and talks about his career batting average and his .394 season.

This card is as colourful on the back as it is on the front. My one criticism would be that they don't name the artist, although I suspect this artistic look has been created by the Panini design team putting photographs through a computer program.

Card Number 439: Panini Diamond Kings The 3000 Insert, 2020; #3000-14
If I ever built a "frankenset" (cards arranged in numerical order taken from numerous other sets) I don't know how I would count this number. 3000 is probably the highest numbered Tony Gwynn card that I've got. But really it's number 14.

The 3000 insert series honours 15 players who have reached 3000 hits.

It's another colourful card-front.

The same image of Tony is replicated on the back, combined with an amusing account of Tony scoring his 3000th hit.

That's a new metaphor to me - "golfed a single". I've never heard a hit in baseball being described as "golfed" before. The choice to paint him in a brown uniform is slightly odd, considering he was wearing the grey road uniform when he golfed that single, but it doesn't really detract from the impact of the card. And at least they got the date right! (Unlike Topps!)

Total: 439 cards

Sunday, October 25, 2020

One card only: Legend in his own lifetime

Wales has entered a "Fire Break" lockdown to try and beat the rising cases of Coronavirus, which means major restrictions on going outside. I'm not too worried. I still have cards to blog about and am still a way off getting "up to date" with all the cards I've got. It's a Sunday though and that means one card only!

Card Number 437: Upper Deck Century Legends, 1999; #54

This was a set of the best players from the 20th Century. Alongside several Hall of Famers, some of the biggest current stars had cards as well. Tony actually had two cards in the set. The first 50 cards were the 50 greatest players of the Century and he was number 49 out of 50 (with card #49). The second section of the set were the "Top 50 contemporaries" - active players, in other words. Tony was ranked fourth in that section. Hence, his second card had a big number 4 on the front and was card #54 in the set.

This comment is only relevant because of this year's baseball experience during the pandemic, but the fans in the background of the photo to Tony's right look like cardboard cut outs.

The back is a fairly standard stats box. 

I have a few quibbles with this set. Given that the greatest 50 players seem to have been somewhat arbitrarily selected, Upper Deck could have just selected 50 retired players and 50 contemporaries, rather than doubling up on players. (Alongside Tony, Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux had a card in each selection, for example.)

The set design is nice, overall, but there a couple of little things which detract. The clash of the set number and Tony's hat in the little cameo portrait in the back was avoidable. The gap under the stats box is begging for something to be written there. Looking at online images of card #49, the other card in the set had a little write up filling the gap. So, it's a nice set but could have been better.

Total: 437 cards

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Five DonRuss cards from 1997

The mid-90s were the "overproduction" era for baseball cards, with card companies releasing several sets each season. Today's blog post contains five cards from four sets released by the same company in 1997. Some have shiny foil on them and don't scan particularly well. 

Card Number 432: DonRuss, 1997; #3

This isn't a bad scan - it's just a very dark card design!

Tony's calling out to claim a high flyball on the back. There's also a huge stats box.

Card Number 433: DonRuss, 1997; #407

This was another card for Tony in the base set, as part of a subset called the Hit List.

There are 25 players on the Hit List on the back, and they all had a card in the subset. However, DonRuss didn't release the cards in the same numerical order as the list. There were 8 cards in the set before Tony's Hit List card even though he was batting champion in 1996 - as shown on the list!

I'm going to do the next four cards in alphabetical order of their set names...

Card Number 434: DonRuss Elite, 1997; #15
A premium card range with foilboard card fronts that are horrible to scan!

The back looks better. The way the stats are laid out is quite fetching. 

Card Number 435: DonRuss Signature, 1997; #3
As it's name suggests, this small 100-card set was mainly a vehicle for carrying autographed cards.

The photo on the front has Tony swinging, with a great view of the Swinging Friar sleeve patch!

On the back we have a picture of Tony's follow through, taken from the other side of the plate.

There's an unusual design choice on the back, using his name as a watermark and printing the headers for the (incomplete) stats box over it. 

Card Number 436: DonRuss VXP 1.0, 1997; #20
This was another card set where the cards were basically pack filler around CD-Roms. They predate the Upper Deck PowerDeck cards that I mentioned yesterday by two years! VXP stood for Visual eXPerience, as in watching the content of a CD-Rom. Unlike PowerDeck, which was an entire set of CD-Roms, there were only six CD-Rom inserts in VXP. Tony didn't feature on a CD-Rom, so I won't be keeping an eye out for them.

It's a nice card though.

The back manages to combine full bleed and a frame in the design. The stats box only goes back 5 years.

This isn't an exhaustive list of the DonRuss cards Tony appeared on in 1997. It's a nice mix of designs and scanning challenges!

Total: 436 cards

Friday, October 23, 2020

Consistent stance and obsolescence

Sometimes I look at cards and think I've got them, only to realise that it's a completely different set from a completely different year. The thing that confuses me is the picture of Tony looks the same. 

Tony's total consistency in hitting could be explained by a number of reasons - his focus, his preparation, his ability to see the release point of the ball. But also his stance was incredibly consistent, as shown by these two cards.

Card Number 430: Upper Deck PowerDeck, 1999; #AUX-9

Card Number 431: Upper Deck Hologrfx, 2000; #55

These cards are weirdly similar in other ways too, as they both re-use a front cover picture on the back, but in a different colour scheme. They are both oriented landscape front and back. They both give truncated stats boxes. And they both feature the number 19 on the back as part of the design on the cardback.

But just to compare those two front photos again:

There is a very slight difference at the angle the photographer is shooting from. But it's quite clear that Tony's positioning of the legs is the same, the angle the bat is held at behind the helmet is the same, and even the height of his shoulder is the same. That shoulder coming across is why the word 'Padres' on the front of the shirt is missing the D on both pictures. 

The main base set of PowerDeck cards were actually CD-Roms, with one sold per packet as a 'digital card' along with two paper cards like the small Auxiliary insert series, which is the set Card Number 430 is from. There were only 25 CD-Rom cards dedicated to players in the set, but there were other CD-Roms of "Powerful Moments" and "Time Capsules".

I would like to acquire one of the Tony Gwynn "base cards" from this set, but I think I need to do it before I upgrade my PC as CD drives are a thing of the past on new computers now. That is one problem with innovative use of media -  within a generation the format used will be obsolete!

Total: 431 cards

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Scanning Nightmares: Sportflix (with an X)

In the mid-80s a company called Pinnacle issued lenticular cards called Sportflics. These haven't aged well based on the examples in my collection (none of which are of Tony!) as the lenticular plastic has fogged up a bit and they are prone to cracking. 

Shortly afterwards, Pinnacle made their first foray into regular baseball cards with the launch of Score cards, followed by Pinnacle branded cards, and then in 1995 decided to update Sportflics for the overproduction era and put an X on the end of the set name, as Sportflix. Nowadays, the whole Pinnacle family of brands are owned by Panini, who sometimes release cards under the "zombie brand names". I don't think Sportflics or Sportflix have reappeared yet.

Lenticular cards are hard to scan because they rely on movement to reveal all aspects of the design.

Card Number 428: Pinnacle Sportflix, 1995; #16

This card shows Tony from behind at the plate stepping into a hit, or side on at the extreme end of his follow through.

The scan shows the rear view:

Here's a photo of the card angled to show the other picture:

The back of the card has a comment about Tony's .394 batting average in the previous season, and a weird reflection in his Oakleys.

For stats, Pinnacle just chose some career totals to date. He had batted in almost ten times as many runs as he had hit homers at this point.

Incidentally, this cardback was quite hard to scan as well - the plastic on the front makes the card warp and the sides curve upwards, making it difficult to line up on the scanner. I had a few scans with an edge trimmed off but eventually I got an acceptable scan.

In addition to the lenticular cards, Pinnacle also released a set of 3D cards in 1995 as well.

Card Number 429: Pinnacle Sportflix UC3, 1995; #69

I feel embarrassed by how bad that scan is, but I haven't bothered with a photo, sorry.

The back has a photo that is nicely centred on the Padres 25th anniversary sleeve patch.

Pinnacle used the same set of career stats on the back but they didn't explain that they were career stats. It's fairly obvious they are as the season record for RBI is a lot lower - 191 set in 1930 by Hack Wilson. (Almost all the RBI season records were set in the 1930s, many of them by Lou Gehrig! 1930 was a good year for batting in runs, with 4 players recording 165 RBI or more.)

If anyone has any tips on the best way to scan lenticular cards, please share them in the comments!

Total:429 cards

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A good tagline is Paramount

Pacific released a range called Paramount for a couple of years at the end of the 90s. It was an odd choice for a set name, which was compounded by the tagline used on packs and boxes: "The Future America's Pastime". 

Card Number 426: Pacific Paramount, 1998; #237

Pacific didn't have a Major League Baseball license for this set, hence why it just says San Diego on the front of the card. There are still visible logos on Tony's uniform in the picture, though.

On the back they use SD for the team name in the stats box, for the same reason. It didn't occur to them that they didn't really need a team name at all. 

Card Number 427: Pacific Paramount, 1999; #198
The following year they had obtained a licence and the full team name appeared on the card.

They dispensed with the full stats box on the back, but still had 'SD' for the team name. 

The back is oddly worded, because it references his ranking for hits among National League players and then says he has been the Hits Leader seven times for the "league", which is sort of correct but technically, he led the National League eight times, and led the major leagues seven times. 

Total: 427 cards