Monday, February 28, 2022

Modern Monday - recent retro with Topps Archives

I have some cards from the new 2022 Topps release on their way to me in the mail! In the meantime, here is a card from last year that looks a bit older.

Card Number 975: Topps Archives, 2021; #140

Topps used seven different former card templates in their 2021 release of Topps Archives. Tony appears on a card laid out in the 1973 template. 

I have zero complaints about that card front. It's a great photo that works well with the design. Tony's face is visible and so is the team name on his chest. Neither of those things are a guarantee with photos that Topps put on cards!

On the back we have a little cartoon guy wielding a bat that looks like a bowling pin, and a succinct factoid. I'm going to award this card a bonus point for that. There's a second concise factoid just above the stats box.

I like cardbacks with clean and complete stats boxes and relevant factoids that don't go overboard with flowery language.

I am sometimes critical of Topps, but this is probably as close as it gets to the perfect baseball card. 

A big thank you goes out to Gawain for sending me this card!

Total: 975 cards

Sunday, February 27, 2022

One Card Only - cyber stats

A couple of days ago I read a post on Fuji's blog about these cards. Mine has been sitting in my 'to blog' pile for a while and Fuji's post made me realise that I could blog a card that is weirdly totally relevant to what is going on in baseball now.

As most fans know, currently there is an impasse between the franchise owners and the players. Spring Training has been cancelled and soon they will start cancelling games unless a compromise is found. There is a possibility of no baseball at all in 2022.

In 1994, a similar breakdown in relations meant the season was cut short. Tony was batting .394 at that point and it remains the highest batting average since the Second World War. But it was a shortened season and the unanswered question is - what would Tony have batted if the season had run to a full conclusion?

Tony was just 7 hits off .400 at the point where the season was cancelled. Could he have recovered that deficit in his remaining games?

In 1995 Topps produced a parallel that used a "computer" to predict what a player's totals would have been if the full season had been completed in the previous season. Topps called these parallels "cyber stats". The regular base card is blogged here.

Card Number 974: Topps Cyber Stats parallel, 1995; #228

These cards have different numbers to the base cards. Tony's base card in 1995 was #431. The front is shiny and this is an admittedly poor scan.

On the back is the "computer generated" stats, which predicted a drop off in the final 6 weeks of the season from .394 to .391. I dispute this but accept that the processing power available back in 1994-1995 was pretty low and this may have made sense within the parameters they were working with.

However, there are some additional aspects of Tony's batting in 1994 that need to be taken into account. These were brought to my attention initially by some Upper Deck SP cards

Firstly, if you take the last few games of the 1993 season, and add them to the games of the 1994 season to make a complete 162 games played, Tony batted .396 across those games. Now, this is a bit moot because Tony never actually batted a complete 162-game season. But he was hot at the end of the 1993 season and there is no reason to believe he wouldn't have been hot at the end of the 1994 season, had it happened. 

Secondly, if you look at Tony's performance across the 1994 season, he was getting stronger as the season went on. In the 30 games before the season was halted, Tony was hitting .433, dragging his average up considerably. If he had carried on batting at that rate for the remainder of the season he would have gone past .400 quite easily. 

I very much doubt the computer algorithm that Topps used to calculate Tony's potential scores took either of those factors into account. 

And another thing occurred to me about this card, and it supports my thesis that the social changes of the Nineties were seismic compared to previous decades. This was the beginning of the desktop computer era, where suddenly everything transitioned to computer-based working and the foundations were laid for the Internet and life online. 

This is reflected in baseball cards in a number of ways. Obviously one of the most noticeable changes is the impact on the design of baseball cards. But in this case, the impact of computers is on the content of the card. 

It's testament to a time where computers were rapidly becoming a normal part of life, so of course it would be a "computer generated" prediction of what would have happened - it almost had to be a "cyber stat" because cyber was the imminent future.

Total: 974 cards

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Score gets gritty

Card companies seemed to struggle thinking up new names for subsets in the 90s. Today's card is an illustration of that.

Card Number 973: Score, 1997; #535

There's a photo of Tony fielding on the front. The partial beer advert in the background would qualify this for a list of cards featuring alcohol advertising.

"True Grit". There's no explanation what aspect of Tony's game that refers to. 

The subset logo seems a little bit unbalanced to me. It's because Tony's head is leaning, which throws off the symmetry, along with the lopsided alignment of his name and the different number of letters on the crossed bats.

The arrangement is repeated on the back, and still feels slightly wonky.

The way the cardback write up is divided makes it hard to read. The designer would have been better served putting the words into two columns. Otherwise, this reads like a checklist of things to include in a cardback write up in 1997 - a reference to Tony being in the Hall of Fame in the future, a comparison to a legendary player from long ago (in this case Honus Wagner), a comment about setting records (without saying what those records are) - these all make frequent appearances on cardbacks. 

However, this card was also released as fans started to really get interested in players hitting home runs. This peaked at the end of the 90s with several record-chasing power hitters trying to outdo each other in the race to blast as many homers as possible. On this card, Score decided to just list that statistic, which is one of the few batting stats that makes Tony look quite ordinary.

Ironically, 1997 turned out to be the season Tony set his personal best for home runs - 17 - so even he wasn't immune to the late 90s hype around hitting homers!

Total: 973 cards

Friday, February 25, 2022

Certified Selection

It's difficult keeping track of what went on at Pinnacle in the mid-90s, before the company collapsed in epic fashion. There were two main brands of cards - Pinnacle and Score - and both had several sub-brands. The company expanded further with the Select range almost becoming a third stand alone brand, even to the point where it was introducing its own sub-ranges. 

So it all gets confusing. They had some nice cards though.

Card Number 972: Pinnacle Select Certified Edition, 1996; #21

There were 144 cards in this high end shiny set.

The back is a dark red. One thing that Pinnacle did across several of their ranges is experiment with data representation. On this card, they have divided up Tony's stats from the previous season against all the opponents that he faced. This was all National League teams as it was before the current era of inter-league play every season. 

I was going to say Tony did well in his 13 games against the Dodgers until I saw his stats in 11 games against the Astros. Tony battered the Houston pitchers. He got a hit in over half of his at bats. They must have been sick of the sight of him!

Total: 972 cards

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Some older Gold Label cards

I selected today's cards with Fuji and YoRicha in  mind, because they said they liked the Gold Label cards that I posted at the beginning of the week. All these cards are slightly pearlescent so I used the overhead scanner on them. The results are a bit flakey, but at least the design is visible. 

Card Number 968: Topps Gold label, 1998; #14

Awkward photo juxtaposition ahoy!

Seriously, that photo arrangement makes it look like Tony is kneecapping his larger self.

These 'cards' are printed on quite thick plasticky card - much thicker than usual card stock. The material they are printed on contributes to the sheen on the card. It also warps slightly. 

The candid photo on the back should have a thought bubble saying "Huh!?" next to it. 

Right, okay, back on Tuesday I questioned what Topps was doing by discounting the 1994 season and the .394 batting average that everyone associates with Tony on their modern Gold Label cards. Back in 1998, Topps didn't have an issue with Tony hitting .394 in a season that was shortened by strike action. Here they have it as his career best batting average. They also explain how they calculated the 'average season' using 'at bats' rather than the number of games. That makes more sense and just adds to my suspicion that the company's employees knew what they were doing back in the late 90s compared to the people working there now. 

I have one of the books mentioned in the factoid - Tony Gwynn's Total Baseball Player. One day I hope to get hold of The Art of Hitting as well. 

Card Number 969: Topps Gold Label Class 1, 1999; #6
Topps introduced the class system to the range in 1999 and the shine on the cards was even more iridescent.

That fielding photo looks really familiar, but I don't think it was on a Topps card.

On the back there is another cameo portrait of Tony with a quizzical expression. 

The factoid about Tony's loyalty doesn't mention that apparently other top players were annoyed with him for staying with the Padres because it was dragging down the market value of all the other players. (Did that really happen? Now it's all part of the mythos.)

For those taking notes, the career best batting average on this card is .394. Also, a bonus point for this card having the class number on the back (by the team logo) - which makes it a lot easier for people like me trying to work out which cardback is which!

Card Number 970: Topps Gold Label Class 2, 1999; #6
One of the photos has been changed on the front, along with the team logo behind Tony.

The cardback is virtually identical apart from the class number.

Card Number 971: Topps Gold Label Class 2, 2000; #11
In this year's set the class is printed on the front of the card, etched into the foil.

That photo on the back is from the photoshoot that Topps used on some of their tribute cards in the 2000 flagship set, except this time, Tony isn't looking straight down the camera lens.

So a couple of things about this cardback. Firstly, the important career batting average high point stat is correct! Secondly, a factoid about walks! This is a really rare topic for factoids, because although Tony drew a fair few walks (as is obvious by the factoid!), generally he made contact at the plate. Except when opponents opted not to pitch at all! 

I always love learning something new from a card - so kudos to Topps for this!

Total: 971 cards

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

80s Wednesday - a couple of 80s oddballs

Here's a trip back almost four decades to when baseball cards started to proliferate in '88...

Card Number 966: Nestle, 1988; #40
I seriously doubt Nestle needs any introduction. They are one of the biggest food conglomerates in the world. The company has also been the target of a decades-long boycott due to the way it markets baby milk formula in the developing world. (I'm relieved to say that my acquisition of this card was not linked to the purchase of any Nestle products - although originally it would have been.)

The card itself is semi-licensed with a strange airbrushing job removing the Padres logo from Tony's cap. Unlike modern cards in the twilight zone of player licensing, this card includes the franchise name.

This card was produced by oddball card producer Michael Schechter Associates (also known as MSA) and printed in Canada. It has a comprehensive write up on the cardback compared to most oddballs. 

Card Number 967: KayBee Superstars of Baseball, 1988; #13
I've done a brief explanation of the KayBee Toys company on the blog before. I still love their little soldier in the logo. 

These cards were produced by Topps. When I came to wite this post I had a moment of deja vu. A quick look through my Topps folder and I realised why.

Topps re-used this photo in 2009 in their Legends of the Game insert series. The print is darker, but that is clearly the same photo.

A couple of years later, Topps used a cropped version of the photo for the Golden Greats insert card in 2012. (In fact, if you click on that link, you can see it was also used on a card from 2010 as well!)

It's unusual for the photo on an oddball card to reappear several years later, but I suppose this was in the Topps photo archive. It hadn't been used in an official Topps set and I doubt anyone at the company thought a random blogger would ever notice this.

Anyway, back to the card sold in Kay-Bee Toys and here's the back of the card sold in Kay-Bee Toys.

Although it has a photo on it, this doesn't have the impact of the Nestle card. June 1987 was a very hot month for Tony with an incredible average nearer to .500 than .400!

Total 967 cards

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Tuesday Twins - more Gold Label parallels

Following on from yesterday's Gold Label cards from 2021, here are some more from the Topps range that perpetuates the class system.

Card Number 963: Topps Gold Label Class 1, 2019; #92

As with the more recent cards that I blogged yesterday, this card juxtaposes an older photo of Tony with a more recent one. In this case it's a photo from either 1985 or 1986 and a photo that's probably from 2001.

Like the cards from 2021, the cardback has Tony's 'average season' stats and states that Tony's season best batting average was .372. I still can't decide if this is an error by Topps or just someone behind the scenes being a pedantic dork and discounting the stats from 1994 because it wasn't a 162 game season. Whatever the reason, Topps has been printing this stat for a while. 

The factoid is a useful illustration of how well Tony hit in the clutch. He didn't often get to two strikes as he liked to swing at the first pitch if he could. But when he got to two strikes, it was very rare that he would get to three.

Card Number 963: Topps Gold Label Class 1 (black parallel), 2019; #92

Like yesterday, here is a black parallel to compare with the regular class 1 card.

The black parallel looks much more striking as a card, and also makes the 'class 1' lettering much more obvious in the scan.

I have a confession - the cardback I showed you previously could have been from either the regular or the parallel. I scanned them together and can't tell them apart. Here's a scan of both of them to show what I mean.

And, as a bonus, another card from the same set and same year...

Card Number 965: Topps Gold Label Class 2, 2019; #92

I really like the white Padres uniform with the yellow, orange and brown accents. That uniform is the one worn by the team in the 1984 World Series, and replaced almost immediately with the switch to pinstripes for the 1985 season. (Maybe it's because I'm a child of the seventies, but it feels to me that the move to pinstripes in the 1980s was a boring choice!)

The cardback is the same again, complete with the description of Tony's batting after two strikes as "preposterous", and a mention of Wade Boggs.

With baseball itself very much in the balance for 2022, I don't know if Gold Label is scheduled to appear again. I'm waiting to see if Topps persist with claiming Tony's best batting average is .372. If Topps do, then I might get in touch with them and ask what their reasoning is. 

Total: 965 cards

Monday, February 21, 2022

Modern Monday - smudgy Gold Labels

A couple more cards from last year, which arrived via Michael who is a member of the UK collectors group on Facebook.

Card Number 961: Topps Gold Label Class 1 (back parallel), 2021; #12

Topps separate their Gold Label sets into three classes of increasing scarcity. Each class has a variety of different colour parallels going on. Basically, this is one of those sets with multiple similar cards of any given player. This is class 1, so the most common, but the black parallel, so less common.

The juxtaposition of Tony as a young player rocking the old brown and orange Padres look from the early 80s, with older Tony in the pinstripes and blue makes for a nice effect on the card. It's also shiny, hence the slight dappling effect around the logo in the scan. The lettering on the silver foil is in black and there are black solid patches in the various corners. That's how to tell it's a black parallel. 

On the back there are some smudges as if the card has hit some printer ink. I don't think this happened in transit becase they arrived in a penny sleeve and in a toploader. I think the ink is from the printing process. 

The term "live-ball era" was a new one to me. A quick Google revealed it is referring to baseball after 1920 when a load of rule changes were introduced to make baseball more "lively". I've frequently said that comparing Tony to pre-war playes is a bit futile, because of how much the game has changed, but I like this stat that says you have to go back to 1931 to find another player who was as consistently good at hitting the ball and not striking out as Tony. It's yet another way to cut the statistical cake to show that Tony was the greatest hitter of his lifetime. 

Card Number 962: Topps Gold Label Class 3, 2021; #12

Topps change one of the photos on the front in each of the different classes of cards. Topps has also been considerate for once, and included the class number in the foil print on the front of the card so it's easy to tell which version of the card this is.

The cardback is pretty much the same. 

Just a word on that stats box because there is an unusual line in there for 'average season'. That's not a common stat on cardbacks, and makes for some impressive reading. I would not have guessed that Tony averaged over 200 hits a season. The asterisks denote it's based on a 162-game season, so I presume it doesn't count 1982 or 1983 when he spent some time in the minor leagues, or 1994 when the season was cut short by a strike. Removing 1994 from their calculations would also explain why Topps printed his career best average as .372 instead of .394.

Or, knowing Topps, they just got it wrong!

Total: 962 cards

Sunday, February 20, 2022

One Card Only - shredded foil on a Pacific Prism

Card Number 960: Pacific Prisms, 1996; #P-61
Unusually for Pacific, this set doesn't have the set name on it, just the Crown Collection logo. These cards were sold in packs of 2 - one Prism and a bonus card.

The foil effect looks like the card has been clawed by a big cat. It's an eye-catching design that looks very different to Prism cards released in other years.

The cardback is bilingual because Pacific specifically targeted the Spanish-speaking market.

There's no real reason for the card number to have a P in front of it. All the other cards shipped with Prism cards had different letter codes in front of the numbers depending what small set they were from. Having a P in front of the numbers on the main cards in the set makes is feel like a whole set made up of inserts!

Total: 960 cards

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Leaf cards from a World Series year

In 1998, Tony led the Padres to the World Series against the Yankees. Here are a couple of Leaf cards from that season.

Card Number 958: Leaf, 1998; #11
This might be a base card, but Leaf went all out on their base cards for their 50th year anniversary, including a foil stamp, bevelled edges on the frame and very clean lettering. 

The design of the cardback is similarly classy, with a single season stats box and biodata arranged the way you would expect to see it on a premium card. 

Card Number 959: Leaf, 1998; #166
Tony's second card in the set had a black and white crowd scene as a background. Based on the caps and hats being worn by everyone, it looks like it might be a baseball crowd in 1949, the first year that Leaf produced baseball cards. 

The write up on the back is about Tony equalling pre-war records or setting records for the modern era. Personally I don't think it's productive to compare Tony's records to Honus Wagner or Rogers Hornsby because, like all sports with a long history, baseball has changed significantly. But if there is one thing that cardback writers liked to do, it was to compare Tony's achievements with long-dead legends of the game. 

Although it wasn't his highest ever batting average, a good case could be made that Tony's absulute career peak was in 1997. Across a full season he hit .372 and, as the cardback attests, he set his own personal records for home runs and RBI. It was the only season he broke three figures on RBI. He also led the league in total hits, with 220 across 149 games. Among those hits, Tony set a personal best for doubles in 1997, which helped him reach his second best slugging percentage in his career. His 'Total Bases' was 324, also a high point of his 20 seasons in the major leagues.

Total: 959 cards

Friday, February 18, 2022

Finishing Fleer Fortnight in a Traditional way

Fleer Tradition was the company's retro range at the tail end of the 90s and across the cusp of the millennium. It sometimes combined a mix of fairly ordinary looking cards with vintage style parallels and sometimes just went for a full set of full-on retro designs. Some sets also had some well-designed subsets and insert sets. One of my favourite Tony Gwynn cards ever is a Fleer Tradition insert that I blogged about in my first month of blogging.

Card Number 954: Fleer Tradition, 1998; #250

An unusual - and fantastic! - photo on the front of this base card. Tony has a pen in his hand so he was presumably turning that shirt into an autographed shirt!

The use of the shirt for the backdrop on the cardback is very effective. I've not seen it done on many (if any) cards. It seems like the sort of design technique that should appear frequently because it's such a simple yet impactful idea. 

There is lots more colour in the stats box than is usually applied on a card, whihc makes it easier to read than the usual rows of tiny numbers. Plenty of thought went into the design of this card.

Card Number 955: Fleer Tradition, 1998; #315

There were 10 "Golden Memories" cards in the middle of the 600 card Fleer Tradition set in 1998. It's a shiny card that looks really special but is actually 'just' a base card. Trading Card Database has a note that these cards were inserted at a ratio of 1 in 6 packs, which probably makes them more common than regular base cards.

The back has a flamboyant cameo frame and a factoid about how Tony scored 4 hits in 5 at bats against Greg Maddux in a game in 1997. 

Greg famously reckoned Tony was the only player it was impossible to strike out. It's always worth a re-quote.

“Sometimes hitters can pick up differences in spin. They can identify pitches if there are different release points or if a curveball starts with an upward hump as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. 
But if a pitcher can change speeds, every hitter is helpless, limited by human vision. 
Except for that f---ing Tony Gwynn.”

Card Number 956: Fleer Tradition Update, 1999; #U-145

Fleer Tradition was so popular in the late 90s is merited an update series, which included some season highlights from that year.

I doubt any regular readers don't know that the 6th August 1999 was the date of Tony's 3000th hit. This is one of the first cards released commemorating it. 

What is really strange is that Tony was the first player in 20 years to reach the 3,000 hit mark. The next player to reach 3,000 hits was Wade Boggs on the 7th August 1999. The day after Tony reached that milestone!

Card Number 957: Fleer Tradition Dividends insert, 2000; #9

Sometimes when an insert series has an odd name like 'Dividends', I just assume it's because baseball companies were running out of words...

Red borders always make a card look good. However, the offset nature of the black and white photo is a little jarring.

The same photo appears on the back, except it's rendered in sepia.

Although the write up implies hits were inevitable when Tony made a plate appearance, they were relatively rare in the 2000 season because Tony made comparatively few plate appearances - just 140 compared to 446 in 1999.

Total: 957 cards

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Flying high with Skybox

Skybox and Fleer were merged together when Marvel acquired both companies and then stayed together after Marvel went bankrupt and sold off their trading card companies as a going concern. (That sentence is proof, if any were needed, that the 90s was a different time. Imagine Marvel going bankrupt now!) 

Anyway, as part of the Fleer family, it's fitting that some Skybox cards are squeezed into Fabulous Fleer Fortnight.

Card Number 951: Skybox Supernatural, 1999; #141

This has a metal sheen to it similar to the Skybox Metal Universe cards. It makes it a rascal to scan.

The awkward poise in the photo, combined with the finish and the colouration of this card, make me feel slightly uncomfortable. Tony is running, but it looks like he is jumping. His bat is flying off the card. It's all angular and weird, mainly because of the graphic design choices. 

The back is remarkably restrained for a Skybox card. An unfussy picture and a big stats box. The curves on the stats box are unusual.

Card Number 952: Skybox Thunder, 1999; #4

That web address is part of the name of this 10-card insert series insert series from Skybox Thunder. It's all fancy and cyberspacey because it was 1999 and the Internet was going to change the world! In case you think I'm joking, look there is a vintage web page header on the card front!

On the back we get a pure trademark Skybox weird cardback write-up that kicks off with plagiarising 'Ghetto Superstar' by Pras. 

There is also another reference to 'Death, taxes and Tony Gwynn batting over .300' being the only certainties in life! This one predates the Fleer Focus card from 2000 that I blogged about a couple of days ago. Not content with plagiarising popular songs, Fleer also reused their own weird descriptions!

One day, when I run out of new cards to blog I am going to do a 'Best of Skybox Weird Write-ups' post. I promise. (Remind me of this and hold me to my promise!

That web address is long dead by the way. But continuing on the Internet theme...

Card Number 953: Skybox E-ticket, 2000; #9

Back in 2000 just about every word had an "e" attached to make it internetty. Also, check out the hand cursor icon. 

On the back is a slightly more restrained write up. There is also another long-dead website that a keen fan could surf to and look at more photos. How many more photos? It feels to me that if Fleer had lots of photos they wouldn't have used the same photo on the front as they did on the back. That pixellation effect doesn't fool me!

I love these late 90s nostalgic reminders of the innocent days of the Internet when it was all shiny and exciting and the thought of seeing more photos would persuade people to type a web address into their computer. Who would have predicted it would have ended up where we are now?

Total: 953 cards