Monday, August 11, 2014
The last hurrah
Today is my last day of vacation for the summer. After this, it is all preparation for the upcoming busy fall sports season, followed by that busy fall season, and then the even busier winter season, and then the frustratingly busy spring season.
Needless to say, I treasure my summer days off exactly like the kid who is stepping off the school bus does in June. Work is a necessity, but oh lord what I could do if I never had to go there.
So, this is my last hurrah. Sure, I'll get more days off later on in the year, but it'll never be like it was in the summer.
To commemorate this rather sad occasion, I thought I'd go back through and recognize some last hurrahs in terms of card sets and companies. Quite a few of them have disappeared in my time, some with a bang, some with a pffffffft. But before they left for good, they dropped one final set or sets on us. I'd like to thank them for that. It couldn't have been easy knowing what was ahead -- if they even knew.
So here are some last hurrahs:
2010 Upper Deck
Let's start with the recently deceased. 2010 Upper Deck was the last true baseball set that UD released in the format that we had known since 1989.
At the time, Upper Deck was coming to terms with not being allowed to use major league logos on its cards. It decided to half-ass not showing them (i.e. they showed them), and that led to some legal action, and that led to UD not even releasing the back half of its baseball finale.
This is the last hurrah that I find the most tragic. Starting in 1970, and for 12 of the next 14 years, you could reach into a box of Frosted Flakes or Raisin Bran and find a 3-D image baseball card wrapped in cellophane. (They didn't appear in cereal boxes in 1981 and 1982).
But 1983 signaled the last annual Kellogg's set. Kellogg's would reappear in the early '90s with some smaller sets, but it wasn't the same as it was in the '70s and early '80s.
The '83 set is a worthy example of Kellogg's 3-D greatness even if the front is a bit drab compared with past sets. It's also slimmer than most earlier sets, perhaps signaling that Kellogg's needed to cut corners (or edges).
But for me, perhaps the most obvious sign that Kellogg's was on the way out didn't appear on the front:
It was on the back -- the VERTICAL back. For the previous 13 Kellogg's sets, the information on the back was presented horizontally. This is the only set in which it is vertical. Yep, it was time to go.
Pacific came and went without me even knowing it. A product of the '90s, it showed up when I was getting out, and then it got out when I was still a few years away from getting back in.
In 2001, it issued its regular set and another set called "Private Stock". Private Stock was meant to be an exclusive set, punctuated by the fact that each pack contained a relic card. As flashy as that sounds now, it was very flashy in 2001 when relic cards were the biggest buzz in the hobby.
But by 2001, Pacific was dealing with financial issues and it was accused of faking relics to put into packs. Pacific lost its MLB license after 2001 and didn't return. Likely it's because it ran out of money, although some will always wonder whether they were punished for creating fakes.
I admit, I have a difficult time distinguishing between the later sets of Score. Anything after 1995 is a mish-mash of boring fronts and mind-numbing card backs.
But for awhile, Score was known as "the people's baseball card set". It was cheap, it was colorful, it was informative, and it was complete. In short, it was everything that a card set SHOULD be. It's just too bad that the '90s and all of its mojo had to go and kill it and a good 11-year run.
This is what the card back looked like during the last hurrah for Score. Lots and lots of numbers.
Even though this strikes me as boring to look at, I would love to see a set just plaster the back with stats. Take out the bio and fill that baby with nonstop stats. Every advanced stat category, too. I'd buy a pack of that.
For me, growing up in card collecting and becoming aware of what it was all about, there was no set better than TCMA for connecting me with baseball's past.
Through the '70s and into the '80s, TCMA was the only place you could turn to find past players on current cards. I adored these sets, and I still do.
By the mid-80s, TCMA seemed to disappear. But they were still around, marketing mostly minor league sets and some all-time teams sets. Their last ones came out in 1987, when TCMA remembered the 1969 Mets, 1957 Braves and 1907 Cubs. Each were small sets and then, I guess, TC and MA called it a career.
Donruss had taken a break before, not issuing sets in 1999 and 2000. And some would claim it never left, as Panini has published a set with the Donruss name this year, and Donruss Elite may or may not be hanging around (who pays attention to college players on cards?).
But for me, Donruss ceased to exist after 2005. That was the year it delivered an ugly base set, which is so ugly to me that I'm going with a picture of the Zenith set that it issued that year. It looks much better.
It's quite fitting that I'd prefer some '05 Donruss sets and not others because Donruss was always up-and-down for me. I love stuff like 1984 Donruss, but most of it I look at as little children's cards. And then there's 1991 and 1992 Donruss, which I wish had never come out of the chute.
Hostess cards were born in the '70s and died in the '70s. Some would argue that there is nothing quite as '70s as Hostess: red-white-and-blue cards that you cut out with scissors after removing them from the bottoms of sticky sweet cakes.
My personal opinion on why Hostess stopped making baseball cards in '79 was because they ran out of simple geometric designs. Let's review:
1975: white rectangle on bottom.
1976: red, white and blue rectangles stack on bottom.
1977: white rectangle on bottom with curved top.
1978: white rectangle on bottom ... but, but, but NARROWER than in 1975.
1979: white rectangle on top.
1980: that's it, we're out.
I know what you're saying:
"1998 Pinnacle -- which one?"
I hear you. Pinnacle released about a dozen baseball sets in 1998, each one gimmicked up the flag pole. But none of them flew and that was the end of a very innovative company that maybe outsmarted itself. Requiring people to find a can opener to get to the cards that they've purchased is being waaaaaaaay too cute.
My favorite though is probably these Stand-Up cards from Pinnacle Inside that were actually four cards in one.
It can be a Mike Piazza card.
Or a Hideo Nomo card.
Or a Raul Mondesi card.
Or a Eric Karros card.
The problem is that as a Dodger collector, I need four different versions of this card to showcase each of the players on the card. (That devilish Pinnacle). So I need to distract myself by standing up the card on the table and then amusing myself, turning it as if it's one those menus at Friendly's where if you don't like what you're reading on one side, just tilt it!
Fleer wasn't really Fleer by the time it was 2007. Upper Deck had taken over the name and issued an achingly boring set that looked like this.
I swear I don't even see these cards when I look at them.
Fleer/Upper Deck also put out a mini parallel that year, which Topps is still plaguing us with today. These minis kind of amuse me because they look as if Fleer simply cut the white border off to create the mini.
Fleer, of course, had a proud history from 1981 through 2007 and even earlier than that with the 1963 set, the Ted Williams set before that, the Laughlin series cartoons, and the Ultra brand.
But when you're making cards like this:
It's time to say goodbye.
You've had your last hurrah.
There are other sets that are no longer with us -- stuff like Drake's and Sportflics and Bazooka -- but I'll end it there.
After all, I'm not on vacation anymore and I'll have less time to devote to this blog.
But at least, unlike these sets, I'm not going anywhere for good.