No card era baffles me more than the late 1990s.
Brian from Play at the Plate knows this. He knows I collected fewer cards during that time than any other collecting period in my life. And being the supertrader that he is, he recently sent a PWE that contained nothing but cards from between 1996-2000.
In other words, he stuffed the envelope with homework.
There is no way I will be able to figure out which late 1990s cards I need and which I don't unless I have a few quiet minutes to myself, alone, with a lamp lit above, equipped with my research materials and binders, with a pencil and paper by my side.
Now does that sound like homework or what?
It's the only way I can do it. Put a card in my hand from the 1980s and I know instantly what it is and whether I own it. Card from the late '90s? I have maybe a 50 percent chance. Can you hand me that giant research volume on the shelf so I can figure it out? I'll get back to you in a few minutes.
So, I had a few minutes to devote to this homework project early this afternoon. Let's see what I came up with:
OK, this is a simple problem to solve. Fleer Ultra's main parallel were the gold medallion cards. They're easy to spot, for the most part, and 1999 and 2000 Ultra gold cards are no exception. I figured out right away that I needed both cards.
Question No. 3 on the homework sheet wasn't hard either. I've seen the 1997 Donruss Preferred bronze parallels before and own a couple. If you're going to make a parallel, make it distinctive like this. An easy spot. I needed this card, too.
I knew right away that I needed this card. That was the easy part. The tricky part for me was "what exactly is it?"
I guessed it was from 1996. The '96 Pinnacle Summit set has a look of its own and I recognize it. Yet, when I searched through the Pinnacle sets from the late '90s in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, I couldn't find it.
I couldn't find it because --- grrrrr -- it's not listed under "Pinnacle," it's listed under "Summit." I hate that.
You may have noticed if you look through my want lists that I don't break up brands like that, for the most part. I list sets by the card manufacturer. Listing "Ultra" as a separate brand unto itself just seems confusing to me. It's obvious Fleer put it out, list it under Fleer! There is a host of '90s sets that are plagued by separate listings and it's annoying and confusing.
So, once I realized that this was the '90s and "Summit" was "special," I found the set. And I was correct, I needed the card.
I knew I needed this card and I knew it would be an adventure, too. Once I pinned down the copyright date -- in the all-too-tiny type common in the '90s -- it turned out to be not that difficult.
It's just that Pinnacle seemed to issue 786 sets in 1998 and this was an insert card. To which set did it belong?
I narrowed it down Pinnacle Plus -- the fact that everything in that set is plastered in foil was the tip-off -- and there I saw Piazza in the Yardwork insert set. Some of those cards are still worth a couple bucks. Not bad for foilboard.
All right, I knew I had this card. But just for fun I decided to look it up. Call it checking your work.
1998 Flair Showcase is one of those "let's make 4 different versions of each base card" sets. This is from "Row 3" of the base set, which was called "Flair" -- yes, 1 of the 4 versions of the base set had the same name as the card set itself. Because the goal in the late '90s was to remove the sanity from every last collector.
Also, levels of rarity went from 3, 2, 1 to 0 with 0 being the most rare. My brain thinks it should be in the reverse, but I better not dig any deeper. I only have so much time.
The other lines in the set are called "Style," (Row 2), "Grace" (Row 1), and I don't know if Row 0 has a name, which is smart because why do you have two names for a set anyway?
Anyway -- I own that card already.
I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw these cards.
Much like Flair Showcase, 1998 Topps Gold Label features two photos of each player on a card and different "classes" of base cards. The difference in the background photo signifies a different class of card. "Fielding" is Class 1, or the base card, "running" is Class 2, and "hitting" is Class 3. But don't let me muddle through it. Here is what the Standard Catalog says:
"Topps debuted its Gold Label brand with 100 cards printed on 30-point 'spectral-reflective stock' with gold foil stamping and two shots of the player on each card front. Cards arrived in Gold Label, Black Label and Red Label versions, each with varying levels of scarcity. The rarity of the cards was determined by the photo and foil stamping on the cards. In the foreground of each card front, the photograph is the same, but in the background one of three shots is featured. Class 1, fielding, are considered base cards; Class 2, running (inserted 1:4 packs) and Class 3, hitting (inserted 1:8 packs) are seeded levels. For pitching the levels are: Class 1, set position (base); Class 2, throwing (inserted 1:4 packs) and Class 3, follow-through (inserted 1:8 packs). Black Label cards are scarcer, while Red Label Cards are scarcer yet. In addition, 1 of 1 cards exist for each Class and version. Class 1 cards have matte gold-foil graphic highlights on front. Black Label Class 1 cards were inserted one per eight packs. Red Label Class 1 cards are a 1:99 insert and are serially numbered to 100."
I think I need to lie down.
The scary part is, I have no want list for 1998 Gold Label and I already own the '98 Gold Label Paul Konerko card of him hitting. Yet, Brian was able to send the two other classes of Konerko cards (fielding and running) that I needed. I have no idea how he knew I needed just those two cards. Clearly some voodoo going on.
At any rate, I now have a headache, as any good homework assignment will produce.
I don't know how you '90s collectors did it -- or do it.