Topps 1991 Box Bottom – Same Song, Different Tune

So, the Topps 1991 Carlton Fisk is one of the “all-time” cards, Fisk or otherwise. This card, cut out from the bottom of a “wax” box (box of packs), is effectively another Topps 1991, but with, obviously, a yellow border. In-hand, it’s clearly thicker and, well, the bottom of a cardboard box. I want to say “It’s more 1991 Topps, and that’s a good thing!” but I can’t. The yellow border just isn’t the same. Check it out.

But you’re saying “what if it had a white border? Sure, the box bottom picture isn’t as exciting, but it’s still a pretty good card, right? Alright, let’s see.

Whoa. I was expecting to say that it’s still lacking compared to the base set, but this is really nice! The red, blue, and white work so much better than red, blue, and yellow. AND the fancy cropping to put his batting grip on top of the Topps logo pops with the white border. Very, very nice.

After that whirlwind of amateur baseball card redesign 29 years after relevance, we’ve got a somewhat unexpected feat detailed on the back of the card. With the catcher home run record already getting its own card, I suppose it would’ve been too much to use that on the box bottom card, too. Instead, we get a card celebrating his 1200th RBI. I guess that was something to write about. Currently, 156 players have at least 1200 RBIs, so this isn’t the most rarified of rare air. I’m trying to find how many players had 1200 as of 1990, and not having much luck, but skimming the previous list, I’d say at least 100. BUT, I’ll give them credit for finding something different to write about. Then I’ll remove every last bit of that credit because they filled the remaining space with recapping his 1975 World Series home run.

For completeness, I’ll mention his 1986 Topps Box Bottom here, too.

Fleer Ultra 1991 – Offensiveness in Four Colors OR More Like Fleer “Ultra”

With Donruss’ Leaf appearing in 1990, Topps’ Stadium Club showing up in 1991, and Score’s Pinnacle still a year out, Fleer joined the fight against Upper Deck in 1991. And the results aren’t great.

There are just so many serifs everywhere. The “Ultra” logo. The player name. The player number. After that, this, like the Leaf cards, uses silver ink in addition to the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. In almost immediate hindsight, silver ink (instead of “chrome” foil) looks especially dated. Even comparing to the 1992 Fleer Ultra which used metallic foil for lettering, the not-especially-metallic silver just comes across as light grey unless the light hits the card at just the right angle. It does show a great action shot, so no complaints there, and the minimal design is owed points due to it coming from the same company which unveiled yellow terror the same year. Even if the normal set is straightforward, it’s SO yellow that any minimalism is immediately lost. (and the same serif typeface!)

The back is where the problem lies. Fancy cropping of pictures is neat (two action shots, then his headshot extending past its frame, all very neat), but that turquoise gradient. That turquoise gradient. I’m shaking my head. Like the base set, he’s wearing 1990’s uniform with 1991’s “Sox” logo on the back. As discussed previously, I don’t like that juxtaposition. But what I REALLY don’t like? The mish-mash of previous seasons’ pictures. Yes. “Seasons” plural. Look closely.

Not only do we see him in both home and road (1987-1990) uniforms, which is very neat, we also see him in the “SOX” beach blanket uniform in his headshot. Huh? This is egregious. And not only is it not last season or last last season. It’s a picture from 1985 based on the presence of the 75th Anniversary patch for Comiskey Park. 1985! This card is from 1991! I want the lie, but not this badly!

And it doesn’t end there. He’s sporting a thigh number in the home uniform. These were last seen in 1988, two seasons prior to what should be on a 1991 card. Good try attempting to join the, ugh, terrible pun incoming, Big Leagues, but this is a poor attempt at a “premium” offering. Next card please.

Upper Deck 1991 Checklist – About as Good as Cardboard Participation Trophies Get

You bought a pack of (expensive) baseball cards. Great news! One of them is just a list of other cards!

Look, checklists perform a service. There was really no other way in 1991 to know the exact other cards in a given set without buying the complete set (this is slightly incorrect. You could buy a price guide, and that would sometimes have complete checklists included, though those usually bucketed cards into “commons,” subsets, then giving bigger name players their own entries.)

notice that Fisk is a “big name player” in each of these mid-70s sets

Making pulling a checklist a bit more acceptable is featuring a player on it, instead of just, well, checklists on both sides. And if that’s your favorite player, that’s kind of a win. If it’s a pretty nice card, that’s a double-win.

I’ll loop back on it eventually, but I accidentally skipped another checklist featuring him in Leaf’s 1990 set, but I’d rather talk about this one. Check out that painting! It’s the best of any of the painted cards from his playing time for sure. No weird angles, fine detailing in the batting gloves and logo area of the helmet, accurate rendering of the helmet logo, subtle lines in the gradient background spaced out to give the flat background a sense of depth. I’ll be honest. I went looking for pictures where the left side of his belt tunnels would be visible because “of course they’d get those wrong,” but credit where credit is due. That spot is right, too. (yes, that’s a double-loop in the picture)

Also… Dad Face. So much Dad Face, and it’s kind of the same expression in both the batting and fielding poses. I suppose if the adage is “write what you know,” it goes the same for painting, and this artist knows Dad Face. All that said, “The Collector’s Choice” script diagonally opposite the logo cut-out is a classy branding feature, even looking at this at an age much older than “dumb 8 year old.” Great visual balance.

Sure, the face isn’t great, but it’s the best of the options available, and even evokes an opposite to the background of the 1982 Diamond Kings. Really. Check it out. Purple to yellow on the Diamond Kings, yellow to purple on this card. Coincidental, I’m sure, but always new stuff to discover in projects like this.

The back is… well, it’s a card checklist but on a visually interesting infield dirt(? wood paneling?) pattern and that “patented” Upper Deck hologram. About as good as such a thing could be.

Carlton Fisk was featured on three(!) cards in the 1991 set, and this is the best one. No doubt. (other than the maybe the back of the standard 1991…)

Score 1991 1990 Highlight – My God, It’s Full of Stars

This is another one of those “knows the words to the ‘how to be a baseball card’ song, but doesn’t know the music” cards. That’s not uncommon in the pinnacle of the 1990s card boom, but it is very uncommon in an actual baseball card set as opposed to a food issue or retail promo card. The front is just a ribbon, a picture with an offset border, and some practically-default font selection. Oh, yeah. It also has a completely bonkers replacement of the original background with stars. Excuse me. STARS!!! ⭐✨🌟⭐🌟✨

We’ve got… wait for it… more star (STAR!!!) background on the rear of the card. It’s not great. But what really bothers me: the drop-shadow around the “story” area and the general offsetting of the borders where the base set was all about no drop-shadows and flush borders. How hard is consistency!

As previously discussed, I also don’t like seeing “[19]91” and “1990” showcased on the same card. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. I already know that a 1991 card features the 1990 season!

As covered previously, when given the opportunity to factcheck, I always factcheck. Are the pictures shown from the record setting home run? (note: I appreciate them calling out that he also set the team home run record.) First, the easy part. The picture on the back is an at-bat, not the at-bat. Notice the wristband on his right arm at 0:22; it’s not in the picture (it also looks like he’s wearing 3/4 sleeves in the video, and bunched up sleeves on the cardback, but I won’t consider that definitive). So that hug featured on the front of the card. Let’s find it.

Wrist-band at 0:22.

Helmet removed at 0:29

Hug with draping right arm at 0:37 Looks like dark hair instead of the dark hat shown on the card, but this is the SD video era, so the mystery remains. Also, the huggee is wearing long, sleeves (in Texas… in August). One screengrab to capture the hug and draping arm; another to capture the sleeves.

Second hug at 0:41. Umm… it’s not this one.

Unexpected Sammy Sosa at 0:49!

Off-camera at 0:55 😦

Replay at 1:02. Imagine all the hugs that are being missed.

Is this hug from the home run? Maybe. But the video doesn’t contain proof.

When doing a smidgen of “research” for this article, I was reminded of the “Rifleman,” “Master Blaster,” and “K-Man” subsets… which I LOVED as a dumb eight year old. Check these monstrosities out. Comparing these with the card featured above, you can tell that someone at Score was showing off some sort of new technology in the design office. Woof.

Upper Deck 1991 “Ground Breaking” – Hindsight is 2020

First, I’ll accept your adulation for this pun on the first post of 2020. Second, welcome to a new category, “Not-Fisk Fisks,” where non-Carlton Fisk cards which feature Carlton Fisk will be filed.

This card was another “THIS IS SO COOL!” example from when I was a kid, especially because of the throwback uniforms (deep dive in my Score 1991 article, so it’s likely this is a picture from the same July 11, 1990 game, though, of course, it could also be from a promotional event) but also because of the details about the White Sox getting a new stadium in 1991, information about which, as usual, I’ve been a broken record in terms of “IT WAS HARD TO BE AN OUT OF MARKET FAN IN THE EARLY 90s.”

While Fisk’s standard 1991 Upper Deck was the most blah of pictures saved by a solid design and sky-high production value, this card, part of the numbered base set, captures a meta-baseball moment (stadium construction) and has a story to tell with Fisk and Robin Ventura checking out the construction site of the new Comiskey Park. (Yes, that Robin Ventura, famous for getting punched in the head, repeatedly, by Nolan Ryan in 1993.)

There is no timeline which is not improved by embedding this video.

So, about that hindsight. Check out that glowing prose on the rear for the then yet-to-be-opened stadium, then a reality check-in in 2020.

  • “best of old-time baseball with unique, up-to-date advantages” – NAME ONE (other than clear sightlines).
  • “will seat 43,000” – lowered to 40,615 in the mid-2000s due to demand, weather, and terrible seats wayyyy up there.
  • “…a bleacher section in centerfield, a rarity in modern ballparks, and a natural grass playing field” – OK, both bleacher sections and natural grass have become practically standard features since (new) Comiskey Opened, so points there.
  • “… the Grand Old Lady of Chicago promises to keep the cherished traditions alive well into the 21st century.” – Just look at these results. It has a permanent place on these charts, and a TERRIBLE name, “Guaranteed Rate Field.

Sure, new Comiskey was built right before Camden Yards kicked off the retro-classic boom just one year later in 1992, and any stadiums from that era not with a retro appeal have been since discarded (notably 1997’s Turner Field and The Ballpark in Arlington which opened in 1994 for the Rangers), but due to being the second team in the Second City, the White Sox are still playing in this mess, even if this random baseball card in 1991 was singing its praises. Without the benefit of crystal clear, 2020 hindsight. I’ll see myself out.

Donruss 1991 Highlights – Slightly Better than It Needs To Be. But Only Slightly. Also, More on Long Distance, pre-Internet Fandom.

I didn’t have a ton to say on Donruss 1991; the main point was that it was a sad, “known then forgotten” set as opposed to an existentially better “never known to even be forgotten” set. This card was a wax pack insert with the same face design as the base set (though this one gets a different portion of the border “flair”), but not numbered as part of that base set and not included in the factory set box. Why is it better than it needs to be? The back of the card isn’t just a repeat of the base set and tells an actual story associated with the broken Home Runs by a Catcher record. That’s a nice touch. There will be a few cards calling out this accomplishment, and I’ll round them up once they’re all covered. Skimming through my binder, I thought this was just another photo from the same at bat as the base card, but the slightest inspection shows that he’s in the away uniform here… and it’s not from the same at bat featured on the 1990 Donruss base set and 1989 Baseball’s Best, despite a similar action being captured.

(the smearing on “RECORD HOME RUN” is from the scanning process, for the record. PUN!)

Cards like this did help flesh out my out-of-town fandom, even if they came months and months after the event in question. I’ve talked about it before, but living in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania was not conducive to following my favorite player or my favorite team (the Toronto Blue Jays). Throughout August 1990, I checked the box score of the White Sox game every morning and as the record approached, I insisted to my parents that they let me stay up to watch SportsCenter to see if he broke it that day. I honestly don’t remember if my parents ever let me stay up to watch it; most of the games in that stretch were in the Central Time Zone (except 3 in Toronto… which I’d like to say that I thought would’ve been awesome if my favorite player set the record playing against my favorite team… but that definitely seems like a “memory” I would’ve generated in hindsight instead of something that actually crossed my mind at the time. I wouldn’t even have known the White Sox were playing the Blue Jays until the morning of, when the newspaper showed the day’s scheduled games.). So… maybe I saw it on SportsCenter the night of, but it was more likely at a 5ish PM SportsCenter the next day, after seeing the box score in the next day’s newspaper, but even that gets complicated between actual memories and “probably” memories. It was the second game of a double header in the Central Time Zone, and could have very likely finished too late for the next day’s newspaper’s cut-off time, at which point… I don’t know. But somehow I knew around the time, even it was just a small wire blurb in The Morning Call, Allentown’s newspaper. AND the game was on a Friday, so maybe I could have stayed up late for SportsCenter. I DON’T KNOW. I’ll just wrap up with God Bless the Internet. (speaking of which, YouTube doesn’t have an upload of his record breaking home run, so I don’t mean that as vociferously as normal.)

Speaking of YouTube, some footage from the doubleheader on August 17, 1990 is on YouTube, mainly because there was a “fight” (more of shoving match, then a disorganized guypile). Notice that the White Sox catcher in that game was… ugh… the dreaded Ron Karkovice. More on him later.

O-Pee-Chee Premier 1991 – Trivia Will Tear Us Apart

Yeah, it’s a stretch, but there aren’t enough baseball card blog articles titled with low effort Joy Division references. I don’t love list-based card overviews, but it’s the best approach for this card.

  • This is O-Pee-Chee’s first original card design in Carlton Fisk’s career. The typical O-Pee-Chee (OPC) design was that year’s Topps card printed on white paper with some French added here and there and a logo swap. I made the executive decision to avoid these issues (card collecting lingo!) when I was a kid, partially because it was impossible to find them in Pennsylvania prior to the internet… but mainly because they were basically just the Topps cards a second time each year.
  • A notable exception to this “Topps, but Canadian” rule is the 1981 OPC which was produced after he was signed by the White Sox.
  • This card uses a combination of gold, silver, and warm colors and never met a red to yellow gradient it didn’t like. I dig it. The fiery “Premier” wordmark still looks good 28 years later.
  • The silver… I’m not so sure about that. I’ll have to take a look when I’m back to my binder in a few weeks. Those borders on the front may just be grey. Real-time update: I’m sure it’s just grey. The border color varies throughout the set, and the rest are standard, non-metallic inks. This card isn’t some special insert or anything requiring unique inks.
  • Nice action shot, proper 1991 uniform, angry dad face on the back. Good pictures all around!
  • This is a special 1991 O-Pee-Chee set. The standard O-Pee-Chee 1991 was just Topps 1991 on white paper with a smidge of a mention of O-Pee-Chee on the back. Kind of like Tiffany, but without the gloss.
  • Despite appearances of a “normal” set, it only contains 132 cards. It’s not a “Superstars of Baseball” collection or anything which would normally indicate a smaller checklist.
  • This example has some of the worst kerning seen on a Carlton Fisk card. Does the team name and position need to be justified? It’s nasty on the back, too.
  • This is another “better but not premium” example from the early 1990s. Like Score, it’s, well, better than normal Topps (white paper, gold ink, though not foil), a touch of gloss clear coat on the front, full color printing on the back but without clear coat, and lower quality printing which is made obvious with the size of the rear headshot. Topps 1992 would go in this direction, too.
  • I love how large the headshot is on the back, though. Bold move.
  • As much as Canada as rules for requiring French, I’m not sure I understand how those rules are applied. The back literally only translates “Catcher” and “Career.” I get not “translating” the stats, even though “home run” isn’t “home run” (it’s “le coup de circuit”) “HR” is always “HR”, I don’t understand why “weight” isn’t translated OR, at least, expressed in kilograms.
  • Anyway, good-looking card for their first Fisk design that wasn’t just Topps with a Canadian accent.

Score 100 Superstars 1991 – Borders. We’ve Got Borders.

2019 Topical Political Joke In-Coming! What’s red, white, and blue, and surrounded by borders? Score 100 Superstars 1991!

Seriously, though, it approaches the covers all the bases of baseball card design:

  • Picture
  • Name
  • Position
  • Baseball Card Company Logo
  • Team

BUT, it’s just about the minimum it takes to get there. It’s red, white, and blue. With borders. And an inexplicably green border (of course there’s a border… why is it only tangent with the right border and not both the top and the right??) around the team logo. It’s… handsome in its own way, with the only feature making a design statement being very odd choices for the typefaces for the player name on the front and rear (it’s so plain everywhere else… and it’s not matching on the front and back). But it has one terrible detail hidden in plain sight. The picture is hit by the blue border at the top, red on the left and right, white on the bott… wait! The red inexplicably continues across the bottom of the photo. Ugh. Why. Well, actually, it would provide a better ink shut-off for the edge of the photo compared to the white paper which would be there otherwise. Or would it…

And it’s better! Kind of. The method for faking things like this card doesn’t simulate the fringed edge of the four color process (well, someone could do it, but I don’t think that’s the best use of anyone’s time), so we still get a hard edge along the photo. Aesthetically, removing the bottom, red border is definitely an improvement, though. For this card, the light dirt blends against the white behind the name, but it’s still better than inexplicable red.

The back is the usual, very geometric Score rear with a headshot in full color, full quality, though it screams “high school picture day.” Look at that chin tilt. Also, trivia only. No stats. But look at that chin.

For comparison, Score 1991 base set – they don’t try very hard at Score:

For reference, here are the previous “Superstar” subset examples from 1989 and 1990.

Classic Game 1991 – Purple and Autograph Optimism

The way Fleer 1991 is yellow and Donruss 1990 is red, Classic’s 1991 Game set is purple. The purple-tinted rock pattern looks like a bad decision made at a family picture studio when the 8th grader gets to pick the effects applied to the photo. There isn’t much to it beyond that. The picture is a good example of his one-handed backswing, shows the 1991 uniforms, and showcases some odd cropping choices (head and right leg on border, left arm and left foot cut at border) with “’91” under Fisk but above the purple. It’s very much like the Classic 1990 which had its equally questionable (but era-appropriate) borders. Which all is to say, I’d describe it as “Purple. And “doesn’t really seem like a baseball card.” “Seems like a baseball card” a moving target, but the Arial-adjacent typeface and lack of position and team indicators is a big part of this card’s out-of-placeness. Oh, and it isn’t a baseball card, anyway.

Like the 1990, the card is printed as part of a board game where trivia questions are delivered in the form of baseball cards. It’s not a terrible idea, and counting the base set (of which this card is a member) and three 100 card expansions, it was a 500 card set. You wouldn’t likely be able to turn Trivial Pursuit into four purchases in one year, but presenting the questions as features of a baseball card with additional cards to collect is pretty savvy.

There is so much purple on the back. Woof. Again, a Donruss-aping design, it’s fine. Just so, so purple. What I still hate is the space saved for an autograph spot, implying getting baseball card autographs is just some easy thing that you can request at will. (No, you could not in 1991.) With that autograph spot in the back, it would cool to see someone’s “I collect this crazy one type of card” was Classic 1991 with every card signed…

I’ve done the research, and I could find no examples of that collection nor a blog detailing the completion of said set. It would be amazing if the blog was made into a movie,and the climax of the movie was the last card needing an autograph, a car chase to make it happen, then the player signing the front of the card instead of the dedicated “Autograph” spot on the back. The main character would have previously spent a lot of time establishing that “this is the best set for autographs because it doesn’t ruin the front!” That’d show him. Anyway.

I couldn’t find that blog, but I did find this interesting story about someone collecting the an entire autographed Topps 1952 set. But this set isn’t Topps 1952.

Trivia: I knew one question and “knew” a second. #5 was easy, and once I saw the answer for #4, I told myself “Oh, of course I knew that.” After I saw the answer.

To wrap-up, Classic used a single color for each of the 1991 sets and expansions, and the border pattern works on none on them. (spoiler: Carlton shows up in one of them).

Leaf 1991 Previews – Unexpected Fisks, pt. 2 AND Once You See it…

One of the most obvious “certainly a child of the parent” designs, Leaf 1991 continues the “luxurious” design from the 1990 set. It wasn’t until this project (and a career which touched on printing processes) that I realized the silver ink of the 1990 card was something different, and, holy crap, Leaf (well, Donruss) leaned into that in 1991. So much silver ink. (what’s all this silver ink business? It’s not one of the four color process colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. We’re into 5 ink world, people. This is uncharted territory. Well, I still swear Card Sharks said Upper Deck 1989 was six color process, but someone who knows more about printing baseball cards than I’ve forgotten says otherwise.

Leaf was so excited about the 1991 set, that they created 26 preview cards which were inserted four at a time as an exclusive to Donruss 1991 Factory Sets sold at “Hobby Locations,” meaning baseball card stores, not toy stores. In other words, there were two Carlton Fisk Leaf 1991 cards. What I’m not sure is what the cards were previewing. They came with the factory set of Donruss 1991, which was sold in 1991, so I’m not sure if they were previewing the design… or previewing the ownership experience of buying packs that were 2.5-3X more expensive than the standard Donruss cards.

The design is harmless but quite busy. With one silver flourish, the 1990 created a singular design which is unique among baseball cards of the era. Its design is that there isn’t much design to it. The 1991 is not that. The corners have a feature that makes me think of columns, and the actual photo area is smaller than it should be due to the corner features and white border. Yes, I do understand that it’s meant to be a picture being held in place on a silver background with picture corners (and, yes, I had to look up that term). What’s lost in just images of the card is that, ignoring the subjective aspects of the design, this was made as a “premium” product. Thicker, white cardstock. High print quality. Silver ink. Smooth but not glossy. It was “as good” as the other premium sets (somewhere between Score and Upper Deck, closer to Upper Deck), but it was rapidly part of the new normal of baseline for an acceptable baseline baseball. I’ve not gotten there yet, but Topps blew this and other “premium” cards from 1991 (mainly Fleer Ultra) out of the water with their Stadium Club set.

But can’t be unseen? Check out those corners. They don’t hit the photo at the same spot. I’m sorry.

At best, the card elicits nothing from me. It’s not a good design. The back does standout. Full color, lots of silver – headshot. I like it!

But what’s the Unexpected Fisk? It’s 2018. North Bend, Washington. Mt. Si Deli (also known as “the Mt. Si Chevron”). You go to checkout. You feel like you may have seen a Fisk. But that’s impossible. It’s 2018. But you see Fisk. On a box of… Leaf? Leaf??? Leaf was a “Wow! This card shop is selling Leaf!” situation in the early 90s where it was rare to even see boxes of Leaf. And they have a full one. As we’ve learned above, this card is from the preview set, and that’s the one on the box. For some heavy-weight trivia, zoom in and notice that the back of the card here doesn’t show “1991 Preview Card” text over the stats. More trivia, this is the Leaf 1991 Series 2 set. The series one set swaps blue for maroon (see below), but uses this same Fisk card as the box feature. I’ll point out that in 2018, they had a full box. In 2019, the box was simply a vessel for a variety of more recent packs. 2018, top. 2019, bottom.

Series 1 box for comparison