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

Leaf 1990 – Donruss Gets Fancy

If Goldfinger was actually about silver, AND it was a baseball card set instead of a movie, Leaf 1990 would absolutely be Goldfinger. Look at all that silver. Leaf was a brand (actually the parent company) of Donruss which had produced cards in the 1940 and resurfaced as the Canadian version of Donruss cards in the 1980s. I said Upper Deck changed the game in 1989, and this was the first attempt from the established companies to compete with the new, premium competitor on the block.

I’ve previously remarked “as a nine year old, this was a very classy card design,” but this one remains that way, nineteen years later. Skybox’s 1990-91 basketball set had a very similar design ethos, except they turned their dials up to 12 or even 13. Super clean printing, an understated yet unmistakable design, great card stock, full color rears (well, “mostly silver with full color headshot” rears), and it checks all the boxes. It’s not obvious in the these scans, but despite being “premium” (foil packs = fancy) and printed on white cardboard, these cards weren’t glossy, which is a good time to mention that despite Upper Deck’s 1989 and 1990 sets (also 1991, but we’re not there yet) being described as “glossy,” that was only figurative. These mentioned cards show great, precision printing, but they’re not yet getting layers of gloss clear coat on top. The ONLY critique I have for the front is early-80s typeface for his name. Come on, Leaf! I won’t be quite as charitable to the back: it’s SO MUCH silver, that weird typeface shows up again for “MAJOR LEAGUE PERFORMANCE,” and the squares next to the headshot serve only as “ears” for the picture. The feature makes no sense. It implies a carousel-type layout, which would be pretty neat for a baseball card, where the headshots from the previous and next players in the set would show up in cropped form, but, hey, this is still 1990, so I’ll take what I can get. I won’t go after it here, but this was technically sold as “The 1990 Leaf Set,” which is truly one of the first occurrences I can remember of adding “the” to make something sound fancy. And for completeness, I’ll point out that I’m now old enough to have witnessed the removal of “the” from things that should have it in order to, wait for it, make those things seem fancy.

Another detail that other 1990 sets hit or miss is the oft-mentioned pants numbers that were removed for the 1989 season, but appear frequently in 1990’s cards. For the record, this card gets it right, with a picture from the 1989 season. This is the lie that I want; that despite a baseball card’s most relevant signifier being its year, the previous year is showcased, with stats and pictures serving as a one page yearbook for that player last year, a perpetual twelve month delay between the promises of the year in the name of the product and the cold, hard history on the cards show, both the art of the photography and data of the statistics. In other words, I am absolutely trying to make “I want the lie” happen. The always-great SABR Baseball Card Research Committee featured a post by “jasoncards” (sorry, I could only find a screen name), about the concept of trying to improve cards in bad condition. Easy example: using a paper cutter to turn rough edges into sharp edges. More complex example: cutting into edges to accomplish better centering or touching up missing ink. He used a catchy title, “Ruining with Scissors,” but what I really like is his dictum, “Condition is a one-way street.” If he helps make “I want the lie” happen, I’ll push “Condition is a one-way street” until I’m blue in the face.

For anyone looking for a bit more clarity, he’s positing that card condition can only decrease from the ideal pristine of the pack (or factory box), regardless effort spent to improve it. In fact, the improvement itself actually further decreases the condition of the card. In way, this is quite similar to entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. Kind of.

Leaf 1985 – Our Friends and Neighbors Up North

Leaf 1985 FrontLeaf 1985 Back

Well, this certainly looks like the 1985 Donruss. In fact, it’s more accurate to say this¬†is the 1985 Donruss. Except it says “eh” and… ugh. I hate lazy Canadian jokes.

I’ve previously talked about the foreign-version cards are outside the scope of this website,¬†but I acquired this card before I set the rules for this project, so here we are. While O-Pee-Chee had a deal for making “Canadian Topps” cards since 1965, Donruss/Leaf came into being in 1985 and lasted as “Canadian Donruss” until 1988. In 1990, Donruss re-used the brand name to launch a super premium (to my 11 year old eyes and budget) set.

Some amazing trivia is that the set was 200-odd cards (the Donruss set was 600+), and it focused on the Blue Jays, Expos, and Canadian-born players. You’d think that Canadian fans would want their own, complete set, not some “of special interest to Canadians” version of an existing set, but who knows.

The card has the same challenging black edges of the Donruss card, but adds a green, well, leaf next to the Donruss logo. Because it’s part of a logo, it doesn’t look terribly out of place, unlike the blue and yellow, but it still would’ve worked better if it kept to the black and red theme.

Following the pattern of O-Pee-Chee, the back adds French, making it a bilingual card. It’s the same clean design of mid-80s Donruss, with the same bad one year font choice, but it still works as whole. Business-wise, notice the Donruss is copyright “Donruss,” while the Leaf is copyright “Donruss Div. Leaf, Inc. Oddly, the card is best-described as “half-translated.” The trivia copy is translated, with dropped to fit in the space, but the general info and statistics are English only, except for the “Recent Major League Performance.” The weird “Steal” instead of “Steals” shows that it was oddly intentional on the Donruss. Even the contract info line wasn’t translated, despite cutting it short. Weird. Oh, well. It was half-done, so was this set’s checklist.

Donruss 1985 backLeaf 1985 Back

Set info from BaseballCardPedia.com.