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.

Topps 1990 All-Star – All the Nonsense

I’ve talked at length about Topps 1990. It’s a landmark design in Carlton Fisk’s playing career. Sure, it’s gross, but it’s a landmark. As part of the main 792 card set, the All-Star subset is somehow even worse. We’ve got the “half-tones as design features” and player names in Helvetica (though bold italic on the base card), as well as the terrible player name typeface from the rear making its way to spell “All-Star” on the front. But then they added. . . more.

First, while the normal set allowed “3D” cropping to put features on top of the team name at the top, this set adds huge borders at the top and right (smaller ones on the left and bottom) all of which allow features from the photo to mask the border. Check out the Eric Davis All-Star.

Also, the hand masking of the details in the photos isn’t great. Check out Fisk’s left foot . . . yeesh.

Next, the background of the pictures have been made black and white. Classy? The masking for the desaturation again looks like it was done by hand (hey, it was 1989, I’m not judging). And, I’m not sure when computers were first used for creating (print) separations, so maybe it wasn’t even “desaturated,” the background maybe just wasn’t part of the detail on the C, M, and Y plates.

Woof. Next, the back. The horrendous greenish-yellow main rear color of Topps 1990 never looks good, and it really doesn’t look good on a non-typical baseball card back. At least a stats table taking up most of the back draws the eye. This All-Star card has a ton of “white” space around the legitimately interesting 1989 Fisk trivia on the left and the inexplicable 1989 Stolen Base leaderboard on the right. For the record, Fisk tied with 48 other MLB players in 148th place with one stolen base in 1989. For the actual record, he wasn’t an All-Star in 1989 or 1990, but such is how Topps fills a 792 card set in 1990. (and Topps included him in their 1990 All-Star alternate set, too, so who knows.)

Donruss Diamond Kings 1989 – Van Art

Look. I get it. Art is hard. And “Van Art” may be the most dismissive label there is, but this meets all the criteria: it’s made by someone with some amount of talent (it’s A LOT better than I could ever do), funky colors and flourishes (the artist didn’t get to choose the purple gradient and black pillars, but check out the geometric pattern on Fisk’s right! Hubba hubba!), and something I would’ve thought was AWESOME when I was ten. And I did! I loved this card, and it had a prominent spot in my binder which the similar 1982 Donruss Diamond Kings did not get.

But there are some issues here. For one, he’s looking two different spots, depending which eye you look at. I’m not saying I could do any better, but I’m also not a professional artist. The hat unfortunately looks “above” his head instead of “on” his head, and the “C” logo, again, what I thought for way too long was a lowercase cursive “e,” well, really looks like a lowercase cursive “e.” Finally, it’s like he’s wearing old-timey, natual color leather catcher’s gear. I suppose it’s to make it stand out against the dark background… but yeesh. Also, his pose evokes the butt dance. In complete fairness, most of the artist’s work is much better. But Carlton Fisk in 1989 is absolutely not “much better.”)

There are a few interesting quirks and features here. The crown on the bottom of the yellow, white, and black back signifies he was a “Diamond King” in the 1982 and 1989 sets. For some bodaciously strong trivia, Donruss stopped including the “multiyear winner” stamp when the rear design was updated in 1992. George Bell in that link was a Diamond King in 1986. (and the 1992 re-design makes it very hard to figure out if a player was ever named a Diamond King three times. I consider it likely.) It’s definitely not a feature, but this card, like many if the Donruss with busy borders, has TERRIBLE centering. It doesn’t just look “off.” It looks bad. But with design quirks, the “hash marks” on the back of the Diamond Kings cards look, well, quirky, but they’re actually a feature, placed to match the standard cards’ rears. Neat. While we’re on the back, I’ll point out that the card emphasizes that he’s old (and on a “young” team), his 1988 broken hand, and, oh yeah, did you know about the 1975 World Series?

That leaves the final question. Of his two Diamond Kings cards, which is better, 1982 or 1989?

  • Portrait and action shot: clearly 1982.
  • “Artistic” Background: eh…. wash?
  • Non-painted portions of card: 1989. The indigo to purple gradient effect is very nice. The red and blue in 1982 look like leftovers from the Bicentennial.

It’s a tie! But it’s not. These cards are clearly about the art, and 1982’s art is clearly better, so 1982 it is.

For trivia’s sake, two additional Diamond Kings cards were created after he retired: Donruss in 2003 and Panini (who owned Donruss’ trademarks at that point) in 2013.

Topps 1988 Team Leaders – More False Advertising

Topps 1988 Team Leaders FrontTopps 1988 Team Leaders Back

We’ve got Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk on the front of this 1988 Topps Team Leaders card. What do we not have on the back? Any evidence that they lead the team in anything in 1987. Go ahead. Check it out. (To let me “Well, actually . . .” myself, I’ll point out that Fisk led the team in intentional walks.) Of course, this isn’t the first card that trades name recognition for actual accomplishment. (edit from the future: Fisk led the team in game winning RBIs. Though why the card doesn’t include this information baffles me.)

Speaking of the card, the white vignetting is a strong choice, but an odd one, creating what looks to be a 1980s wedding album cover. Neat things, though: the “White Sox” is in the same color and typeface of the standard 1988 Topps cards.

On the back, it’s the same cardboard, orange, and black of the base set. The subtle, repeating baseball motif continues from the standard card, so, again, that consistency is valued. Nothing especially notable here, other than an opportunity for me to laugh at the ridiculousness of how fractional innings are represented in text. Two hundred twenty eight and two thirds of an inning turns into 228.2. Not 228 2/3 nor the correct (but pedantic) 228.67. I don’t know. Baseball’s weird.

Topps All-Star 1986 – It’s Not THE Card, but We’re Getting There

Topps All-Star 1986 FrontTopps All-Star 1986 Back

We’ve got the ultimate Spring Training picture card here; early afternoon sunlight, a wide open background (you’re not going to see that at a regular stadium), and a batting practice jersey (which you could see during a regular season game, but there’s too much supporting evidence otherwise). There’s not much else to say here; the card is just on the correct side of the under-designed/minimalist line, and it’s neat that the yellow background from the name area is repeated at the position button at the bottom-left. The Topps logo is definitely missing on the front, and he’s got “confused dad” face going really strong.

The back has the intense combination of red and black ink on cardboard. The Topps logo makes its appearance (yay). I can’t say the stats table and trivia section’s typeface is doing itself any favors with a weird wild west vibe.

It has a subtle design consistency with the base 1986 Topps set, but we’re not ready to talk about that yet.

SportFlics Tri-Stars 1986 – It Could Be Worse

SportFlics Tri-Stars 1986 front1521397699277-e1f9aSportFlics Tri-Stars 1986 Back

This is the final of three SportFlics Carlton Fisk cards in 1986. It’s got the same no-design on the front as the others; it’s just the pictures and a white border. The final effect works well for SportFlics with no rough transitions between images. In fact, the two batter images (Fisk and Kittle) are actually almost too similar and are tough to tell apart. The back shows the super clean printing SportFlics has shown they can pull off in red, blue, and black.

Featuring three White Sox players who have won Rookie of the Year, the design makes sense! It still has a bit of the “they were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t think about whether they should” sense that the “Decade Greats” card was coated in, but it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense? Much of the rest of the Tri-Stars subset, where the players are related statistically or via accomplishment… but that’s it. Quick case in point: this Frankenstein(‘s Monster) featuring players from three different teams.

SportFlics Tri-Stars 1986 movie

Moving on…

Fleer Special Super Stars 1986 – My Case In Point

Fleer Special Super Stars 1986 FrontFleer Special Super Stars 1986 Back

Carlton Fisk had A LOT of cards in 1986. Though it was his ninth-best season by WAR, it was his home run peak. And chicks dig the long ball. This is just another one of his 1986 cards showcasing his 1985 season. Again, I want the lie… but this is A LOT of 1986.

So, the front is Fleer 1986, with its printing to the edge, and, well, generally non-descript design is well-represented here. Rich Gedman is borderline “some guy” territory (sorry, Rich Gedman and friends and family), but despite “just” two All-Star seasons, he has a very interesting Wikipedia page, whose “Personal Life” section doesn’t make me cringe. The picture does showcase that the White Sox batting practice jerseys had the “racing stripe” feature of the era, while the standard mid-80s White Sox jersey never incorporated this feature, instead keeping the “beach blanket” striping until 1987’s redesign.

The back is still yellow and black of 1986 Fleer, but this time with a ton of copy, and the ultimate Homer statement that Red Sox fans think they have the best catcher in Major League Baseball. Also, the back has a TERRIBLE inaccuracy in that Fisk joined the White Sox in March of 1981, not 1979.

Topps 1985 Record Breaker – If You Say So

Topps 1985 Record Breaker FrontTopps 1985 Record Breaker Back

There are a lot of things I hate about this card.

  1. Design-wise, it’s consistent with the terrible 1985 Topps cards. Blech.
  2. Design-wise, it’s actually inconsistent with the terrible 1985 Topps cards. Somehow that’s actually worse than being consistent with a bad design. You say, “but it looks they just swapped in design elements!” But they didn’t. Details below.
  3. Lazy printing: that shade of purple is 50% cyan, 50% magenta. That shade of “Record Breaker” red is 50% magenta, 50% yellow.
  4. Worst offense: I have extremely high confidence this picture is from the same game as the 1985 Topps card. And that was a picture from 1983. Come on! Because the left arm patch isn’t clear on this card, we’re looking at a few items: red undershirt, left wrist sweat band, yellow railings (not completely telling because both games show him in the home uniform, and Comiskey Park was Comiskey part regardless of year), and the Record Breaker card clearly (well, bokeh, notwithstanding) shows a member of the Texas Rangers warming up, follow the “72” on his left hip. There’s a obviously a blue-crowned, red-brimmed batting helmet, and maybe, on the original Topps 1985, one could argue that there’s a very blurry Texas Rangers hat next to his left knee. The case against: his mask changes hands from right to left, but that’s reasonable in the development of a play. And he has that same gross expression in both pictures. UNIFORM DIVERSION TIME! The Rangers had blue jerseys in 1983 and 1984. 1983 had a Texas state logo on the lower-left side of the front AND “TEXAS” in arched letters. 1984 had the player number in that spot and “Rangers” in cursive. Of course, the warming-up player on display is in the portion of his swing which occludes the bottom-left of his jersey. Sometimes the past doesn’t want to be discovered. 

    1984-85, left. 1983, right. From Bill Henderson’s Game Worn Guide to MLB Jerseys.


  5. Design inconsistency: Main feature is diagonal? Yep. Team logo is replaced with a “RECORD BREAKER” badge in its place? Sure. Completely 2-D design with depth only coming from overlapping? Uh. Actually, no. Look at that cheesy drop-shadow on the “CARLTON FISK,     [sic] White Sox….” box. And that diagonal box? It overlaps the left keyline AND the bottom keyline on the OG, yet only extends to the left on the Record Breaker.
  6. Black “Topps” vs. white “Topps” doesn’t bother me, though they really should have printed white with keyline for both both cards. (they omitted the keyline, so white on the normal Topps card would’ve gotten lost in the light, left-side of the logo area.
  7. So… about that record. There hasn’t been a longer MLB game since then. OK, so the record still stands. That’s kind of neat. Both the career home runs by a catcher and most games caught records are no longer his, but this one still stands. Except the implication of the record is “it’s really physically demanding to play catch, much less for 25 innings. That’s almost 3 games in one.” Well, it turns out the game was played across two days. It was paused after the 17th inning until resuming the next day. Sure, that’s a lot of catching, but that’s not 25 innings of catching. In terms of ridiculous amounts of baseball, he went 3 for 11 with a walk and one RBI.
  8. The back is the same terrible red and green on brown of the Topps 1985. The push-pin feature is stupid.
  9. What’s not stupid: this is card number 1 in the 1985 Topps set. That’s pretty neat.
  10. Also not stupid: this is the last of 1985 Topps. It’s about to get REALLY good.

Topps 1984 White Sox Checklist – It’s a Major Award!

Topps 1984 White Sox Checklist front1521398333862-5b399635-0dce-4841-9589-1a53ded8c5b5.jpg

We’re back in 1984, with (more than a few cards remaining). This is the last of the “normal” cards from the proper sets. There’s not too much to say about it, other than, uh, in terms of professional achievements for a baseball player, we’ve got the MVP, World Series win, All-Star appearance, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, Rookie of the Year, baseball card of the year, and… wayyyyyyy at the bottom of that list: “featured on the team checklist.” And this won’t be the first time he’s awarded the honor!

I’m not sure who Richard Dotson is, but he has a Wikipedia page, and I’ve only written Wikipedia pages, so I think that’s a win for him. If only Carlton Fisk weren’t smiling; we’d have a nice indie rock cover story featured image with the two of them glancing into the middle distance to the left and right of the camera, respectively. They see their careers going in different directions! Hint: they very much did. As much the common advice to kids turning 15 is “you can’t really plan on being a baseball player. Only 1% of 1% of 1% [or whatever] make it to the Big Leagues,” looking through old baseball cards, and seeing “randoms,” like ol’ Richie Dotson show up as prominent players for a year, there were still A LOT of Major League Baseball players. Just look: maybe three lasting names on there. Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, and Tony LaRussa. Greg Luzinski if you were a Phillies fan. The rest are just a bunch of names… who were the 1% of 1% of 1%.


As always, consistency with the normal set is valued. This is pretty consistent unless you look. “WHITE SOX” in block lettering? Yep. Square inset picture/logo? Oh yeah. But that’s about it. Printer’s yellow shows up on the front of the checklist for no good reason. The typeface for the player name(s) is completely different and black instead of red. The inset border on the regular card is black, while the checklist uses blue. More nitpicking: “Topps” on the normal card is black and in a rounded corner, yet blue on the checklist in a hard-angled corner. Try. Harder.


The back is somewhat better. (the color inconsistency of the backs is just due to the white balance being…uh… unbalanced between when I took the former and latter) Oddly, the player name typeface (Futura? It seems kind of customized, though.) simply doesn’t appear anywhere. There are lots of letters in-common between “CARLTON FISK” and “TEAM CHECKLIST.” They’re obviously not the same. Okay… you still don’t see it? Look at the “A.” Pointy at the top in “CARLTON.” Flat in “TEAM.” Red border in the “header” section of the regular card. The entire checklist portion of the card and Topps logo is styled like that header on the checklist. Odd. Not as bad as the front. But odd.

As I discussed on the regular 1984 Topps card, I don’t understand the “all-time classic” designation this set gets. I don’t get it. It’s fine (especially in OG form). It’s recognizable, but that’s it. And recognition plus nostalgia is a hell of a combination.

Next: cleaning up what’s left of 1984.

Fleer 1983 All-Star Catchers – This is Where It Gets Messy

Fleer 1983 All-Star Catchers frontFleer 1983 All-Star Catchers back

1983?? We were just in the middle of 1984! Yeah, this is where it’s going to get messy. While I had a lot of these cards when I started this, I had some missing spots. For example, this random, high-numbered Fleer 1983… I didn’t even know it existed. There’s going to be some time traveling, coming up.

So, then, this card, with a picture taken at the 1982 All-Star game…


Design consistency (including weird linen pattern and use of brown on the back)? Check. This thing is SPOT-ON. Sure, Carlton Fisk has the reputation of being the ultimate competitor and all that, but he looks like a nice guy here… but in the nice guy contest, Gary Carter looks like those pictures of your friend’s dad’s younger days you see hanging on the walls the first time you go to his house when you’re in fourth grade. #NoContest. I missed it on the normal 1983 Fleer, but the white border tucked just inside the keyline… very nice. I don’t love that the “Special Super Star” doesn’t have a border, but the team logo on the normal card doesn’t, either, so consistency is appreciated.

The back shows that brown/yellow (gold?) is a risky option, especially if you don’t have enough copy to fill the back of the card and the editor says “Ugh. We’re at card 638. Two sentences is fine. I don’t care how much brown ink costs.” Also, come on, Gary. Nine All-Star appearances compared to ‘where were you in 1976, 77, and 78?’

Next: more time-traveling.