No Card Tuesdays! The Wax Pack

Though I started this project in January 2018, I had thought about doing it for a LONG time, literally years. Throughout that entire time, one of the rationales I also told myself was “well, no one else is EVER going to write as much about Carlton Fisk’s 1986 Topps card as I will.” This is a statement I would have aggressively argued if only because there is no reasonable counterpoint. Really, no one is ever going to write as much about Fisk and the 1986 Topps set as I will (at this point, did write).

Yeah. About that. Absolutely, completely 100% wrong. Someone wrote a book where an ENTIRE chapter is about Fisk’s 1986 Topps card. And it’s a really cool project! Brad Balukjian opened a pack of 1986 Topps baseball and tracked down all the players represented in the pack, and Carlton Fisk was one of the players in that pack and was also the biggest “get.” As the book’s release has gotten closer (April 2020), its website approach has moved from blog to book promotion (which makes perfect sense), so there isn’t any Fisk content remaining online (I assume some of the blog entries were re-worked to be segments of the book). By the time I found out about the book, all the Fisk-related content was in the book’s Twitter feed and any Fisk mentions led to dead blog links, so I’ll definitely be reading when the book comes out. Absolutely check it out and pre-order on Amazon.

For completeness and clarification, I’ll point out that the specific Carlton Fisk card he pulled is actually from the All-Star subset, not the base card (so, a card, not “THE Card“… let me also mention the wax box cut-out card), so not quite the same as my rationale above, but close enough. After that, he used a 15 card pack to find his 15 players. Great idea, makes lots of sense, but of course one of the cards he pulled is a checklist. Imagine that. The baseball card gods smiting someone 30(!) years after the fact. That is very impressive; checklists are the worst. (hopefully there’s a guest star representing the checklist, perhaps some from Topps, maybe even the designer?)

Bowman 1991 – So He DOES Sign Autographs

Hey! It’s Bowman!

That is what it looks like when a card doesn’t really cause any reaction when it comes up next in my queue. A struggle to find the words.

I didn’t forget this card, but I certainly didn’t remember it, either. Bowman’s 1991 card finally looks, not as much “modern,” but “up-to-date” after two retro designs.

This sequence of cards captures the oddness of the White Sox uniform situation. 1989 shows that the futuristic “SOX” logo from 1976 survived the 1982 redesign which is nowhere else to be seen, then the 1991 features the 1991 redesign, likely taken during one of the September 1990 series where it was worn (it looks cold in the picture, so Spring Training 1991 would be unlikely).

I’m not sure I ever noticed, but the borders on the card are orange and blue. Maybe not expected, but not the craziest thing. BUT, you might think that there were multiple color options, and Carlton Fisk’s card showcases one of them, like Score’s 1991 set. Nope, the whole set, 700+ cards, all has the orange and blue border. Most discussions of the looks of this set mention only “drab,” “uninspired,” or “bland.” What those don’t capture is that Bowman 1990 would almost never be called “bland,” but the 1991 is objectively a better, nicer design. The nameblock extending past the vertical borders is an intentional choice which I’d defend under any circumstances. I like it so much, I remade the card without it just to make sure my head was on straight. As always, you’re welcome.

Really, the name background extension gives the card a much more modern look. While I’m staring at this card, I’ll point out that the lower corners where the keyline meets the orange and blue borders is a mess because there’s no blue border on the bottom edge.

WHY???

The back shows off brown cardboard, green ink, black ink, and Bowman’s usual uncommon stats, again showing team-by-team offensive splits for his 1990 season. That’s it.

But what about that title? Carlton Fisk was my FAVORITE player. Notice the capital letters. Autographs were a huge deal. There was no real marketplace (at least known to dumb little kid me) for autographs of non-local and non-top 5-biggest-name players. There were never Carlton Fisk autographs, in other words. In other words: there was no internet, and more so, there was no eBay. Cards went into an envelope, a pre-stamped return envelope was also placed in that envelope, cards were mailed away, with no guarantee of return, signed or not. There were “rules” found in Beckett price guides and “baseball cards are fun for kids!” books saying:

  • “Here’s a list of players who sign and return your cards.” (namely Andy Benes. Thank you for autographing my Donruss 1990, Andy.)
  • Send your letter to one and only one player. It’s impossible to deliver one letter to all of Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, and Pat Borders.
  • Only send one card.

Carlton Fisk was never on that list.

He was the only player I liked on the White Sox, so there was no other player to put on the envelope. (I was dumb and broke this rule with the Blue Jays. They were my favorite team, but I didn’t have a favorite player. I sent one envelope with about 6 cards covering 4 players or so. Remembering this included return postage and went to Canada, it wasn’t a cheap shipment. That said, I’m not sure how I pre-stamped return postage for something being sent back from Canada. To their HUGE credit, the Blue Jays fan relations department send me back all of my cards, included a note about multiple cards and ‘just sending a single card doesn’t guarantee an autograph or your card returned,’ and included a copy of the Blue Jays junior fan club’s magazine, which was AMAZING.

I sent Carlton Fisk an 8.5 x 11″ mini poster and three or so cards of which I had doubles. Large padded envelope, return envelope with return postage, cards, poster, and extraordinarily heartfelt note to my favorite baseball player thanking him in advance for his autograph and efforts in shipping it all back to me. No big deal.

Well, Carlton didn’t sign it and he didn’t send it back. Darn. Never (try to) meet your heroes. (In hindsight, that aspect of professional sports could be a real pain in the butt. There’s something to be said for being a hero to little kids; there’s also something to be said about seemingly be expected to open and read all of their letters.) So, yes. It DOES appear he signs autographs. For someone. Just not me.

the (replacement) poster

Am I a little bitter? I’m a little bitter.

(Upon retelling the story of not hearing back from my hero Carlton Fisk to an employee at East Side Sports Cards in Allentown, PA when this was very recent news, I was given a replacement poster for free. That wasn’t my angle at all, but I was very appreciative, as was my mom, being that she was more offended at the non-returned or acknowledged envelope, especially with the hand-written, little kid letter inside.)

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

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).

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.

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.

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.

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 Stadium Club 1991 – DEEEEEEEEluxe

Finally. A competitor to Upper Deck (and hint, hint: it’s arguably nicer than Upper Deck 1991). Gold trim, gloss clear coat, full bleed, super crisp printing, full color rear… it has everything. (except holograms. Upper Deck claimed holograms.) This card didn’t scan well, but still looks amazing and modern in-person.

The single game the 1990 White Sox wore their 1917 throwbacks may have been a winning lottery ticket for photographers selling pictures to baseball card companies. These uniforms from this single game keep showing up.

The scan doesn’t do the card justice, but this card is much glossier than the 1991 Upper Deck, and simply feels expensive in the hand and the gold trim accents that fact. Say what you want about how Stadium Club was Topps just trying to follow Upper Deck’s lead, but Upper Deck didn’t have gold foil. Stadium Club did.

We’ve got a design on back which is unlike any previously seen. Instead of Score or Upper Deck’s geometric rears, we get a full bleed illustration behind the stats and trivia. Speaking of stats, we’ve got per-strike-zone-location batting info as well as splits for left- and right-handed pitching. But the coolest part? A miniature copy of each player’s rookie right there. That was awesome when I first saw it as a kid in 1991, and it’s still a great detail today. Keep in mind that (I know I’m a broken record…), there was no internet in 1991, and the very controlled baseball card show market of eastern Pennsylvania dictated his rookie was worth more than $100, so this Stadium Club card was as close as I got to it. Until I bought it for $12 in 2011.

Love. This. Set.

Topps 1991 Record Breaker – Cognitive and Visual Dissonance

As a subset of the 1991 Topps base set, there’s a lot to like about this card. It takes the great design of Topps 1991, adds a “Record Breaker” (excuse me “RECORD BREAKER”) graphic which may or may not look like WordArt, and shows off a relevant, celebratory picture. The back is pretty standard for the brown cardboard era of Topps, with blue and red ink with a slight “newspaper” feel to the copy.

But there are ISSUES with this card. First, the “celebratory picture” isn’t of the event in question. As always, God Bless the Internet. The White Sox were playing against the Rangers when he set the record, and the game was in Arlington. The photo clearly shows him in a home uniform (with Franklin batting gloves… he’s wearing Wilson on the card).

That’s an easy, obvious one. Less obvious but more insidious? I HATE seeing years printed on cards that aren’t the set’s year. This is Topps 1991. Why does it say 1990 on it?! Topps 1990 is one of the most immediately recognizable sets, as is Topps 1991, but my brain can’t comprehend a 1991 showing 1990. No way, no how. Look at these. Both indelible, but mixing them together, it’s visual oil and water.

I can love the 1991 set, but I can’t love this card. While I’m at it, let me pile on. That WordARt “RECORD BREAKER” is not just placed on any parallelogram, it’s a baseball diamond. Notice the bases at the corners. Yuck. Also, the green and yellow, while incredibly appropriate for an A’s card, is just out of place for a White Sox player.