Product Highlight: 1998 Upper Deck SP Authentic Baseball

Boxes can be expensive.  Sometimes an older product might take care of that pack busting itch for a much lower cost.  Just because that new box guarantees ten hits doesn’t mean you’ll come close to pulling something anywhere near what you paid.  One hit from an older set could easily be better than ten from that newer product.  Then again, making money shouldn’t be your #1 concern.  Cards are for fun, not investing.

If you’re looking for an affordable box from the 1990s that has an autograph checklist which hasn’t dwindled too much, I’d suggest 1998 Upper Deck SP Authentic Baseball.  Upper Deck introduced the high-end SP brand in 1993, but in 1998 they changed the name to SP Authentic.  This is mainly due to each box containing an autograph.

The 1998 SP Authentic set consists of (198) base cards.  They’ve got a foil-photo in the middle which is then surrounded by an all-white border.  Magglio Ordonez is the most notable rookie.  David Ortiz has a somewhat popular second year card.  As far as inserts go, there really is only one – Sheer Dominance.  These come in Silver, Gold #’ed/2000, and Titanium #’ed/100.

Autographs are the main attraction.  Glancing over the checklist you’ll notice its fairly solid.  Of course there are some duds, but what product doesn’t have those?  Key autographs include Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Mussina, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, Roger Clemens, Scott Rolen, Tony Gwynn, Todd Helton, and Vladimir Guerrero.  Every Chirography autograph is signed on-card.

Upper Deck included various Trade Cards for oversized 5″ x 7″ jersey cards as well as full size autographed memorabilia.  If this were 1998, you could redeem them.  Given that they’re decades old, I highly doubt you would receive anything for them today.

On the bottom of the box Upper Deck lists how many of each Trade Card was made, and the approximate retail value of that item.

  • Ken Griffey Jr. Signed Mariners Jersey #’ed/30 – $399
  • Ken Griffey Jr. Signed Glove #’ed/30 – $449.95
  • Ken Griffey Jr. Life Size Standee #’ed/200 – $29.95
  • Ken Griffey Jr. Oversized Jersey Card #’ed/125 – $50
  • 5″ x 7″ Ken Griffey Jr. 300th Home Run Commemorative Card #’ed/1,000 – $10
  • Robin Ventura Signed Baseball #’ed/50 – $89.95
  • Raul Mondesi Signed Baseball #’ed/100 – $89.95
  • Albert Belle Signed Baseball #’ed/100 – $89.95
  • Brian Jordan Signed Baseball #’ed/50 – $89.95
  • Roberto Alomar Signed Baseball #’ed/100 – $89.95
  • Tony Gwynn Oversized Jersey Card #’ed/415 – $50
  • Greg Maddux Oversized Jersey Card #’ed/125 – $50
  • Alex Rodriguez Oversized Jersey Card #’ed/125 – $50
  • Gary Sheffield Oversized Jersey Card #’ed/125 – $50
  • Jay Buhner Oversized Jersey Card #’ed/125 – $50

Browsing over this price list is fun.  I certainly wouldn’t use it as an official guide though.  There is no way to know if everything on that list was even redeemed.  Quantities could be lower.

Product Highlight: Revolutionary Comics 1992-93 Baseball Legends

Revolutionary Comics had a short lifespan.  It was founded in 1989, and went belly up five years later.  They were known for printing unauthorized biographies of celebrities, specifically musicians.  Their line of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics was very successful.  Some musicians were totally for them, while others took up legal action.  It seemed the more legal cases thrown at them, the more comics they sold.  But in the end, it was their line of sports titles that lead to their downfall.

During it’s reign, Revolutionary Comics issued four different sports titles.  It began with Baseball Superstars Comics in 1991.  They then went on to print Baseball Legends ComicsSports Legends Comics, and Sports Superstars Comics.  Much like their Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics, these told the unauthorized biographies of popular sports figures from the past and present.  Sports fans didn’t find these as entertaining as they thought.  I don’t think they caught on because you know how the story was going to end.  Their sports titles racked up a lot of debt.  Losing a lawsuit to the Pittsburgh Penguins over the use of their logo, and having to settle another suit brought on by Joe Montana certainly didn’t help.

Some of their sports issues contained cards.  In March of 1992, Revolutionary Comics started their Baseball Legends Comics.  This particular series ran until September of 1993.  In total there are (19) issues.  The issues about Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, and Willie Mays all contained (3) cards each.  You would need to tear apart the cards as they came in an uncut strip.

Product Highlight: 2003 Topps Kanebo Baseball Series I & II

Kanebo sounds like the name of a character you would see on a Mortal Kombat player selection screen.  “Kanebo Wins!”, “Flawless Victory Kanebo!”, “Kanebo Finish Him!”.  In reality, its the name of a Japanese gum manufacturer.

Topps and Kanebo Foods came together in 2003 to bring collectors this crazy set.  It’s official title is 2003 Topps Kanebo Baseball, and is split between two different series.  Series I contains (55) cards.  The design is identical to that of the regular 2002 Topps Baseball flagship set.  On the back is the main difference where everything is written in Japanese.  Randomly inserted are Silver and Black parallels.

Don’t let the design fool you.  They look like 2002 cards, but all of the cards from Series I have a 2003 copyright date.  This can be extremely confusing when it comes to rookie cards.  Luckily, Topps and Kanebo only used two players in their Series I set that actually had real rookies in 2002 – So Taguchi and Kaz Ishii.  Neither of these players have much demand today, so their rookie cards from 2002 don’t hold much value.  But its still nice to know the difference between a 2002 and 2003 card.

Series II was issued a little later on is a bit easier to follow.  Not only was it issued in 2003, but it also utilizes the 2003 Topps Baseball flagship design.  The size is doubled compared to Series I, and comes in at (110) cards.  You’ll find Series II cards much more difficult to locate, and they have Copper and Silver parallels.

Hideki Matsui has very few Topps rookie cards from 2003.  Most of them come from Upper Deck, Fleer, and Donruss/Playoff.  His 2003 eTopps card is the main Topps card you see from that year.  Matsui didn’t have a rookie card in the 2003 Topps Baseball flagship brand, but he did get one in the Series II Kanebo set.

Pin Highlight: Lawrence Taylor vs. Joe Theismann – Spring-Loaded Leg Break Pin

Monday Night Football.  November 18, 1985.  Redskins vs. Giants.  Football historians remember this game all because of one play.  Washington’s quarterback Joe Theismann was sacked by linebacker Lawrence Taylor.  While falling to the ground, Taylor’s knee drove right into Theismann’s lower right leg.  As you can imagine, Theismann’s leg snapped like a twig.  The compound fracture forced him to retire at age 36.  Even though Taylor has apologized numerous times, Theismann has never blamed him for the career ending injury.

Little to no officially licensed merchandise depicting this iconic injury can be found.  Its not uncommon for cards to feature both players.  Photos of the play are the main item you’ll find.

Many years ago I came across this pin on eBay.  There are no team names/logos, player names, or anything to officially connect the Giants, Redskins, Lawrence Taylor, or Joe Theismann to it.  But just looking at it we all know what’s going on.  The player who is suppose to be Joe Theismann even has a spring-loaded leg to recreate the classic break.

Who made this pin?  How many were made?  Who distributed them?  These are all great questions.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers.  This is the only one I’ve seen.

Product Highlight: 1963 Scanlens VFL

Have you ever heard of Scanlens?  No.  Then you haven’t been keeping up with your Victorian Football League (VFL) vintage card knowledge.  Scanlens was an Australian company that began to insert trading cards within their candy and chewing gum packs in the 1930s.  They produced their first VFL set in 1963.  This set consists of only (18) cards, and is the Holy Grail to VFL collectors.  Several other manufacturers of VFL cards popped up, but Scanlens vintage cards are by far the most popular.

The 1963 Scanlens VFL set contains the following players:

  • Ted Whitten #1
  • Ron Evans #2
  • Allen Aylett #3
  • Ken Fraser #4
  • Bob Skilton #5
  • John Schultz #6
  • Haydn Bunton #7
  • Brendan Edwards #8
  • Verdon Howell #9
  • Neil Roberts #10
  • Alex Epis #11
  • Graham (Polly) Farmer #12
  • Graham Arthur #13
  • Len Fitzgerald #14
  • Bill and Matt Goggin #15
  • Ron Barassi #16
  • Murray Weiderman #17
  • Bob Johnston #18

The hardest card to find from this particular set is Graham (Polly) Farmer #12.  For some reason it just doesn’t surface that often.  Many collectors believe they were heavily damaged during the printing process, and got thrown out.  Another rumor suggests that a Scanlens employee stole stacks of Graham (Polly) Farmer cards, and stored them in a drawer at a railway station.

You can’t help but notice how the design looks very similar to 1959 Topps Football.

In 1963 Scanlens issued three sets – VFL, NRL, and a soccer set.  Each set contains (18) cards.

Product Highlight: 1995 Taco John’s Iowa Barnstormers AFL Team Set

Arena football has it’s followers.  You wouldn’t know that based on the small amount of AFL cards out there.  Upper Deck gave it a shot, but unless you pull an autograph of a famous coach or owner that box probably won’t be too rewarding.

In 1995, the Iowa Barnstormers played their inaugural season with a young quarterback on their roster named Kurt Warner.  After being released from the Packers in 1994, Warner turned to the AFL since no other NFL teams seemed that interested in signing him.  He played with the Barnstormers for three seasons before heading over to Europe, and then eventually found his way to the St. Louis Rams.

Leave it to the Iowa Barnstormers and a Mexican fast food franchise called Taco John’s to produce what is likely the most valuable AFL card ever printed.  Taco John’s sponsored the team’s first set.  You could obtain these cards in two different ways.  First was to purchase an entire team set directly from the Iowa Barnstormers.  The second way would’ve taken much longer.  For each week of the AFL season, participating Taco John’s restaurants would give out two different cards from the set with a purchase.

The entire set consists of (42) cards.  Kurt Warner is the most notable one of the bunch.  Its his first football card.

Having (42) cards in the set meant it could take up to (21) Taco John’s meals before pulling a Kurt Warner.  I wouldn’t want to see what the bathroom looks like after eating (21) Taco John’s meals.  That’s a scene best saved for a Garbage Pail Kids sticker.

Pin Highlight: Nolan Ryan & Robin Ventura – Courage, Loyalty, Character – Brawl Pin

Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura had very successful baseball careers.  Each has numerous awards next to their name.  Mention both in the same sentence though and one moment comes to mind – August 4, 1993.

Robin Ventura got an RBI single off of Ryan in the first-inning that day.  Later on, White Sox pitcher Alex Fernandez hit Juan Gonzalez.  When Ventura came up to bat again in the third, Ryan hit him in the upper arm.  Ventura took a few steps toward first and then charged the mound.  For some reason, Ventura decided to slow down as he got closer to Ryan.  That gave Nolan Ryan the extra time to get his glove off.  Despite being twenty years older than Robin Ventura, Nolan Ryan put up a great fight.

The image of Nolan Ryan holding Robin Ventura in a headlock is iconic.  Signed photos containing this image make for a fun conversation piece.

This pin comes from a Little League district in California.  The yin-yang symbol on Nolan Ryan’s arm indicates that.  You have to laugh at the irony of a pin that encourages courage, loyalty, and character while depicting two grown athletes fighting.

Product Highlight: 1991 Pennsylvania High School Big 33

Due to a decline in donations and an increasing amount of debt, the Big 33 Scholarship Foundation closed it’s doors after sixty years in 2017.  The annual football game it once sponsored is now under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association.

The Big 33 Football Classic began in 1957.  Its often been referred to as the Super Bowl of High School Football.  Some of the best high school players from Pennsylvania have taken on Ohio, Maryland, and Texas.  In the early years Pennsylvania would just play itself splitting up between east and west or blue and gray.  Between 1957 and 1960 Pennsylvania played against collected talent from around the nation.  Lots of famous football stars have played in the Big 33 game – Herb Adderley, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly.

Starting in 1991, they began to make team sets.  The Pennsylvania set contains (36) black and white cards.  Key cards include Ray Zellars, Curtis Martin, and Marvin Harrison.  All of these predate their NFL rookies.  It’s 1991 Maryland counterpart doesn’t really have any major cards worth talking about.  Any Big 33 card can make an interesting addition to your collection.  Later on, some sets included autographs.

During my senior year in high school, I received a Big 33 Academic Scholarship.  That included a trip to the 2004 Big 33 game in Hershey, PA.  A couple of players from that game made it to the NFL – Chad Henne, Brian Hoyer, Darrelle Revis, and Ted Ginn Jr.

Product Highlight: 1994 Action Packed NFL COASTARS

Action Packed lasted longer than most new card companies that got their start during the junk wax era.  They made football, baseball, basketball, racing, and wrestling cards.  Getting into the hockey card business was a top priority, but it never fully panned out.  Almost all of their hockey products were issued as promos.

Given the amount of sports cards that flowed into the hobby during the 80s and 90s, Action Packed needed to do something in order to separate themselves from their competitors.  Their answer was thicker card stock, rounded corners, and “puffy” pictures.  I call them “puffy” because the images are raised resembling those stickers that became popular during the 80s.  The “puffy” picture became Action Packed’s signature style for all of their products.

Action Packed sure had it’s share of unusual products to collect.  In 1994 they introduced their line of COASTARS.  These are actual coasters that you can throw on the table and place your drink on.  Six coasters come shrink-wrapped to a sheet.  You need to punch-out the coaster from the sheet in order to use it.  The checklist features players like Boomer Esiason, Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, and Jerry Rice.  One side of the coaster has the player in their home uniform.  Flip it over and you’ll find them pictured in their away uniform.  COASTARS is one of the only products Action Packed made that doesn’t include “puffy” pictures.  Probably so you wouldn’t spill your drink.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but COASTARS didn’t catch on.  Fun novelty, but no major demand.

Pin Highlight: 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four Press Pin

Whether its pure laziness or just an effort to pinch pennies, pins handed out to the press for specific sporting events many times look quite similar to the ones you’d purchase at the souvenir stands.  This can result in mass-produced pins being sold as their much harder to come by press pin counterparts.  A good example of this can be seen when it comes to the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four pin.

Press pin

Mass-produced pin

At a quick glance you can see how someone might mistake one version for another.  The NCAA logo on the mass-produced pin has silver coloring around the letters “NCAA”.  The press pin does not have this, just white lettering.  A solid silver-colored ring also circles the entire blue NCAA logo on the mass-produced pin.  The silver-colored ring fades out near the top of the circle on the pin issued to the press.  Looking at the font used for “2015” and “INDIANAPOLIS” you’ll see some major differences.  The mass-produced pin’s is thicker and plain white whereas the press pin font is thinner and a shiny metal color.  Those spikes on the left-side are a bit sharper on the mass-produced pin as well.

When it comes to press pins its important to know what you’re buying.  The price difference can be significant.