Sunday, March 31, 2024

Don't You Forget About [This Custom Card]

I've created a custom card that features quite an interesting assortment of characters.

There's a Brain. 
An Athlete. 
A Basket Case. 
A Princess. 
And a Criminal.
If you're a fan of '80s movies, you might have already solved this one.

It's The Breakfast Club!
On Saturday, March 24, 1984, those five students—each from different cliques and with different attitudes—reported for detention at the Shermer High School library. And if you've seen the film, you know that it turned out to be quite a memorable day for all of them. What better way to commemorate it than a custom card?
Regarding the design, I felt John Bender was a natural fit for the middle spot. (He's probably the guy who was in detention the most that year, right?) And the text across the top worked out very well. I was able to add the year, name of the high school, and title of the film. Nice and neat.
Let's have a look at the card back now.

Similar to the card backs in the 1980s film stars set, I added a graphic across the top, based on the design that was used for some of the film's movie posters and VHS cassette boxes. Along the bottom I've added the "stats" line, which provides a nice bit of history for all the movie buffs out there. The card number is 2 because it follows the first card in this growing set, which was based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

As for the actors on this card, wow. You've got some 1980s legends. In fact, they were all members of a star-studded group called "The Brat Pack". Various combinations of The Pack appeared in big films of the era like The Outsiders, Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo's Fire, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, and more. 
But I don't think any of the other Brat Pack films were as big as The Breakfast Club. I mean, come on. Scroll back up and read the title of this blog post again, and tell me you won't immediately have that song from Simple Minds in your head.

So that's that. Another custom card complete. Hope you enjoyed it!
Do any of you collectors have detention stories from your high school days? Did you ever have trading cards confiscated by a teacher? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section. (As long as they're rated PG.)

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Embracing the Best and Worst of the Junk Wax Era: Hockey Card Edition

A couple of months ago, I was inspired by Nick (of the Dime Boxes) and Night Owl to post a list of what I considered the best and worst sets of the junk wax era for baseball. I was a young collector back in the junk wax days, and certainly opened my share of baseball packs during that time. But there was also another sport I collected: 
So I thought I'd create a similar best and worst list for the coolest sport on ice.

Interestingly, the junk wax era for hockey cards didn't follow quite the same timeline. In the second half of the 1980s, when baseball junk wax was booming, you still only had two choices for hockey cards: Topps and O-Pee-Chee. But that all changed during the 1990-91 season, as FIVE new brands emerged on the scene (Pro Set, Score, Bowman, OPC Premier, and Upper Deck). It was a wild time to be a collector, that's for sure.

For the sake of this post, I think I'll set the junk wax hockey years as 1990-91 through 1994-95. After that, a whole bunch of premium brands came around, with all sorts of inserts and parallels and rare cards. I'd say that effectively ended the era.

So let's start with my selections for the five worst junk wax sets, in no particular order.

1991-92 Pro Set

The 1991-92 Pro Set design was never going to be as rambunctious as the inaugural version the year before (we'll get to that one later). However, I think the company might have gone too far in the opposite direction this time, and fallen flat. The loud colors and stripes of the 1990-91 set were replaced with. . . almost nothing. Just a full-bleed image and a little black tab across the bottom for the player name (not even a position!). Even some of the subsets in this set were boring. You could only tell one from another by a little half-circle banner over the team logo that indicated what subset card you were looking at. In addition, the photography was not great at times, with images that were a bit blurry, or that were strangely cropped. The black tab can kind of get in the way of the action on the card, too, as evidenced by Dale Hunter on the face-off and Chris Winnes taking a slap shot up there. Maybe the design team at Pro Set was still exhausted from the previous year.

1991-92 Score
Yeesh. Score was really trying to cash in on excitable collectors during the 1991-92 season. They produced three variations of the same set, each with a different color for the borders. Card backs were written in English, in French, or both. The adolescent version of me sure did get swept up in it, buying plenty of packs of the American (purple border) and Canadian English (red or light blue border with purple interior) versions. I might have bought packs of the Canadian Bilingual version too (red or light blue border with green interior), but I don't remember seeing packs in card shops or at card shows very often in my region of the US. It's true that there were a few exciting insert cards available in each set that featured Bobby Orr—including an autographed version. And occasionally a player's photo did differ from one version of the set to the next. But that certainly doesn't rescue 1991-92 Score from my bottom 5.

1993-94 Topps Premier
Back in 1990-91, O-Pee-Chee released their first premium set, called "Premier". It went over pretty well with collectors, and for the next two seasons, O-Pee-Chee continued with the brand. Then in 1993-94, Topps decided to jump in with "Topps Premier". It was the same exact set as the O-Pee-Chee version, other than the lack of French text on the card backs. I think I'd learned my lesson from Score a couple of years prior, and didn't fall for the Topps Premier hoopla—even with the allure of the special Black Gold inserts, which were admittedly pretty cool. 1993-94 Topps Premier was also one of the early hockey sets that suffered from "bricking" due to the ultra-varnish coating, which was another strike against it. Adding to the negatives, it was a time in the hobby when close-cropped player photos were in style, across many sets. Too close. I mean, look at how cramped those three guys are.

1993-94 Fleer Power Play
The irregular size and shape of these cards was eye catching, that's for sure. But I also think that a lot of folks bought one or two packs for the novelty of it, and then just never bought more. If that wasn't enough of a deterrent for collectors, the large set size (520 cards) probably did the trick. Even though it turned out that the cards measured the same as the vintage "tall boy", I didn't know many collectors who were willing to buy all the unique storage supplies necessary to complete and display the set, or even finish a team set. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Power Play did not return the next season. The thing is, Fleer didn't do such a bad job with the photography, oftentimes setting part of the player outside of the frame for that 3D effect. This works well on the taller template—especially in the digital image. As for how they looked on the actual cards in hand? I'm not so sure. Maybe the images would have worked better in some other form. Just imagine those three cards above as banners hanging throughout the concourse of an NHL arena, for example.

1994-95 Upper Deck Be a Player
I think 1994-95 Upper Deck Be a Player can be argued as a best set AND a worst set. It's a potential worst set because of the photography. It's a potential best set because it was the first one outrageous enough to put an autographed card into every pack. The list of autographs was an astounding 178 cards deep, and it contained many of the big names of the time: Brodeur, Selanne, Bourque, Leetch, LaFontaine, Shanahan, Gretzky, Yzerman, Kariya, Yashin, Lidstrom. 
The big negative, though, is for that photography. There are players standing outside in the cold, wearing ski jackets. There are players on the golf course, wearing polo shirts and khaki shorts. There are players wearing NHLPA jerseys instead of their team's jersey. (There was a lockout during part of the '94-95 NHL season.) Ultimately, even though this inaugural edition of Be A Player really changed the game with the one-autograph-per-pack thing, I still have to put it in the bottom 5.
Now let's get to the top 5, also in no particular order.
1991-92 Upper Deck
If the inaugural Upper Deck hockey release came out with a bang, their follow-up set in 1991-92 was even louder—and in a good way. The designers really upped their game. You've got some fantastic subsets like the Canada Cup and All-Rookie Team, plus much better quality on the hologram inserts. In addition, there are lots of great rookie cards to be found (Teemu Selanne, Nicklas Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg, John Leclair, Alexei Yashin, Alexei Kovalev, and Keith Tkachuk to name a few). This is probably the Upper Deck set I collected the most back then, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I still remember walking to the local card show with my friend on the first Friday of each month, going back to my house with packs and packs of 1991-92 Upper Deck, and playing NHL Hockey on Sega Genesis while we flipped through the cards.

1990-91 Pro Set

Despite the many errors in this set (and many stripes of many colors), I've got to put this set in my top 5. It's large and colorful—perfect for young collectors—and both Series I and Series II have some great rookies. On top of the standard subsets like All-Stars, Draft Picks, and Award Winners, you've also got some fun subsets like Head Coaches, Career Leaders, and even Referees! Oh, and collectors had the rare chance to pull a Stanley Cup hologram card. The photos in this set weren't always the best, but they also showed some decent action and weren't cropped so tightly or oddly as some other sets of the hockey junk wax era. That's nice.

1990-91 OPC Premier
I remember packs of 1990-91 OPC Premier being tough to find back then. But if you did find them, you had a good chance at putting the complete set together—it's only 132 cards deep. There are certainly some big-name rookies (Jagr, Modano, Fedorov, Roenick, Bondra, Mogilny, Nolan, Sundin), and a decent design that helps to make it memorable. The photography can sometimes be plain, and I'm not sure this set would have been in my top-5 back in the early 90s, but history has shown that it holds up, and the big rookie cards are still prized among collectors.

1990-91 Score

Score made a splash with their inaugural hockey set. Part of the buzz was generated from their exclusive rights to Eric Lindros. He appeared on the final card in the set, and if you purchased a factory set, you received 5 "bonus" Lindros cards that featured him in various photoshoot-style hockey poses. Here in 2024 it might be hard to understand how big of a deal this was, but Lindros was the hottest name in the sport back then, and hockey card companies all wanted a piece of the big power forward. Lindros aside, Score did very well with their first design. There were hardly any errors, especially when compared with some of the other brands. The "hockey rink" designfeaturing a blue line, red line, and blue line across the borderswas pretty cool. In addition, there were some fun subsets like "Blaster", "Sniper", "Magician", "Stopper", and "Speedster". Baby-faced Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur rookie cards add to the good grade here.


1990-91 Upper Deck

Upper Deck took their baseball card success from 1989 and rolled it right into hockey for the next season. Their photography was unmatched, and gave hockey card collectors the best look they'd ever had into what the sport was all about. (Flip through the set and you'll see that Theo Fleury and John Tonelli up there represent just two of many fantastic, descriptive images.) The tamper-proof foil packs and anti-counterfeiting holograms on the card backs were cutting edge. The rookie cards were highly sought after. And on top of all that, the Young Guns series was created that very first year. It's still going strong to this day, which is truly impressive.

So that's my bottom-5 and top-5 hockey sets from the junk wax era. If any of you readers collected hockey cards back then, share some of your rankings in the comment section—or create your own blog post!

Thanks for reading, as always.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

1976 Japanese Menko Eye Candy

Feast your eyes on this:


You're looking at Shigeru Takada of the Yomiuri Giants.
And that card he's on is a piece of eye candy.
It's from a 1976 set of Japanese cards that I came across a few years ago on Sean's blog, Getting Back into Baseball Cards . . . in Japan. I sure was thankful for it, and figured with 2024 Opening Day around the corner, it would be a good time to finally circulate it around the blogs again.
Look at the angle of those lines and how the Takada family name follows along. Add a strong hitter's follow-through, and the whole design makes it seem like Shigeru has just walloped a ball deep into left field. The flat, bright background colors only help the action stand out. (It also looks like there's a soft baseball cap tucked into his back pocket, which always adds some coolness points.)
It's just really good design. And remember, we're talking about a time when so much was done by hand. Imagine an illustrator sitting at a drawing table with a ruler, pencils, pens, inks, masking tape, and paints, and creating this beautiful piece of art—all for a little baseball card that kids might toss around or tack to their wall. 
Pretty special, isn't it?
If I had the actual card in my collection, this blog post would have been part of my Favorites Box series. But alas, I only have the digital image of the card. At least for now.
As for the man himself, Shigeru Takada had a very successful 13-year career with the Giants. The outfielder was the 1968 Central League rookie of the year, and played for many seasons alongside Sadaharu Oh. Here are some career numbers:
1512 games played, 1384 hits, 838 runs, 229 doubles, 32 triples, 139 home runs, 499 RBI, 200 stolen bases, .273/.339/.414. 
Takada also made multiple All-Star teams, took home multiple Diamond Glove awards, and helped the Giants to six championships.

And he's got a heck of a baseball card up there.
Thanks, Sean, for the inspiration. Here's to the new MLB (and NPB) season!

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Fun Find: 1987-88 New York Islanders Police Set (Plus Original Artwork!)

Let's go back and visit the 6th-grade version of Gregory Ninepockets.

During that school year, a new friend introduced me to the sport of hockey. I loved it enough to start playing on foot. And then on roller skates. And then I started buying packs of hockey cards. All within a matter of months. So you can imagine my elation when the local police department visited our school that same year to teach us about the dangers of drugs, and how to combat those dangers by strengthening our physical and mental health—all with the help of hockey cards!

That's right. Hockey cards that featured members of our local pro team, the New York Islanders. There were 12 cards in all.
Here's the rest of the set.

The dynasty years were behind them, but stalwarts like Bryan Trottier and Brent Sutter were still part of the club. Pat LaFontaine had emerged as a franchise player by this point, too.

Now here are some examples of the card backs.

  • I accept the things that I cannot do as well as others do.
  • I control stress by talking to someone about it.
  • To stay healthy, I will exercise, eat well, and not take drugs.
  • Before taking a risk, I will always consider the consequences first.
But wait, that wasn't all. 

There was a workbook as well! (P.R.I.D.E. = Peer Resistance Instruction Drug Education.) 

Finding this book recently—and flipping through it—is what inspired me to create this entire blog post. What exactly was so nostalgic about the book?


What you're looking at is some original art from 6th-grade Gregory. I was soaking up the sport of hockey so much that I decided to use my colored pencils to change those cartoon guys into hockey players—complete with uniforms, helmets, rollerblades, and all. Hah.
If you can read my 10-year-old penmanship, those players, from top to bottom, are: Dave Poulin (Flyers), Guy Lafleur (Rangers), Lanny McDonald (Flames), Bryan Trottier (Islanders), Luc Robitaille (Kings), and Aaron Broten (Devils), who is throwing an absolute fit.

Here's another one:

That's Luc Robitaille again, this time joined by Wayne Gretzky, who is offering an unnamed Canadiens player some beer. Note the effort I made to style Wayne's helmet like the old Jofa model he wore.

Also note that the Canadien seems hesitant to accept the beer, which means it's probably not Molson or Labatt.

But what a fun time it was. And you know what? All the fun and doodling aside, there was some great advice and encouragement in those lessons. Timeless advice, too.

I'm happy the workbook—not to mention all 12 hockey cards—have survived this long. They're definitely near the top of my list of nostalgic childhood items, along with the Little League game ball I found a couple of years ago.

Did any of you have similar educational visits from the local police or fire departments when you were in school? If so, do you have any mementos from those visits?

Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

I've Been Released!

Okay, it's really not that dramatic. 

But a couple of weeks ago, I received a text message from my softball captain. He said that the team's regular third baseman, who'd been injured all of last season (hence the reason I was picked up in March), was healthy and ready to reclaim his role on the team. So, unless I wanted to just ride the pine or play a fill-in role, the captain suggested I look for another team to join.

Fair enough, especially considering this team has, by and large, been together for 20 years. I'm not going to mess with that dynamic. Besides, he was very complimentary about my glove skills over at third and about having me on the team, and said if they were ever short on players, he'd love to have me fill in for a game. That felt nice. 
In the meantime, it's back to the free agent market I go.

Because this is a trading card blog, I've tried to find a vintage baseball card with an appropriate "released" note on the front that I could share here, but haven't come up with anything. There are a couple of interesting "free agent" notes on hockey cards that I've shown on the blog, but that's as close as I've gotten. So here are some similar examples from the 1974 Topps baseball set.

Cecil Upshaw seems confused to learn that he's been traded. Fernando Gonzalez looks outright incensed. And Bob Johnson? He's just happy to be playing pro ball somewhere!
I think Bob Johnson's expression is the one I relate to here. I had a decent feeling my team's regular third baseman would be back at some point, so the news isn't confusing or aggravating to me. I'll definitely miss the guys. They're a good bunch. And this league really pushed me to be a better ballplayer. But I'll have to find another team now. No biggie.
(Also, just for fun, maybe I should have created a custom softball card with my face on it, and a big "RELEASED" note in a yellow banner.)
In any case, the free agent feelers have been deployed. There are two or three softball leagues that are located within 30 minutes of my home. Something is bound to come up. Who knows? Maybe I'll even join another team in the same league!

Stay tuned, and thanks as always for following along with my sports journeys.
If any of you have some interesting "traded" or "released" stories from your personal sports lives, feel free to share in the comment section.