Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Devilishly Affordable Group Break

A long time ago in this exact galaxy, specifically back in August, Colbey at Cardboard Collections ran an affordable group break that cost only $6. It wasn't the latest and greatest product, but he did have two Fleer products from the mid-2000s on offer, both of which are underrepresented in my collection, so I joined. Who could keep up with all those Fleer releases back then, anyway? As we wrap up 2017, I thought I'd take a look at this stack before the ball drops. At least then I could keep the post in the same calendar year.

2003 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition #2 Preston Wilson
First up is 2003 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition (JE), a set I'd never even heard of before, let alone collected. Presumably, there were some relics to be found in this set, but I didn't have the good fortune of nabbing any with my two team slots. Fleer also tied in the player's uniform number into the print run of the Century parallels, adding 100 to their number. Frank Thomas, for example, had a print run of 135. The base cards are nicely color-coded, giving us a clean, if verbose, design. Between the right vertical banner and the set logo, "Focus Jersey Editon" appears twice.

I guess with so many Fleer sets on the market, they really wanted us to know which was which. Don't forget that Fleer also tells us on the fine print in the back. Topps is (sort of) finally doing this, but that is one thing I miss dearly about both Fleer and Upper Deck. We all know the yellow-bordered set is 1991 Fleer, but as more and more sets hit the market, there's a real need for some identification.

In a move which should surprise no one, I selected the Rockies for my primary team slot. Preston Wilson was about to join the Rockies after his first five seasons as a Marlin (save for his two weeks as a rookie Met), coming over in an offseason trade with Charles Johnson and a couple others in return for Mike Hampton and Juan Pierre. The Florida Marlins (yes, before they were known as the Miami Marlins) promptly flipped Hampton, but they kept Pierre and went on to win their second World Series in 2003. Juan Pierre certainly drew the lucky hand that year.

Like most well-known Marlins, Pierre was traded away during their 2005 fire sale, an event that the Marlins seem to hold about once a decade with alarming regularity. Obviously, we're in the middle of one now, and Preston Wilson didn't even survive this one, as he and Jeff Conine were both shown the door of the broadcast booth.

2003 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition #127 Jose Hernandez
Journeyman infielder Jose Hernandez has only appeared on this blog once before, on another 2003 card, his only year as a Rockie in a long, 15-season career, which immediately followed his only All-Star appearance. Fleer only gave us five years of stats on the back, and a giant, empty gray box below it, leaving us to wonder about his Major League performance dating back to 1991. I vaguely remember his time in Denver, but I can't say I knew how much time he'd spent in the league. I probably have tons of overproduction-era cards of him, but had no idea it was the same guy.

I don't entirely agree with Topps' latest method of only printing the last five years of statistics, especially in this era of Sabermetrics and StatCast. We should be getting more stats, not fewer. But at least they're not tantalizingly filling up the card backs only halfway like Fleer did.

2003 Fleer Focus Jersey Edition #128 Ben Grieve
The team I ended up with in the random selection was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the other Florida team that's undergone a name change in their short history. I guess it makes sense for the Marlins to rename since they're no longer the only team in Florida, which makes you wonder how the Angels got away with being the California Angels for so long. That leaves the Rockies, Rangers, Twins, and Diamondbacks as the only teams named after their states instead of their cities. There's a touch of ambiguity in the Yankees and Mets, but the state name came after the city, so I'd file those two under the "city" column.

Going the opposite direction down that path leads to some very odd-sounding names, like the Washington Mariners, Wisconsin Brewers (not to be confused with the Badgers), the Ontario Blue Jays, the Ohio Reds, and the Maryland Orioles.

Maybe that's why Major League teams tend to go for a city name; they sound a bit like colleges otherwise.

But back to the card. Ben Grieve had cooled off after his red-hot start to interleague play against the Rockies, and spent a little time on America's (southern) third coast. As we can see in the lower left corner, Grieve coincidentally wore the number 18, just like the Rockies' Jose Hernandez. And in the checklist, this is exactly one card further down the stack (or up the stack, depending on which direction you hand-collate). He's precariously balanced on his right heel, and happens to be wearing a wrist band that precisely matches the Rays' later colors after they dropped the "Devil".

2005 Fleer Showcase #106 Scott Kazmir ST
The second set was 2005 Fleer Showcase, a wonderfully color-coded set that uses a lot of thin silver foil lines. I had six cards from this set already, so at least I had a little familiarity with this one. Tampa Bay's team was still known as the Devil Rays at this point, keeping that name until 2008, the same year they finally reached the Postseason. In fact, they'd lose the World Series that year, following in the Rockies' footsteps and crossing their name off the short list of teams without a World Series appearance.

None of the base cards that Colbey pulled from 2005 Showcase depicted a Rockie, nor do any of my other six cards, but this is my first from the short-printed Showcasing Talent subset. That makes this an odd set in my collection, one in which I have no Rockies but at least a dozen or so base cards.

I picked Scott Kazmir as the first one to show, a southpaw who led the AL in strikeouts in 2007. I selected him in a Fantasy baseball draft or two, and I even saw him in person when he was an Angel, toeing the rubber against A.J. Burnett when the Yankees visited Anaheim on September 23rd, 2009. That was the only regular season Major League game I've had a chance to see outside of Denver.

Kazmir didn't pitch in 2017, but his name crossed the wire a few weeks ago, as the Dodgers shipped him and a few other former stars off to the Braves for Matt Kemp. Scott Kazmir, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, and ex-Rockie Charlie Culberson for Matt Kemp sounds like a mega-blockbuster, until you remember that this isn't 2011 anymore.

2005 Fleer Showcase #66 Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford would fit into that transaction perfectly, and the Dodgers might have actually included him if the last of his giant contract didn't finally expire at the end of the 2017 season. The speedy outfielder inked a monster deal with the Red Sox in 2011, but he was almost immediately plagued by injury problems. The Red Sox managed to get the Dodgers to take him off their hands, and the Dodgers finally cut him in 2016, while still owing him tens of millions of dollars.

But once upon a time, he was the best base stealer in the American League, and led the league in triples three years in a row. That was right around the time this card was printed, which tells us that Crawford was one of less than a dozen AL players with over 50 stolen bases, 50 extra-base hits (including 19 triples), and 100 runs scored in a single season. Decades from now, if the game continues to be more power-focused, Crawford's name might come up as one of the last great base stealers with power. Dee Gordon has the speed, but nowhere near the same power. Even over the course of one man's career, the game can change quite a bit.

2005 Fleer Showcase Swing Time #7 Todd Helton
I didn't get any Rockies base cards from '05 Showcase, but I did end up with a hit in this insert of Todd Helton. The angles on this card don't look that different from 2017 Topps, just shifted a bit. It's just about as thick as the base cards, and has that sturdy feel of a premium set. I'm not sure why Fleer felt the need to work the numbers "97" into the Swing Time lettering, but it looks odd, and even more so on the back, where the "N" is written in the preschool-backwards style.

That back uses the same angles, the same noticeable triangle in the center, and the same photo, which is slightly more zoomed in. The upper area has the same partial opacity, which means that Todd Helton's throat is the only area of the photograph that isn't obscured by the design or the paragraph. Stadium Club this is not.

In fact, I think this card helps me understand why so many of you dislike 2017 Topps. The sharp angles detract from the photograph, and just seem to force a lot of odd shapes. Shifting this all to the left a bit wouldn't really help much. But a hit is a hit, and seeing a pre-goatee Todd Helton brings about a sense of nostalgia.

2016 Topps Chrome Pink Refractors #59 Tom Murphy (RC)
Colbey was nice enough to throw in a recent Topps Chrome parallel in addition to the haul from this Fleer group break. Tom Murphy showed up in my last post on another 2016 Topps product, and they both get the Rookie Card logo. As with most Chrome cards, there's a little bit of a curl, but that's expected at this point. This time, the Pink parallel does not get a serial number, but it is a refractor. Topps does not label it as such, but if the light is right, it's easy to tell.

It's surprising how much sharper this photo looks compared to just a decade or so prior. That could have a bit to do with the camera technology, but cards have come a long way since Fleer's relatively recent demise.

Thanks to Colbey for running this group break way back in August, when the thermometer read a wee bit more than 14 degrees Fahrenheit. I hope you all have a healthy and fulfilling 2018, and remember that Opening Day is less than three months away!

1 comment:

  1. Cool group break. I always enjoyed the 90's Showcase sets. Don't think I've encountered the 2005 set before... but I can see the resemblance. Happy New Year!