Monday, June 27, 2011

Playing favorites: Ken Griffey, Jr.

Here's something new I'm trying in terms of a semi-regular feature:  like everyone else I have a few favorite players I collect, some more than others, and for various reasons.  I've done some in-depth posts about the Tigers and Wolverines I like, plus Cal Ripken, Jr., of course, but there are other baseball players I pursue from time-to-time, and I'd like to show off parts of my collections of those guys.

Up first is Ken Griffey, Jr.  I'm not going to write 10 pages about why I'm a fan of and happily collected the Kid--all I need to say is that I grew up a baseball fan in the 90s, saw Griffey play, and knew I had to have his cards.  Dude played the game the right way, never ran afoul of the steroids crap that ruined many a reputation, and put up numbers that just made you shake your head.  It's a shame that injuries robbed him of many games and much of his effectiveness at the end of his career, and even more so that he never got his ring, but he piled up many deserved awards and was THE player to watch, collect and pretend to be in the 1990s.  I would be remiss, though, if I neglected to mention a favorite Griffey feature--his appearance on the late 90s Fox kids Saturday pregame show In the Zone.  He usually appeared in a segment called "Junior's Jargon" and explained a baseball term to the kiddies.  While this isn't quite the version I remember, here's a link to the feature's theme song by Ice Cube (yes, THAT Ice Cube).  The version I remember (and don't think I'm making up) was slightly different and had a line that went "He's got an 'S' on his hat and his chest" which never failed to bring my brother and me to the floor laughing.  I'm in the zone, bay-bah!  I'm in the zone!

That said, here are some of my favorite cards in my Ken Griffey Jr. collection.  As a bonus (at least I think so), since I'm only discussing nine cards here, I decided to include backs too, since I don't do that often on this here blog.  Enjoy!
1989 Donruss RC:  I'm not quite sure how I let this one slip through my initial compilation of my favorite baseball RC collection other than I wasn't keeping my non-set copies with that stuff--I keep all my Griffeys that aren't part of complete sets in a box with other favorites and never thought to include that one.  That reminds me that I have a bunch more to add from other complete sets.  Sweet!
As for this card, there's a lot to say:  back before I was really a collector my parents got my brother and me a couple 1989 boxed sets.  Since we were young kids, those got opened, paged, unpaged, played with, lost, found and then some.  Therefore, I'm sure I had this card when I was six, but when I got into actual collecting a few years later, I no longer had this one.  Overproduction wax to the rescue!  I now have a full '89 set plus a couple more of these to keep as long as I want.
What do I like about this card?  Let's see, to start with, I always liked the Rated Rookie subset.  Then there's the fact that, despite hailing from a majorly junk wax set, this will always have decent value, not to mention historical significance.  And of course as someone who followed Griffey for a couple years without realizing his true first name, it was hilarious seeing "George" on the back--a revelation on par with Larry Wayne "Chipper" Jones, I'd say.  It may not be his '89 Upper Deck, but it's still a great RC.

1996 Studio Masterstrokes:  And now we take a huge step forward in years because a lot of what I have in between this two is base and lower-end inserts.  Donruss sure knew how to design them some inserts, though, which really makes me miss them, or, you know, ANY other competition for Topps' lazy, uncreative asses.
Studio was always a fun set to look at, as I know I've discussed before in these pages.  This insert from the '96 set is a prime example of that.  The pose, the artistry and the colors really come together to make an outstanding card.  That's also true of another favorite Junior of mine, Cal.  Whereas the Iron Man's got a nice Orioles orange theme going on, Griffey's rocks the Seattle colors and the result is fantastic.
Another great feature of this guy is the serial numbering.  Back in the early-to-mid 90s, this was a fairly new trend, and 5000 seemed pretty rare.  Obviously not by today's standards, of course, but back then this was a HIT.  I still like the true serial number stamping, not the printed crap that Topps passes off today.  Man, do I miss Donruss inserts....  This is a card I picked up at a card show years after it came out, and it's got me wanting to snap up cheap 90s/00s inserts of my favorite players again just looking at it.

1997 Collector's Choice Clearly Dominant #2:  Here's another one I pulled out of a box--the very low end '97 Collector's Choice.  Considering how relatively tough these were to pull, plus their book value at the time, I was pretty happy to snag it.  I still opted to keep it, of course, because it was a pretty nice Griffey insert, but it was nice knowing that the value was there, at least at the time.
Now I can appreciate it as a fun piece of my Griffey collection.  I love the shot of Ken in his trademark flip shades and eye black (the guy was NOT going to lose a fly ball in the sun) along with the bookends of his (also) trademark swing, one I still emulate to this day.
This is also a good back to show because I've always enjoyed his family ties to his dad, a good player in his own right, and a reminder of the oft-celebrated father-son back-to-back jacks in 1990.  I'm as surprised as you are that this list includes a Collector's Choice insert, but regardless, I'm happy to show it off.

1997 Finest Common Refractor:  Hey, cool, I pulled this one from a box, too.  I only ever bought '97 Finest II (I must've grabbed a nice deal on it a couple years later) but I know the box turned out nicely because I got a good group of Refractors and other inserts out of it.  This was easily the best of the bunch, though.
The Refractor-ness doesn't show through in the scan, as it often doesn't, but this is a great example of the insert from a classic-looking set, one I prefer to some of the more recent offerings.  To answer your next thought--no, I haven't peeled it, and I'm not sure I will, even though I've sometimes (hypocritically) railed against leaving them on.  It's just that I came up as a collector at a time when peeling these would have been heresy, and old habits are hard to break.  Maybe sometime I'll do up a post of me peeling all my Finest stuff as I've seen others do.
One interesting aspect from this set (and I believe a couple others from the era) is how it's broken into various  themes and levels of rarity besides getting the usual numbering.  As you can clearly see on the front, this one falls into the "Masters" theme, and the back then goes on to describe a significant moment.  I happen to be partial to this one because it was my 13th birthday, and I hadn't notice that until I scanned it tonight.  You can also see on the back, next to the section that denotes its Refractorocity, that this is one of the "common" versions.  "Uncommon" and "rare" were--surprise, surprise--tougher to pull, and I got a couple of the former in my box, cards that had more of a silver kind of look to them.  I actually kind of prefer the look of the commons, so a Refractor of this guy was a boon as far as I was concerned.  Refractors are great, and Griffey Refractors are awesome.

1998 Upper Deck Amazing Greats:  Here's yet another that I'm pretty sure I pulled out of a pack--hey, I bought a lot of different stuff back in the day, and there was a ton of variety at that time.  What a difference 15 years makes....
Anyway, this is a very cool clear insert of Junior that came from '98 Upper Deck Series I.  They also apparently came in die-cut versions (which look very cool--check them out on COMC) but this non-die-cut issue already has plenty going on for it, and I was pleased to see that the scan did a pretty good job of capturing it.  Clear and colorful with a great shot of Griffey's sweet swing, I love the fact that you get the mirror image of the front on the back.
It's also a plus (in my opinion) that the design eschews unnecessary text on the back (seriously, what else could they say about the Kid, even only ten years into his career?) and sticks to highlighting the aesthetics of a beautiful card.  That and the play on "Amazing Grace" elicits at least a grin out of me.  Finally, the numbering (even if it isn't individually done) enhances the desirability of the total package.  This is still a top-notch insert nearly 15 years later. 

1999 Pacific Paramount Holo-Gold:  Continuing the theme of great Griffey inserts I pulled myself, here's a numbered parallel from Pacific (which is kind of like saying "Here's a superfluous reprint from Topps") circa 1999.  A grabbed a fairly cheap box of these at a local mall card show maybe a year or so after these came out and I had really nice luck with my hits, which isn't something you'd find yourself saying often when it comes to Pacific.  Besides this guy, I nabbed a high-dollar Jeter Fielder's Choice insert (which I still have), a Vlad Guerrero parallel, and some other nice stuff.  Definitely one of the better boxes in my collecting history.
But onto this card itself:  I pretty much liked the base design that year, and subsequently some of the numbered parallels.  Scanning this card does make me notice that it looks a little goofy having the photo displayed horizontally and the player's name perpendicular to that (or vice versa).  Meanwhile, the insert name and numbering line up with the name while the logo corresponds with the photo.  That's kind of a hot mess, but the ridiculously awesome photo and pleasing design make up for all that.
While I mentioned that I'm not a fan of the non-stamped numbering, I do appreciate that this one was fairly limited at 199.  This is also a great year from which to collect Ken because he continued to put up some gaudy stats.  This is easily one of my best numbered Griffey inserts.

1999 Stadium Club Chrome Refractor:  Here's another Refractor and, guess what?  I pulled it myself!  I bought into the Stadium Club Chrome fad that year and actually did quite well with my box, as I recall.  I believe I still have a Chipper Refractor, plus I pulled some regular and Refractor versions of several other inserts.  The base set proved too difficult to piece together, though, so I eventually scrapped it.  The combination of top-notch Stadium Club photography and design plus chrome technology was a winning formula, though.
This was another Refractor that was difficult to scan, but you can squint and see in the lower-left corner on the back (beneath Topps' alphabet fetish numbering system) that it is indeed that very insert.  I don't recall how rare these were but I'm very sure I pulled several in my one box.  Still, despite being a Chrome distillation of the base set, it had some questionable subjects, so I was extremely pleased to hit a Griffey.  Don't look a future HOF gift horse in the mouth!
The splendor of the Refractor is easily one of the card's best qualities, and the in-depth stats breakdown on the back is pretty cool too, but for my money, there's one thing to love about it above all else--SuperGriffey Supermanning that fly ball to his territory in center.  Unlike Andruw Jones (who never met a donut he didn't like) and others who were given Gold Gloves based on a false reputation for defensive prowess, Griffey deserved his because of plays like this.  That he so easily made the highlight reels for his play in the field as often as at the plate is a testament to how amazing his career truly was. 

2000 Pacific Crown Collection In the Cage Net Fusions:  Here's a bit of an oddball entry for the list, and shockingly the SECOND Pacific representative!  I most certainly didn't pull this from a pack, though--I wasn't exactly buying stock in Pacific Crown Collection in 2000, even if I did throw money away on handfuls of packs of crap I was never going to finish.  This was definitely an acquisition from an online trade or through a card show, i just can't remember which.
Let's start with one of the more amusing aspects of the card--like some others that Pacific produced, this one's bilingual.  I don't really know why I find it that funny, but seeing the name of the set loosely translated into Spanish (or vice versa, I'm not sure) always makes me grin.  It's also kind of funny to me that the Spanish copy on the back is first, not to mention larger than the English translation.  In a time where ethnocentric hicks complain about having to "Press '1' for English", I could see some slack-jawed yokel gnashing his tooth over this.
But more importantly, this is a fun card because before our trend of manu-everything else, we had manu-net cards thanks to Pacific.  Just like those cards, in its own way this set is a novelty that would have been fun to pull back then.  In contrast to the Amazing Greats insert, though, it's kind of cool how the reverse of this one has more of a silhouette effect instead of showing the mirror image of the front.  This is just the type of crazy insert that belongs in any favorite player collection.

2000 Fleer Hall's Well:  The companion piece to another I own from this set--again, Mr. Ripken--we'll finish up with another that I can say I pulled from a box myself.  I actually busted two from 2000 Fleer because I enjoyed the first one--the cardboard stock and design of the base set was fun (not 1997 Fleer fun, but up there) and some of the inserts were as nice as this one.  Plus I pulled a Carlos Beltran autograph, which I might actually have somewhere--oh wait, here it is!  I'm glad I held onto it despite Carlos getting dragged down Mets-style.
I initially considered going for this whole set, but it quickly became one of those were I didn't want to put the money required into it at the time, and nowadays I don't have much interest in working on old insert sets, cheap though they may be sometimes (and others surprisingly not so much).  In any case, I made sure to hold on to Junior for my personal collection.
This is just another great example of a partially clear/acetate type of card (which again has a mirror-image-type effect going for it).  The punny name isn't as great as the Amazing Greats moniker, but this one does have a design that almost rivals the Upper Deck offering.  More importantly, anything of Griffey that commemorates his obvious future place in the Hall is alright by me.  I'm curious to see how some of the more dubious (in hindsight) subjects fare in terms of voting:  Mark McGwire (home runs + not much else + steroids + stonewalling = forget it), Juan Gonzalez (no freakin' way), Nomar Garciaparra (not as a player, anyway), Sammy Sosa (I hope not at this point), and Roger Clemens (he'll probably lie and say he DID get in).  I can see why they picked each of those guys at the time, of course.  Junior rounds out a nice group of deserving players, though, such as Gwynn, Ripken, Maddux and Jeter.

That was a (hopefully) fun look at a prime nine sampling of my Ken Griffey Jr. collection.  I enjoyed putting it together, and sometime soon, especially when I'm lacking in content for posting, I'll follow up with a couple other favorites of mine--Greg Maddux and Tony Gwynn.  Until then, please let me know what you think of some of these.  I also welcome anyone who wants to share some of their Griffey faves in the comments!

*Bonus "Topps is dumb" tag after all these sets made me miss fun, innovative inserts instead of copious reprints and uninspired designs.  Down with the monopoly!

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad someone out there appreciates the '89 Donruss Griffey as much as me. that is the single card that got me into collecting.