And so begins one of the new regular columns in this spot. The concept, as I mentioned earlier today, is to acquire every late 80s/early 90s traded/rookies set and post them. I’m beginning in 1988. Why 1988? Because it marks the beginning of my collecting.
Back in those days you didn’t have a whole lot of baseball to watch if you had basic cable; generally we got a handful of Orioles games a year and could watch the Braves or Cubs daily. The Braves were pretty awful, so as a neighborhood, we gravitated to the Cubs. This is where collecting comes in.
August, 1988, as I recall, and I had been pretty disdainful of my friends collecting cards up to that point. Until someone gave me a Cubs Team Leaders Topps card for free. Something clicked. At the time, in our town, Topps was pretty much it, so I started picking them up at the mini mart.
But now let’s think about this. It’s 1988. You’re 12. Your budding baseball consciousness really only revolves around one team. Who is the player you want the most out of any 1988 set, and are denied over and over again (if you’re limited to Topps)?
And that’s why he’s the first pick for the 1988 project; which is funny, considering I’m not even that big a fan of the guy these days.
But let’s do this chronologically. My first ever Mark Grace card…is this one. Literally this one. I didn’t have to rebuy it in some fit of nostalgia or feeding my inner child.
I was insanely jealous of my friend who had the 1988 Topps Traded set. There was nothing I liked more than rookie cards, and it was FULL of Olympic athletes that I just knew would go on to be huge stars. I needed it. And so I put together a package that he could not refuse for it. I’m sure I got completely ripped off, but I was thinking at the time of future value, which helped me justify it. Shows I was a bit of a businessman from the beginning, I guess. I have held on to that set til this day, and this Grace comes from that set. Unfortunately, getting that set with players that had insane futures meant I wasn’t as interested in Grace (and had moved on from him at that point anyway), so this card never really made an impression on me. I’m guessing that’s because it’s not a very good card. Even grading for the 1988 Topps angle (let’s face it, the photography in that set is just…yeah. Abysmal), it’s a dud. Who looked at a picture of him and said “Yeah, let’s take the one where his eyes are closed”? Geez. Nostalgic, yes. Good, no.
How friggin hot was Mark Grace in 1988? Two sets that had already published cards of him created a second one. Grace appeared in the 1988 Fleer set, sharing a card, and yet got his own Fleer Update card. I don’t know if that was standard procedure back then, but it’s interesting, at least. I’m fairly sure this was the second Grace card I bought, as I found a sealed Fleer Update set in an Eckerd and bought it without hesitation. While this card is also subpar, I have to note that I was a Fleer fanboy up until Upper Deck. The 1987 Fleer design evokes a pleasant longing for what seemed like simpler times…and as cheesball as 1988 Fleer is to a mature eye, that design was AWESOME for a 12-year-old boy in 1988. It was my favorite of the year, and is why I still have both Fleer sets from that year.
Third card I got. I vividly remember buying this set at an antiques mall in early 1989. The proprietor was a real ass, and I’m sure this was overpriced, but I didn’t care. Rookies, rookies, rookies! They’re why this set became the first set I would purchase every year after this. And hey, that Grace card is actually pretty damn nice despite the hideous borders; as a former first baseman, I love that photo, and I loved it back then, too.
And finally, the white whale. In 1988, I scoffed at Score. I thought the design was godawful, the card stock cheap (still think that about the 88 set), and the overall package just cheesy. I figured it would be like sportflics. I actually get the impression that this was the case with a lot of people in 1988, hence some of the limited nature of this set. What this means is that I saw this set in a coin shop back in 1988 and never bought it, because who the hell wanted Score? Wellllll…when I became a Roberto Alomar collector, I learned about the card in this set (this was 1989), and then saw how much it was worth in Beckett. My heart sank. Here was a traded set, something cheap and inexpensive, that had shot up almost immediately. It wasn’t fair.
I absolutely refused to pay what people wanted for the set, despite wanting it badly for years. Even when I got back into collecting in 2003, I resisted, despite going back and paying more for some other sets I wanted. It was a matter of principle, really.
So a few weeks ago, having gotten savvy at finding bargains on eBay, I thought I’d apply my new skills to this set. And I did it – I found the set for 12 bucks. Pretty close to what I would’ve paid back then. Allowing for inflation, I was happy. And so we come to the Grace card. Like I said, I still think the card design is goofy as hell, but appreciating now what Score was bringing to the table, this card comes alive for me. I mean, it’s a great photograph. Heads above what the other series, even Donruss, was offering.
And a word about the entire Score set. I found it fascinating how when I looked through the set, I found that the 1988 season came alive to me in a way that it had never lived before. I realized that 1988 and prior had always had a certain “set” feel to them thanks to the more staid photography (and photography is my #1 reason for liking these cards). Suddenly these more static images became dynamic, with better lighting. It was like 1989 forward, only for 1988. I mean, just look at them. It’s almost apples and oranges. So good job, Score. Pretty awesome what you brought to the table.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at a Yankee.