Category Archives: Mickey Morandini

1993: The Last Great Year for Basic Baseball Cards?

Featured Cards: 1993 Bowman #104, Kevin Stocker; 1993 O-Pee-Chee #169, Dave Hollins; 1993 Donruss #224, Mickey Morandini; 1993 Fleer #100, Darren Daulton; 1993 Score #289, Bob Ayrault; 1993 Topps #585, Ricky Jordan; 1993 Upper Deck #267, Wes Chamberlain; 1993 Pacific #240, Terry Mulholland

I’m going to sound like something of a curmudgeon, but I’ll just put it right out in front: 1993 was the last great year for basic baseball card design (and no, this has nothing to do with the ’93 Phillies). This is a huge deal because by 1993, I was 21 years old and these were not the sets of my youth — the type for which a significant percentage of collectors feel the most nostalgia. By then, I shifted all of my collecting efforts into assembling a Phillies-only collection, and outside of those acquisitions I saw very little else. In fact, back when these cards appeared in ’93 I don’t think I was thinking that much at all about the design of those cards in comparison to what came before and after.

However, this part summer an old friend gave me his baseball card collection, which was overwhelmingly comprised of ’90s and early ’00s issues. As I sorted through and cataloged them, I gained a whole new appreciation for the 1993 Donruss, Fleer, Score, Topps and Upper Deck base sets. The overriding reason was simple: collectively, they were the last gasp of the basic baseball card design as we knew it. That was the last year we saw a large array of clean, traditional borders, no foil stamping or special finishes (other than a basic gloss applied to both the front and the back), very few parallels, and sets large enough to portray the entire starting lineup, starting rotation, and a handful of relievers & reserves. It also simultaneously, somewhat paradoxically, marked the first time that all the major manufacturers, in unison, finally designed proper full-color backs. Not all the sets were good ones — there were certainly a couple designs that were lacking. However, as a group, they did provided a strong presentation of card design before full-bleed photos, high-gloss, foil stamping, foil printing, oodles of parallels and SPs went rampant throughout the hobby. Here’s a quick review of the base sets that year.

1993 Donruss

Simple design on the front, but it’s the back that made this a wonderful departure for Donruss. Donruss went full color on the backs in 1992, but despite the addition of a portrait photo, the backs were still basically recognizable as a variation on the ones Donruss produced for the previous 10 years. However, back of the ’93 sets was a real change for Donruss. True, they still only gave five years of stats, but the portrait layout and larger photo represented the first truly new Donruss backside layout since the 1982 set. Unfortunately (from a traditional perspective), this set was also the last time that Donruss would issue base cards using traditional borders of any color until 2001.

1993 Fleer

Fleer embraced proper, full-color backs in ’91, and it’s ’92 set was actually better than this one. The gray borders make the set look somewhat dingy, and I really would’ve loved to see what they would have looked like with white borders and a simple, thin black frame around the photo and the team name/player/position line. However, like Donruss, Fleer kept the design simple and clean, and while the poster-like font and presentation on the back of the card bordered on overkill, they did a nice job of incorporating an action photo onto the back of the card. In ’94 Fleer would produce arguably their best set ever, but some tasteful, judicious foil stamping placed it outside the realm of traditional design, and they wouldn’t release a traditional-style set again until the release of 2000 Fleer Tradition.

1993 Score

Although all the major base sets employed a very simple design, this set was almost certainly the least inspired and most boring of the major base sets in ’93 (the very stolid font used on the front of the card certainly didn’t help). Score was at the forefront of full-color backs bearing pictures back in ’88 and as was the case with Fleer, their massive, 893-card ’92 set was actually much better. In fact, the only Score set worse than this one is the 1990 issue. To their credit, despite embracing parallels and modern card design elements in their other offerings, the Score flagship set continued to employ solely traditionally design elements right up through the demise of the company in 1998.

1993 Topps

Although Topps finally issued cards bearing full-color backs in ’92, it was really done half-assed. The backs did not contain pictures of the players, and Topps did not apply any kind of gloss finish to the backs. That changed with its ’93 release. However, the design of the card was somewhat schizophrenic; the relatively simple front design (which inexplicably did not include the player’s position) was offset by a much-busier back design that doesn’t readily appear to use any of the same design elements. Nonetheless, the total effect made it one of the better Topps flagship issues of the decade. Sadly, the ’94 set marked the last time Topps did not make use of foil stamping on the base set. Nowadays, Topps’s retro sets (Heritage, Allen & Ginter & Gypsy Queen) are the only place you can find them employing solely traditional design methods, but even then Topps has to muck the sets up with SPs and parallels out the wazoo. Interestingly, although Topps arguably started the practice of parallels in ’92 and were the only ones to issue a parallel with their base set in ’93, the company didn’t fully embrace parallels the same way their competitors did later in the decade.

1993 Upper Deck

Like Score, Upper Deck used full-color on its backs starting with its debut issue in 1989. However, Upper Deck did very little to differentiate the designs on any its releases during the following three years. That changed with its ’93 release. Although it uses a cursive script on the front and the design elements overlap the picture rather than frame it, the design is still basically traditional — especially when compared to Upper Deck’s follow-up release the following year. Like Topps, Upper Deck would never again issue a set under its flagship line that did not employ some sort of foil stamping or special finish. Although, I will gladly argue that the five-year run of its Collector’s Choice brand, which eschewed the foil on the base cards, starting in 1994 actually continued in a traditional manner the legacy of the original Upper Deck brand — without getting stuck in some in the same design rut.

And that’s just the five big flagship sets. In addition to these, as well as the ’93 Bowman and ’93 O-Pee-Chee at the beginning of this post, we had a slew of other sets which eschewed SPs, high-gloss, foil cards, foil stamping, full-bred photography, parallels and all the other bells and whistles that are now considered normal for so many modern issues. Most notably, Pacific debuted that year with a set that looks right in place with all the others sets already covered.

It’s interesting to look back and realize that 1993 marked a real demarcation in the way modern baseball cards are made. We tend to think of iconic sets or the introduction of certain brands as moments where the hobby underwent some sort of shift. There was none of that in ’93. However, what we did see, without anyone realizing it at the time, was one last collective effort to simply produce cards. Yes, there was still a plethora of product and inserts galore, but the sets themselves were much simpler. Looking back at those sets, I realize just how much I miss when cards were issued in the manner demonstrated by the major manufacturers in their flagship brands.

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1990 Bowman

Card dimensions: 2½” x 3½”
Manufacturer: Topps
Rookie Cards: Chuck Malone, Chuck McElroy, Jason Grimsley, Mickey Morandini, Jeff Jackson & Dave Hollins.
Additional Information: After the larger-format 1989 reincarnation of the Bowman brand, Topps shrunk the cards to a standard-sized format and, more importantly in the development of the brand, focused heavily upon rookies. However, Topps heavily overprinted the cards, and unopened factory sets are still quite inexpensive and plentiful in spite of all the rookies.

Topps also produced a Tiffany version of this set. The Tiffany cards are easily discernable by the application of a high-gloss finish to the front and the use of a white cardboard stock. The Beckett Online Guide states only 3,000 of Tiffany sets were produced. SCD’s 2011 Standard Catalog Baseball Cards is a little less precise, stating that the reported production was less than 10,000 sets.

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Scott Service
Chuck Malone
Steve Ontiveros
Roger McDowell
Ken Howell
Pat Combs
Jeff Parrett
Chuck McElroy
Jason Grimsley
Lenny Dykstra
Mickey Morandini
John Kruk
Dickie Thon
Ricky Jordan
Jeff Jackson
Darren Daulton
Tom Herr
Von Hayes
Dave Hollins
Carmelo Martinez

The Parallel Dilemma, Part 2

Featured cards: 1992 Leaf #330 Mickey Morandini; 1992 Leaf Black Gold Edition #330, Mickey Morandini; 1997 Fleer Ultra #476, Derrick May; 1997 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion Edition #476, Derrick May; 1997 Flair Showcase Row 2 # 168, Wendell Magee, Jr.; 1997 Flair Showcase Legacy Row 2 #168, Wendell Magee, Jr.

Part 1 of post

It’s much easier for me to just ignore parallels altogether when they’re just glossier, more-heavily foiled, and/or different-colored versions of the regular base set of cards. However, a few times the card companies incorporated enough changes to the parallels to cause me to take note. When that happens, I have to stop and consider whether or not they are worth my attention.

The first time I faced this dilemma was in the summer of 1992 when Donruss included Black Gold Edition parallels in the Leaf set. The pictures were the same, but the borders themselves were completely different. I waffled back and forth a long time over whether I should compile a Phillies team set for Leaf Black Gold Edition. In the end, I didn’t pursue it. However, while waffling, I did add a few of the parallels to my collection:

Thankfully, Donruss didn’t continue handling parallels in such a matter. It was probably more time intensive and expensive than just adding an extra-high-gloss and some extra gold foil. It took another five years before another manufacturer decided to do something really different with its parallels, and when Fleer decided to do so, it did it with a vengeance. The Ultra set went an extra mile that year by using different photos on the Gold Medallion Edition and Platinum Medallion Edition parallels, thus allowing one to argue that they had actually created two sets: the basic Ultra and Ultra Gold (the Platinum parallel used the same photo as the Gold, and all three versions had nearly identical backs).

Acquiring these parallels was a no-brainer to me. I absolutely needed to complete the Gold set. However, Fleer made the job a little more difficult with that year’s Flair set. The set itself employed a form of parallel numbering with three different sets within the set: Showtime (Row 0), Grace (Row 1) and Style (Row 2). Then to really make sure that you were paying attention, they debuted the Legacy parallels, which if I recall correctly were the first parallels actually serial numbered and printed in quantities of 100 or less. The fronts of the Legacies parallels, which Fleer issued for each row, resorted to the same tricks that the manufacturers employed throughout the decade — i.e., higher gloss and different color of foil. However, the backs used different photos. Again, due to the differing photos, I found myself in the position of feeling like I needed to add them to the collection.

Thankfully — at least for those of us who looking for an excuse to avoid purchasing so many short-printed parallels — the three different Legacy parallels used the same back. This allowed me to make the decision to only acquire one Legacy parallel for each player in the set. Because only 100 were printed for each row, I decided that the need to maintain visual consistency wasn’t important and that it didn’t matter whether I picked up the same row for each Legacy Phillie card in the set. One example of each different back was sufficient for my purposes. Unfortunately, that was the same set in which Fleer introduced the Showcase Legacy Masterpiece parallels, which proudly bore the “The
Only 1 of 1 Masterpiece” notation on the back. Although I am uncertain of this, everything I’ve read leads me to believe that Fleer did not change the photos on any of the Masterpiece cards.

Luckily, it appears that Fleer arrived at the same conclusion that Donruss came to back in 1992: it was just too much work. Although the 1998 edition of Flair resorted to three different rows of sets within the set again, the Legacy cards resorted to the traditional tricks the trade employs for producing parallels. To my knowledge, none of the manufacturers ever again resorted to different pictures for parallel cards. However, for me that hasn’t meant the end of dealing with parallel dilemma. There’s more than enough left to cover in a third installment, which I hope to post sometime this weekend.

Back When PA Ruled the NL East

Featured Cards:1993 Topps Stadium Club #654, Ben Rivera; 1992 Leaf #311, Mariano Duncan; & 1992 Donruss #669, Mickey Morandini

It’s hard for me to believe, but there are now adult baseball fans with no real memory of the time when each league contained just two divisions. They remember neither the world before the existence of the Florida (soon to be “Miami”) Marlins and Colorado Rockies nor the time when only first-place teams made the playoffs. They also don’t remember back when the Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates were the teams that ruled the National League East, playing each other 18 times per year in that battle of supremacy.

To be fair, I don’t remember much of the 1970s — the time when the Phillies and Pirates had a stranglehold on division. For 11 seasons, starting with 1970, either the Phillies or Pirates won the division every year, with the exception of 1973 when the Mets took the division with the worst record of any playoff team in baseball history (and that includes the current six-division format). Although they didn’t dominate in the 1980s, the Buccos and Fightins combined to sweep the last four seasons of the four-division era, thus cumulatively winning 15 of the Eastern Division’s 25 season crowns. The Braves move to the East with the realignment in 1994 and their stunning run of first-place finishes (as well as the period of shared ineptitude by the Phillies and Pirates for the next 10 years) quickly erased the memory of the previous collective dominance of the division by Pennsylvania’s two teams, but it doesn’t make the stretch any less impressive. The reality is that the original NL East was for all practical purposes only competitive for just the years 1981-1989.

In the early ’90s, the rapid proliferation of in-game action shots on baseball cards meant that players from opposing teams started appearing on cards with frequency.  Admittedly, I have not taken the time to pour through every Phillies card from the 1990-1994 period (I have 2,518 in my collection) and create a complete tally on the matter, but the impression I got at the time was that the Pirates (Jay Bell, in particular) appeared far more frequently on Phillies cards than any other team. It certainly didn’t help that the 1992 Leaf set pictured three different Phillies with a player from the Pirates also in the photo. Reuse of photos (such as the 1993 Leaf and 1993 Select cards of Mariano Duncan) didn’t help matters either. I’m sure that a lot of the overlap because of those 18 games per year that they played each other (13 in 1993, with the addition of the Marlins), but there were four other teams in the division who they played just as frequently.

Someday, when I have a lot more free time on my hands and fewer long-term projects in need of completion, it might be interesting to actually count the number of time players from other teams appeared in a Phillies card. Unfortunately, because my collection is made up solely of Phillies, I cannot even randomly sample cards of players from other teams to determine the inverse proportions of Phillies appearing on other teams cards. Regardless, it’s a shame that the realignment into six divisions placed the two clubs in different divisions. Although that happened 17 years ago, but it still feels wrong. While the brief rivalry with the Mets a few years ago was fun, it’s not the Phillies true rival. History has already determined that the Phillies and Pirates should be ducking it out for NL East. In fact, of the six teams originally in the division, the two teams with the best current records are the Phillies and the Pirates.

Need I say more?


Edit to Add, 11:26 AM: Apparently, I do. Read “Phillies-Pirates rivalry runs deep” on CSNPhilly.com.