I am richer tonight in spirit if not in fortune … and you, The Reader, get to vicariously share my evening’s irrational pleasure.
I bought a big pile of junk wax. And unlike Scrooge McDuck swimming in his gold pieces, I am dipping slowly into it one toe at a time, deliberately spreading out the pleasures of my newfound riches.
What is junk wax, you ask?
Well, there was a period (traced by some to roughly 1987-1994) when there were five or six baseball card companies with national distribution. And they all cranked up their printing presses just about as fast as they would run.
See, baseball cards got a bunch of hype in the first half of the ’80s as a potentially lucrative place to park your money. Demand reached new highs, as buyers looking to sock away a long-term investment competed with kids who just wanted pictures of their favorite players. (Plenty of buyers were both at the same time.)
Unfortunately, the combination of massive overproduction and careful preservation meant that the cards of the Junk Wax Era became virtually worthless over time.
People bought loads of cards and stashed them away untouched … and now, there are millions of cards, still in good shape. They’re not scarce, and it requires no effort and little cost to find a good example of just about anything.
It didn’t help that the design and quality of these cards were all over the map. There were some very attractive and well-photographed sets, and then there were some disasters.
(Regular readers might remember my old traveling buddy George Canale. The paint-spattered 1990 Donruss set is not usually held up as a high point in card design.)
Junk wax, even in unopened boxes and packs, can be had cheap. I’ve heard stories about memorabilia stores that would throw in a free box of junk wax with orders of a certain amount — and the buyers who received this lagniappe weren’t always grateful to get it, either.
I already own some junk wax from the first time around, and I’ve been tempted to stock up on more.
It’s a cheap thrill. The players and uniforms remind me of my childhood. And when it comes to cards I’m a quantity-over-quality guy. You can’t really have too many.
So, for roughly the cost of a large cheese pizza, I bought a “wax box” of 1988 Fleer — 36 unopened packs of cards, 15 cards to a pack. My ’88 Fleer holdings leaped from zero cards to 540 overnight.
I’m not going to blog every pack I open.
But the first pack? Absolutely right, I am.
Come with me to Junksborough, population 15:
I forgot to mention ’88 Fleer comes with a sticker in each pack, too. So I’m 36 team-logo stickers to the better, as well. No idea where I should stick ’em.
(Yeah, you shut up over there.)
And the first guy to escape from his prison of 32 years and see sunlight again is … Keith Hughes. I remember his name, but everything else I remember about him is on the front of his card. Wiki tells me he played for five teams in four seasons, which about says it all. He’s still welcome at my party.
Julio Franco was an everyday player for a while; played abroad for a spell; came back to the States and hung around the big leagues as a spare bat until he was 49 years old; then went back abroad and played past 50. That loooooong road was still ahead of him on this card, which shows him as a fresh-faced, positively juvenile 29-year-old.
Rob Murphy was a very good lefty reliever for a couple years who had the poor fortune to be traded away from Cincinnati a year or two before they won it all. Wiki says he went on to breed and race horses.
Ah, Bill Buckner. He broke into the pros hitting .335 with Spokane in 1970 and he more or less didn’t stop hitting until … well, until 1988, although he managed to hang around until 1990. He was a gamer, for a long time, and there was a reason his manager wanted him on the field when the Red Sox clinched the ’86 Series.
Andy Hawkins. Didn’t he once lose a no-hitter? Wiki says not really: He pitched a complete game 2-1 loss without allowing a hit, but since it was on the road, he only had to pitch eight innings and MLB requires you to go nine for an official no-hitter. MLB needs to loosen up. Wiki also tells me Hawkins is the first and only San Diego Padres pitcher to win a World Series game, which is a prouder achievement.
Pulling Rich Gedman is doubly ironic. Firstly because I went to a Pawtucket Red Sox game (remember minor league baseball?) last August for my son’s birthday, and received a giveaway of baseball cards at the gate. The set included a card of Gedman, who had some sort of coaching role with the PawSox, and I commented at the time that it was probably the first Rich Gedman card I’d pulled since 1990. At the time, I would have guessed it would be my last … but no.
Secondly, it’s ironic to see Gedman in the same pack as Bill Buckner, because the Mets scored the tying run in that infamous Game Six on a passed ball when Gedman and pitcher Bob Stanley got crossed up on a pitch. Buckner had to live with the infamy of that loss, but he might never have faced that ground ball if Stanley and Gedman had been on the same wavelength.
Of course, the front of a card is only half the design. You can see here that the backs of ’88 Fleer were dark, blocky, and hard to read. I’m also not a fan of the statistical mini-analysis deployed to eat up space at the bottom.
El Sid! The Hawaiian lefty was a pretty good contributor to the Mets for a couple of years, including ’86. This card reminds me that the Mets switched to a script “New York” on their road and batting-practice jerseys for a couple of years in the late ’80s. I loathed it at the time, but the more I look at it now, the more it acquires a certain jauntiness.
My recollections of Rick Rhoden are a ragbag of tidbits: He suffered from some sort of crippling disease as a child and walked with braces, then grew up to be a super-athlete who was a superb golfer when he wasn’t being a very good pitcher. He was getting close to the end of the line in this pic, though.
Woo hoo! Everybody’s favorite card — a checklist. (I never used my checklists growing up, knowing as I did that writing on a card destroyed its value, yet never really pondering the fact that checklists had no value in the first place.) The one good thing about this card is that the Expos are on the back.
(I guess it’s worth mentioning that Fleer took the relatively unusual step of putting players from the same team in numerical order, as opposed to most card sets, which sprinkle players from different teams mostly at random throughout the number line.)
Scott Lusader … I remember the name, very dimly, but this is probably the biggest surprise of the pack. What is he hiding in his right hand? I bet my old friend Brian Dawson, a former Toledo Mud Hens batboy, crossed Lusader’s path at some point. Retrosheet tells me he played 135 games across five big-league seasons, which is 135 more than I did, so hail and welcome, Scott Lusader.
Another look at ’88 Fleer from the rear. You can tell that the blank space sure adds up fast for guys who haven’t been around long.
I regret to confess that my main memory of Chuck Finley is that he married model Tawny Kitaen, who lolled lasciviously across muscle-car hoods in music videos of my youth, and that Ms. Kitaen later inflicted some sort of hurt upon him in a physical scuffle. (Dr. Hook could have warned him about what happens when you’re in love with a beautiful woman.)
More seriously, I also remember him as an excellent pitcher for a while, which Wiki more than confirms: Apparently he is the Angels franchise’s all-time leader in wins and innings pitched. Most of that was yet to come in ’88, as he’d only appeared in 60 games over two years to that point.
I remember Pete Incaviglia as a beefy, power-hitting Italian-stallion sort with a joyous disregard for defense, a memory his ’88 Fleer card does nothing to dispel. Inky was one of a raft of young guys the Rangers gave playing time to circa 1986-’87, and he was good enough to hang around for a dozen years or so and play in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies (a team that often seemed to be comprised of 25 Pete Incaviglias.)
Dave Dravecky entered 1988 as a steady, sought-after starting pitcher. Over the next three years, he suffered a well-documented series of serious medical problems that resulted in the amputation of his left arm and shoulder. Here, he looks confidently and serenely toward the future.
The lesson: Whatever it is you like to do, be it running or playing the piano or eating strawberry ice cream sundaes, be silently grateful every time you get to do it.
Billy and Cal Jr. Ripken are doing what they always liked to do, and they look not the slightest bit grateful. It’s been claimed that the Ripken family had the hump with the Orioles organization in the ’80s about the team’s treatment of paterfamilias Cal Sr., and that sure seems to be the case here.
I haven’t said anything about the candy-stripe design of ’88 Fleer so far. Curiously, I like it a lot more on the vertical shots than the horizontals. Wonder what accounts for that.
And last in the pack we have Al Hall. Wasn’t he the guy who used to tuck batting gloves in his back pockets to wave goodbye to the fielders during his home-run trots? No, that was Mel Hall, a much more talented (if legally troubled) outfielder of the same time period.
So what did Al Hall do? Well, I remember he was fleet of foot, which is usually enough to get you a couple shots at the bigs — especially when your team isn’t very good, as the Braves weren’t in the latter half of the Eighties. I also remember his full name was Albert Hall, which surely inspired one or two how-many-holes-it-takes-to-fill jokes from overly clever sportswriters.
And there we are! New friends for the fat man, and only 35 more packs to go.
I am as happy as a pig in … junk.