Familiarity Breeds Contempt

If you collected baseball cards in the late 80s or early 90s, no matter how much of a Topps elitist you were, odds are, some lesser oddball brands eventually made their way into your collection. One such brand was called ‘Classic’ and it paraded around as a trivia game that not a single soul actually played. Much like Mike Cramer entering the card market by producing Spanish baseball cards, Classic seemed to get their foot in the door by producing a board game.

While these games sat on toy shelves and inside their damaged, open boxes, most kids simply wanted the cards that came with them. By the early 90s, these cards completely infiltrated The Hobby and could be found at every single table of every shopping mall card show in Florida. While they didn’t command much of a secondary market price tag, I can tell you that there was a rush to pick these up by many young collectors thanks to key cards of Canseco, Bo Jackson, and others.

Truth is, much like those awful, early year Pacific cards, these Classic cards had no chance of competing against the likes of Stadium Club, Upper Deck, or Leaf. For starters, their designs were way too “Saved by the Bell” in an era that was producing more mature designs and packaging. Also, the trivia game gimmick meant that there would be no stats on the back, which before the days of internet and smart phones, was a huge deal. Kids didn’t want to buy publications just to see how many strikeouts Nolan Ryan had.

Much like Pacific, though, Classic slowly started to branch out and grow as a company. By 1992, they introduced a much more traditional baseball card design and in 1993, released their best looking cards to date, light years ahead of their ’87 debut. Not only did their cards now feature top-notch photography, they also included the previous year’s stats. It appeared, at least to this casual Classic fan, that they were ready to make a decent-sized dent in The Hobby.

By 1993, baseball cards were no longer “fun”. The hobby of collecting, thanks to the comic book craze at the time, was no longer just a “kid’s hobby”. Baseball cards were now a serious investment and card manufacturers began to pander to the adult gamblers buying up most of their products. That year, Topps introduced ‘Finest’, a card printed on chromium paper stock, which featured parallels that had refractive technology and nothing would ever be the same again.

The world of trading cards now wanted bleak, dark and moody designs. If you could even afford it, futuristic with lots of foil, preferably gold, was the way to go. Classic ditched their bright colors for a dark blue design and tried to give collectors of the time exactly what they wanted. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, their best efforts went to waste and it was their last year producing MLB-licensed cards. We never even got a reason why they left so abruptly.

Just like Pinnacle Brands, Classic had a 7-year run in The Hobby. Unlike Pinnacle, however, their growth was extremely slow and their innovations were non-existent. Not every card company can be like Pinnacle but if you really get down to it, Pinnacle Brands started from Score and Sportsflics so they had been around quite some time before going full-force into baseball cards. Classic just didn’t have enough time to show collectors of MLB-licensed cards what they could become.

In hindsight, Classic reminds me more of Pacific Trading Cards. Much like Classic, Pacific’s early efforts are absolutely atrocious but Mike Cramer knew exactly what worked and what did not and by the mid-90s was creating pure baseball card magic. It appears Classic was heading for something great by 1992 and hit a home run in 1993 but for one reason or another didn’t continue pushing forward. Who knows what 1994 Classic Baseball could have been, if it ever saw the light of day.

Classic just quit on us, much like O-Pee-Chee.


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