1997 E-X 2000 is a product of its time. Perhaps the only time in our hobby where we can refer to silly, little baseball cards as a “work of art”. It is not surprising that the company behind this set, Fleer Trading Cards, were at the time of this release, owned by Marvel Company. I promise you, your time on Earth will expire before something like E-X 2000 ever makes its way to the “modern” world of baseball cards.

E-X 2000 is a brand I’ve spent countless hours of my life studying. I purchased many packs during it’s release ($6 per pack at my LCS), bought boxes of it more than half a decade later to bust on camera, and overall have just been obsessed over this brand for 21 years of my life. It’s simply just something every baseball card collector old and young, new and old should experience first hand.

What’s more tragic is that this brand’s two parallels (Credentials, Essential Credentials) still have eluded me in Canseco form. Unfortunately, both are pretty low-numbered  cards by 1997 standards that simply just don’t pop up on eBay or other auction-style sites very often. There’s not even a completed sale on eBay of either version at this moment but you can see their underrated beauty on Tanman’s site.

 

So while going through my random journey yesterday a topic on steroids came up on Twitter and someone mentioned that they believed one of the many cheaters who simply was never caught was Cal Ripken, Jr. That’s about as unpopular as an opinion comes. Ripken was a beloved legend in the game, who established an ungodly streak of 2,632 consecutive games played.

I have never really dug into the question of Ripken and Steroids because to me it was obvious he used PEDs and/or Steroids to increase his durability and prolong his career. How many 40 year olds still have “pop” in their bat today? I guess frequent, surprise testing has eliminated that problem. Also, I find it interesting that Cal had a sudden power surge at 30, after 11 seasons, in 1991.

Frankly, I don’t care if Cal used PEDs or snorted cocaine off Ben McDonald’s butt cheeks on his off days. It is not my business. Jose Canseco said in his book that 85% of MLB was on “Juice”. If that figure sounds a bit high, check out this forgotten piece by former MVP slugger, Ken Caminiti, who goes on to say that HALF of MLB players were using steroids. It made no sense not to. Major League Baseball rewarded cheaters.

So back to Cal Ripken, Jr. To me, he has always been America’s poster boy for baseball even more so than Ken Griffey Jr. and his unforgettable smile. Sorry, but Cal’s baby blue eyes are unforgettable and basically overpowered every single baseball card in which he ever appeared in the 80s, 90s, and today. In fact, most of his cards were bright and cheerful and made you want to run out and play some ball.

But not this 1997 E-X 2000 card of Cal Ripken, Jr. This card, which featured an acetate background of a sky was dark and gloomy, almost foreshadowing what would go down in the world of baseball one decade later. This was before records began to shatter, first by cheaters Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and later by the greatest cheater that ever swung a bat, Barry Bonds.

What’s interesting is that not all players had that specific sky color. Okay, yes there were several different backdrops and at worst, Fleer just let a computer pick at random but something tells me some Nostradamus-like designer specifically chose Cal’s background as a way to let collectors know that yes, a storm was coming the likes of which no one had ever seen and many of our baseball heroes were going to become casualties.

Look at the card of Derek Jeter, for example. Not a fan but check out that beautiful backdrop. Despite his time playing with notorious Juicer, Jason Giambi, I never heard or suspected Jeter of cheating. Sure, he may have infected half the female population with Herpes but he was clean on the field. A sexual terrorist? Probably. A cheater? Not likely and Fleer gave him the star treatment on his card.

Maybe I have finally lost my mind. All this week I’ve been plotting a piece on Jose Canseco and the Baseball Card Conspiracy. This is a topic that is near and dear to me. Frankly, I’ve noticed a change in the type of images all card companies used on cards of Jose. Specifically, certain cards made Jose look foolish on purpose to continue his slide down the Beckett charts and rob him of any dignity.

I just find it interesting that card companies who once idolized the man and TRUST ME, Jose Canseco carried this hobby from 1989-1991, were now putting out one card after another that essentially brought down his stock. Please understand, no matter where you stand on Jose as a man and a player, in 1997, Jose was headed for 500 career home runs and a first-class ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, card companies were producing amazing cards featuring some of the most iconic baseball photography of guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Thomas. These are two guys with no whispers of Steroids and two players who dominated baseball but also had friendly personas to boot. Almost as if card companies got a memo to make Jose look like a jackass at every turn.

As a collector since the age of 10, certain brands carried a lot of weight. By the mid to late-90s there were just too many products to keep up with but a brand like Donruss and Stadium Club were part of the elite core of releases and could not be missed. As a kid pulling out a Donruss card like the 1997 one below, it was a kick in the nuts. The same can be said of Stadium Club using Jose walking away after a K.

Much like most of baseball turned it’s back on Jose (somewhat deservedly), The Hobby seemed to take a turn in 1994. Once the only cards kids my age wanted, Jose was now deemed “worthless” by Beckett Baseball’s price guide and his card’s aesthetic took a tumble. Yes, his numbers dropped but Jose was still as feared by pitchers and beloved by fans of whatever team he played on but on cardboard, we got THIS:

 

Maybe it’s just Mario being Mario. I have been a blogger for 11 years with too many card images and stats on my mind. I am now pushing 3,000 posts written, too. Not bad for a blogger since 2007 who has only been active for 3.5 of those 11 years. Still, part of obsessing about baseball cards is that I always look too deep into the matter. Are cards just an 80s kid’s hobby or something much more that that?

Did the companies that mass produced “junk wax” know their cards would become part of so many collector’s ticket to their youth or did they simply want to maximize their profits and make millions of dollars off their young customers? I want to believe that this Hobby once employed artists and not just some kid fresh out of design school looking to pay off his student loans while knowing nothing about baseball.

That is why it was so important for me to find and speak to Pacific’s Mike Cramer, who may have truly been the last man who produced baseball cards not for the profit but for his love and passion of collecting. In today’s monopoly, half of Topps’ employees do not know even know their own tradition, coming directly from conversations I’ve had with many in 2008. That is truly a sad fact.

Today, collectors are obsessing over 2018 Bowman in Hobby, Jumbo, Retail, and Mega box form. You could say our hobby has been saved by the likes of Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani but two years from now will anyone really care about ’18 Bowman or will these cards just sit gathering dust in boxes all over America? There’s so much of it that they will just litter card shows for the next decade.

But not ’97 E-X, man. That brand was something special.

Advertisements