Baseball Cards and an Aging Slugger

It’s a pretty well known fact that when Upper Deck entered the baseball card market in 1989, all other manufacturers had been asleep at the wheel for quite some time. Upper Deck came out swinging and took charge of the card industry thanks to bright, crisp photography and a classy design. It took Topps several years to respond but the wait was definitely worth it when collectors got their first look at 1991 Stadium Club. Unfortunately, Stadium Club never really lived up to the hype of its unbelievable debut and it is clear that when Topps introduced Chrome and Refractors in 1993, Stadium Club took a back seat. Things got even worse in 1997 with the debut of Bowman Chrome and prospect autographs (in the Bowman flagship and Best line).

While Stadium Club found success often with great-looking inserts, the Hobby train had left the station by the late-90s as collectors began to focus their attention to pack-inserted autographs and game-used relics, AGAIN, two innovations introduced by Upper Deck in the baseball card market. Eventually, Stadium Club fell so out of favor that it was retired by Topps in the early 2000s. Below are some examples of base cards from Stadium Club during what I consider to be the peak years of baseball cards (’96-’99). This is what Stadium Club was letting out during the years Pinnacle Brands and Fleer / Skybox were producing nothing short of baseball card magic year after year. It’s no wonder collectors stopped caring about Stadium Club.

1996 – lazy design, terrible photograph
1997 – Forgettable photograph
1998 – Another forgettable photo
1999 – Just another random photograph

After a long retirement, Stadium Club made a grand return in 2014. Unlike the hobby landscape of the past, there is now only one company that can produce licensed baseball cards and instead of 10-12 products a year from Topps, collectors are now flooded with close to 40 different releases per year. It’s easy to get lost in the pack these days but for some reason, Topps has actually given collectors something unique. Stadium Club is once again beloved for its photography. Yes, each set has Chrome, Superfractors, and certified autographs but many times it’s the amazing photography that is all that anyone is talking about in card forums and on Twitter.

I already wrote how 2018’s Stadium Club Jose Canseco card instantly became one of my favorite cards of all-time but what Topps did with his 2019 base card is simply on another level of greatness. Jose is still a mysterious figure these days. Part buffoon on social media and tragic figure everywhere else. Anyone who personally witnessed Jose’s rise to fame in 1988, the year he won the MVP and became baseball’s first “40-40 Man”, could never have predicted a fall this steep. From being banished from baseball a season away from 500 home runs, to multiple arrests, jail time, bankruptcy, multiple foreclosures, and even a strained relationship with his only child. There are days when I feel Jose’s pain will only come to an end when his own life does.

Which of course brings me to this card, featuring what appears to be a morose Jose Canseco walking into the dugout. What I see is Jose walking away from his fans who still love him and going into “the light”. Incidentally, Jose turned 55 years old yesterday. For a man who has abused steroids for over 20 years, realistically, Jose is living on borrowed time. Two guys who come to mind that probably abused steroids more than Jose are Randy Poffo AKA “The Macho Man” and James Hellwig AKA “The Ultimate Warrior”. Those two died of heart attacks at ages 58 and 54, respectively. Eleven years ago, A & E released a documentary on Jose titled ‘Last Shot’ in which it was revealed that Jose was already suffering from serious health side affects due to prolonged steroid use. I can’t imagine his health has improved much in over a decade but what I see besides sudden hair loss is Jose continuing to shrink in size and also looking red in the face at many public appearances.

Jose made a promise to his dying mother that he would do whatever it takes to make her proud and reach the Majors. He gambled his life away on Steroids and when that day does come that we see Jose’s picture on TMZ and all over social media, THIS is the card I will look at and cherish for the rest of my own days. Somehow, Topps Company has produced one of the best and most memorable Jose Canseco cards ever and would you look at that? No autograph or piece of game-used memorabilia was even needed.

Who’d a thunk it? #ThanksTopps

One comment

  1. That is a fantastic looking card! 2019 Stadium Club doesn’t seize to amaze me. I’ve read a ton of blog posts on this set and every time I find at least one card that I sit and stare at.

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