Imagine yourself somehow beating the odds and pulling a once in a lifetime baseball card. I know these days, all we see is “one of ones”, multi-patch cards and booklets with enough sticker autographs to fill our computer screen BUT in 1997, things were a whole lot different. For starters, despite several trading card manufacturers all competing against each other, mass production wasn’t anything like it is today. That means pulling a certified autograph or game-used relic in 1997 was the equivalent of finding a used scratch-off in a Walmart parking lot and winning the grand prize. Pack-inserted autographs were introduced by Upper Deck in 1990 and game-used relics in 1997, also by Upper Deck. HOWEVER, it was a relatively new company that introduced the first “one of one” to baseball card collectors. That company was none other than Pinnacle Brands.
I’ve been going on and on about the magic of Pinnacle for over a decade now. In just seven years they were responsible for what was easily the most high-end baseball cards produced up until that point. Pinnacle cards, which lacked any of today’s modern technology, still can sell for thousands of dollars on the secondary market. Along with the introduction of the true “one of one” (Flair was second), they were solely responsible for the most beloved insert, arguably of all-time, Crusade, which was produced after Donruss was purchased by Pinnacle Brands in 1998. Tragically, Pinnacle left the card game that same year and filed for bankruptcy, taking down with them, Donruss and Leaf. Say what you will about Panini America, who now owns the Donruss license and Brian Grey, who now owns the Leaf name … but both these companies have done a great disservice, in my opinion, to the tradition of those two brands and their phenomenal work in the decade of the 90s.
I’m not here to talk about Leaf or Panini, though. This is a story about a girl, now a successful woman and collector, who beat the odds and pulled what is likely the most coveted printing plate in 1997 New Pinnacle. Not only did she beat the odds once, she managed to find one of the plates of Hall of Famer and nationally beloved slugger, Ken Griffey Jr. Unfortunately, Sue Tiska (@TiskaSue) made one big mistake along the way. This 20-year old collector with a then waning interest in The Hobby, trusted her local card shop owner, a man we only know as “Vinny”, to assist in selling the rare and very valuable Pinnacle Ken Griffey Jr. printing plate. Sue was coming into adulthood and much like many of us, was ready to take a break from collecting. I myself quit in 1998 at the age of 18 but was drawn back at the age of 26. We all take breaks but Susan’s proved to be both costly and heartbreaking.
When Susan returned after a few weeks to check on the status of her once in a lifetime pull at her local card shop, she was shocked to discover the building, in Bethpage, New York, had been gutted out and the shop was no longer in business. The owner left no contact information and no one in the area knew what had happened or where he disappeared to. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending here. The owner of the card shop shut down and either sold the plate or took it with him. No one knows and in 1997, we were still many years away from Twitter and Facebook. Sue, lost perhaps the most valuable Ken Griffey Jr. card of that time period and was left high and dry by Vinny.
It’s been 22 years since Sue’s amazing pull and odds are Vinny may not even be around in 2019, let alone still be dealing in trading cards. What could have happened to the card? My best guess is that Vinny liquidated his entire inventory to another local dealer or sold everything off at shows. Remember, this is long before eBay was around. Fellow collector, NYComic-Cards-Toys, assisted in finding out information through Worthpoint, a paid membership site which keeps track of past eBay auctions. What he found was pretty shocking but not surprising to a Pinnacle die hard like myself. These plates, have sold somewhat recently for a very high price. Hard to believe when you consider that we as collectors have been inundated with printing plates to the point where they sell for just a fraction of what they once did. You can find a new printing plate of Ken Griffey Jr. WITH a certified autograph for just over $100 and unsigned plates between $40-$60. Much like Pinnacle Brands, printing plates have long been forgotten by collectors.
As you can see from the image below, these Griffey Jr. 1997 New Pinnacle plates brought in quite a bit of money as recently as 2018. Sue has seen the image but doesn’t quite remember which version she owned. It’s absolutely safe to say that these plates could have easily broken $1,000 if sold between 1997-1998 when “one of one”-Mania took the collecting world by storm and Griffey Jr. was chasing Roger Maris and Hank Aaron year after year. The prices you see below come from an era when collectors had already lost interest in printing plates and with the knowledge that Junior never did quite reach the status of a Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds. That’s probably a good thing in the long run but also it also adversely affected his baseball card values.
If you’re feeling sorry for Sue, don’t. She’s taken it all with stride. See her Tweet below for proof. Besides, what goes around comes around. We may never know what happened to “LCS Vinny” but there is always a chance that he had an emergency and wasn’t able to keep in touch with Sue. However, if you knew Vinny or a card shop in the Long Island/Bethpage area, contact me immediately so we can follow up. As for her Griffey Jr. collection today, it is hands down one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen even without that Pinnacle plate. Admittedly, as much as Sue loves “Junior”, these days she finds herself chasing down Mike Trout a lot more.
Well, aren’t we all??
*If you have any leads, you can find me on Twitter or at WaxMorgue@gmail.com