How Junk Wax Killed A Career

I got a funny notification on my phone last week. For some reason, Google News thought I’d be interested in the story of Bob Engel, a decorated baseball umpire who threw away his 35-year career for a shot at some 1990 Score Baseball. To modern collectors, that might sound insane. After all, the only way you will cash out on ANY ’90 Score is by finding a clean card and having an inside man at BGS or PSA who will give it a perfect rating, or score, if you will. See what I did there? Even then, you still have at best, a $300+ dollar card to try an unload. Remember, you have to move large volumes and spend tens of thousands of dollars to get yourself that inside man if your name isn’t Brian Gray, so it’s likely that even to trimmers/scammers, 1990 Score isn’t the greatest investment.

But let’s go back to 1990. It was a more innocent time before Twitter or the Internet in general. People still read physical books and the magazine industry was booming. To us collectors, Beckett Baseball was OUR Bible and the main card companies were all in tough competition for our money, which in return produced some great innovations and memorable designs that will live in the hearts and minds of collectors for the rest of our lives. Times were good and the industry was RED HOT, perhaps times were too good because companies began overproducing, so much so that those years are now commonly referred to as “Junk Wax” and rightfully so. The junk left behind by card companies, would eventually flood garage sales, card shows, and flea markets for the next thirty years.

Score, who would eventually become Pinnacle Brands in 1992, brought something different to the table in 1990. Unless you are a Topps fanboy, it’s easy to see why ’90 Score was so popular with collectors young and old. First off, no one was going to compete with Upper Deck, a company that was only in their second year and had just introduced the pack-inserted autograph. Second, 1990 Topps was perhaps the worst effort ever put out by the baseball card company that now runs a monopoly in the sport. Score, was in my opinion, the 2nd best product, value-wise, released that year thanks to less than stellar productions by Fleer and Donruss.

Score baseball cards featured much sharper photography than Topps in 1990, had full stats on the back, including minor league stints where and when applicable and had lengthy write-ups for each player. Topps on the other hand featured some of the laziest photography ever seen at the time and printers that often produced blurry cards. To me, the #1 choice was Upper Deck (and Leaf if you could afford it) but Score cards were a very good alternative and weren’t nearly as expensive. As for gimmicks, aside from Upper Deck’s Reggie Jackson autograph card, Score was not far behind with a seemingly super short printed, black and white Bo Jackson baseball/football card. I once witnessed my very lucky friend pull one from a $1 pack and sell it back to the card shop owner (remember card shops?) for $20 and 3 more packs of Score.

Turns out the hype was just too much for Bob Engel, who orchestrated a baseball card heist good enough for a Hollywood B-movie directed by Kevin Smith. Engel, who entered Junk Wax Heaven in 2018, stole 7 unopened boxes of 1990 Score from a Target and then brazenly, went to Costco attempting to steal another 50 packs of Score. After his arrest, he was placed on indefinite suspension by MLB and never returned to the game. After an investigation in 1990, it was discovered that Engel had also shoplifted three video tapes from a drug store in 1986. You can read an original news report from the Chicago Tribune HERE.

Bob Engel has been featured on many Junk Wax era oddball baseball cards himself. Ironically, all these cards can be purchased for around the price of an unopened 1990 Score box. Below is one of my favorites, which definitely plays to the whole degenerate shop lifter and baseball card thief image I have of Engel. After his MLB career came to screeching halt, Bob worked as a used car salesman (of course) into his late-60s.  For the record, I also stole some baseball cards around 1990-ish but I was in search of the most elusive card of the early-90s (and I was 10 years old). You can read about my horrible baseball card crime HERE.

… and because we are all bored in quarantine, you can view Engel’s grave online.

4 thoughts on “How Junk Wax Killed A Career

  1. I can’t judge… I’m part of the five finger discount cardboard club too. But like you I was only a kid. Well… 13 years old… so technically an adolescent.

  2. Interesting story, but now I’m kind of curious to know the titles of the three videos that he stole? I’d be very disappointed if it was just a 3-pack of blanks!

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