The Exploitation of Fleer

I’m going to say something today that I’ve never said before in over 10 years as a card blogger. Despite being a die hard Pinnacle Brands aficionado, it was Fleer Trading Cards, not Pinnacle, that featured the best-looking designs and most unique inserts that have stood the test of time. Don’t believe me? Check out the recent Michael Jordan Fleer/Skybox PMG that sold for $350,000. That card doesn’t have a piece of game-used memorabilia embedded in it nor does it feature Jordan’s overpriced signature anywhere. It is just a marvelously beautiful and rare card from the 90s.

Last week, my Twitter timeline was flooded with Fleer cards featuring moments from Michael Jordan’s embarrassing Hanes commercials. I say embarrassing because in one of those clips, he actually sports a Hitler mustache and no one seems to bat an eye. At first, I figured some custom card maker had created these monstrosities and started spreading them around because to be completely honest, they looked like a dumpster fire, featuring mostly blurry screenshots of commercials. Surely, no company in their right mind would associate themselves with these cards, right?

Unfortunately, these are not custom cards but “official” Fleer licensed cards produced by the company that purchased Fleer in 2006 yet didn’t have a single clue what to do with the commodity. It wasn’t long before the Upper Deck Baseball brand suffered a sad, public death, which unfortunately swallowed Fleer Trading Cards as well. There was talk of a baseball comeback with Fleer being put ahead of their own Upper Deck brand, but according to many, that idea was ridiculed to the point of cancellation and has never been discussed publicly by Upper Deck again.

Well, Fleer is back, sort of. You can now find Fleer’s comeback attached to underwear. Sadly, I am 100% dead serious. There are 800,000 packs of these terribly cheap, Jordan Fleer cards sold with Hanes underwear in stores like Wal-Mart and Target. There are only ten autographs in the entire series meaning the odds of pulling one is over 1:100,000. More than likely, you’re going to end up with cards that not only are a disgrace to Fleer’s tradition of brilliant work, but also a reminder that some collectors are so addicted that they will literally buy anything.

If you go into a Walgreens or CVS, you will find a product of cards with a guaranteed hit often referred to as Fairfield Mystery Boxes. These boxes are filled with “junk wax” era singles that belong in a fire pit but with a $2 game-used relic or some never-was prospect autograph. I’ve seen several dozen boxes busted on YouTube and not once have I seen anything of value in them. This industry has someone found a way to repackage the same terrible “hits” you complain about in $150 hobby boxes and has managed to somehow sell it back to you again. Brilliant! Sometimes I get the feeling that collectors who are addicted to cardboard have zero standards.

For younger collectors who weren’t around in the 90’s or were simply too young to collect, let me show you the magic of Fleer / Skybox so you can see why an old fart like myself is once again on his 90s soapbox. Below are only a small sample of Fleer / Skybox Michael Jordan cards that were produced 20+ years ago. Unlike cards of today, many of these issues have become iconic and revered, to the point that the market has skyrocketed. It’s not just Michael Jordan. Tim Duncan hit $33K, Scottie Pippen, $22K, even a guy like Ray Allen hits $11K. Fleer was consistently producing top notch trading cards in the mid to late-90s that continue to break secondary market records.

… and ya’ll are going crazy over Hanes Jordan cards?!?

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Don’t Dead Open Inside

I started out the 2019 year HOT, with over 100 new Jose Canseco cards added to my collection. However, as the year slowly progressed, I began to lose a little steam. By March, I was at a complete standstill. Maybe it had to do with the return of “Tanman”, back so soon from his religious sabbatical, which brings a lot more unwanted attention to the Canseco secondary market. Or just maybe it has something to do with Jose not appearing in any 2019 products (as of March 9th), including Panini’s awful version of Donruss, which actually looks promising. Whatever the reason, I found myself looking at eBay less and less in February and only picked up a small handful of cards for the month.

That being said, one particular card grabbed all of my attention last week. It is an eerie throwback to the beloved ’90 Fleer set, which was basically my introduction to baseball cards as a child and features “Zombie”-style artwork of Mr. Canseco. There was very little information about the card in question but thanks to obsessive research I was able to discover that the card was a promotional item gifted to buyers of the rare ‘Anonymous x Unheardof x Nike SB Dunk Collection’ shoes released around Christmas of 2015. I even found there was a second card produced, a ’90 Topps “Zombie” Eric Davis. After talking with an “insider”, I was told there are between 200-400 of each card.

 

These Nike shoes weren’t exactly expensive ($190 for the pair) but only those purchasing the limited edition version with the baseball wax box-style packaging got the cards. The shoes were also released with traditional Nike shoe boxes but those did not come with the two Zombie baseball cards. Unfortunately, these shoes were only sold in one store in the entire United States, in Cincinnati, of all places. That makes these unlicensed, Broder-style cards officially a regional baseball card release and one that will only get more hard to come by as time rolls on. Shoe collectors tend to be young and “hip”, while baseball collectors tend to be older and nostalgia-driven these days.

As you might expect, there are no current eBay auctions of either card and only one pair of the shoes for sale, which is a size 8 and doesn’t specify is the card/s are included. Insanely enough, there is no available data for these cards being sold separately on eBay going back to late-2015. It is very likely that sneaker heads who bought these cards eventually discarded the promotional items, much like what happens with most “freebies”. I received a limited edition Venom comic book when I went to see the 2018 Sony ‘Venom’ movie and that thing never even made it home. It sat in my back seat for a few weeks before being tossed out while cleaning out my car. I expect these two cards to continue flying well under the hobby radar.

If you live in the Cincinnati area and come across either of these two cards at a card shop, card show, or flea market, please contact me immediately. I always have my PayPal fully stocked and your generosity will put you in the “Friends and Family” category till the end of time. I would gladly take either card off your hands and trust me when I say that it will go into the home of a true fan and Jose Canseco baseball card collector of 29 years. The quickest way to track me down is on Twitter, as I am most active on there but if you’re old-fashioned, you can also email me at WaxMorgue@gmail.com. Hell, I may even buy your Nike pair if it’s a size 11 1/2 but only the Bash Brothers version.

The Death of the Retail Branded Set

Growing up in South Florida in the late-80s, I had three baseball card shops I could ride my bike to. If my mother was feeling generous and offered to drive me, I had 7 card shops near-by that were 100% dedicated to sports cards. Not only did I have choices but almost every weekend in malls and hotels all around our city we had weekly or bi-weekly card shows. Baseball card collectors were everywhere and it seemed anywhere you went, you had a chance to find new cards. There were only a few companies printing their flagship sets but many found their way around the system by producing exclusive sets found in retail outlets all over the U.S.

Donruss, Upper Deck, and Pinnacle were building relationships with restaurants like McDonald’s and Denny’s to release their wares. Fleer, a company quickly losing ground to the competition, flooded the market with all-star type sets in the dozens every year. Topps on the other hand was going after big name retail outlets of the time including Ames, Woolworth’s, Toys R’ Us, Kay Bee Toys, and former giant, K-Mart. I had all these issues thanks to my mother spoiling her only child but let me tell you, these cards most definitely did not pass the Pepsi Challenge. I’m not even talking about those awful, airbrushed food releases found in cereal and soda boxes but 100% licensed cards from all the major manufacturers.

For starters, these cards always featured lazy photography. Despite having team logos and colors, collectors young and old looked down on these releases. I could never in a million years trade say an ’87 Kay Bee Toys Canseco for a ’90 Upper Deck. At best, these releases gave collectors early opportunities to pad their collections long before the days of eBay and the like. By 1992, my collection of Jose Canseco was pushing 40 different cards despite not having any of his rookie cards or early-issue releases due to insane prices at the time. To give you an example, in 1993, my aunt bought me Jose’s XRC ’87 Topps Traded card from a show at the mall she worked at. The price tag? $36.

At some point in the early to mid 90s, the baseball card bubble exploded once collectors realized that many of their new cards were printed by the millions and would never reach ’52 Topps Mantle rarity no matter how great the players on those rookie cards would eventually turn out to be. Sadly, there are still collectors sitting on mountains of 1989 Topps Future Star Greg Jefferies and Kevin Maas’ record-setting ’90 Upper Deck card, which never even had a chance to be as iconic as ’89 Upper Deck’s Junior rookie. Almost 30 years later, now in Southwest Florida, there isn’t a single dedicated baseball card shop in my city and thanks to online shopping, there never will be.

Ironically, most of the retailers who gave into the card bubble are long gone. Kay Bee Toys ceased operations in 1997. Ames, 2002. Toys ‘R Us, 2018 and K-Mart is closing 40 stores by March of 2019, after closing 143 locations in 2018. They are on life support. The funny thing is that I always blamed K-Mart for the “error” card you see below. At least, that’s what I assumed when I found in my box set of 1990 Fleer League Leaders, a photograph that had already appeared in Fleer’s 1987 Baseball’s Best set. I was upset, even as a 10-year-old, that Fleer recycled a picture that was likely from Jose’s ’86 season. Of course, my anger was misdirected as it was Fleer’s lazy efforts that caused this mix-up.

Sorry, K-Mart.

 

I guess this is another reminder that nothing ever stays the same. I have gone from a young, wide-eyed kid to a man pushing 40 and fighting Father Time. Sure, I am still knee-deep in this hobby but I also have a child to keep happy and a job to continue to excel at in order to provide for my own family. Those brands I once ridiculed, like Fleer and Donruss, they too are long gone. At least in their original form. Upper Deck owns the licensing to Fleer / Skybox but no longer produce baseball cards and Panini America owns the rights to Donruss and Pinnacle, but their efforts are sloppy and well below the quality of those retail-branded sets from my youth.

All that is left now are memories of card shops and weekend shows from 1990.