Mickey Mantle vs. Shohei Ohtani

It’s clear that 2018 is the year of Shohei Ohtani, a lanky home run-hitting pitcher who has won the hearts of all baseball fans and collectors alike. His autographs in Heritage and Bowman have pretty much ruled The Hobby for the past two months and with his numbers improving every day, don’t expect his autograph prices to drop much on the secondary market any time soon.

Despite having 6 career home runs and 3 wins as a pitcher, people continue to call Shohei the “Next Babe Ruth”. That’s about the biggest comparison to live up to in the history of baseball. Todd Van Poppel didn’t turn out to be the next Nolan Ryan and Ruben Rivera, wasn’t anywhere near the next Mickey Mantle. That’s just a lot of pressure to live up to for a 23-year-old rookie.

Still, that hasn’t stopped collectors from purchasing his red ink Heritage autograph for well over $5,000 dollars, while his base autograph in Bowman regularly hits $1,500+ on eBay. There’s also a very active and well-known “bounty” for his 2018 Superfractor, which appears to not have been pulled yet, surprisingly. Like I said, collectors have gone absolutely ape-shit over this new sensation.

Meanwhile, there is a legend and Hall of Famer, that has been pushing daisies for 22 years, who has an extremely low amount of pack-inserted autographs in The Hobby and his name is Mickey Mantle. Sure, there’s this beautiful dual autograph with fellow Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr. but there is another card that has flown well under the radar of most collectors since its release nearly three decades ago.

It’s a card from a company who first started producing baseball cards as ‘Sportflics’ until putting out their underrated debut as ‘Score’. In 1992, Score would produce their first “high-end” set as Pinnacle Brands and the rest was history. But a year earlier, the company that would one day become Pinnacle released into the world an 893-card set with 2,500 Mickey Mantle autographs to be found.

Yes, those numbers are astronomical in today’s hobby of 1/1s and fifty something parallels all numbered down starting from 500 (or whatever). However, in 1991, the trading card landscape looked a lot different and every single company was producing millions of each of their brands. We now refer to these years as the “Junk Wax’ era because of how worthless many of these cards have become.

Pinnacle knew what they were doing, though. Upper Deck introduced pack-inserted autos the prior year and had Reggie Jackson signing for them but Score definitely one-upped them with a player who not only was more popular and beloved, but was a part of Americana. Reggie was a player better known for being a malcontent and wasn’t anywhere near as popular as “The Mick”.

Mickey Mantle will forever be known in our hobby for his 1952 Topps card but it’s ironic that his first time signing officially for a card company was for Pinnacle and later, Upper Deck. Topps missed the boat big time and when it came time for their first pack-inserted certified autograph, they went with “can’t miss” prospect, Brien Taylor, who by the way missed by about 1,000,000 feet.

That could never happen again, right? A highly touted pitcher who everyone (including America’s baseball card brand) banked on and one that had collectors spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for, not living up to the hype? Today, that first embarrassing Topps card sells for less than $3 dollars. I guess it doesn’t matter because Topps is exclusive and Pinnacle has been dead for twenty years now.

Now, back to the matter at hand. For those in the market for a Mantle autograph, check out those 1991 Score inserts. Don’t be scared by the high BINs because in auction format, they have sold for as little as $242.50 and that’s graded. People rag on the junk wax cards of our childhood but hidden in those seemingly endless supply of still unopened wax boxes, there is still treasure to be found.

Never Stop Collecting,
Mario Alejandro

One of the Hottest Cards Right Now is A Throwback to the “Junk Wax” Era

When he’s not giving up 6 runs to some Mexican League team OR looking completely clueless against veteran star pitchers, Shohei Ohtani, is at least good at moving quite a bit of baseball cards in the hobby. While his cards have been around for several years, now that he’s signed and in camp with “Los Angeles”, his new 2018 releases have caught fire. Now, while Panini America will never be able to compete with Topps’ licensed cards, some of his Donruss cards have caught fire on the secondary market.

One of the more interesting Donruss cards are these ‘Whammy!’ inserts featuring all of today’s big stars (and Mickey Mantle). While the ‘Whammy!’ cards are not serial numbered, they are extremely rare case hits that for the moment at least, are pushing $100 dollars on eBay. Eventually, like all exports not named ‘Ichiro’, the bubble will burst and Ohtani will settle down somewhere South of Hideki Matsui and hopefully way North of Hideki Irabu. So grab them while they are on fire or you know, wait a while.

What’s absolutely great about these hot inserts is that they are clearly inspired by the iconic “junk wax” Score cards of 1991. When I say inspired, I mean completely ripped-off and to this old school collector, that’s a very good thing. Besides, in case you weren’t keeping track, Score is a Pinnacle Brands property and Panini America owns the right to use the Pinnacle Brands license so at best, they are borrowing an idea from something in their own library.

The days of baseball cards ruling the world are long gone so it’s great to see a company like Panini America go back to the hobby well with a memorable and beloved idea and resurrect it for today’s times with today’s most popular players. Topps would be smart to do the same thing now and then because even though we found out Topps doesn’t really make much money off baseball cards … if one thing is true, it’s that in the world of collecting, NOSTALGIA SELLS.

Who Are You, Mysterious Artist?

I remember my 11th birthday just like it happened 26 years ago. My mother bought me two, unopened boxes of 1991 Score and a baseball-themed cake. In those two boxes I found the infamous “Dream Team” card of Jose Canseco, shirtless and in jeans swinging a baseball bat. Well over a decade later through some research during the glory days of Wax Heaven, I discovered the photo in question came from an American Express ad. The questionable photo was taken by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz and plastered on what was likely 10 million cards produced by Score during the “junk wax” years of trading cards.

Now, on to more pressing matters. Who was the artist behind the 1991 Score Dream Team subset which featured adorable caricatures of the game’s biggest stars of the time, including Jose Canseco. To an 11 year-old, these cards were golden. Sure, Upper Deck had certified autographs and Donruss had the legendary Elite numbered inserts but you had about as much chance to find either of those cards as you had a night with Madonna. Keep in mind, this is prime, 1991 Madonna not 2017 Madonna with weird veins and wrinkles everywhere.

Well, I found my first clue to these cards today, nearly 30 years after the cards were produced and made their way into my collection. Take a look at the image below. It is clearly the original art used by Score minus some color touch-ups and the addition of the background image of Jose in a ballpark cranking one out. I would even say the original, unedited version has a more classy feel to it. That is, if caricatures can be classy. Now, check the writing on the lower right hand corner. “M. Lopez 5-9-91”. Those few letters and numbers are now burned into my subconscious. Who are you? WHERE are you? Are you a Matt? Mike? MARIO?

The world must know. If not the entire world, at least one collector who absolutely loved your work WAAAAAAAAAY back in 1991. These cards are a part of my childhood and many collectors all around the world feel the same way. Well, at least those coming of age during that time. Today, a card like this missing a piece of a game-used relic or a signature with serial numbers and glowing card stock would be thrown in the box of commons but in 1991, things were different. A fun card like this could still be appreciated and become a beloved part of one’s childhood. So this will be my mission in 2018, to find out just who “M. Lopez” is.

Stay tuned …