Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dime Box Heroes: A tale of two cards

1999 Skybox Thunder "Unleashed" #U-13 Calvin Pickering

The late 1990's was certainly an interesting time for baseball cards.

Card companies were trying anything and everything to get back to the "glory days" of the overproduction era, when sales were at an all-time high.

As a result, tons and tons of new sets were introduced, many of which probably should have been left on the cutting room floor. Despite what card companies originally thought, "the more the merrier" didn't apply in the hobby.

This was the era in which I was first introduced to sports cards. I don't remember exactly when I bought my first cards, I was probably seven or eight at the time, which would place the year at about 1999.

At that age, I couldn't possibly have sampled a pack from every set that was out there. As a result, I just focused on a few sets I liked and bought packs of those. (Topps flagship was always one I liked.) I pretty much ignored all others, since I figured I could pick up some of them at a later date.

Although it's been slightly modified, I still use that same basic collecting tactic today.

One of the sets that I shrugged off at the time was Skybox Thunder. And for good reason. The base cards are among the ugliest ever made. 

However, at a recent show, I came across a Calvin Pickering "Unleashed" insert from the set in a dime box.

Firstly, about Calvin Pickering. Despite having one of the best baseball names ever, he could never quite produce at the major league level after putting up monster numbers in the minors in the late '90s. He's also one of the biggest players ever, listed at 6'5" and 283 pounds on this card. For those reasons, I am probably the only Calvin Pickering collector on the planet.

I couldn't believe such great inserts could possibly come from such an awful set as Skybox Thunder. I wondered how I had never seen them before.

In my opinion, the "cereal box" insert theme is among the greatest on record, an obvious homage to the famous "Wheaties" boxes. The orange backdrop goes perfectly with the Orioles' colors. I love the addition of the player's number in the bottom-left corner. The facsimile signature tops it off. Everything about it just worked. "It's the perfect insert set", I thought.

And then I turned it over.

It managed to combine one of the best card fronts ever with one of the all-time worst backs.

The only plus is that Skybox lists on-base percentage as one of the stats, something we didn't see a whole lot in the pre-"Moneyball" era.

I like to think I'm an optimist, but other than that, I can't find anything good to say.

I applaud them for at least trying to make the stats into a nutrition facts-type label like you'd see on the back of actual cereal boxes, but it just doesn't work. Then you look further down on the card...

And then you see it.

If Skybox Thunder is remembered at all in the hobby, it's for the absolutely atrocious "raps" that were typed out on the back of the cards. Rap was beginning to become mainstream when these hit the streets, and Skybox made the unfortunate decision to try and integrate it with cardboard.

I was hoping they'd be omitted from these astonishingly nice inserts. To no avail.

It's obvious that these "raps" were probably written by a pasty, white middle-aged executive who worked at Skybox, not some "hip" twenty-year old.

As a result, we get to see the word "started" rhymed with "alarmin'", and "Hercules" with "Brother, please". 

It's so bad that it makes you squirm a little bit. I can't help but think of this every time I read it.

Luckily, the cards are in my binder are displayed front-first, so I don't have to flip it over. I can just admire the near-perfection on the front of it and not even worry about the back.

This card can teach us all a lesson in the hobby. While there are certainly some negatives, try not to dwell too much on them. Focus on the positives.

It makes collecting a lot more enjoyable.

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