In 2003, when Fleer/Skybox International created this gorgeous Randy Johnson card, the company was at a crossroads. On the one hand, Fleer had been an industry leader not that long before during the 1990s – the company’s innovative insert sets remain some of the hobby’s most sought after 1990s cards to this very day. Furthermore, Fleer’s many 1990s parallel sets (for example, Flair Legacy Collection, E-X Essential Credentials Future, E-X Essential Credentials Now, Ultra Platinum Medallion) also continue to generate much enthusiasm in card collecting circles. But at the same time, by 2003, Fleer was definitely losing some momentum; its products were often lost in the gluttony of sets being produced during the early part of the new millennium. In fact, Fleer/Skybox was only a couple of years away from ceasing production as a major manufacturer of trading cards. The Fleer brand would ultimately be sold to Upper Deck in 2005.
But although its days as a card manufacturer were coming to an end, Fleer did have its finer moments in 2003; Fleer Showcase Sweet Stitches Patches Randy Johnson is a prime example. I appreciate this piece for several reasons. First of all, the jersey patch compliments (and doesn’t hinder) the great in game photo of the amazing Randy Johnson. On too many game/event worn cards, jersey and relic swatches distract me from the actual photo of the player. Either that, or the accompanying player photo is so small that it is difficult for a collector to get a good visual of the depicted player or players. But in today’s featured card of Randy Johnson, because the photo is inset separately in the middle of the card, the overhanging patch doesn’t cover up any part of Johnson’s photo. The Big Unit’s focus and determination are crystal clear to me, and I like that as a collector. The baseball stitches that frame the photo also stimulate my eyes. Finally, I appreciate that the card contains a “Game-Worn Patch”as opposed to a generic “Event-Worn Patch” or some similar derivative that has become common-place on relic cards over the past several years. So taken together, this card has a great in game photo, a beautiful three color patch, and an eloquent design. Nothing feels forced and/or crammed. This, my friends, is how I like to see jersey patch cards.
Next, let’s take a look at the card back. As you can see, Fleer only produced 150 copies. Most of the cards in the 14-member Sweet Stitches Patch set were likewise serial numbered to 150. However, according to Baseballcardpedia, there were a few exceptions (Derek Jeter /50, Roger Clemens /50, and Todd Helton /75). I like this card back in that it includes another photo of The Big Unit. All too often, the back of relic cards feature little more than a congratulatory note and certificate of authenticity from the card manufacturer. I find that extremely underwhelming and non-creative. While including certificates of authenticity is important, I don’t think they need to take up the entire card back. Give me player statistics, biographical data, and/or a photo or two to compliment the relic on the card front. Now, back to the Johnson card. As I was saying, I like that Fleer included a photo; unfortunately, it is the same photo that appears on the card front. Why the folks at Fleer/Skybox did not change things up, I do not know. This card, and the set in general, has a lot going for it. I give the card front a score of 9/10, while I score the card back about 5/10. The back is better than what is seen on a lot of relic cards, but Fleer had a chance to add some eloquent pizzazz here and did not quite deliver. Still, all things told, I love this card.
Finally, lets talk about The Big Unit himself. After four straight Cy-Young awards from 1999 to 2002, Johnson suffered through an injury plagued 2003, making only 18 starts. Still, given that Johnson had claimed MLB’s top pitching award four years in a row, don’t you think it would have been cool for Fleer to somehow acknowledge that accomplishment on this card? That is a great looking jersey-patch and photo on the card front; too bad we learn nothing about the player himself on the back. All of this is just a long way of me saying that regardless of whether I am evaluating a relic card or a non-relic card, if the card’s back looks unimaginative and is uninformative, I’ll be left wanting more. Generally speaking, I wish card manufactures focused more on creating great looking card backs on the plethora of relic and autograph cards that have hit the market over the last several years. Fleer’s effort here epitomizes where I think the company was in 2003: still producing quality products that many collectors desire to have in their collection, but the magic of the 1990s was starting to dissipate. Do you agree?
Word of the Day
disabuse – to free from error, fallacy, or misconception; let me disabuse you of your foolish notions about married life