One of my favorite new Twitter follows this year is John Grochalski (@JohnGrochalski) who’s been blogging about his reintegration to the hobby over at Junk Wax Jay. John picked a hell of a time to rejoin given how difficult it is to find/afford product now but his journey and experiences have reminded me a lot of my own experiences only a handful of years ago.
It’s great to see how cards serve as a way both remembering his youth and marking the time for baseball. I also like watching him discover the hobby as it exists today while also indulging in the cards from his youth which are so much more affordable than they used to be. Specifically, He’s been ripping lots of boxes of junk wax and as fun as it is to reminisce as he opens packs, he’s noticed my enthusiasm for asking about the box cards.
Box cards are one of my favorite things from my youth. I was friendly with the checkers at my local grocer* and was able to get empty boxes from them since they had a box of cards at every checkstand. My LCS was also pretty generous here—while they could’ve saved/sold the box cards, by the time I asked about them the cards were pretty beat up. I never accumulated a full set’s worth—my memory is that box collation was pretty bad ands that it wasn’t uncommon for every sand to have the exact same bottom—but dutifully cut them all out and put the best samples in my card binder.
*Back in those simpler days before Safeway took over everything.
I liked all oddballs of course but the box cards were special. For a kid who had to save to buy a pack at a time, the idea of getting and opening an entire box was a luxury I couldn’t really conceive of. I saw box cards as the reward for being lucky enough to acquire a box and so being able to scrounge an empty box felt like getting away with something.
Anyway, John when he noticed my enthusiasm, offered to send me his box bottoms. Which is awesome. While I have a lot of the cards now* the nature of box bottoms is that upgrades are frequently possible. Plus, anything I cut out as a kid I kind of want** to have as a panel as well.
*They’re frequently cheap on ebay and I’ve found a couple super-cheap lots which have given me most of he box bottoms I want.
**Want but not need. My search lists do not distinguish between cut cards or uncut panels.
He ended up sending me six panels in totalling to one per year from 1986 to 1991. Box bottoms only really started in 1985 when Donruss did them. Yes Hostess, Post, Whaties, etc. had box cards in the 1970s, 1960s, and earlier but it’s different getting box cards on a box of baseball cards than of a box of cereal or Twinkies. So starting with 1986 is a nice entry into the heyday of box cards.
Topps always changed some aspect of the cards for its box bottoms. In 1986 this meant switching the border from black to red. I don’t particularly care for this change though it does work nicely with the Pete Rose card since Topps also changed the Reds (and the position indicator) from red to white. It’s a bit garish on the blue-named cards and is unreadable on the single orange-named card in the checklist (Dwight Gooden).
It’s also interesting to note here that Topps didn’t flip one row of cards to be upside down so that the red borders would bleed into each other. Part of this is because the black “cut here” borders mean that bleeds aren’t necessary but it also demonstrates that Topps sort of intended these cards to be seen as a panel too.
Oh unlike subsequent years where Topps treated the box bottoms as a highlight set, except for the card number the 1986 backs are identical to the regular set backs right down to the Talkin’ Baseball trivia.
Fleer meanwhile laid its cards out with gutters instead of suggesting common cuts. This is nice for trimming but is a pain in the butt for getting the panels to fit into 2-pocket pages. It’s also a weird choice since it breaks the way the design tiles from one card to another.
As with the Topps cards I like that these feature different photos. Sometimes, such as with the Dale Murphy (or the 1985 Donruss Gooden), I find myself wondering why they went with a better photo on the box bottom than on the main card.
I’ve not much more to say about the Fleer cards since they only differ from the base set designwise due to the paper stock being non-white. However it does weird me out a little how the cards aren’t numbered sequentially.
A couple more Topps panels which are distinguished from regular cards through the blue borders in 1989 and the green borders in 1990. I especially like how the 1990 design is tiled correctly so it looks like the actual print sheet.
These cards all function as lifetime-achievement highlights: 300th Save, 1400th RBI, 300th Strikeout, 1000th career game, etc. The result is that you end up with a good mix of veterans and a decent chance at a lot of Hall of Famers; 7 out of 8 players in this case are enshrined in Cooperstown.
The 1991 Fleer set is one of my favorites despite being blank-backed because it commemorates all the no hitters that occurred in 1990. Having nine no hitters in a season was a big deal. Yes that number has been reduced to seven now but as far as I’m concerned any complete game in which one team doesn’t get a hit should count as a no hitter.*
*This brings 2021’s total no hitters to eleven.
While Score put No Hit Club cards in its base set in 1991 and 1992, Fleer had them on the box bottoms. This is perfectly fine. No need for a card back since the fronts have all the information you really need. I love that this is the Andy Hawkins panel too since the idea of losing a no hitter was kind of amazing to me as a kid.
John also tossed in a dozen Giants cards. He’s been ripping a lot of modern cards and as a result is finding himself swamped in cards he doesn’t really need. This is admittedly both the joy and the curse of ripping packs. I don’t miss the inefficiency but I do miss being able to accumulate cards that will make other people happy.
It’s especially nice to get a bunch of inserts and 2021 Archives here. The inserts are always fun to see and represent cards I’d never buy as singles. Well except the Posey All Star card. I hate that those were so tough to pull in update this year* since I would like to include them in my 2021 binder section. The 70 Years of Topps Lincecums and the 1965 Bart though. I’d never spend money on them but really enjoy having them.
*Zero in my break though of course my son opened one pack and pulled a Kevin Gausman for his collection.
Archives meanwhile is not a set I like even though I appreciate what it’s doing. My kids love it and as long as it sticks to the fun side of things I can’t hate on it. This year though it’s great to get that first Kris Bryant card. Topps has made it tough by not including anyone of note in Update or Heritage High Numbers so I’ll take whatever late-year Bryants I can get.
Very cool stuff John. Thanks!