24 packs, 6 cards per pack
Yes that is Kerry Wood, Kerry Wood, Kerry Wood, Kerry Wood, and Kerry Wood pictured above. Coming off his brilliant 1998 Rookie of the Year season (13-6, 3.40 era, 166.2 innings, 233 strike outs), Wood seemed like the perfect choice to be the face of Fleer's SI marketing strategy. His 9 inning, 1 hit, no walk, 20 K shutout in just his fifth major league start was perhaps one of the five most dominating starts of all-time.
This product was released in mid-March 1999 ($1.99 per pack). Several weeks later, in Spring Training, it was decided that Kerry Wood would undergo 'Tommy John' surgery. He missed all of 1999.
I can imagine a few people at Fleer threw a fit or two over that bad luck. Well there were warning signs. After all, he did have a sore elbow that cost him the last month of the '98 season (although he pitched one game in the playoffs).
It's funny how just looking at the packaging can put us right back in the feeling of 1998-99. My God I love baseball.
Let's dig in!
The 180 card base set has some spectacular photos. The dirt specks in this shot are crystal clear.
Most of the best pictures happen to be horizontal, but the set has plenty of the more traditional vertical style pics too.
A strike out to end the inning (in a clutch situation)? I am having a tough time recalling a card that captures a player looking this disappointed and frustrated. I mean, despite the 114 wins the Yanks racked up in '98, personally, this was literally the start of the end of what was once a very successful career.
Knoblauch went from being the Twins' slick fielding second baseman with an amazing bat (.333 one year, .341 another), to a guy who couldn't throw the ball to first base without causing fans to feel terrorized.
He once let loose a throw that sailed into the stands and hit Keith Olbermann's mom in the face (seriously). Chuck never overcame his sudden inability to consistently throw a baseball accurately. He is now and forever in the 'Oh My God Why Can't I Throw Where I Want To Anymore Club?' (along with Steve Sax, Mackey Sasser, and Steve Blass).
Chuck's knack for hitting soon disappeared as well. He had just one more good offensive season (1999).
Four years after these photos were taken Chuck was out of baseball for good (at just age 33).
I'm just glad he's smiling on the back of this card because the front captured a pretty amazing snapshot of the days and years to come.
Who is that Tiger sliding into Jeter? He is way curious about the other end of the play.
Grif coming off back to back 56 home run seasons.
Caminiti completely OWNED this play. Wow.
Another perfect moment.
Argh! Cooties, cooties! Get away! Get away!
Green had a really nice career. He seems completely forgotten by almost everyone. In a roundabout way, Shawn Green's career was offensively similar to Ted Kluszewski. Has anyone ever made that odd comparison? I don't know.
Both had a dominant 4-5 year stretch. Both hit more than half of their career home runs in that brief but powerful window.
Kluszewski hit 171 hr from 1953-1956. Although he played 15 seasons, those four seasons account for 61% of his career home runs. He averaged a .315 ba with 43 hr and 116 rbi during that time frame.
Shawn Green had a five year stretch (1998-2002) in which he hit 192 home runs. That was approximately 59% of his career totals. He averaged .288 with 38 hr and 112 rbi through those years. And get this, he played 15 seasons as well.
But there's more! They both have exactly an .850 career OPS. They also both hit 40 or more home runs three times, and 35 home runs once. They both have career highs of 49 home runs. Neither of them hit 30 or more home runs in any other season.
Yikes. When I first thought of this I only recalled they had similar brief career peaks. Now that I looked into it I'm downright frightened by this whole thing. Creepy.
This must be the press conference introducing Randy Johnson as the next D-Backs' ace. He would go on to win four straight Cy Young awards starting the very next season (sans the necktie).
Randy Johnson has always reminded me of the surly side of Neil Young.
By the way, the base cards are super glossy in person. They look almost wet. Nice stock too. A much higher quality than I expected.
Few recall that Craig Biggio fiddled with what he termed the 'Squat and Trot' stance in the early part of the 1998 season. He theorized the squat would make the strike zone so miniscule that he was bound to draw record breaking walk totals.
When asked how he came up with the idea, Biggio admitted he was attempting to mimic two greats he had long admired:
After starting the 1998 season 0 for 32 (albeit with 10 walks), Biggio abandoned the experiment and resumed a more traditional upright stance.
I kid, I kid. You know what it is, I'm just downright giddy about Spring Training being here. It makes me so dang happy knowing the season starts in less than a month.
Okay. I'll stop the excessive yapping and finish this up.
These three men who have since come to represent the villianous faces of the Steroid Era, also happen to have three of the coolest photos in the set. The McGwire card is especially striking (and historic).
Here's the front and back of card number one in the set. This is part of the nine card Postseason Preview subset.
The other Postseason Previews I pulled don't follow the Sports Illustrated cover theme, unfortunately. I also got a David Cone and David Wells from this subset.
These trio cards are a fairly creative design. I think I ended up with a little more than one per pack on average. There's 30 in this subset (that's 16.6% of the whole set). Most of these cards are not rookie cards, technically.
Aramis Ramirez in a Pirates uni and Lowell in a Yanks uniform. I like these cards but the set is a bit overloaded with them.
At the time, 1998 was an absolutely amazing season to follow. So much happened (McGwire's 70 home runs, Yanks 114 wins etc). The Season Highlights subset points out some of the things we have since forgotten. Enjoyable backs as well.
This is a 21 card subset. My box yielded 16 (a few doubles - Eck for example).
That brings us to our final subset. The Award Winners cards. There's 11 of these in the set. Another nice job with the design and layout in my opinion. I ended up with seven of the cards from this subset.
I had a longshot chance at pulling a J.D. Drew auto (numbered to 250), or Diamond Dominators (1:90 packs, pitchers, 1:180 packs, hitters). That didn't pan out. A little more surprising though is that I didn't pull a Fabulous Forties insert (1:20 packs).
Instead I got an extra Ones To Watch (1:12 packs).
Check out that trippy look. I love how they created multiple ghost like shots of the player behind the main image.
The 15 card insert set is pretty light on stars. Halladay, Helton, Glaus, and Chavez are the four best. The J.D. Drew auto comes on a Ones To Watch card (should you be so lucky).
The Headliners insert rate is one in four packs (the most common insert in the set). Interestingly, the base are glossy, the Ones To Watch are shiny, but the Headliners are neither. Well, the word Headliners is silver shiny but that's it. No matter, the inserts look really sharp to me.
Although you are unlikely to pull something that makes you pass out, the set is very well done. You can see how much thought was put into the base, subsets, and inserts. They definitely cared about this product from top to bottom.
The base photos are fantastic, and though some may dislike the color bar design because they don't run on the card edges like a traditional border, I think it was a risky concept that was implemented well.
Depending on whether the player is in front of the bars or behind them really alters the look. Certain cards look like framed pictures or TV screens, while others have a 3D feel.
A unique effort. A unique set.