Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tales of the Unknown: 1991 Playball Ken Griffey Jr.

Set size: Beckett lists 50, but it looks like the set might go into the 60s. It also appears that while Playball may have manufactured 66 or more cards, those cards are most likely distributed between other players (see below).

Front Design: Designs through the set differ, though several use the design seen here: a full bleed color photo with a two-tone bar at the bottom listing the player and team. Most cards also have a matching bar across the top identifying this as a Playball set in varying sizes. The cards I found that number in the 60s are usually identified as promos and contain a colored border around the card.

Back Design: The backs are very plain, with Griffey's name, team, and the year of issue in large print. The MLB and Mariners logos fill the bottom half of the card.

Parallels and Similars: It seems that a glossy version of the set was released in limited numbers (15,000?) and serial numbered on the back; the glossies may be identified by a line of text in place of the card number. The glossies might also have a holofoil border, but my sample size is too small to determine if this is consistent throughout. The promos mentioned above are identified on the back with a line of text between the year and card number.

Distribution: Cards would have been released through hobby channels, most likely sold as complete player sets to dealers who would then sell the sets at shows and card shops. As mentioned above, the entire "set" containing several players appears to number around 66 (plus unnumbered promos). Identified players include Griffey, Don Mattingly, Will Clark, and Darryl Strawberry, and numbering is spotty at best. It is entirely possible only 40 regular cards, plus glossy and/or gold issues of 26 cards, were released. This could hint that two players were eliminated from the release for whatever reason - the Mattingly gold cards appear to be numbered 4 and 5, and the Griffey glossies seem to be numbered in the 60s.

Thoughts: This release is quite complicated for such a minor issue in the overproduction era. I may have to go through some even deeper research to fully determine what card numbers exist for what players, and in what format. If a bit more thought was put into the back of the card, Playball's issue could have been good competition for Star, if such a thing was necessary. The individual player set never really caught on, though I wonder if it might today - there seem to be more player collectors than set collectors, and a well-developed series of player issues might do well. It's already looking like some manufacturers are moving that way - after the success of sets featuring artists like KISS and Michael Jackson, Pete Rose has his own issue, and Leaf Metal sales might be driven almost entirely by the chase for an Ichiro autograph.

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