April 04, 2007

Card Critic: 2007 Fleer

After college I had a job as a clerk in a bookstore that catered to the mental health professions. And while it’s been nearly five years since I’ve worked there, I can still rattle off the names of the best sellers, from the DSM IV-TR and all its forms and practice guides to the Wiley series of pharmacology notebooks to the trade paperbacks on proper early childhood development and gender roles, addiction studies and alternative healing. But perhaps the most memorable thing that that store sold (besides full-scale Rorschach test packets) was a series of guided relaxation exercises on cassette, including guided visualization. It’s in this vein that I’d like to begin my review of the 2007 Fleer baseball set.

I want you to start by imagining a piece of clean white cardstock, regulation size, and split it vertically 80/20. I want you to go to your light table now and from your cache of photos of major leaguers, select only those of players in action, where the player is the only one in the shot. What kind of player is he? If he’s a position player, show him in the field or at the plate. If he’s a pitcher, show him pitching. Don’t be a wise-ass about it, just show the players in action on the field. Good. Now, I want you to focus on clean, resourceful graphics that complement logo and teams colors, and use those colors for accents in the lower 20% of the card. Good. Now I want you to think about names and logos, and where they can go, and while you think about that, also think about keeping clean vertical and horizontal sight lines…Good. Now I want you to think about the white of the cardstock. Is it still visible on your card? If it isn’t, give your card an eighth of an inch border of white on all sides. Good. In the upper right let’s make it stand out, and curve it off. Good. Now match that curve with one in the lower left where we’ve stashed our logo. Good. Now tie it together with a scripty text for the team name and take a step back… Congratulations, you have completed The Baseball Card Blog’s Guided Creation of the 2007 Fleer Base Card.

That’s really all there is to the front of the base card. Slap a Fleer logo on it and you’re done. And you know what? It’s not that bad. In fact, I kind of like it. The only bad thing about the base set is that there are no posed sideline or headshots—all cards feature action shots. As for the positives, let’s look at the design a little closer: they’ve chosen a dull coat gloss for the front and a matte finish for the back, the trademark Fleer clean white border is present, and the design is pretty straightforward. Topps’ 2007 offering—with its little boxes, silver foil stamp and facsimile autograph—is bells and whistles in comparison to Fleer. This base set is decidedly no-frills, which is very nice.

This set really only runs into problems once you leave the base set. The inserts (which, in a nod to the classic mid-Nineties Fleer vein come nearly two or three to a pack) are almost all Ugly, and yes, that’s ugly with a capital U. The Rookie Sensations’ backgrounds look suspiciously like screen captures from the surgery channel, when really they should’ve been posed sideline shots, to complement the action-heavy base set.

The In The Zone cards are possibly the ugliest insert card of the year so far, and that’s including Topps’ Alex Rodriguez Home Run History set, which are hideous. The Year in Review cards should not be an insert set at all, but a subset in the base set. The card I got of Bobby Abreu isn’t that bad, but it looks like the designer didn’t know where to ghost-out Abreu’s photo and bring up the celestial calendar background. It ends up looking a little muddy, but a good idea for design. But perhaps the worst idea for an insert set is the parallel set, which is basically the base set without the white border. I’m going to call them Little Cards. I think they’re dumb. If Fleer wanted to put out a little set and have it be exactly like the regular set, why didn’t they also issue little packs and little blaster boxes? Then it would’ve at least been more collectible, a la the 1975 Topps Minis. Instead collectors are faced with the prospect of a parallel set with no redeeming value except that the cards are missing their border. Besides, what’s the point of paying a premium on a card if anyone with a pair of scissors can turn a regular card into a parallel? The Little Cards get the thumbs down.

But there are two insert sets that get the thumbs up: Crowning Achievement and Perfect 10. These two insert sets have the strongest similarities to the two insert sets in the seminal 1987 Fleer set, Highlights and All-Stars. They also do the nicest job of all the insert sets in the field of gold foil stamping. The moment I pulled this Ryan Howard Perfect 10, I immediately thought of the cover of Chris Ware’s Quimby the Mouse, which is a lesson in the fine art of gold foil stamping. Like Topps’ Larry Bird Missing Years set inserted into their 2006-07 basketball product, these two insert sets may be the only reason I still buy these cards (besides liking the base set). They’re clean, crisp and understated. Even the logo doesn’t bother me (and logos always bother me).

Now, a word about distribution. I heard somewhere (either from a friend or a reader) that Upper Deck was only distributing Fleer in retail locations, or in other words, not through hobby dealers. The cards that I bought and based this review on came in a seven-pack box that I bought for $10 at Kmart at Penn Station in New York City. I’ve never seen packs of this product sold at hobby shops or shows, but only because I haven’t been looking. Now, if that’s the case, that Upper Deck has no plans to sell this set through hobby channels, I feel they’re making a big mistake. This set feels perfect for young collectors, as insert cards are being distributed almost as freely as cards from the base set (I pulled 17 insert and parallel cards out of a total of seven packs), players from the same team are checklisted next to each other, and there seems to be a healthy dose of rookie cards that are readily accessible within packs (the packs I bought said that they contained at least two rookie cards on average). Plus, how can you go wrong with a set that calls every team by its nickname except the Rockies, which it calls the ‘Colorado Rockies’? I mean, c’mon, how great is that?


Jeff D said...

I like them alot, I get mine at a local 7-11, whats with the mini card though?? I like the Upperdeck too.
I havent really looked for them at cardshows yet.

ben said...

I picked up 10 packs of 07 Fleer yesterday and I'm really happy with it.

I think both Fleer and Topps released their best sets in quite a while this year. Fleer ditched the gloss and Topps at least cut down on it (I'm an autograph collector, so this is very important), and both sets are doing a much better job at including the more obscure players (again, important for autograph collecting).