Thursday, April 28, 2022

Cards! (Is a "1st Refractor" a thing?)

Here are some more cards recently added to my collection that I've been meaning to show off on the blog. 

You know how The Last Dance led to a surge in demand for Michael Jordan cards? Well, on a much smaller scale, Captain Ahab: The Story of Dave Stieb compelled me to get him better represented in my collection (I talked about this more a few posts back with his '04 Retired refractor). This is his 2003 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites Chrome Refractor. I love these things and want to snag a bunch more of my PC guys, but they're numbered out of 299, so availability and price are not always in the buyer's favor.

I also got his base card from the following year's ATFF set, filling up a Sportlots order from a couple weeks ago. And I knew I needed at least one example from his would-be swan-song short-term stop with the White Sox in '93 and thought going with O-Pee-Chee Premier was a cheeky choice.

If you haven't watched the doc yet and/or don't remember much of his career, spoiler alert: Like Jordan, Stieb returned from retirement and incredibly made it back to the top level after an extended stint away. As far as MLB pitchers, only Jim Bouton's 1978 comeback with the Braves makes for much of a comparison. Bouton dusted off his knuckleball for 5 games (all starts) after being out of the league for 7 years, while Stieb normal-pitched 19 games (3 starts) after 4 full seasons away. Sadly, doesn't look like the hobby got any cardboard documentation of his 1998 comeback besides a Syracuse Skychiefs minor league card which I was compelled to overpay for. According to TCDB, it's his last card before resurfacing with post-career cards in 2003: the aforementioned ATFF and an autograph in Topps Retired (He didn't have a base card in that first Retired set, just an auto and its refractor parallel [that I'm still on the hunt for].)

Kind of a tangent, but I predict collectors are one day going to start giving more respect to a player's "first refractor". I'm specifically talking about old-timers whose careers predated the refractor era (1993-present). Like, I could see a future where the earliest refractor card/parallel for a player is considered sort of a "1st Bowman" equivalent, or 1st Prizm card in other sports, or perhaps more like a modern "key card" complement to the player's vintage rookie card.

Or maybe not, but I don't care, I like them and plan to focus on refractors when it comes to building my "fan favorite" level PCs (HOFers are probably too expensive to worry about much.)

Anyways, Stieb's last year getting into mainstream baseball card sets as a player was 1993, and he didn't make it into Finest that year, meaning the card at the top of this post is his 1st Refractor™ (--or at least his 1st non-auto refractor; I couldn't find the release date for 2003 Topps Retired, but 2003 ATFF came out that May.)

Eric Owens is the first PC guy of mine I've singled out to try to collect all of his refractors. There's only 17, and this lot gets me to almost halfway. We've got another 1st Refractor™ here with his 1996 Finest bronze refractor parallel. (I'd like to get a dupe someday to peel off the protective film.)

Full disclosure, I'm not (yet) counting stuff like 1997 Donruss Limited "Limited Exposure" parallels as refractors even though they basically are, but not legally. Like how Panini Prizm doesn't actually have "refractors" but rather "prizms". At least for now, I'm just counting Topps/Bowman refractors. But chances are I'll eventually expand into other refractor-adjacent offerings and even colorful foil cards.

And then you've got sets like Archives Reserve and the first incarnation of Gold Label where all the base cards are actually refractors but they don't get referred to as refractors that often since that's all there is for those sets so it's redundant. But Eric Owens never appeared in either of those products, so it's moot in this instance. He does have a '97 Donruss Limited - Limited Exposure card that refracts, though.

More low-key guys I like to collect. That 1994 Finest isn't just Hendu's 1st Refractor™, it's his Only Refractor®. Seriously, do a search for "Dave Henderson refractor" and see if you can find any besides that one.

Ron Gant has a bunch of refractors out there, and I'll slowly pick up a few, like this one from 2000 Topps Chrome I got for a buck.

The Rod Beck is extra neat for me because my little hometown gets namechecked on the front. And I've now completed the rainbow of this map card-- "International parallel" as they're called:

Here's the foil (standard 1998 Bowman), plus the base parallel and refractor from Bowman Chrome. It was the last time Shooter made the Bowman checklist despite playing through 2004. That foil card is an example of why I clarified my interest in colorful foil cards, because drab, aluminum foil looking cards like this don't excite me much (nor do non-refractor Chrome cards like the middle card above, which just seem incomplete to me without a rainbow sheen to them).

Oh, speaking of refractor vs. foil. I was excited to hear Topps was bringing back their classic Black Gold design from 1993, among my all-time favorite inserts, in 2021 Topps Update. I won a couple lots on eBay, but haven't gotten around to picking up the last 10 or so I need (there are 25 total). Then I found out that they put Black Gold cards in 2021 Topps Chrome Update, too (30 total), and won one lot of those. The Chrome checklist is very similar but swaps out a couple players (and has a few added to the end), leading me to believe the Chrome cards were actually printed before the flagship Update cards based upon buzz of the players involved. Cody Bellinger is in Chrome, but his spot in the checklist goes instead to Jarred Kelenic in flagship Update (Bellinger had an awful 2021 season, so you can see why Topps would swap him out for a hot rookie). Luis Robert (who missed the entire 1st half of the 2021 season with an injury before returning with a great 2nd half) is in Chrome, but is replaced by teammate Andrew Vaughn (a rookie who made the club's opening day roster) in flagship's Update. Chrome cards take longer to make, as is my understanding, so it shouldn't be surprising that they had an earlier production deadline there, but just interesting to note. In the above pic, Chrome Update cards are on top. There are also parallels and autos, but I currently don't have the interest to pony up for them.

Neither version has the same magic for me as the originals (the non-Chrome version have a blotchy shiny layer covering the entire card for some reason; I guess they couldn't match the O.G. gold effect without resorting to shenanigans), but I like them enough to probably try to finish all 3 (base) iterations of this "1993 Black Gold" design eventually (still missing a few of the originals-- specifically Gwynn, Sandberg, Eck, and Big Mac). See also the 2019 Throwback Thursday cards using this design that aren't refractors and don't feature any foil, just straight glossy cardboard.

This post is getting a bit long, so I'll wrap up with some 2004 Topps Chrome black refractors. It's crazy, but somehow this is more or less a "front burner" setbuild for me these days (As is the case for many collectors, some sets just sit on my wantlist waiting for a heroic trader to come along and help me out, but some sets I actively search out cards for). And like with the other set I've been giving priority to lately, 1972 Topps, I recently crossed the 75% complete threshold. The biggest obstacle is looking like the Yadier Molina RC, with a PSA 8, I think it was, recently selling for about twice as much as I've ever spent on a card (and brother, I've spent a lot on a card a couple times), so looks like if I'm ever to complete this parallel set, it'll take a combination of a lot of luck and/or a severely burst hobby bubble. In the meantime, I'll secretly hope for Yadier to fall from grace due to an ugly scandal or something that would help make the card affordable, lol. But if I never fully complete the project, so be it; still fun to work on.

As for these latest additions to the build, the solid action photography looks great within the black rainbows, and you also get some old fashioned patriotism thanks to the American flag behind Eric Chavez plus Carl Everett's "Uncle Sam Wants You" pose. But the biggest name I've picked up recently:

Hall of Famer Roy Halladay.

And it's fitting this post is bookended by Dave Stieb and Roy Halladay, as Roy made his debut at the end of the '98 season just as Dave was saying goodbye (for reals this time). And there's a connection from the final day of the season that the Stieb doc highlights in its opening minutes, linking the pair of standout Blue Jay hurlers in a crazy way. 

That'll do it for now. Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Very jealous of those Stiebs, especially the '98 minor league one. There was a copy of it on COMC for a while but looks like someone snatched it up. I wish he'd at least gotten *one* major-league card for his comeback!

  2. You can never go wrong with Refractors. My favorite parallel ever.

  3. It's funny how a card numbered to /299 is now a little rarer than it was just a few short years ago.

  4. I'm always excited to see posts involving Stieb. Although I have a few of his cards for my Hometown PC... I might need to actually start a Stieb PC or at the very least track down one of those refractors.

  5. I will have to check out the Stieb documentary. Early refractors through the mid 2000's look fantastic.