So, at some point during the summer of 1995, the 15-year-old Kaz (me) shelled out about $20 of my blood, sweat and tears money at my local K-Mart to get a box of '95 Fleer.
Now, for the majority of my life I've been a Topps man. At age seven, when I first began collecting, my dad made it pretty clear that there were two kinds of baseball cards: Topps, and the other junk. But, see, I had this sickness back then, and it still persists to this day. I'm assuming most of you who are reading this have the same affliction. If it's a baseball card, I have to have it. Wax packs, rack packs, jumbo packs or boxes. If it's on the shelf and it has a picture of a ball player on it, I usually want it. Doesn't matter if it's made by Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck or Goldschlock (just seeing if you're paying attention). Of course, Topps was/is my first love (don't tell Mrs. K) and my ultimate favorite, but hey, there's plenty of love to go around.
Sorry for the tangent. Back to the 1995 Fleer. It's a pretty ugly product, can we all agree? Fleer has never been wont for making a beautiful base card design (save for 1990, which I do like a lot), and this one is no different. It looks like Jackson Pollock on steroids. And all the different design patterns? One for each division? Genius! ...or not. Anyhow, this particular box was within my price window and I couldn't resist the urge to open packs. So, one Fleer 1995 wax box accompanied me home from K-Mart in East Brunswick, NJ that afternoon.
I wasn't into set collecting back then -- not like I am now -- and my hope for that particular box was to get as many "star" cards as possible and maybe, just maybe, a really great insert or two. You see, several decades ago an "insert" card wasn't a guarantee. You actually had to rip a good number of packs to get one. And to get one that was really, really, REALLY meaningful, you had to keep your fingers, toes and eyes crossed.
I've never been a great suspense writer, so I won't drag this out (plus you can see the spoiler/scan above). After wading through doubles and triples of certain players' base cards (think Alvaro Espinoza and Eric Plunk), I got a few decent inserts, but nothing that would light my Beckett on fire. Except, of course, for the above Frank Thomas "Lumber Company" card.
Whoa! Are you kidding me!? Lumber Company? Frank Thomas??
I think that was one of, if not THE toughest and most prized insert sets in Fleer '95. And this card was valued at nearly $10 according to my grocery store-purchased price guide. In other words...
I think I handled the thing with latex gloves and tweezers in order to get it into a penny sleeve and eventually a toploader. What a prize! My K-Mart venture was not in vain!
Fast forward to present day. I could probably find this card if I dug through enough quarter boxes at my local card show. But, that doesn't mean I still don't keep it stored behind bullet-proof glass in a display case in the rotunda of my house. [Ed. Note: 5,000-count cardboard box, in a penny sleeve, thank you.]
C'mon. When does an insert stop being and insert and just assume the identity of a sleek-looking subset?
It almost feels...dirty. Like, all the hope, anxiety and joy surrounding the insert hunt of decades gone by were a mirage. [Ed. Note: Cue grumpy nostalgic grandpa persona] Just like with anything else today, everything has to be free, easy and instantaneous. If I can't have it now, why would I want it, right? Does Topps think that little of us that they feel as though they have to shove these glittery prizes in our face or we won't buy their product?
Topps, if you're reading this, I'm not telling you to discontinue inserts. But, can't we revisit a happier era where there was a middle ground between three inserts per pack and, say, 1:1,934,845 odds for an autographed sticker of Logan Morrison?
That isn't much to ask, is it?
In the meantime, I'll stick to the quarter boxes and see if I can't finish that Lumber Company set.