Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

When I was a kid, anything glossy and gold meant fancy. It meant expensive. The first premium baseball card set was 1989’s glossy Upper Deck set, which was the one with the Griffey rookie card. Pretty soon everyone got in on it. Fleer and Topps soon released glossy sets. A sort of arms race ensued in which card companies battled to see who could make the most extravagant use of gold foil.

One card set I loved was Topps’ 1993 Stadium Club. To 10-year-old me, that set seemed luxurious. Go to the store, pick up a pack of Stadium Club cards and Avengers No. 363 with the silver-dipped Captain America on the cover? That was a perfect day that year. I didn’t even really like the Avengers, but it had a shiny cover. How could I resist?

I wasn’t the only one to go nuts for Stadium Club cards, either. Topps told a newspaper the $1.25-a-pack were selling for as much as $12 a pack. “The photographs are stunning,” The Baltimore Sun raved, reserving special praise for a photo of Frank Viola in sunglasses. They were “full-bleed” photos, covering the entire card without any border. It was more revolutionary than it sounds.

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In time, lots of baseball card sets got the shine. Even The New York Times wrote about glossy baseball card design. “Today, sports and superhero cards feature gallery-quality photography and painting,” the paper of record wrote. “They come laminated, embossed, foil-stamped, die-cut, chromium-skinned, hologrammed and printed on stock thick as a steak.”

Donald Trump, like little Dan McQuade, really liked things shiny and gold in the 1980s and 1990s. He didn’t sell baseball cards, though; then and now, he sold Trump. But recently Trump suggested that he may have liked baseball cards, too. When the president honored longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera with the Presidential Medal Of Freedom recently, he was notably more coherent and on-topic than he is when, say, encouraging foreign governments to investigate his election opponents. When Trump remembered Ryan Klesko at the event, he accurately described Klesko as a “big strong guy” and mentioned a famous moment between Mariano and Klesko in the 1999 World Series. I’m not saying Trump opened some Ryan Klesko cards in the early 2000s. I’m just saying that I can now imagine him doing it.

David Roth and I got together to open a pack of cards, all of which turned out to be Ryan Klesko cards. So we joined our commander in chief in remembering this particular guy in his various shiny baseball cards iterations. If only we’d pulled Ryan Klesko’s 1993 Stadium Club card!

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