(Check out our other posts about oddball baseball cards here.)

Any time old-school baseball card collectors gather, online or in real life — IRL, as the kids say (maybe) —  it doesn’t take long until one of us decries the current state of the hobby …

The cards now are all glossy and glitzy, and I don’t understand them.

There are too many cards to keep track of.

There aren’t enough choices anymore.

I wish cards were still mushy and brown like they were before Fleer came along

Our bemoanings might go on for hours, and many of us can identify a specific culprit that started the downfall of the hobby …

Upper Deck ruined everything when they ditched wax packs and made cards high-tech.

Fleer ruined everything when they decided to exist.

Donruss ruined everything when they pretended to be scarce just as Don Mattingly got hot, thus creating the rookie card craze.

Topps ruined everything because they didn’t crush Fleer, Donruss, and Upper Deck soon enough.

We could go on, and once again, we usually do.

But if I had to bet my stash of Kurt Stillwell rookie cards on one villain that is fingered by at least one out of 10,000 “old” collectors in the crime of wrecking our hobby, it would be the emergence of the chase card. (Yes, I know one in 10,000 is not much of a risk, but this is Kurt Stillwell we’re talking about here — must protect the inheritance).

1990 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson Baseball Heroes

In case you’re not familiar with the term, a chase card is a card that a card company (card card card card card card) inserts into their normal packs. The chase card is special, though — there is something different about it, something that makes collectors (and investors/speculators/dark spirits) want it, crave it.

In modern parlance, a chase card might have an autograph or a sliver of game-used bat or a swatch of game-used jersey or hunk of bruised fingernail that fell off the player who jammed it sliding into a base.

You know, irresistible stuff.

And limited. You don’t pull a chase card out of every pack. It’s a random, lottery sort of thing.

Now, when the subject turns to the origins of chase cards, credit most commonly falls to Upper Deck and the “Find the Reggie” promotion in their 1990 high-number series. That year, UD produced a special Reggie Jackson subset they named “Baseball Heroes” and had Reggie sign a certain number of the cards. Then they inserted said signed cards randomly into packs of said high-number series.

Collectors loved chasing after Reggie, and the high numbers sold well as a result.

Mission accomplished. Chase cards, born.

But I’m here to tell you that Reggie and Upper Deck were latecomers. They were riding on Fleer’s coattails.

Because the real first chase cards were those found in the 1986 Fleer All Star Team inserts.

1986 Fleer All Star Team Don Mattingly

I know what you’re going to say …

Those cards were just inserts.

That’s not true, though. The Fleer team logo stickers — those were just inserts. You got one in every pack, and no one cared. They ended up jammed at the back of your monster box or stuck to your locker or (if you had no soul) in the trash can.

But the Fleer All-Stars (as they’re known colloquially) were different.

You got them in wax and cello packs, sure, but not in EVERY pack. As Fleer themselves put it on the back of their wax packs, the All-Star cards were “randomly inserted in wax wraps and value packs.”

Because what collector doesn’t love wax wraps?

1986 Fleer Baseball Wax Pack

Anyway …

The point is that you had to buy some packs and take some chances if you wanted to “win” an All Star Team card.

And those cards were prizes worth having, I’ll tell you what.

Thick, creamy, white cardstock made the cards feel premium. Card fronts looked an awful like souped-up versions of 1954 or 1958 Topps cards thanks to a full-color player photo cut out against a solid background — blue for National League All-Stars and red for American Leaguers — and a couple of yellow (surprise) stars. A color-complementary band at the bottom of the card presented the league logo, the player name and position, and his team.

1986 Fleer All Star Team Dave Parker

Card backs featured a huge red field with a white-text narrative of the player’s merit and a blue bar at the bottom with his name, team, and position.

About the only questionable thing about the All Star Team set was its composition.

Here, take a look at the checklist:

1 Don Mattingly

2 Tom Herr

3 George Brett

4 Gary Carter

5 Cal Ripken, Jr.

6 Dave Parker

7 Rickey Henderson

8 Pedro Guerrero

9 Dan Quisenberry

10 Dwight Gooden

11 Gorman Thomas

12 John Tudor

Some of those names may look specious today, but all of them were pretty big stars in 1985, and, again according to Fleer: “Selection based on 1985 performance.”

1986 Fleer All Star Team Gorman Thomas

Still, you kinda have to wonder how Gorman Thomas made the cut over someone like 1985 American League home run champ Darrell Evans.

*shrug*

The makeup of the set didn’t hurt demand, though. You could go to any card show in the land that summer, and dealers would be pulling the All-Stars and selling them for a buck or so — more for Mattingly and Gooden — with relative ease.

And as a 14-year-old kid but a fairly sophisticated collector (all things considered) by that point, it was an easy pick if I had the choice between packs of Donruss, Fleer, or Topps that season.

I’d take Fleer — and the chase — every time.

(Fleer didn’t leave their rack packs out of the chase-card fun, either. Instead, they spun up a special set of six Future Hall of Famers to include in those big strips of cards. Sounds like good fodder for a future post!)

1986 Fleer All Star Dwight Gooden (back)

Of course, you could make the argument that Topps did pretty much the same thing with some of their quirky inserts from the 1960s and early 1970s.

Functionally, that may be true, but the hobby was too young and too sparsely populated for it to have mattered much.

And the Topps Glossy All-Stars that they included in every post-1982 rack pack? Blech. They were ugly, common as dirt, and just plain unpopular.

But the Fleer All Star Team cards were the opposite of all that.

They were beautiful.

They were (relatively) scarce.

Collectors loved them.

Fleer repeated the promotion over the next couple of years with predictably lesser impact.

1986 Fleer All Star Team Tom Herr

They set the mold for what a productive chase card promotion could be, though, and they planted the idea in collectors’ minds that it was fun and cool to hunt down that little something extra.

And, when Upper Deck burst into the market a few years later, they found the ember that Fleer left behind and poured the Reggie gas all over it.

The rest, as us old-timers say, is #@#@%!!%@#$ history.

(Check out our other posts about oddball baseball cards here.)

 

 

 

1986 Fleer All-Stars Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball Card #8 Pedro Guerrero

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