PSA Magazine: 2022 August #008

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Let’s hear it for the fun rips. For hobby boxes beloved outside of break rooms. For those rare products with three decades of print runs in the binder … and still the potential for a breakout season. Today’s modern collector probably wouldn’t classify it as “super-premium,” but when Stadium Club received its hobby call-up in the early ‘90s, that’s precisely how its debut was painted. At the time, Topps was feeling a market share squeeze from Upper Deck and the glossy newcomer’s higher-end feel and appeal. More than cards of pitchers pitching and hitters hitting, Upper Deck brought new looks, and collectors enjoyed the fresh take. Topps took note. It widened the lens, upgraded the print quality, removed the frame, and in 1991, invited fans and collectors into a Stadium Club experience that holds true 30+ years later—first on paper and now with chromium appeal. Obsessed with photography, each pack is an all-access invitation to see the game from all angles: batting-cage cuts, dugout celebrations, signing-day pressers and beyond. This is a product unafraid of flipping to landscape mode and making baseball the star. The Scenes insert from 2000 Stadium Club makes for primetime viewing; here’s Ken Griffey Jr. and A-Rod taking cuts during a packed day game at Safeco Field, and Cal Ripken Jr. with a bat and the Baltimore skyline on his iron shoulder. The series’ sixth sense for panoramic moments more recently takes the field in Toronto alongside phenom Bo Bichette with the CN Tower commanding the skies over Rogers Centre. It’s enough to make U.S. citizens stamp their passports for a road game up north, and a reminder that stadiums are impressively large, cities need heroes, and being a fan in the stands makes for a damn fine day. “Nothing comes close to capturing all sides of the game like Stadium Club has for the last 30 years,” says J.R. Lebert, set collector and breaker at The Bullpen card shop in Los Angeles. “You want incredible action photos the likes of Charles Conlon and Walter Iooss used to create? You want

to capture the fun side of baseball that Bryce Harper and Tim Anderson preach? You want iconic Hall-of-Famers and retired stars in unseen photos, perfectly colorized to humanize their greatness? And just for fun, you want Nolan Ryan in a tuxedo?” How many products can go there? And yet, for all its lore, Stadium Club doesn’t exactly light up the newsfeed. “One of life's mysteries is why Stadium Club isn't appreciated more by the hobby,” says Clark Kim, who helps curate premium eBay listings through the Instagram channel @FiveCardGuys. Kim, who also co-hosts the podcast Cards To The Moon, was there for Club’s high-end ‘90s run. “Maybe collectors prefer the traditional look of the Topps flagship set. Now that it’s more affordable as more of a niche product, I personally like it as a collector's set—especially for those who are nostalgic.” Nostalgia is exactly what Griffey supercollector Marco Bisio Jr. would like to see more of. “Stadium Club’s earlier inserts are some of the coolest, most innovative cards ever made! Today’s overplayed trend of autographs and game-used relics can’t hold a candle to anything released in the '90s or 2000s," he said. " I think there are thousands who feel the exact same way.” Inserts like Beam Team and First Day Issue have held up for Lebert, who mentions that Stadium Club also has youth on its side. “Families and kids can actually afford to collect it," he said. "It’s a link to the days of going to the local card shop and collecting with your parents, opening packs together, trading with friends and scouring the backs for stats and trivia.” An invite onto the field. An opportunity to slow down the chase and admire the base. A link to the past as well as the future. A rallying point for investing in collecting. And sure, let’s go there — a breakout candidate. Says Kim, “If the hobby comes around again to really appreciate Stadium Club, then that's just a bonus for a collector like me.”


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