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Fleer Cards, Part II and XLV

by Jerry Keys

In the second installment about Fleer baseball cards, the years 1991 to 1996 will be mainly covered with a few back-steps to the earlier days of Fleer (1981-90). Fleer in its earlier years copied Topps in sub-set formations, mainly with a smaller sticker set. Fleer produced a sticker set in 1981 and 1983-88, some years with standard-sized stickers, others similar to the smaller version Topps produced. Fleer ventured out to produce a stamp set in 1982 and 1983, the 1983 set contained actual sized stamps and the 1982 set with larger stamps. Unlike Topps, who accompanied every sticker set with an album to place them in, only the 1982 Fleer Stamps came with an album.

From 1985-90, Fleer introduced small factory issued 44-card sets featuring the prominent stars of the day. The number of these sets issued per year range from one in 1985 to ten in 1988. The 1987 Fleer Hottest Stars 44-card sub-set gained a great deal of attention a decade ago by containing an early card of Barry Bonds. At one time it was selling at the same price as his 1986 rookie cards and was only outpaced by his 1987 Fleer regular issue card.

Jerry Keys

Fleer also copied Topps for several years (1986-88) by manufacturing a "mini set", a small 120-card set similar in size to the Fleer sticker sets of 1983-85 (Fleer stickers were standard sized in 1981, 1986-88). A 6-card set was issued and randomly inserted into certain packs from 1986-90 and except for the first year (was Future Hall of Famers), were mainly of the year's top stars. There was also a randomly inserted 12-card All-Star sub-set beginning in 1986. The All-Star inserts were a mainstay until 1996, the only change being the number of cards in the sub-set. From 1986-90, it was a 12-card set and in 1991, a 10-card set.

Fleer's 1991 issue was a changeover period, distinctly differencing themselves from their previous years (up to 1990) and beyond. Outside of the staple sets (regular issued set, update set, World Series set-reduced to eight cards, All-Star set, and wax-box cards-a 4-card cut-out from the bottom of Fleer wax boxes, started in 1986, ending in 1991), the only new style introduced was the 12-card Pro-Vision sub-set, inserted in packs. With the increased interest in baseball cards growing during the late 1980's, Fleer again improved their card quality and set the market in 1992.

Fleer produced their typical regular issue set and for the last time as "Fleer", a factory set. The factory set had two versions; one included a sub-set Lumber Company, the other Smoke 'n Heat. Fleer's All-Star (24 cards) and Team Leaders (20 cards) sub-sets commanded two to three fold prices than the factory set, something never seen before with Fleer. A Roger Clemens 'career highlight' 12-card set was also produced as inserts (and was highly sought after at the time) and Fleer started a special mail-in offer. By sending in a certain number of wax pack wrappers to Fleer, they would send you three additional cards, available only through the mail-in offer. Fleer used this 'career highlights' and mail-in offer for several more years. The set that put Fleer at the forefront was a 20-card sub-set, Rookie Sensations.

The sub-set featured cards of a young Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez and Chuck Knoblauch. Before the next month's price guide had been issued, the sub-set was selling for $125; at the time, an unheard of amount. The set would eventually push the market to $300 before receding to a more affordable price. Fleer got a lucky break with their 1992 'update set', a set which sold for $15 when first produced. The addition of four extra cards (Headliners) peaked interest in the set (namely due to Ken Griffey) until early 1993. A rookie catcher exploded onto the scene and just by chance, was in the update set. Once Mike Piazza became a rookie sensation, the set skyrocketed to $200.

There is only speculation on this decision but many collectors think Fleer discontinued the factory set after 1992 because of the sub-set craze. Starting in 1993, Fleer issued the regular set in two series and dismissed the factory set. From 1991-1994 Fleer's regular set was 720 cards. The 1995-96 Fleer set was reduced to 600 cards. In the sub-set years of 1993-96, Fleer usually produced several rookie or prospects sub-sets, league leaders, all-stars, lumber company and several others. In 1995 and 1996 Fleer limited the production of one sub-set, making it a 'premium sub-set'. In 1995 it was the 28-card Team Leaders and 1996 the 10-card Zone. These sets still today bring roughly three times as much as any other sub-set from their year of production.

The update set expanded far past the traditional 132 cards in 1993 and continued through 1996. The 1993 'update set' is technically called Final Edition but is commonly referred to as the other by long-time collectors. Fleer again issued a much sought after update set in 1994, with a rookie card of Alex Rodriguez. Although the set has cooled off tremendously since Alex's admission of steroid use, it is still chased after by many collectors. After 1994, the update set also discontinued the factory set format.

1995 and 1996 update sets followed the parent set's format and issued sub-sets as well. 1996 also produced a "premium sub-set" with a 10-card Diamond Tribute set. This set will cost about twice the price of the entire 1996 update set and the remaining sub-sets combined. An added bonus in the 1996 Fleer and Fleer update set is the Tiffany 'parallel' set. Each parallel set commands roughly four times what the regular set brings on the market. The next Fleer article will cover the remaining "Fleer" years, the introduction of Fleer Tradition, and the demise of Fleer baseball cards.

And with the possibly of the last Super Bowl taking place until 2013, SB XLV should be on millions of DVR's no matter if one of the two participants are the spectator's favorite team or not. The CBA is gaining momentum but will take a back seat for the week leading up to SB XLV. After the game, it will snare headlines on almost a daily basis.

Roger Goodell exclaimed if the imminent lock-out occurred, he would cut his salary to $1. I guess Roger wanted to paint himself as a bright vibrant person who wants a happy ending to all the mess. Rog…let's put this in a different spin k? As are other commissioners, you are appointed to serve the needs of the owners and the players. But which side does your allegiance lie with? I have a few crates of apples which say it might be the owners.

If you want to impress an NFL fan, try this stance…if the CBA is resolved in time to not cut into any NFL action for 2011, STILL cut your salary to $1. Rog likes to seek attention, in my opinion, and that would definitely be a headline grabber. C'mon Roggy you can afford it. If money strapped fans can still afford outrageous ticket prices, I'm sure you could afford a few sacrifices yourself. Fans enjoy the game. It may be the last one for a long time.

As for SB XLV, it has special meaning for NFL purists. Two well-steeped small market NFL franchises will face off. The Green Bay Packers, winners of the first two SB's and SB XXXI and the Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of four SB's in a six year period in the 70's and are looking to win their third within the last six years. The first week leading up to the game was filled with familiar stories of players / coaches being raised in the opponents town or coaching for the opposition at some time in the past. It has it's intangibles but it is nothing like the similarities of two years ago when the two SB head coaches (and one assistant) were vying for the same job vacancy after the 2006 season (see February 2007).

SB XLV may be similar to SB XLIII, where Pittsburgh faced the Arizona Cardinals. Neither Arizona '08 nor Green Bay '10 had / has any semblance of a running game. And Aaron Rodgers, much like Kurt Warner two years earlier, may have to rely solely on a passing attack. Ben Roethlisberger will attempt to become the fifth QB to earn three SB victories. And for the first time since his first visit (SB XL), he has an established running game behind him. He knows he does not have to win the entire game in the air, something Rogers is facing.

Both teams have a solid defense, especially against the run. Pittsburgh's run defense (even with injuries to key players throughout the year, namely Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel) ranked 4th best of the modern era. Green Bay statistically has a better secondary than Pittsburgh but if a team's running game is stuffed, a QB is forced to keep the ball in the air, and in today's offensive-edged rules an NFL team is more apt to 'air it out'. For Green Bay to win Rodgers must use the pass to set up the run to keep Pittsburgh's defense honest. He must avoid throwing interceptions and convert 3rd down opportunities. And on defense, the Packers must not only contain the Steelers running attack but keep Big Ben from scrambling around in the pocket. The secondary is Green Bay's strength and containing Ben would be immeasurable.

For Pittsburgh to win, their defense must not be baited in for a run while leaving curl routes wide open. Green Bay should not have much luck on the ground so the spotlight will fall upon their secondary. The Steelers have a strong secondary, a bend but not break mentality, and have proven stronger in their nickel package. But the intangible that may change the outcome is their superstar safety Troy Polamalu. If the Steelers secondary can keep the Packers from sustaining long drives in the air, Green Bay may have a long afternoon.

Pittsburgh will attempt to establish a running attack early, as they did against the Jets in the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh roared out to a 24-0 lead by the second quarter and handed the game over to their defense. If someone did not see the AFC Championship game and just looked at the two QB's stats, most would surmise the Jets had won. Big Ben will not win passing titles or be a Peyton Manning-type QB but he does get results. A strong game from Rashard Mendenhall may set the pace of the game and give Pittsburgh a distinct advantage in time of possession.

The key to success for Green Bay will be Clay Matthews on defense and Jordy Nelson on offense. The keys for Pittsburgh will be Lawrence Timmons on defense and Heath Miller on offense. The keys to success are usually not the most noted player on either side of the ball. Quipping Big Ben or Aaron Rodgers as the keys to the offense is obvious, as would be saying Troy P or Charles Woodson on defense. For both teams, it will come down to certain match-ups on certain plays.

The first quarter should be quiet scoring-wise and look for each team to post points before halftime. The halftime score should be 14-10 Pittsburgh. The Steelers should gain momentum in the third quarter and after being tied at 17, should push across two touchdowns and secure the lead. The final score should be Pittsburgh 34 Green Bay 24. Donald Driver did say "the (game) was Green Bay's to lose",…guess you were right DD.

1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza Rookie

1992 Fleer Rookie
Frank Thomas