Quality was the name of the game for baseball cards as we approached the end of the 1990s. Multiple companies were still in business putting out countless products each year for consumers. Sure, some were content on the basic formula of picture and design on front, and stats on the back. But some desired more. Some desired innovation. Some desired … royalty.
Pacific, a baseball card company based out of Lynwood, Wash., was a suburb of Seattle. The company started mainstream products at the beginning of the 1990s with several mediocre releases. By mid-decade the company hit it’s stride with flashy Prism — the ORIGINAL Prism brand — and then continued its craftsmanship with the Crown Royale brand, which debuted in 1995 as a football-only product and eventually crossed over to baseball in 1998.
During the decade, I was very much a collector of four sports. And when it came to football, Crown Royale and Prism were my staples. I always hoped that Pacific would cross the brands over to baseball. And in 1998 the company brought us the first Crown Royale baseball release, which featured holographic backgrounds with a gold crown die-cut design laid on top of that, and then a single-shot action photo atop all of that. To put it simple: It was gorgeous in terms of baseball cards.
But, quality doesn’t come cheap. These definitely wasn’t a $2 a pack release. Or $3. Or $4. Or $5. I recall seeing the packs upward of $6, and one Twitter follower even recalls seeing them at $9 a pack. His recollection wouldn’t surprise me. The cards were than damn good. Looking at the Beckett Almanac, it confirms the MSRP was $5.99 for the 6-card pack. Each box had 24 packs, so that would bring a box price into the $150 range.
As a teen collector I may have opened a handful of these packs, but I know it wasn’t much. By 1998 I wanted the quality, but all I really could afford was quantity that Bowman afforded me — after all, by 1998 I had started my chase for rookie card greatness.
Overtime, collecting interests changed and I went full bore into rookie cards. Anything marked with the Bowman name was mine. This was before the rookie card autos of Chrome, by the way.
Fast forward to about a week ago when I visited Peninsula Sports Cards in Belmont, Calif. This is a sibling store of my two really local shops, South Bay Sports Cards (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and Stevens Creek Sports Cards (San Jose, Calif.). Belmont is a bit of a trek for me, but the shop there recently moved into a larger space and I wanted to see the shop. Also, I wanted to see if they had any old wax for me to rip. I’ve been heavy on nostalgia recently, especially since my 6-year-old son is slowly working his way into the hobby.
I spoke with one of the main guys at the shop and told him of my interests after a lengthy discussion about other items. He took my name, e-mail and phone number and said he’d have someone check the warehouse. He called me about three days later telling me they got some stuff in. Among the items was this box of 1998 Crown Royale. The price? Less than $2 a pack, or merely a third of what the packs cost some 18 years ago.
I half debated opening this product alone as I was sort of fulfilling a card collecting dream of mine. Instead I decided to include my son. What better way to bring this all full circle. Right?
This was the best decision ever.
I told my son of the crown die-cuts and explained that the basic cards in this set were all special in that way. I showed him the crown design on the cover of the box and he was intrigued. As we ripped into each pack he said “this is fun, the design is cool!”
Hell yeah! I’d won him over. This wasn’t about hits (autographs and relic cards, which drive prices through the roof these days). Hell, I suppose it really wasn’t about the cards either. It was about living a hobby dream through my son and he appreciated the product just as I did. Sure, I kind of showed him the path, but the comments came willingly and without provocation.
So, what’s in the box?
Each box contains an over-sized Cramer’s Choice Award box topper — the large version of the ultra-premium insert for Pacific brands — and then 24 packs in each box. The packs contain six cards, including two inserts of different themes and four die-cut base cards. In some cases, one base card was subbed out for an additional insert.
The chase cards include die-cut All-Star cards which were seeded 1:25 packs (usually one per box); Firestone on Baseball 2:25 (or typically two per box), and Race to Record 1:73 (serial numbered to 374 copies each and about 1 in every three boxes).
We opened the box and found our box topper resting comfortably flat. I opened the topper and saw the name “Ken” in the large text on the reverse of the card and knew we did well. It was indeed a large, flashy card of Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
In the very first pack that my son opened he pulled a base card of my favorite player Roger Clemens; meanwhile I hit a basic Griffey.In my second pack I hit our die-cut All-Star card, that of Cal Ripken Jr. Not too shabby.
We took turns opening the remainder of the packs and we got many of the big stars of the day on the Crown base cards including Derek Jeter and Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez, but failed to pull Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds or Cal Ripken. We also pulled three of the four rookie cards in the set — “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez, Masato Yoshi and Rolando Arrojo were in it, David Delucci was not.
I’ve yet to actually sort the base cards by number, but I’d say we’re about half way to a base set. One day we will complete it.
A special thanks to the chain card stores in my area for 1) being there, 2) providing fantastic customer service and 3) making old products available at decent prices.