Monday, August 15, 2011

Top 10 National Pick-Ups: #2: The Mother of all junk waxboxes.

#2: One box of 1998 Zenith.

Paid $27.

Do you really want to know why I get angry at gimmicks? It's all because of Pinnacle Brands. Pinnacle may have been the first instance of a corporation gimmicking itself into bankruptcy.

The spectacular rise and devastating crash of Pinnacle Brands should be a case study on how not to run a trading card company; but first, let's go back a few years. In 1992, there were five MLB licensees, and of those five, what was then known as "Score/Sportflics" was clearly the trailer. Score was the last company to introduce a "premium" card set and when 1992 Pinnacle was finally released, Topps' Stadium Club and Fleer's Ultra had already upped the ante. Score's flagship set was hindered by drab design, boring color schemes, rampant overproduction, and a lack of inserts. If you were a betting man in 1992 and had to lay odds on which of the five MLB-Licensed trading card companies would be the first to go, Score would have been the Morning Line favorite.

Things began to change in late-1993 when Jerry Meyer was hired as CEO of the newly re-named "Pinnacle Brands." Within a few years, mainly by catering to what collectors actually wanted, Pinnacle had gone from being The Hobby's "sick man," to (according to a survey released by Action Packed) company with the largest percentage of market share.

By 1996 Pinnacle was exactly that; the pinnacle of The Hobby. Then a series of bad decisions followed by even more bad decisions, led to one of the most spectacular falls in Hobby history. It all started with Pinnacle's ill-conceived acquisitions of Action Packed and Donruss. In '97 Pinnacle released an Action Packed football and an Action Packed NASCAR set, but no baseball and nothing else afterward '97.

What was most puzzling was what they did with Donruss. The company's European owners had been wanting to get out of the American market; and so in 1996 they sold the candy division to Hershey and Donruss to Pinnacle. Even though Donruss had been acquired by Pinnacle, for some reason, they continued to operate it as a separate company. Although Pinnacle did move Donruss to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, it still had its own separate staff, its own office space, and its own distribution channels. It even had, if you could believe this, paid for its own licenses.

Donruss could have released all their 1997-98 baseball card sets under Pinnacle Brand's license. But they spent to money on a separate license anyway.

For the next two years, Pinnacle and Donruss's business model relied largely on 1) Overproduction and 2) Gimmicks. To be fair, they did leave their flagship brands (Score, Pinnacle and Donruss) largely sacrosanct. Yes, they did such things as the 1998 Score All-Star Edition (a re-release of 1998 Score Baseball, only with different inserts), and 1997 New Pinnacle (a completely different Pinnacle set released in lieu of a second series of 1997 Pinnacle Baseball). But Donruss, Pinnacle, and Score remained largely unchanged.

But in order to raise the revenue needed to level their post-acquisition balance sheet, Pinnacle (but not necessarily Donruss) let the presses fly with one new brand after another; a slew of 200-250 card base set all retailing for $2-$3/pack, all virtually indistinguishable from one another. 1997 New Pinnacle; 1997 Pinnacle X-Press; 1997 and '98 Pinnacle Inside; 1998 Pinnacle Performers; 1998 Pinnacle Plus: If I were to show you a base card from any one of the aforementioned sets, would any of you be able to properly identify it?

But it wasn't just the avalanche of new brands, it was the constant re-tooling of existing ones. There was no consistency from year to year. Take for example Zenith. It was introduced in 1995 as the company's first true "super-premium" product, designed to compete with Fleer's Flair, Upper Deck's SP, and Donruss's Leaf Limited in the $5/pack category. (Pinnacle also introduced that year the Chromium-stocked Select Certified as their answer to Topps Finest.) For the first two years, you basically knew what you were going to get in a box of Zenith: A high-quality base set with a couple of way-cool Dufex inserts in a Hobby box.

Then in 1997 they completely changed the product, doubling the price to $10/pack, reducing the base set to only 50 cards, and inserting two, oversize, 8" X 10" cards per pack.

Yeah, oversized cards and $10 packs in 1997. What the fuck were they thinking?

And then there were the gimmicks. I guess if you're part of the product development team and management mandates that you crank out yet another set, I guess you have to do something to make it stand out. Hence, the cards in soup cans and tins and bizarrely structured sets like Fractal Matrix; so confusing that even I, a man with a graduate degree in economics (which requires a lot of advanced mathematics to acquire) still can not figure out.

Which brings us to 1998 Zenith, a Perfect Storm of the needless meddling of an established card set combined with just about the dumbest gimmick I've ever seen. Yes, I'm talking about Dare to Tear.

I picked up a box of this junk for $27 at The National -- which is about $26.99 more than I probably should have paid -- and video broke it. In the process, I will attempt to extract the standard-sized card from the jumbo WITHOUT trying to damage either card.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

#10: It's for "Members Only"
#9: The case of the mysterious rookie reprints
#8: 75 for 25
#7: A point is a point
#6: OH NOEZ!!!!!
#5: What do they know about partying? Or anything else?
#4: Epix Mo-Jo!!!
#3: Satisfyin' the ladies, one printin' plate at a time
#2: The Mother of all junk waxboxes
#1: Ironic ain't just the name of an Alanis Morrisette song


DK Cook said...

You Should've Tried A Heat gun. But, The 5x7 "Cards" Would Make Cool Envelopes. Granted you Couldn't Stuff much in there but Still...

First Ballot said...

Brilliant commentary. Nice read.

Anonymous said...

"Where'd you go, psycho boy?"

"I felt like destroying something beautiful."

The concept of card cannibalization made this scene pop into my head during your videos.

The Baseball Card Snob said...

How many cards were in this set? and why on earth would anyone even try to put both sets together. Did Pinnacle think collectors were really that dumb?

I think maybe a razor or scalpel would have been a better bet to cut the sides.

I can get you a scalpel, I know a guy.