I never voluntarily applied sunscreen as a kid, and I didn't really mind the sunburns, either, because kids don't have the benefit of an adult's perspective. They get a sunburn and they think, "hey, this sunburn traced a perfect outline of my shirt! Neat!" They don't consider that they won't just be issued another body when they're like 35, and their pain threshold is through the roof thanks to summers full of skinned knees and poison sumac.
This is important because these kids are the people to whom Ultra-Pro, manufacturer of plastic baseball card sleeves, binder pages, and the like, was trying to sell on the importance of protecting baseball cards from ultraviolet radiation. How do you sell "you need to keep your baseball cards from getting sun poisoning" to a demographic of people who spend their time tying handfuls of M-80s together and throwing them into campfires?
Eric Karros and Dave Hansen in tuxedos, apparently.
Ultra-Pro produced small sets of baseball cards and stuck them into packages of their binders, sleeves, etc., as an extra incentive to buy them. The card you see above is taken from the Ultra-Pro Karros set. Yep! An entire set dedicated to baseball player Eric Karros not playing baseball! From a blurb on the back of one of his cards:
This handsome, 25 year old bachelor doesn't venture far from his L.A. home where he now resides all year round. In his spare time Eric enjoys shooting hoops and weightlifting.
Hey, target demographic that is nine-year-old boys, he's not taken! Here's the front of that card, by the way. SAY BUDDY, WANNA BUY A WEIGHT.
I guess Kirk Cameron kind of gave up on the bananas and God and what have you and started selling weights. If I sold weights, my pitch would begin with, "hey, weight a minute!" Anyway, baseball cards: they're horrible, here's another.
"Yeah, ever since we realized we gave a Rookie of the Year award to Gregg Olson, we've just started giving out weights." The awards committee started caring less and less until 1996, when Todd Hollandsworth was honored with a handshake and some Gak.
So yes, this Mike Piazza seems like an almost impossibly boring fellow.
Drawing a correlation between working out and his throwing style, Mike Piazza takes weight lifting seriously. Believing that lifting weights may not have a direct effect on his baseball, he feels it helps his mental game in focusing and concentrating.
I bet the Ultra-Pro folks told him, "listen, Mike, we're trying to show your other side here, give the fans a chance to get to know you. So hey, how about you bring in something reflective of your hobbies, your passions in life? Like maybe art supplies, or a surfboard, or something?" I bet the morning of the shoot, Piazza surveyed his blank-walled abode, realized he was not a particularly deep or interesting fellow, and simply settled upon the least heavy thing he owned, which was a weight.
I bet that shortly after the above photo was taken, the photographer said, "so, I guess you keep lifting that weight above your head over and over? What's the point? If you're trying to get it high up, why don't you just set it on the top of a high shelf and just walk away?"
I bet that Mike stopped smiling, lost in thought, and that the remainder of the photo shoot was a glum and unproductive affair. If you know someone who lifts weights, don't spoil the fun for them, huh?
These graduation photo-y card sets really tried to be personable and fun, but they failed from top to bottom. Clearly, they didn't anticipate star baseball players to be complete dullards.
Speak of the devil! It's Circuit City sales associate Hal Morris!
What the back of this card says:
Morris' self-discipline and good work ethic make him stand out from the crowd as a model for upcoming athletes.
What Hal Morris actually told Ultra-Pro: yeah it's pretty swell bein' a baseball player. you get to go to hotels and stuff. you get free soaps that you can take with you if you run out of soaps. they also got cleaner ladies but i feel bad makin' them clean up after my mess so i just clean up after myself. i can be a messy marvin sometimes. every so often i watch TV on the bed and eat a bunch a chex and then little chex crumbs get everywhere. if i were in charge of the chex company i would [cut off]
What the back of this card says:
Lessons learned early in his career enable Hal Morris to be humble in the good times and levelheaded in the bad.
What Hal Morris actually told Ultra-Pro: i sure hope i didn't lose my tennis racquet. i made sure to wear my tennis shirt so you could photograph me with all my neat tennis stuff, but i couldn't find my racquet. i sure am sorry, i feel like i'm ruining the photos by not havin' a racquet. i sure do look like a bozo wearin' a tennis shirt and just sittin' here. oh boy. ohhhh gee, if i lose my tennis racquet i sure am gonna be sore about it. one time i [cut off]
What the back of this card says:
Hal himself first considered a career in medicine, however, he changed his priorities as a result of his athletic ability. All in all, a thrilling career change for this power hitter.
What Hal Morris actually told Ultra-Pro: wowee zowee where'd you find my racquet? well that figures! saw you guys were servin' hoagies in the cafeteria, thought i'd get a hoagie 'cause i was real hungry, must've been so excited about the hoagie that i set my racquet down and forgot about it! oh gee i would've had to buy a new tennis racquet, would have had to talk to the salesman, he would've tried to get me to buy an awful pricey one, would've had to buy it because i wouldn't have told him no because that's just the way i do things. oh boy. can't wait to get back on the court with my tennis racq--[cut off]
Ultra-Pro produced these cards in the early '90s, when everyone in the sports industry was obsessed with assigning value to cards. And, of course, Ultra-Pro was in business to preserve the condition, and therefore value, of baseball cards. It makes sense, then, that even though these cards were kind of shitty and weren't MLB-licensed, they would take some measures to make them "collectable." They did so by stamping an Upper Deck-esque hologram on the back of each card.
Each card claimed to be a "limited edition," which, of course, was technically true, because we aren't buried in an mass of Eric Karros cards that stretches to the end of the universe. But the thing is, no one would ever, ever, ever try to counterfeit these, because:
I would like to conclude matters by pitching you a sitcom set in the early '90s about a guy who counterfeits baseball cards. Cool? You have a second?
So, I'm sure we can agree that if you're a baseball card counterfeiter, the ONLY more depressing thing you could possibly be is an incompetent baseball card counterfeiter. This guy, whose name is Gary, since there were a lot more dudes named Gary back in the day, is really incompetent, and of all the sets he could try to counterfeit, he zeroes in on this freebie set with no license that is like 50% Hal Morris cards.
He does so because he figures there will be huge demand for them, even though they're given away for free with purchase, they're just Hal Morris wearing his tennis shit, and there are A QUARTER MILLION OF EACH CARD. Each episode will chronicle his attempts to circumvent the signature reflective foil on the back of each card, and the tag line for the show will be, "His plans are foiled -- literally!"
Being a sad-sack feckless sports card counterfeiter in the early '90s, there are some things we must establish about him. If blogs had existed in the early '90s, he would definitely start one about frozen food, and it would be really incendiary. He wears a hip pack and flip-up sunglasses. He somehow lost his beeper at the drug store (the drug store, how the Hell do you lose your beeper at the drug store) a while back, but he still wears his beeper holster, because it's clipped to his belt, which is never un-looped from his pants, because has only one pair of pants that he wears out of the house. He makes awkward, reaching puns about Ross Perot that are meant to be somehow derogatory but are just weird (Rossperagus!), despite not holding any political beliefs of any weight or consequence. Every negative or unattractive quality you have ever observed in any sketchy, plotting guy hanging around in any card shop, ever? This guy has it.
Also, he has a dog. The dog has quite a personality. He barks at the mailman!