Hello, Mariners fans! My name is Joe and I'm a Padres fan, but I come in peace. I don't buy into that Selig-mandated "natural rivals" silliness, and in fact have a soft spot for the M's dating back to when they signed Joey Cora before the 1995 season. Speaking of whom, that brings me to why I'm here today.
Joey Cora is my favorite baseball player of all time. I'm currently on a nascent mission to collect as many copies as I can of every single one of his cards. There are some that I have dozens of, many more I have only one or two of, and a handful of parallels and foreign cards I haven't tracked down quite yet. I write about his cards from when he was with the Padres over at Gaslamp Ball so frequently that it's probably annoying, but I never have an opportunity to show off my cards from his days after leaving San Diego. Since today is his forty-ninth birthday and I thought that maybe one or two of you might find it interesting, I put together a list of my 28 favorite cards of Joey with the Mariners; 28, of course for the number he wore in Seattle.
It was so difficult to choose just 28 cards. I honestly spent at least an hour deciding just the last four spots. These are not ranked, because if I had to do that I'd still be rearranging the order by the time his fiftieth birthday rolls around. I did, however, save my absolute favorite for last so maybe I should say that the first 27 are unranked. With all of that groundwork out of the way, now seems like as good of a time as any to kick things off (like Steven Hauschka! Oh man, do I know my audience or what?) with number one.
1. 1996 Emotion XL #111
I remember buying a marked-down box of these cards in 1998 and thinking they were the coolest thing ever. The border is actually a thick matte frame, and the foil seal adds to the highbrow look. The front of each card includes a word describing that player, and I'm so glad Joey got "gritty". One of his rookie cards describes him as a "flashy Puerto Rican" and that has always irked me to no end because he wasn't flashy, and to assume he was because of where he was born... well, that's just lazy prejudice at best.
2. 1998 Upper Deck Collector's Choice #239
The play pictured on both the front and back of this card occurred during the bottom of the fifth inning on June 13, 1997,when Joey scored from first on a Jose Cruz double in the Mariners' second game against the Rockies. Cora scored the day before, but the catcher then was Jeff Reed, who wore number 15.
3. 1998 Pacific Online #681
This is quite a hilarious relic of its time. The internet was brand new to a lot of people, so Pacific tried to cash in with this garish offering that showcased what people thought about "the web" at the time. Bright colors! Weird fonts! A series of tubes! And before you try, no, the url on the front no longer works.
4. 1996 Mother's Cookies Mariners Team Set #8
Well, that's quite a contrast. I've always liked Mother's cards. They did team sets for a handful of West Coast teams for a number of years, and stuck with the same nice, simple design every time.
5. 1998 Topps Stars #85
This card makes the list for commemorating Joey's sole All-Star Game selection. It's fairly high-end; the background of the front of the card is matte, while the picture of him and other elements such as the stars and team logo are glossy.
6. 1998 Fleer Tradition #34
While that's a great sliding shot on the front, I'm more intrigued by the back. Cora is rocking a look I've seen him wear only one other place, on a minor league card: the mustache. I'm much more accustomed to seeing him clean shaven or, more often, with full scruff.
7. 1997 Upper Deck Collector's Choice #233
Hey, why the 28 on 28 crime? That's Rob Deer plowing through Cora as he attempted to turn two. On a side note, I've always found spring training games with both teams wearing same or similar colored jerseys to be slightly unsettling.
8.1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice base/ Silver Signature parallel #312
For the purpose of the list, I've grouped base and parallel cards together as "one" card. The Silver Signature cards were CC's equivalent to Topps' Gold cards; they were inserted one per pack. There was also a Gold Signature parallel; those were more scarce at one per 36 packs. I still don't have Joey's Gold Signature card from the 1996 set and yes, this keeps me awake at nights.
9. 1997 Score/ Score Premium Stock #201
This one is a little different in that the second card isn't technically a parallel. Score Premium Stock was sold separately from Score flagship, and was available only at hobby stores.
10. 1998 Pacific Crown Collection base/ Red Threat parallel
Pacific is probably my favorite card manufacturer. They existed for a short window, but were very distinct. They were bilingual, with English taking a backseat to Spanish. Their cards, particularly their inserts, were foil-laden to the extreme, and they had numerous insert sets focusing solely on Latino players. That, and before they got into baseball they put out an Andy Griffith Show set. The road to my heart runs through Mayberry.
11. 1995 Pacific 1995 Mariners Memories #16
This is a set that I can't find a lot of information on. I know it was distributed in full 50-card sets, although I'm not sure if it was regional-only (likely), sold at hobby or retail stores, or whether the cards were distributed outside of full-sets. If any of you could shed some light on this, I'd be very grateful. Meta-card-stuff aside, I love this one because it captures what came to be Joey's defining moment. And that's just on the back. The front shows him evading a tag attempt by Don Mattingly to get on with a bunt single in the eleventh inning of Mattingly's final major league game. You know how that one ended: well.
12. 1998 Omega #219
Omega was a Pacific offshoot in a time when every brand had a seemingly endless number of lines. Kind of like record labels and artists' vanity labels that fall under the same umbrella. This card is noteworthy for featuring Cora batting right-handed; the vast majority of his cards that picture him swinging show him from the other side. The back mentions Joey's American League record that lasted all of one year.
13. 1998 Pinnacle Plus #18
This is a good example of a scanner not doing a card justice. This one is a lot brighter in person. From where his eyes are fixated, it appears he lined a single right through the 5.5 hole like his old teammate Tony Gwynn.
14. 1997 Pacific Prisms #62
This is Pacific at its most Pacific; there's almost no excess neglected. Etched foil in a crazy pattern over some sort of background that seems rather outer-spacey? Why not! My favorite detail is the inlay portrait printed on clear plastic; It leaves a window around his head and necessitates the blank cap on the back.
15. 1998 Upper Deck #222
Like with the second card in this list, which showed Cora scoring past Rockies catcher Kirt Manwaring, I enjoy pinpointing the date and time the photograph on a card was taken. Upper Deck took that bit of fun out of the equation in 1998 by putting the details out on Front Street. I enjoy the 'Yo La Tengo' shot on the back.
16. 1997 Topps Stadium Club #149
There are so many cards that picture Joey turning two, but this is near the top of my list. A lot of that can be attributed to the horizontal orientation; the other big thing is that I really like this set. I'm a sucker for ribbons, and this card is built on one. The ribbon itself is embossed outward and iridescent.
17. 1997 Topps #35
Another great horizontal shot that wouldn't have worked on a vertical card. I love the picture of him biting his lip and throwing from his knees in a uniform with multiple stains. That's just about how I'd describe him to someone who had never heard of him.
18.1998 Topps #143
Fellow switch-hitting All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar makes two cameos on this card, in picture and in print. The two were briefly teammates with the Padres in the late-'80s before a pair of trades sent them to the American League.
19. 1997 Fleer #204
I generally disapprove of bunting, which is surprising since it's something my favorite player excelled at. I guess he just made the best of a bad thing. That, and it's a horse of a different color if the guy dropping one down is adept enough to have a good shot of beating it out just about every time. And he was.
20. 1996 Topps #304
Oh, how I loved those alternate jerseys. I still do. One of these days I'll get a Cora replica of one of those. A bright spot of him ending his career with two months in Cleveland is that I can conceivably order jerseys or shirseys with his name and number from the Mariners' official site, since MLB's rules dictate only that you can't customize items from the last team of a retired player.
21. 1996 Flair #158
This one is much more shimmery in person. Flair's 1996 set was released in both silver and gold versions, with an equal print run of both, but I only have two of the gold ones. The gold background is rough, almost sandpaper-y, adding an extra dimension of sparkle.
22. 1997 Circa #390
This card is late-'90s cardboard in a nutshell. The mock-3D background and the huge funky name complete with drop shadow are emblematic of the era, while the quote on the front is an example of fringe brands trying something out of the ordinary to make a splash. Speaking of that quote, how could anyone in the Pacific Northwest not love him after reading that?
23. 1995 Topps Stadium Club #536
This was Joey's second card in the '95 Stadium Club set; he appeared as a member of the White Sox in Series 1. The picture on the front is one of my favorite images of Cora; shades of Tommie Smith and John Carlos until you see his smiling face. I think he's happy because Dan Wilson played scissors, giving Joey and his rock the win.
24. 1995 Fleer Update #U-74
1995 Fleer is one of the most despised sets of all time, but I loved it when it came out and still do. It was a radical departure from anything that preceded it; in addition to the cluttered graphics and biographical information on the front, Fleer assigned a different design to each division. Believe it or not, the AL West's design was fairly subdued compared to the other five. Joey also got the AL Central treatment earlier in the year, since he hadn't signed with the Mariners until after the first wave of 1995 cards were released.
25. 1996 Fleer #234
Fleer did a complete 180 with their 1996 set; due to backlash, I imagine. These cards were printed on a matte stock with only the bare minimum of information presented on the front in as restrained of a manner as possible. They made a Tiffany parallel with glossy cardfronts and iridescent silver foil in the place of gold. I have one and scanned it, but it looked exactly the same as the base card. Trust me, you can tell the difference in person.
26. 1996 Fleer Ultra base/ Gold Medallion parallel #125
The image on the front of this card picks up right where the one on the back of the last one left off. The back is probably my favorite card-back due to the trifecta of great pictures.
27. 1996 Pacific Prisms #P-130
That is just a thing of beauty. The shards of gradient team colors cutting through the etched silver foil make this card jump out at me no matter how often I see it. There are some fairly scarce parallels of this card that I don't have yet, so those are on my want list. Well, technically all of his cards are on my want list, but those are near the top of my "really want" list.
28. 1996 Leaf Signature Series
This is that best-for-last card I was talking about back in the introduction. As a Cora completist, I'm grateful that relic cards didn't take off until after he retired. Certified autographs were just starting to become a thing in his waning days, and he showed up in Leaf's 1996 Signature Series set, the first of its kind. I don't have one of the 3,500 bronze cards that are out there, but I do have the more scarce silver and gold, of which there are 1,000 and 500 of, respectively. Only 4,998 to go.
I hope at least one of you enjoyed checking out these cards and reminiscing even a quarter as much as I enjoyed putting this together. If it gets a positive response maybe I'll come back on August 13 with my 19 favorite Jay Buhner cards.