Is This the Worst Baseball Card of All Time?

The stadium scene.
Aug. 23 2013 4:23 PM

The Worst Baseball Card of All Time

The case of 1996 Pinnacle Foil No. 289.

(Continued from Page 1)

Pinnacle Brands first got in the sports card game in the mid-1980s with Sportflics, which used a lenticular printing process to make the images appear to move when you tilted the card. The company started producing cards under the Score trade name in 1988, then released its first Pinnacle baseball issue in 1992. The 1996 Pinnacle Foil set that changed humanity forever is marked by gold foil triangles that jut up from the bottom of the frame, often seeming to stab players in the groin. This was just one of a mind-boggling array of different sets that Pinnacle brought to market in 1996, including Pinnacle Aficionado, Pinnacle First Rate, Pinnacle Starburst, Pinnacle Team Spirit, and Pinnacle Christie Brinkley Collection. Given all the cards the company was cranking out, at least a handful were bound to stretch the limits of human decency. Such was the baseball card market of the 1990s. And this, too, was a sign of the times: In 1998, two years after Pinnacle Foil No. 289 came off the presses, Pinnacle Brands filed for bankruptcy. The baseball card bubble had burst.

The arc of Bob Hamelin’s career coincides perfectly with that of Pinnacle Brands. The Elizabeth, N.J., native made his minor-league debut in 1988, finally cracking the Royals’ big-league roster five years later. In 1994, the slugging DH cracked 24 home runs, beating out Manny Ramirez to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. The Hammer, though, was out of the big leagues for good after hitting .219 for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998.

Hamelin is now a scout for the Boston Red Sox, and he says he couldn’t ask for a better job. He also looks back on his playing days with fondness, a nostalgia trip that’s easier to take when you’ve got piles of your old baseball cards around the house. That’s one benefit of playing in the Pinnacle era. Hamelin, who was in the big leagues for just six seasons, has 119 different cards listed on Sports Card Source, and that doesn’t even include 1995 Tombstone Pizza No. 3. The most valuable of those cards, according to COMC.com, is worth $5.75. Depending on where you look, the 1996 Pinnacle Foil No. 289 is valued at anywhere from 33 cents to 39 cents.

Advertisement

Having a huge stash of cards comes in handy, Hamelin says, when the mailman asks if you really played in the majors or when your kids’ friends are looking for a souvenir. The 1994 Rookie of the Year says he still gets around 200 cards in the mail each year from autograph seekers. Sometimes, he admits, he’ll swipe a few if someone sends more than a dozen in a single envelope.

He’s seen that Pinnacle card before, and it reminds him of spring training. One day each year, players would go into some auxiliary room, he says, and get herded through 15 different stations—one for ESPN to take a headshot, another where you’d hold the bat on your shoulder for a card company, another where you take a swing. Each player would hold a sign so all the different photographers know who they’re shooting. Most of the time, the guy with the camera chose the best image. This time, Hamelin says, “Maybe they accidentally erased every other picture.”

Baseball card of Eugene Emerald Bob Hamblin.
Bob Hamelin’s least favorite baseball card

Bob Hamelin does not think the worst baseball card of all time is the worst baseball card of his career. The first time he ever appeared on a card was in 1988, when he played for the Class A Eugene Emeralds. That time, they spelled his last name wrong.

In the end, then, perhaps Pinnacle Foil No. 289 shouldn’t be regarded as an example of everything that can go wrong with a baseball card. Rather, we can focus on how Pinnacle got it right. The company didn’t just spell Hamelin’s name correctly—H-A-M-E-L-I-N is written out three separate times in all its glory.

Yeah, I don’t think so. This is, and will perhaps always be, the worst baseball card of all time. But don’t feel too bad for Bob Hamelin—he’s got 118 other cards that he can hand out to the mailman. “Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t,” he says. “They didn’t get it on that shot.”

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.