Back in the late 90’s when Major League Baseball lost it’s monopoly protection status, it opened up the door for a new generation of “rebel leagues”. The Northern League, the St. Paul Saints’ first home, was the first to reach the baseball zeitgeist – at least that I was aware of – early on. It may have been when J.D. Drew forsook the Phillies during the ’97 Entry Draft, rejecting the $2.5million signing bonus (he had asked for $10million) and signed instead with the St. Paul Saints.
The Saints, owned by Veeck (son of Bill Veeck) and Bill Murray (yes, of The Life Aquatic and Saturday Night Live’s lounge singer skits), which means that funky promotions is part of their DNA. A baseball team owned by Bill Murray with the Veeck promotional heritage is bound to make the news on occasion. So the Saints have always been bubbling just under the surface through the last 25 years of my baseball fandom. I remember one promotion from a few years ago that got nixed by the league where the Saints planned to compete the first three innings of a regular season game via MLB The Show on Xbox. A decade ago or so, when it was first proposed, it sounded stupid. Now, four of the top five sports run incredibly robust esports leagues (and the tier 4 soccer club I work with sponsor an EA FIFA pro and consider him part of our player roster). There were also a couple years where the Saints would challenge their cross-town Major League colleagues in attendance.
All that, plus the “My name is Paul, they’re from St. Paul” connection have drawn me to following the Saints over the years. So one of my collecting goals is to have all the Saints’ team issued sets. I found this ’98 team set on eBay at decent price ($15 + shipping) and picked it up.
The set came shrink wrapped with The Great Hamboni facing out on one side and J.D. Drew facing out on the other. Aside from Drew, the only other player with any name recognition is former rookie of the year candidate and AL All-Star Matt Nokes.
My initial reaction to the set is that it’s pretty harsh looking. Each card features a player (or coach) cut out and Photoshopped onto a background featuring a fairly gaudy Saints’ logo in gold and white. The player name is full width at the top of the card, but is ghosted, blue on blue with a white outer glow, and then – and I’m realizing this after only taking a good hard look – but there’s also a facsimile of the player’s autograph up top. The result is a muddled and difficult to read mess. The bottom of the card is no better. The Saints’ logo, in it’s proper & traditional blue, a gorgeous, classy and classic logo is too small and turns into blue scrambled eggs, lost against the other elements of the card. I can say, however, that all the photos are nice and crisp and there is a nice mix of posed, versus action, but all the pics are from home games. My personal preference is to get all the teams’ uniforms represented into a team set.
The back of the card is simple black and white, but does feature the front side photo as a watermark with the typical back of card information. My problem is that the text is a little small. I think they tried to mash a little too much info on the back. However, compared to some other minor league team sets, there was a lot of thought put into making a good back of card design. They just missed the bullseye.
Overall, the front is gross and fits in the gaudy “let’s cut players out of pictures and put them on horrific looking backgrounds” fad of the era. But that does speak to the quality of the set. In the late 90’s we’re coming into the PhotoShop era, teams like the Saints were able to produce a set with a design like this in-house. In the card I can see the time and care they put into the design of the card. Its easy 20 years later to pick at the style. But then again, if you saw me in the late 90’s wearing a sweater vest over a plain white shirt and a visor like Joey Abs, you’d probably give me a low grade on visual appeal, too.
The legacy of this set is that it stands up against the major releases of the day from a design stand-point. Maybe we’re not proud of our Semisonic CD, but I’m sure that if I follow you around enough I’ll catch you humming “Closing Time”.
There are a lot of reasons to put this set in your collection. Aside from J.D. Drew or Matt Nokes collectors, Twins fans may want to start collecting the Twin Cities’ other team. The J.D. Drew card also makes it a good grab because of the ’97 draft drama.
The set is like a DeLorean. It’s ugly as sin, is a perfect representation of what was wrong with style when it was made, but you know what? I still like it.