Star Power: A
The 2019 Cape Cod League playoffs started last night with all 8 teams playing first round games. For the historical record; Harwich, Yarmouth-Dennis, Wareham and Falmouth won yesterday. But today, as the summer college season begins to wane, I wanted to revisit one of the incredibly few baseball card sets to feature the Cape Cod League.
Back in April I reviewed the 1988 P&L set, which earned low marks. In contrast, today we are looking at the 1988 Ballpark Cape Cod League Prospects set.
It’s fascinating to me that with 134 years of history, these two sets are apparently the only sets ever released for the league, and they both came out the same year. Because there are two sets, I’m going to make direct comparisons.
The immediate short falling of the P&L set is the inconsistency in the card cuts and the thin card stock. The Ballpark set is miles ahead with a thicker card stock, better photo print quality and machine cut consistent edges. I wasn’t able to put the P&L set into 9-pocket sleeves, which was frustrating, however the Ballpark set fit perfectly. Front and back, the Ballpark set is much better than the P&L. The quality of photos used is better, the print quality is better, the elements of the design are better, the attention to detail is better.
What’s more is that this set is a smaller set, clocking in at 30 cards versus the P&L’s 186 card set. In the moment, I have to imagine that the set was curated to select the top two prospects for each team, plus a team photo card for each team. The P&L set runs 18 or 19 cards per team, which means you’re left with a lot of roster spot players who ended up playing MABL after college.
Unfortunately, this is going to be a theme of this review.
Again, the Ballpark set wins the head-to-head here. Neither set really showcase an outstanding card design. But for an amateur league in 1988, Ballpark really set the bar. This set features a much larger photo on front, with a clean and minimal design. There are no logos on the front of the card, but since there aren’t any graphic elements, it is much less noticeable as it was in the P&L set.
The back of the card is a much better experience as well. While there are very few graphic elements, it feels laid out by a graphic designer. Where the P&L set feels like it was designed on a word processor, the Ballpark set has a much more graphic design feel. There is also much more effort put into the back of the card. The Ballpark set includes college stats and “Cape League Trivia” on each card.
Star Power: A
It’s easy to judge Ballpark for who they did & didn’t pick for their set. But, they did hit on Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell, two Hall of Famers that played on the Cape in 88. Both also hit for Mo Vaughn and Chuck Knoblauch, who are probably the biggest non-HOF names from that season. So considering they only made 20 player cards, hitting the players who, 30 years later, would have been the guys you wanted cards for out the set is incredibly prescient from Ballpark.
Nobody would have blamed them here in 2019 had they not included both guys who would have gone on to have hall of fame careers. So think about the odds of sitting in a room in 1988 looking at rosters of college kids and being able to point out Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell as the position players to represent the Orleans Cardinals and Chatham A’s.
Then, taking a sip of your Narraganset and picking Mo Vaughn and Chuck Knoblauch for the Wareham Gatemen.
Personally, I think the collectibility is high. It hits a very odd corner of collecting. You can pick up a couple of Hall of Famers in pre-debut cards (from an era where pre-debuts weren’t as common as they are now). Team cards for teams that have long histories and not much memorabilia from the era.
Plus, for about $50, you can have every baseball card that’s ever been released for an iconic and historic baseball league. It’s also an opportunity to own two pre-debut cards for some absolute monsters in Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Mo Vaughn.
This set (as well as the P&L set) is a nexus for hall of fame collectors, pre-debut collectors, college collectors, even minor league collectors. There are some names that I’m sure player collectors and super collectors would be thrilled to have.
For men of a certain age (read: 40’s), this set has a fantastic intangible value. These guys are the first players we’ve really seen through an entire career cycle. From their college days building their draft resume, through their minor league career and into their Major League career. And now their post-career lives as Hall of Famers. Plus, there’s an aura around the Cape League that I feel is almost perfectly captured in this set in particular.
I can’t think of any reason to not track down one of these sets. They’re out there for about $20, and a slabbed Frank Thomas could pay for more than the whole set. I recommend picking up both this and the P&L set. If you only have $30 to put towards a Cape Cod League set, I recommend this over the P&L.