The 1997 Fleer Sports Illustrated set consists of 180 base cards, a parallel set, and three insert sets. The hobby box that I opened contained 24 packs with 6 cards per pack. I actually opened this box a few months ago but in my slow manner of putting cards in binders am only now getting caught up.
As I mentioned in the intro, there are three different insert sets (plus one parallel set). The parallels are numbered out of 500 and are known as the "Extra Edition" parallel set. In terms of the inserts, despite there being only three different sets the insertion rates are quite varied. There are the 1 per pack "Great Shots" insert cards which are essentially mini posters. Then there are the 2 per box (i.e. 1:12 packs) Cooperstown Collection cards. Finally, there are six autograph cover redemption cards (each numbered out of 250).
Since this product is well over a decade old, pulling a redemption for one of the six autograph subjects (Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Kirby Puckett, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, or Hank Aaron) would have been bittersweet indeed - luckily (?) that wasn't a concern with my box.
However, before we get to the inserts, let's take a look at the base set. Fleer divided the 180 base cards into a few different subsets: 27 Fresh Faces, 18 Inside Baseball, 18 S.I.ber Vision, 12 Covers, and 9 Season Highlights help to complete the set (along with 96 "regular" base cards).
The Fresh Faces make up cards 1-27 in the set. My box yielded 18 different cards including Nomar Garciaparra, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Scott Rolen.
Cards 28 - 36 are the Season Highlights. Once again, my box provided some but not all of the subset, in this case I landed 5 of the 9 cards. One of the highlights cards was this rather gross card of Ken Caminiti, who wants to see him without a shirt on (while in Hawaii)?
Fleer kept the subset love going with cards 37 - 54 being Inside Baseball cards. The Inside Baseball subset gives a nice synopsis of the featured player and then a box with some rather inane trivia. For example, the back of Joe Carter's card lists the most RBIs for a Canadian Major League club. In other words, who are the RBI leaders for the Blue Jays and the Expos (the only two Canadian teams at the time). Marquis Grissom's card shines the spotlight on players who had the most hits in a six-game World Series.
Cards 55 - 72 are part of the S.I.ber Vision subset. Unlike the other subsets, these cards are gaudy and quite honestly, an eyesore. Bright colors and weird pipe-like structures in the background don't make for a good baseball card (though that combination does make for fun Nintendo games).
After the deluge of subset cards, the "real" base cards begin. The greatest strength of the set is the photography (which is quite evident from the various base cards). There are cards like McGwire's that essentially show a player in his daily routine.
There are plenty of classic action shots:
And there are even a few photos of guys going through the baseball ritual (but not during a game) such as Gilkey helping out with a little batting practice.
The final twelve cards of the set are the Sports Illustrated Cover cards. This subset showcases Sports Illustrated covers using full-bleed photos. Since the set has a SI theme, these cards fit in quite nicely. In all actuality, this is probably my favorite of the various subsets.
As I mentioned earlier, there are three different possible insert sets to find but my box did not contain any of the autograph redemption cards. I did end up with a pair of Cooperstown Collection cards (Brooks Robinson and Kirby Puckett).
I also landed quite a few of the poster cards (24 in total though only 18 were unique).
Finally, I found one of the Extra Edition parallels - mine was of Randy Johnson and was numbered 186/500.
All things considered, this was a fun box to bust despite not having any hits in the modern sense. Overall, I give the 1997 Fleer Sports Illustrated the following rating:
Set Design: A-
Opening Thrill: B
The set is solid (though unspectacular) from top to bottom. I usually like subsets since they add variety to a set but in this case there are simply too many subsets. Even worse, the base cards are so nice that most of the subsets are actually uglier than the regular base cards! I docked the box fairly heavily on collation because of the duplicate posters and the duplicate base cards. Unfortunately, I didn't think to count all the duplicate base cards prior to posting the review but it was in the double digits to be sure.