Hey, everybody! As a brief introduction, my name is Joe and I'm a Padres fan, but that's neither here nor there as far as why I'm here today. I'm here to celebrate my favorite player, a man South Siders know and love from his time as a second baseman in the nineties and a coach in the aughts, on the occasion of his forty-ninth birthday.
A big part of my odd and probably overboard fandom of Joey Cora is my ongoing quest to collect as many copies of each card issued of him as possible. I have dozens of some, zero of a select elusive few, and two or three of most of them. I write about his Padres cards over at Gaslamp Ball fairly often, but I wanted to give his White Sox cards a day in the sun and thought that maybe one or two of you might enjoy checking them out. I selected my top-28 cards of him from his time in Chicago; 28 because of the number he was best known for wearing. It was a difficult process, but I feel good about the selections I finally whittled it down to after much deliberation. These aren't in any particular order because it was hard enough to eliminate the chaff, never mind trying to rank the remaining wheat. With that in mind, let's begin with our first in this 28-way tie for first.
1. 1992 Topps base/ Gold Winner/ Micro/ O-Pee-Chee #302
As I did with my 28 favorite cards of Joey with the Mariners, I'm counting base cards and parallels as "one" card. 1992 was the first year of both Topps Gold and Topps Micro, and the last year that O-Pee-Chee was a bilingual mirror set of Topps. Joey is pictured making a sliding catch while wearing number 21. He switched to his familiar number 28 before the 1992 season when the club acquired George Bell.
2. 1993 Topps base/ Gold/ Marlins First Edition/ Rockies First Edition/ Micro
In addition to the Topps Gold parallel, versions of 1993 Topps cards stamped with either a Rockies or Marlins inaugural-season gold foil logo exist. Those cards were released only in full-set form in the respective team's market. They're hard to come by since so few sets were distributed, and most of them have remained intact. As for this particular card, it's a personal favorite due to his backhanded flip. Then again, I could find a reason to call any of these "a personal favorite".
3. 1992 Upper Deck #359
This horizontal offering from Upper Deck is a personal favorite... See, I told you! But, in all honesty, either side of this card would make it an instant classic in my book, but the fact that they're the A and B sides of the same record makes it even better. While this card doesn't have a parallel, it has a lot of parallel lines. His left arm, both legs, and his bat are all aligned with the third base line and my detail-obsessed side finds it aesthetically pleasing. The pensive shot on the back deserved better; that's definite card-front material. On a side note, see that black line under his bat? Apparently a hair from my cat got on the scanner. And yes, my cat's name is Cora.
4. 1994 Topps Stadium Club base/ Golden Rainbow parallel #100
This has always been one of my favorite sets since the day it came out back in my youthful collecting heyday. The ransom-note first name combined with the label-maker last name made for a simple yet striking impression. The set was full of great photography, and this card was no different. As you might expect, that is not the last Ozzie Guillen cameo you'll see on this list.
5. 1994 Leaf #175
...or the last Terry Steinbach cameo. Even better is that it's not even from the same play, as evidenced by Joey wearing a different jersey in each shot. As for the card itself, I've always been fond of the marble look on the front and the ballpark backs complete with two photos of the player.
6. 1993 Topps Stadium Club Team White Sox #6
The Stadium Club Team cards differed in design from the regular Stadium Club cards, and were distributed in team set form, as the name might have led you to believe. One thing I find fascinating about this card that I never noticed until now is that he's pictured wearing number 28 on the front, but on the back they used a picture of him from back in 1991 when he was still wearing 21.
7. 1994 Pinnacle base/ Museum Collection parallel #318
As cool as that Museum Collection card looks in that scan, it's even nicer in person. Not to sound like a shampoo commercial, but there's a lot of multifaceted shimmering. While the photo isn't anything extraordinary, it shows him exhibiting sound fundamentals and that's a big part of who he was. And, I imagine, will be a big part of him as a manager once a team finally gives him his well-deserved shot.
8. 1994 Donruss #447
While I like the "Yo la tengo!" shot on the front, the real star of this card is tucked away on the other side. That dive fits the horizontal orientation perfectly and seems almost wasted on a card back.
9. 1993 Pacific Spanish #68
This was Pacific's first MLB set after years of making football and unlicensed single-player baseball sets along with oddball sets like their Andy Griffith Show issue from the early-'90s that I had quite a few cards from. While their cards from the next year and on were bilingual with Spanish as the primary language, Pacific's inaugural full set was solely in Spanish. This subdued design with nary a stitch of foil is about as far removed from what Pacific was to become as anything could be.
10. 1995 Topps base #545/ Cyberstats #326
Cyberstats was Topps' 1995 replacement for Topps Gold. It featured a dark, chrome-like background on the front, and projected stats of for the strike-shortened 1994 season. They didn't include the simulated statistics in the players' career totals, as you can see here by comparing the bottom lines on Cora's base and Cyberstats cards. The photo used on both is phenomenal; that's a shot you'd be hard-pressed to see on another card. Joey is shown booking it past Mariners third baseman Mike Blowers; by the time most people pulled these cards from packs, Cora and Blowers were teammates in the Emerald City.
11. 1994 Upper Deck base/ Electric Diamond parallel #371
In addition to showing Joey hatless for the second card in a row, this card features a great pair of cameos. The front picture showing Brian McRae doing his best to break up the double play attempt is a great piece of photography, but the back has the nice surprise of Rickey sliding into second safely like he did more times than anyone else. Rickey had already obliterated the career stolen base record years before this picture was taken, but he was still playing a decade later when he became teammates with Joey's younger brother Alex Cora on the 2003 Dodgers.
12. 1994 Fleer Extra Bases #43
While not an "oddball" set due to its inclusion of team logos and by virtue of being issued by a major manufacturer, Extra Bases was definitely a strange set. Like 1989 Bowman before it, the novelty of the oversized cards is far outweighed by their inherent inconvenience. While this is a visually striking card with clean graphics and crisp photography, they're a chore to store. Due to it being the one of only two card sets that particular size I know of, there are no boxes or binder pages that they fit in. There are, however, top-loaders made for these cards, a fact I was surprised to learn when I got this card in the mail. The photography was incredibly up-to-date; the picture on the front was taken earlier in the same season this card was issued, as you can tell by the gold-accented 125th Anniversary of Professional Baseball patch on Joey's right sleeve.
13. 1994 Score Select #132
There's a lot of action on the front of this one. I'm not sure exactly what's happening on the left, possibly giving an umpire the "Are you serious?" business, but the right, full color side depicts him notching one of the 95 runs he scored in 1993.
14. 1994 Score base/ Gold Rush parallel #485
That front photograph has long been one of my favorite baseball card shots. I feel confident in saying that I'd still regard it in extremely high esteem even if it were of some player I couldn't care less about. It's an angle one doesn't see very often and captures so much detail; the combination of a legible back of a jersey and unobscured face come together like peanut butter and chocolate.
15. 1993 Fleer Ultra #172
This one is the exact opposite of the last one in the regard that the photo shows him from the front, yet his face is obscured. While Ultra got in on the ground floor of multi-photo backs, there's one small detail I find slightly irksome. In the stats box, if you look directly above any of his career totals, you'll see the designation of the previous statistic due to the diagonal layout. At a glance it appears that he somehow had six career homers but no RBI. I do like the watercolor background; it ties it all together like the right rug.
16. 1993 Leaf #461
Like his 1992 Upper Deck card pictured up there in the number three spot on this list, I love this card because of the naturally occurring parallel lines. The back of the card pulls its weight as well with a background shot that reminds me of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and distracts from that extremely out-of-character face Joey is making.
17. 1993 Topps Stadium Club base/ Member's Only parallel #54
I always appreciated the couple of years of Stadium Club which pictured the player's Topps rookie card on the back. It got a bit meta in the instances of that card itself being the player's first card, but that's not the case here. Cora had a couple of cards in 1987, but his first from Topps was the 1988 issue pictured here.
18. 1993 Flair #182
When Flair arrived on the scene in 1993, decade-old me thought they blew sliced bread out of the water. The thickness of the stock and the ultra-mega-gloss finish over a restrained and refined design added up to the apex of class as far as I was concerned. The backs also featured crisp, full-bleed photography and detailed stats with a short blurb. This particular card has a great shot of Joey and who I presume is Frank Thomas catching then-future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson in a pickle.
19. 1994 Flair #275
Flair's sophomore effort added some, well, flair but managed to not go overboard. As on his 1993 issue, the front of Cora's '94 Flair card features a glove shot and a baserunning image. He's back in black on the back, presumably flipping the ball over to Ozzie for the start of a 4-6-3 double play.
20. 1993 Score #454
Another double-dip, another notable cameo. The cameos that crop up on Joey Cora's cards are a who's who of '90s baseball. This time it's a relatively young Bernie Williams getting lept over in a photo that Score had been sitting on for over a full season. I really like the simple design, which is a far cry from Score's random-color roots, but once again the back of the card is where the real action is. Below that classic snap of Joey exactly how I used to doodle caricatures of him is a detailed blurb; the one good trait Score had all along. Every time I read it I still get a laugh out of "with, as you might expect, absolutely no power". Score was, if nothing else, rigorously and brutally honest. Joey finally got his first homer that season and added another to boot.
21. 1995 Score base/ Gold Rush/ Platinum Team Set #454
This sliding shot would be near the top of any list of greatness I wanted to put together, but the parallels make me like it even more. I've had a handful of the Gold Rush versions along with several copies of the base card, but the Platinum edition is a recent addition. Since discovering that such a thing exists and acquiring it, I've learned about its scarcity. It seems the Platinum Team Set cards were redemption-only. The redemption cards were seeded one every 36 packs, and that's only the beginning. In addition to that redemption card, you also had to turn in a full set of every Gold Rush card from any one given team. Yeah. Not just every base card from one team, but every Gold Rush card. The very same Gold Rush cards which were seeded one per pack. I feel fortunate to have gotten the one I have, as I imagine very few of these saw the light of day. That, and I imagine most team collectors who went to all that trouble kept their team sets intact.
22. 1994 Topps Finest #146
Honestly, I never understood all of the hullabaloo over Topps Finest cards. I suppose they were a bit ahead of their time when they debuted the year before this one was issued, but they have stayed in that time. The design changes from year to year, but no matter the year they all seem firmly rooted in the mid-'90s.
23.1994 Pacific #123
This card is fascinating to me for numerous reasons, the first of which being that it's one of the rare few which show Joey batting from the right side. Then you flip it over and lo-and-behold, there's Terry Steinbach yet again! This photo was taken a split-second after the picture on the front of his '94 Stadium Club issue pictured above in the fourth slot of this list. As was also mentioned above, this was Pacific's first bilingual, as opposed to solely Spanish, set.
24. 1991 Fleer Update #U-11
This is one of Joey's first cards as a member of the White Sox; he was featured in the base set wearing brown pinstripes. I have never been a big fan of this set, but it looks a lot better when you compare it with other sets from that year. One glance at '91 Donruss or Topps makes these loud rectangles seem like '93 Flair.
25. 1992 Score #326
This is an example of Score's old propensity for using random colors all willy-nilly, regardless of the player's team.
26. 1993 Upper Deck #742
This is the second card on the list to picture Joey with a Boston runner in a rundown, but the photo on the back is what makes it. This is probably my favorite set of all time, and is the first I've assembled from scratch. There is so much great and offbeat photography, with much of it tucked away on the backs, and this one is no different.
27. 1995 Fleer Ultra #27
Here's yet another card with a cameo of a star being forced out at second. This time it's then-Yankees first baseman and current Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. Cora and Mattingly would meet again later in the year this card was released. In the eleventh inning of the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS, Joey, by then with the Mariners, evaded a tag attempt by Mattingly to reach on a bunt single. It was the last play Mattingly was involved in as Ken Griffey, Jr. reached and both scored on Edgar Martinez's legendary double.
28. 1994 Score The Cycle #TC12
Joey ran his way into this insert set by tying for second in the majors in triples behind teammate Lance Johnson. The premise of Score's 20-card The Cycle insert set was simple; five cards for the top-five marks in each type of hit. Since Cora and Steve Finley tied for second in three-baggers, they share a card. These are fairly hard to come by and more expensive than you'd think they would be. That said, I'll still keep shelling out for them just about every chance I get.
...which is something I can say for all of them.