Quite possibly the ultimate Junk Era Gem or Hidden Treasure card, the legendary 1990 Upper Deck Mike Witt #702A with black box on back is one of the scarcest variations produced in the modern era,* and until more info shows up to say otherwise, it’s one of the scarcest error cards of all.
*UPDATE: as of May, 2016, this statement is no longer true. An 800 count box of the Witt #702 was discovered at a flea market in California. See other Witt blog entry for further details!
Very little is known about this card. As of 20 years after it’s release, no concrete source of it’s distribution exists. Did it come from packs? Many say yes, but with vague memories or telephone-game-like recollections of the origin of their example. Was it found in 800-card factory sets? A popular claim for many years but a claim that may have sprung about by unscrupulous dealers looking to move a glut of backstocked sets. Did they slip into the Hi # factory sets? I know that I have heard from a number of sources over the years that this was the only place that they were found, but again, there have been no recent, reliable breaks that have uncovered a copy.
For those unfamiliar with the card, here is what we know, provided by the big books, i.e. Beckett and Sports Collector’s Digest annual price guides:
-Was pulled from production early and replaced by the “Rookie Threats” card depicting the three 1990 rookie players on the Montreal Expos.
-A black, rectangular box was placed over the back of the card.
-A checklist card #800 has reportedly been discovered with a similar black box on one of it’s sides (Beckett).
I find this card very intriguing because I do not understand why it was pulled from production. While the Montreal Expos had three young talents at the time, none of them were enjoying a ‘stop-the-presses’ type season – also consider that each had already been represented in the set. Several other stars and rookies would’ve made a more logical replacement: Frank Thomas, Travis Fryman, Scott Erickson, Dale Murphy (in a Phillies uniform) are all absent from the set. Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Stewart’s dual July 29th no-hitters, a first-ever for major league baseball, would’ve made for a more important “special” card than the Expos guys.
What about that checklist #800?
Beckett notes that checklist cards have appeared with the black box on them. Has anyone ever seen a copy? I know I have not but I’ve also didn’t work for a major hobby publication at the time of the sets release. Since 1998, I have kept my eyes open on internet trading and auction sites and have yet to see a single copy. Visiting card shows since the 1991 National in Anaheim has not turned one up either.
Is the black box covering something up?
After card seasons that saw the Bill Ripken, Jim Nettles and Fred Marion variations, it’s hard not to wonder what the box may be covering up. Granted, I have been given no reason to believe there is, but since no one has come forward with any inside information on the card, specifically as to why it was pulled, since there is no apparent reason, at this point, it’s not impossible that something is being covered up.
If the black box exists as a way for production workers to instantly recognize the card and remove it before pack-out, then wouldn’t that mean at least one Witt #702 exists without it?
It would seem illogical for Upper Deck to produce sheets with black boxes already on them. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that some sheets must have been printed without the black boxes prior to their application? If so, who has them? Anyone who’s read Card Sharks by Pete Williams knows that UD’s CEOs were very aware of the collectabilty of their error cards – often printing up many for themselves once the secondary market established itself for certain issues (i.e. Ben McDonald and Dale Murphy errors). Does Richard McWilliam have a brick of the Witt cards sitting in a vault somewhere? It seems as though some of these guys would’ve started listing them by now but we really only get about one or two every four or five years on ebay. Still, I find it hard to believe that UD would destroy the withdrawn cards and unfortunately, it may take until they sell of their assets for the Witt cards to finally start showing up in the market.
If anyone has any information regarding the card, I’d love to hear it. This is one of the few fascinating cards from a time that most people look back on rather poorly. Surely there has to be someone out there who has the answers.