503 cards in the set – 282 in series 1 and 221 in series 2. Card #7 was retired at this point in honor of Mickey Mantle (this was the 2nd year Topps did this). This was a move up from 495 the year before and a low of 440 from 1996, but still the 3rd lowest thus far in the sets from my project.
- Subsets: Season Highlights (#265-269, 474-478), Interleague Play (#270-274, 479-483), World Series (#277-283), Draft Picks (#245-249, 489-495), Prospects (#250-264, 484-488), Expansion (#496-501), and a Roberto Clemente Tribute (#21). The Prospects cards are have 3 players, while Draft Picks cards again have 2. Topps continued its string of tribute cards, this time with Clemente honored as it was the 25th anniversary of his tragic death.
- Set Design: The card fronts feature a glossy player photo with a gold border – the second straight year Topps went away from a white border. The player’s name is at the bottom in gold foil above his team name, over a design with the color and logo of his team. The Topps logo is in a lower corner of the front. The back of the card is horizontally positioned, with the player name, biographical information and card number across the top from left to right. Position and team are just below the player name, along with seasonal and career statistics just below that. Another player photo is below that along the right hand side. A design with the team color and small team logos serves as the backdrop.
- Packs: Topps stayed the same with 11 cards per retail and hobby packs. Topps no longer listed MSRP on the packs or the boxes themselves, but I believe it was the same $1.29 from the previous three years. The packs feature a shot of Juan Gonzalez, the Topps logo, the series and a list of what’s randomly inserted. Series 2 also has a picture of Clemente on there. There’s an H-logo on the hobby packs, and you can also tell from the list of inserts. Most of the jumbo packs were hobby exclusive and contained 40 cards at 12 per box. I’ve also seen a blaster box – which is the earliest I’ve seen – that had 22 packs (20 packs plus 2 bonus packs) at 8 cards each.
- Rookies: This is again an unimpressive crop of rookies due to the Bowman effect. Troy Glaus is the most notable rookie card. However, there is a HUGE first Topps card, as Alex Rodriguez got included; he must have been a late addition as he was slotted as card #504 behind the 2 checklists, and his card made it an odd 220-card series 2. Roy Halladay, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Aramis Ramirez and Kerry Wood also have their first Topps cards.
- Hall of Fame: There are 15 Hall of Famers in this set. This is a decrease of 3 from the year before, and the fewest of any Topps set up to this time. Clemente replaced Jackie Robinson as a tribute card. Eddie Murray and Ryne Sandberg had their last cards, while Rickey Henderson was inexplicably left out of the set – despite the fact he is in one of the insert sets. Because of this, Rickey doesn’t have a base Topps card depicting his brief tenure with the Angels. There is one NFL Hall of Famer, as Deion Sanders was back with the Reds after a year off from baseball.
- Variations: There actually aren’t any errors or variations that I know of in this set.
Both boxes feature pictures of spokesman Juan Gonzalez and Clemente on the front. This was a good touch by Topps – as Gonzalez was considered by many to be the best player from Puerto Rica since Clemente. In series 1, Gonzalez is waiting on a pitch to the right, while a smaller version of Clemente is in the middle of a red strip to the left. Below Clemente is some write-up of what can be found in the box, and to the right of Gonzalez is writing telling you its 1998 Major League Baseball Series 1. The Topps logo looms large at the top.
For the series two box, Gonzalez is on the left following through a swing, while a posed shot of Clemente is shown to the right. The series and insert write-ups cover Gonzalez in this instance.
Series 1 hobby boxes also highlight the Clemente Memorabilia Madness – hobby boxes have the typical “H” designation on them.
The odds below are for hobby packs unless noted.
Topps issued a pre-production set of 6 of the regular cards.
For the third straight year Topps didn’t issue a Traded set.
After two years without one, Topps issued a parallel set into packs. This parallel set was called “Minted in Cooperstown”. The cards have a bronze Hall of Fame stamp on them – and all the cards were in fact printed in Cooperstown using a portable press.
- Minted in Cooperstown – 503 cards (1:8)
Topps also issued factory sets that were sold at the team stores of the expansion Diamondbacks and Devil Rays – just as they did in 1993. These factory-only parallels had stamps of each team; Topps didn’t release production amounts for these sets.
- Inaugural Devil Rays issue – 503 cards (factory)
- Inaugural Diamondbacks – 503 cards (factory)
Roberto Clemente followed up Mantle and Mays as the tribute player this year, with reprints and Finest versions of all 19 of his Topps base cards from 1955 to 1973. There was also a 5-card Clemente tribute set.
There were Finest-themed insert cards again; Mystery Finest cards were back after a year away. In series 1, you would peel to find out which of 4 players from the card back were featured on the front. In series 2, you knew the player, but you’d need to peel to see which of 4 options you’d pulled – bordered/non-bordered and regular/refractor.
There are two other insert sets from the list below worth pointing out. Hall Bound was the first die-cut insert set Topps had ever issued. 6 of the 15 players from this set have in fact been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Additionally, the Flashback inserts were pretty cool photos of the players from earlier in their career – sometimes in different uniforms.
Topps continued to differentiate between hobby and retail with one hobby and one retail-only insert for each series.
- Clemente Reprints – 19 cards (1:18)
- Clemente Finest Reprints – 19 cards (1:36)
- Clemente Tribute – 5 cards (1:12 series 1)
- Mystery Finest Interleague – 20 cards (1:36 series 1)
- Mystery Finest Bordered – 20 cards (1:36 series 2)
- Etch-A-Sketch – 9 cards (1:36 series 1)
- Flashback – 10 cards (1:72 series 1)
- Hall Bound – 15 cards (1:36 series 1 hobby)
- Baby Boomers – 15 cards (1:36 series 1 retail)
- Rookie Class – 10 cards (1:12 series 2)
- Clout Nine – 9 cards (1:72 series 2)
- Focal Points – 15 cards (1:36 series 2 hobby)
- Milestones – 10 cards (1:36 series 2 retail)
They also had “insert parallels” again – all relating to the Finest inserts.
- Clemente Finest Refractors – 19 cards (1:288)
- Mystery Finest Interleague Refractors – 20 cards (1:144 series 1)
- Mystery Finest Borderless – 20 cards (1:72 series 2)
- Mystery Finest Bordered Refractors – 20 cards (1:108 series 2)
- Mystery Finest Borderless Refractors – 20 cards (1:288 series 2)
They also had a factory only version of the Clemente cards.
- Clemente Last Day Production – 19 cards (1 per hobby factory set)
Autographs & Memorabilia
Topps didn’t directly insert autographs into packs like they had the year before – that’s not really possible with Clemente having passed away 25 years earlier. Topps did something similar with what they’d done to honor Mantle in 1996 – they had a redemption program. This was called “Memorabilia Madness”. There were 46 different cards available in series 1 packs, with varying number of each prize available – 854 in total. There was a Wild Card insert as well that I think you needed to have one of to send along with one of the other 46 to get the prize.
- Roberto Clemente Memorabilia Madness Redemption – 19 cards (1:2,400)
- Wild Card Redemption
The prizes included 227 of his old Topps cards (3 of his 1955 Rookie Card), 500 uncut sheets of Topps “Minted in Cooperstown” parallels, 10 different autographed Topps cards (1 was his 1970 Topps Super), 1 Game-Used Jersey, 2 autographed Pirates World Series baseballs (1960, 1971), 3 other Clemente Autographed balls, 3 different signed posters/photos, 4 game-used bats, 4 canceled checks, 1 cut autograph with a photo, and 99 Clemente Pirates jerseys issued by Topps specifically for this promotion.
Topps again issued 2 different types of full factory sets in 1997. Like the previous year, these are somewhat limited and can be found for just a little less than 3 figures these days.
First, hobby factory sets were packaged in what looks like a navy background. They included 8 random insert cards and a hermetically sealed “Last Day Production” version of one of the Clemente cards.
The retail factory set was packaged in white background and had just the 8 random insert cards.
There were also factory sets of each series issued separately.
The Clemente redemption cards described above could be sent in to Topps.
Other releases associated with the Topps flagship set
#1 – Just like previous years in the mid-90’s, R&N China issued some “parallel” versions of Topps cards. This time, though, there was an entire run of the 15-card “Hall Bound” insert set. The set was produced by the Danbury Mint – not sure if they are related to R&N china or not. I haven’t seen any 1998 base cards reproduced in porcelain format.
#2 – Topps again issued the “Topps Chrome” product, which reproduces many of the cards from the base set with a Chromium finish.
#3 – Topps issued the first “Opening Day” set in 1998. This 165 card set was retail only, and features the same photos from the base set. The border is silver instead of the gold that the base Topps cards have, and there is an Opening Day logo instead of the Topps logo. 55 cards were the same photos as Topps series 2, so this was the first chance for collectors to see those 55 photos.
There was a big development in the sports card business in 1998 – Pinnacle Brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which basically meant the end of Donruss (18 years), Score (11), Leaf (9 or 14 depending what you count), Pinnacle (7) and Studio (7) brands after runs of many years of each product.
From the guys still standing, the big news I can tell was the introduction of Topps Tek, which basically had 90 cards with 90 separate designs, or 8100 different cards possible in the base set. The parallel madness had taken over.
Upper Deck jumped in on the serial numbered insanity, turning its SPx product into SPx Finite – the first base set composed completely of numbered cards. They also built on the success of the game-used cards from the previous year by inserting the first game-used bat cards into their flagship product. In series 3, they included the first cards with a game-used bat and jerseys swatch on the same card. UD made headlines when it cut up pieces of a Babe Ruth bat to insert into its piece of history set.
For me, the 1998 is the first year I really don’t remember anything about Topps or Upper Deck. I think I was still collecting cards at the start of 1997, but basically stopped collecting everything but Upper Deck SP and Jalen Rose cards over that summer. I still collected both SP and Jalen in 1998, but I’d moved on. Between finishing my high school track career and heading off to college, there were definitely many other extracurriculars. I basically have little memory of Topps from 1997 and on, and no memory of Upper Deck from after 1998.