2013 Card of the Year!!!

30 12 2013

2013 Heritage Real One Musial

Beating out my initial choice for card of the year winner was “The Man” himself – Stan Musial. Originally, I picked Darwin Barney’s base Topps card, and it’s an impressive card without a doubt.  But I’d forgotten about a card that I would love to own, but will probably never shell out the cash for.

This is the Real One autograph from 2013 Topps Heritage.  This card is amazing on many levels.  First, Musial passed away in January of this year, 2 months before Heritage had been released – in between signing this card and when you could first buy packs of Heritage.  So you could find an on-card auto of this legend after he’d passed away.  Kind of eery, but also something that makes it a cool piece of baseball history.

A second thing that I really appreciate relates to the design of the card itself.  Musial retired in 1963, and Topps didn’t make a card of him in 1964.  Most of the Topps Real One autos are reprints – but this is one of those “cards that never were”.  Those two factors put it above the Barney in my mind, even though the card itself is probably out of reach for me and most collectors.

Interesting note:  Ken Griffey’s Gypsy Queen auto was my winner last year.  That’s back to back years where the winning player was born on November 21st in Donora, Pennsylvania!

Here’s some of the other cards I considered.

  • Josh Reddick and Hanley Ramirez have some very cool photos in their base Topps cards.  I’m collecting the rainbow of the Reddick card.
  • Ted Williams got back into the Topps fold this year, and his Allen & Ginter card is pretty neat.
  • Two variation cards are pretty cool – David Ortiz (Boston Strong) in series 2, and Ted Kremer (Reds bat boy) from Update.
  • Topps Archives has a triple autograph card of three guys from the 1986 Mets’ world series winner – Mookie Wilson, Howard Johnson, and Darryl Strawberry.  It’s in a 1987 Topps design, which is appropriate.  I haven’t seen it on eBay, so not sure if all 3 guys actually signed the card yet.

2013 Card of the Year runner-up

29 12 2013

2013 Topps Darwin Barney

I picked this card as my card of the year about a week ago when I first wrote this post.  I figured for the second time in 3 years, I’d be picking a base Topps card depicting a walk-off home run as my annual winner.  In 2011, Jay Bruce beat out the competition, and I’ll freely admit that my bias as a Reds fan went into that choice (Ken Griffey’s Gypsy auto last year was my 2012 winner).  This year, to be honest, there just didn’t seem to be as much competition from other notable new names to the Topps allotment of players.  But then I remembered one card from Heritage that, in my mind at least, beats out this great Darwin Barney card.

The Barney card, which is #299 from Topps series 1, jumped out at me from the day I saw it back in February.  I’m not a Cubs fan, but I do live in Chicago, and there’s something about Wrigley Field and the lovable losers.  This card captures a cool moment in a baseball game in a way that is hard to replicate.  You can not only see Barney’s reaction mid-stride in clear-cut, HD-type fashion, but you can also see the reaction of the fans.  Cards like Bruce’s walk-off and the one Topps had last year of Tim Hudson don’t capture the background quite as well.  Plus, it’s so clearly at Wrigley Field from the bricks in the stands.  I know, if it’s a walk-off homer by a Cub – naturally it’s at Wrigley.  But the point is – you can tell it on the card, you can almost feel the emotion.  This card makes me wish I was at that game.

The game, by the way was on May 30, 2012, which was a day game between the lowly Cubs and Padres.  The Padres had led most of the day, but the Cubs tied it in the 8th and Barney hit a two-run homer to win it with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th off of Dale Thayer.

1990s All-Decade Team

27 12 2013

My All-Decade team:

C – Mike Piazza, LAD-FLA-NYM (.328/240/768)

1B – Jeff Bagwell, HOU (.304/263/961)

1993 Topps Black Gold Barry Bonds2B – Craig Biggio HOU (.297/136/641, 362 2B, 1,042 R, 319 SB)

3B – Ripken, BAL (.278/198/827, MVP)

SS – Barry Larkin, CIN (.303/137/639, MVP)

OF – Barry Bonds, PIT-SFG (.302/361/1076, .434 OBP, 343 SB, 1,091 R, 1,146 BB, 3 MVPs)

OF – Ken Griffey Jr. SEA (.302/382/1,091, 1,002 R, MVP)

OF – Larry Walker, MON-COL (.313/262/851, MVP)

DH – Frank Thomas, CHW (.320/301/1,040, .440 OBP, 2 MVPs)


SP – Greg Maddux, CHC-ATL (176-88/2.54/1,764, 4 CY)

SP – Roger Clemens, BOS-TOR-NYY (152-89/3.02/2,101, 3 CY)

SP – Randy Johnson, SEA-HOU-ARI (150-75/3.14/2,538, 2 CY)

RP – John Wetteland, LAD-MON-NYY-TEX (37-32/2.66/655, 295 SV)

I’d say that Mark McGwire is easily my biggest snub here.  The guy led the majors in slugging and homers in the decade and broke the most famous record in the game.  But I don’t know how I’d put him ahead of either Jeff Bagwell or Frank Thomas.  Aside from that, I got creative with one position but didn’t do so in another place.  This was with Cal Ripken and Craig Biggio.  I could have argued for Biggio being a catcher – he played catcher for the first two years of the decade.  But the next 8 years he was at second base.  That was too much, and the positions are too different to put him at catcher just for the lineup spot.  Biggio was easily one of the best players of the decade, so I needed him in the lineup.  That meant Roberto Alomar got bumped – and Mike Piazza got included.  Piazza was only around for 7 years of the decade, but he was so good that I was happy to include him.

COMC Sept 2013 Griffey 95 Topps Spectra promoOn the other hand, I did put Ripken at third.  Ripken played 3rd base in ’97, ’98 and ’99.  Like Biggio at second, Larkin was clearly the best shortstop out of the guys who played the whole decade (I don’t think A-Rod, Jeter or Nomar were around quite long enough to bump him).  So it basically came down to putting Ripken, Matt Williams or Robin Ventura.  I think Ripken was the better player out of those 3, and since I felt like 3rd base was fair – he gets the nod.  The 1995 season when he broke Gehrig’s record was a seminal moment in baseball history, so he seems like a good fit here.

There were a lot of great pitchers in this decade – Tom Glavine and David Cone were excellent and pitched the whole decade, and Pedro Martinez was dominant in the second half of the decade.  But I don’t think you could argue the top 3.

I’d give Maddux a slight (but definitive) edge over Clemens for pitcher of the decade, and Bonds similarly nudges out Griffey for player of the decade.

1990s decade statistics

26 12 2013

All-Star Games: AL won 7 times, NL won 3 times     (no player won multiple AS-game MVPs in the 1990’s, but the Alomar brothers won back to back MVPs in ’97 and ’98)

World Series: The Yankees won 3 World Championships in the 90’s, while the Blue Jays won 2.  The Braves went to 5 World Series (winning just 1), while the Indians went to 2 World Series.

1990: Cincinnati Reds over Oakland A’s, 4-0

1991: Minnesota Twins over Atlanta Braves, 4-2

1993 World Series Game Six - Philadelphia Phillies v Toronto Blue Jays1992: Toronto Blue Jays over Braves, 4-3

1993: Blue Jays over Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1

1994: Cancelled

1995: Braves over Cleveland Indians, 4-2

1996: New York Yankees over Braves, 4-2

1997: Florida Marlins over Indians, 4-3

1998: Yankees over San Diego Padres, 4-0

1999: Yankees over Braves, 4-0


Multiple MVP: AL – Frank Thomas, 1B, White Sox (1993-1994)

Juan Gonzalez, OF, Rangers (1996, 1998)

NL – Barry Bonds, OF, Pirates/Giants (1990, 1992-1993)

1993 Topps best subset Clemens Maddux AS

Multiple Cy Young: AL – Roger Clemens, SP, Red Sox/Blue Jays (1991, 1997-1998)

NL – Greg Maddux, SP, Braves (1992-1995)

Tom Glavine, SP, Braves (1991, 1998)

Both – Randy Johnson, SP, Mariners/Diamondbacks (1995, 1999)

Pedro Martinez, SP, Expos/Red Sox (1997, 1999)

Other Multiple Award Winners: AL – Dennis Eckersley, RP, A’s (CY, MVP – 1991)

Jeff Bagwell, 1B, Astros (ROY – 1991, MVP – 1994)


MLB Amateur Draft – notable selections:

Chipper Jones was the first pick of the decade.

1995 Bowman Chris WeinkeGuys who were better known for another sport – Chris Weinke (’90), Steve McNair (’91), John Lynch (’92), Hines Ward (’94), Ricky Williams & Tom Brady (’95), Antwaan Randle-El (’97)

Derek Jeter (’92) reached 3,000 hits.  Alex Rodriguez (’93) may or may not join him depending how things go with arbitration.

Manny Ramirez (’91), Alex Rodriguez (’93) both hit 500 career home runs.  Adam Dunn (’98) and Albert Pujols (’99) will likely join them soon.

Other notable draftees include Todd Helton, Roy Halladay & Carlos Beltran (’95), Michael Young (’97), C.C. Sabathia (’98).


Hall of Fame:


(’90) J. Morgan, J. Palmer, (’91) R. Carew, G. Perry, F. Jenkins, T. Lazzeri, B. Veeck (’92) T. Seaver, R. Fingers, H. Newhouser, B. McGowan (’93) R. Jackson, (’94) S. Carlton, L. Durocher, P. Rizzuto (’95) M. Schmidt, R. Ashburn, L. Day, W. Hulbert, V. Willis, (’96) E. Weaver, J. Bunning, B. Foster, N. Hanlon (’97) P. Niekro, N. Fox, T. LaSorda, W. Wells (’98) C. Sutton, L. Doby, G. Davis, J. Rogan, L. MacPhail (’89) N. Ryan, G. Brett, R. Yount, O. Cepeda, J. Williams, F. Selee, N. Chylak


Batting Leaders – best season, overall decade leader, most times leading league:

Avg. (season) Tony Gwynn 1994 SDP .394, (decade) Gwynn SDP .344

Gwynn won 4 NL batting titles, Edgar Martinez won 2 AL batting titles

HR (season) Mark McGwire 1998 STL 70 – MLB record, (decade) McGwire OAK-STL 405

1999 Topps series 1 box McGwire HR Record

Ken Griffey Jr. led the AL 4x, McGwire led the NL 2x (and the majors 4x)

RBI (season) Manny Ramirez 1999 CLE 165, (decade) Albert Belle CLE-CHW-BAL 1099

Andres Galarraga led the NL 3x, Belle & Cecil Fielder each led the AL 3x

R (season) Craig Biggio 1997 HOU 146, (decade) Barry Bonds PIT-SFG 1,091

Biggio & Jeff Bagwell each led the NL 2x, no player led the AL multiple times

SB (season) Marquis Grissom MON 78, (decade) Otis Nizon MON-ATL-BOS-TEX-TOR-LAD-MIN 478

Kenny Lofton led the AL 5x, Tony Womack led the NL 3x

H (season) Lance Johnson 1996 NYM 227, (decade) Mark Grace CHC 1,754

Paul Molitor led the AL 3x, Gwynn led the NL 3x

Pitching Leaders:

W (season) Bob Welch 1990 OAK 27, (decade) Greg Maddux CHC-ATL 176

Tom Glavine led the NL 4x, Roger Clemens led the AL 2x

K (season) Randy Johnson 1999 ARI 364, (decade) Johnson SEA-HOU-ARI 2,538

Clemens and Johnson both led the AL 4x (Johnson also led the NL once and the majors in 1998 when he was traded)

Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and David Cone each led the NL 2x (Cone led the majors in 1992 when he was traded)

ERA (season) Greg Maddux ATL 1.56, (decade) Maddux CHC-ATL 2.54

Clemens won 5 AL ERA titles, Maddux won 5 NL ERA titles

SV (season) Bobby Thigpen 1990 CHW 57 – MLB Record, (decade) John Franco NYM 268

Randy Myers, Lee Smith and Franco each led the NL 2x (Myers and Smith also led the AL once), no player led the AL multiple times

Completed master set – one last look at 1991 Topps (post #1,001)

23 12 2013

Following up my post from yesterday – thanks for the kind words people have had.  I figured I’d follow that up, not with a summary of 1990’s statistics (which is where I’m at in my “lifetime Topps” cycle) – but with a Master Set post.  I finished up 1991 somewhat recently.  I’ve already done this post for the 1991 base set, but I recently finished the “Master Set” when I got the last All-Star Glossy card (Al Lopez, who was the AL team captain in 1990).

I’ve said it before – THIS SET IS AWESOME!  This is quite possibly my favorite Topps set of this project.  1980, 1983 and 1987 are up there for completely different reasons, but this set has a solid design, and more importantly – great photography.  It’s amazing how much better a set can get in one year, and the card stock didn’t improve or anything.  But going through this set one card at a time, I realized how many great cards there are.

Info about my set:

How I put the set together:

  • 426 cards from the wax box
  • 292 cards from a box of rack packs
  • 29 cards I already had from back in the day
  • 45 cards from trades

Card that completed my set: #710 – Kent Hrbek (one of 2 cards received in a trade from Scott Crawford on Cards that completed the set – one of 3 sets Scott got the last card to me for!)

Read the rest of this entry »

Post #1,000

21 12 2013

1000th post

I was looking at my scheduled posts today and realized that I was coming up on a pretty big milestone.  So I’d like to apologize to those of you who have figured out my posting cycle as I go through the Topps project.  I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait a few more days for the 1990’s statistical summary :).

This is my 1,000th post on this blog.  I started this blog nearly 4 years ago – March 2010.  A lot of things have changed since then.  I’ve lived in three cities over that time frame – moving from Columbus to New Jersey to Chicago.  Since we’ve lived in two houses in Chicago, I guess I’ve moved 3 times over that span.  My wife gave birth to my first son since then – and he’s getting a pack of baseball cards with his custom picture on 2012 Topps design as his present this year!  Over that time, I went at work from being a financial statement auditor (Columbus) to working at my company’s HQ (NJ) to back to being an auditor in Chicago.  Funny thing, I was miserable at work on the bookends, but we’re from the Midwest, so my wife and I didn’t have that many friends or family in New Jersey.  We had each other, though, and had some fun while we were there.

Over that time, the blog world that inspired me to do this has changed quite a bit, too.  Of the two blogs that really got me into this, 1 is basically isn’t blogged any more (stale gum – Chris is a twitter guy these days) and the other is going strong and continues to be the best blog out there.  I read a lot less blogs now, but I’ll continue to read Greg’s posts until he stops – even if I ever stopped collecting myself.  A number of other blogs have come and gone, too many to count or name out loud, but Dinged Corners, Cardboard Problem, Daily Dimwit, and Crinkly Wrappers are all blogs I miss reading.  Some of my favorites from back then – Nachos Grande, Writer’s Journey, Cardboard Junkie, Play at the Plate – are still going strong.  You can still find a bunch of blogs on the sports card blogroll.  That was cool in 2010 when I started, and it’s cool now!

The point is, a lot has happened in my life since then, but this blog has always been a fun outlet for me.  I started the blog when Upper Deck effectively stopped producing baseball cards, and I thought I’d chronicle an attempt to collect the Topps base set from the year I was born until the most recent set – 2009 – which was a round 30 years.  4 years later, I’m basically two-thirds of the way there.

I did have more time for the blog back when I lived in NJ.  Now with a baby, a really tough job (that I’m hoping to leave in April) and being closer to friends and family, the posts have been and will continue to come a little slower.  That’s OK, though.  I’m still planning to finish my project – it just might be another 2-3 years.  Maybe I’ll have post #2,000 be the wrap up of the project!

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, used to read this blog, has traded with me or will trade with me in the future.  I would have never thought I’d post 1,000 times – but I’m glad I have, and with that said, here’s a look back at this blog’s beginnings, the first post – for me (and anyone else) to re-read!


Hello, this is my baseball card blog. For the purpose of this blog / project, please see the next post. If you would like to read some of the background, see below.

In the past 6 months, I’ve started collecting baseball cards again after being an on-and-off collector (mostly off) since 1995. I’m doing so in Columbus, Ohio, but I originally hail from Cincinnati – so I’m a big reds fan, and a bigger Ken Griffey Jr fan. The years I collected cards as a kid were primarily two periods. From 1986-88, I pretty much bought a bunch of Topps cards (the wood-grain 1987 set was my likely my most frequent purchase). I also remember buying the ’88 Score set when it came out, and my brother’s friend swiped my Bo Jackson dual card right out of the factory box.


At the time, Eric Davis was my favorite player. Chris Sabo was right up there as the ROY and our representative to the all-star game at Riverfront – which I attended with my dad. The Reds seemed to get 2nd place every year with Pete Rose as their manager. Full disclaimer – I loved Charlie Hustle growing up. Hometown hero, all-time hits king, non-stop hustle, blue-collar living legend. Today, I hate the guy. That may be for a later post. I also loved Rickey Henderson, so I was strangely torn during the 1990 World Series – which I also attended with my dad for game 2.

Anyways, when I picked collecting back up from 1993-96, Upper Deck had changed the hobby, and I loved their cards in comparison to all the others. 1993 was a big year hobby-wise: three of the five big baseball manufacturers at the time came out with super-premium sets that had face values around $4-5 a pack. I remember Topps Finest seeming completely untouchable, as its price per pack was going for more like 20 bucks than the suggested retail. Fleer came out with the super-thick Flair set (I did buy a number of packs of this). And Upper Deck came out with what is probably my favorite set of all-time, SP.

This was the scene when I came back to the hobby; my mother and brother and I went around to card shows. My brother was a fan of Barry Bonds, and he also collected Leaf. My mom would buy up Roberto Alomar cards just to keep busy while we ran around the shows. I decided at the time that my goal was to buy every single Upper Deck baseball card in existence. Consider the time-frame: in 1992, this would have been an attainable goal. In 1993, the new sets coming out made it more difficult for a 13-year old on an allowance and lawn-mowing money. I remember when Collector’s Choice came out in 1994, the full-set Gold Signatures being introduced at 1 per box pretty much smashed any thought I had. So what I settled on is what I’ve been doing since I sort-of left the hobby in 1995. My overall collecting goal has been to collect each year’s SP Authentic set. This became more and more difficult when they started including numbered cards in 1999, so I’m collecting it as I can. I’ve also always tried to put together the base upper deck set, though I really didn’t do this from ’96-’08.

So that’s my background as a collector. I’m still trying to fill those goals, but will do so a little bit more slowly now, as a new idea has popped into my head…

1990’s Cincinnati Reds decade

20 12 2013

The Reds started the decade free of the controversy that Pete Rose’s involvement in gambling that had placed over the team in 1989.  And there was also some other good off-field news.  Joe Morgan was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 1st year on the ballot.  They went wire-to-wire to win the division championship in 1990, and they shocked the heavily favored A’s to win the World Championship that year.  The Nasty Boys were the story of that team – the 3-headed monster kept a balanced team in contention in almost any game.

nasty boys

They didn’t do well defending their title, winning just 74 games in 1991 after injuries marred their season.  They won 90 games the next year, but couldn’t wrestle the division title back from the Braves.  In 1994 they were in the heat of a division battle and looked poised to make the postseason when the strike derailed their chances.  The team made headlines when they traded for two-sport star Deion Sanders.

In 1995 baseball had realignment, they became the first champions of the NL Central and won the first NLDS in history.  Barry Larkin had a banner year, winning the National League MVP award, Reggie Sanders had a breakout campaign and Pete Schourek was the Cy Young runner-up.  They couldn’t get past the eventual champion Braves, though, in the Championship Series.

Larkin Gant

In 1996 Larkin was arguably even better, as he posted the first 30-30 season by a shortstop in MLB history.  But the team didn’t fare as well.  Unfortunately, 1995 was the last postseason berth for the team until 2010.  They started off slow and finished .500.  Jeff Brantley was a bright spot, though, winning the Rolaids Relief Award as the league’s best reliever.

Injuries plagued their 1997 season, and the Reds stumbled to 76 wins.  Jeff Shaw kept the Rolaids Relief Award with the team, though – he was the bright spot with 42 saves.  In 1998 the team wasn’t much better as they were in a bit of a rebuilding mode.

They did have something historic in the game on September 27th of the season.  The lineup that day featured Barry’s brother Stephen Larkin playing the only game of his Major League career, starting at first base and batting third behind his brother.  Bret Boone hit cleanup, playing 2nd base, with Aaron starting at third and batting sixth.  It’s the only time in Major League history that an all-brother infield was featured.

The 1999 season seemed to hold promise for the franchise.  Marge Schott, who had been embroiled in controversy for most of the decade, finally sold her interest in the team to Cincy businessman Carl Linder.  They also ended their “no facial hair” clubhouse rule.  And the team was stellar, winning 96 games behind Larkin, Greg Vaughn, Sean Casey and an excellent bullpen.  That left them tied with the Mets for the wild card, but they wilted in the 1-game playoff against Al Leiter and just missed the playoffs.  Still, a young team held promise for the future.

Decade MVP – Barry Larkin (.303/137/649, 266 SB, 834 R, 1,447 H, 8 AS, 7 SS, 3 GG, 1995 MVP)

Pitcher of the Decade – Jose Rijo (72-43/2.74/955 K, AS, WS MVP)

All told, in the decade, the Reds won a World Series (Jose Rijo – WS MVP), had one MVP (Larkin ’95), had 24 All-stars, 1 All-Star starting pitcher (Jack Armstrong – ’90), a Rookie of the Year (Scott Williamson – ’99), 2 Rolaids Relievers of the Year (Brantley, Shaw),

I gave out an “award” in each write-up I did for MVP and best pitcher, here’s the breakdown of the award winners:

MVP: Barry Larkin 4x, Chris Sabo, Jose Rijo, Bip Roberts, Kevin Mitchell, Jeff Shaw, Sean Casey

Best pitcher: Rijo 5x, Pete Schourek, Jeff Brantley, Shaw, Pete Harnisch, Scott Williamson

Here’s my “all-decade team”:

C – Eddie Taubensee (closely over Joe Oliver)

1B – Hal Morris

2B – Bret Boone

3B – Chris Sabo

SS – Barry Larkin

OF – Reggie Sanders

OF – Eric Davis

OF – Paul O’Neill (outfield was a revolving door)

SP – Jose Rijo

SP – John Smiley

SP – Tom Browning

SP – Pete Harnisch

RP – Rob Dibble

1990’s “baseball decade in review”

18 12 2013

The decade of the 1990s was a unique one it the history of baseball.  Unfortunately, many of the biggest stories of the decade were of the negative variety.  This decade will forever be known for 1994, when baseball’s couldn’t overcome it’s labor issues, and the World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904 (when the Series was in its second year).  John McGraw and Donald Fehr – the two men who have led the cancellation of the World Series.

The decade started with the Reds, fresh off the lifetime ban of their manager, sweeping the heavily favored Oakland A’s.  The A’s had been viewed as a potential dynasty at the end of the 1980’s, but now the Bash Brothers are remembered more for their negative impact on the game.  Mark McGwire would move from Oakland to St. Louis, where he gained fame, along with Sammy Sosa, for the great chase of Roger Maris in 1998.  But today we remember him and fellow Oakland teammate Jose Canseco for being the start of the steroids era.

The 1990’s saw baseball’s first 70-home run player, the first 50-save man, and saw the Yankees rise back to prominence.  And, of course, it saw Cal Ripken break one of the most hallowed records in the game when he passed the Iron Horse in 1995.  At the same time – Asian baseball took its first foothold in MLB, as the Dodgers signed Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo from Japan and Korea, respectively.

Amidst all of this, MLB expanded twice in the 1990’s.  Arizona, Colorado and Florida all got their first MLB franchises.  In 1993, the Marlins and Rockies joined the league, and later in the decade the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays entered the fray.  The Braves and the Yankees were the two best teams of the decade, and they faced off twice on the biggest stage.  Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. were notable 2nd generation stars who were the decade’s 2 best hitters, while Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux were the game’s best pitchers.  Nolan Ryan ended his career with the Rangers after an incredible 27 seasons that spanned 4 decades.

Here’s a re-cap of what I consider to be the biggest on-field stories of each year in the decade, with some notation to some of the other things in the news.

Reds 90 WS newspaper1990 – Reds go wire to wire

The Reds were coming off the permanent suspension of hometown legend Pete Rose, but they bounced back in 1990 to become a surprise contender.  After starting off hot, they never trailed to take the NL West, and took the NLCS to beat the favored Pittsburgh Pirates.  They went on to sweep the heavily favored Oakland A’s to take the World Series crown.

1991 – Rickey and Ryan on the same day

May 1, 1991 was quite a day in Major League baseball.  Early in the day, Rickey Henderson passed Lou Brock for the all-time stolen base record.  But that night his accomplishment was one-upped when the ageless wonder, Nolan Ryan, threw his 7th career no-hitter.

1991 also featured one of the best World Series in history – a home run by the Twins’ Kirby Puckett in game 6 sent the series to game 7, and Jack Morris and the Braves’ John Smoltz dueled to an incredible 1-0 Minnesota victory.

1992 – Camden Yards ushers in the era of retro parks

1992 was one of the first years that free agents really cashed in, and the Blue Jays won a memorable World Series over the Braves.  But after years of “cookie cutter” style ballparks built to house both football and baseball franchises.  On April 6th, Oriole Park at Camden Yards ushered in the Retro Park era.  Built near the Baltimore Inner Harbor, the park took nearly 3 years to build but set a trend that has continued to almost every park built since then.

1993 – Baseball expands for the first time in 15 years

Baseball added 2 new teams in 1993, the first expansion since the last 70’s.  The Florida Marlins played their first game in Joe Robbie Stadium on April 5th.  The played their first home game at Mile High Stadium a few days later (to a record crowd of 80,227).  Both teams were as bad as you’d expect – they each finished with less than 70 wins.

A close second to this story was Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in game 6 of the World Series – which was the second home run in history to crown MLB’s champion.

1994 – MLB cancels the World Series

Field of GreedOne of the more intriguing seasons in recent memory was put on pause on August 12th when the MLBPA refused a salary cap proposal from the owners and voted to strike.  A month later, that pause button turned to “stop” when the owners voted to cancel the season, the playoffs and the World Series.  It was the first time the World Series hadn’t been played since 1904 when John McGraw and the Giants refused to play the champions of the fledgling American League.  The Expos franchise may have been the biggest loser – they had the best record in baseball at the time of the strike, and they never seemed to recover.

1995 – The Iron Man passes the Iron Horse


Coming off the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series, the owner’s voted to allow replacement players in January, 1995.  One team refused to play with the so-called “scabs” – the Baltimore Orioles.  When the strike finally ended, baseball needed some help getting back into fan’s graces, and nobody did that quite like the Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr.  After 14 years, a couple of MVP awards and a World Series title without missing a game (and hardly any innings), Ripken passed Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,131 consecutive games played on September 6th.  It was probably the biggest baseball moment in my lifetime – the game was attended by the President and the Vice President.  During a 22-minute pause when the game became official, Ripken ran a lap around Camden Yards. 

Ripken 2131

He responded in typical fashion, hitting a home run in the 4th inning.  In a time when fans were disillusioned with millionaire ballpayers, they could relate to a guy who punched his time sheet every single day.

Nomo-mania and the Asian infusion into MLB was a top-5 story of this decade – but obviously it can’t pass Ripken up in 1995.  Chan Ho Park and Nomo became household names in 1994/1995.  Nomo became the first Japanese League player to play in MLB since the 1960’s.  Park, the first Korean-born player in MLB history, actually beat him to the Majors, but didn’t become a full-time call-up until 1996. Nomo, meanwhile, started the All-Star game in 1996 and was second in the Cy Young voting that year – nearly matching the double that Fernando-mania had posted 15 years earlier.

1996 – Yankee return to prominence

96 Yankees champs

The New York Yankees had the best record in the American League in 1994 when the strike ended the season.  They made the playoffs after a 14-year drought in 1995 but lost in the first round to the Mariners.  Finally, baseball’s most prominent franchise broke through in 1996, ending their longest championship drought since Babe Ruth played in Boston. They got by the defending champion Braves in the World Series, coming back from a 2-0 deficit.

1997 – Interleague Play

Baseball made a historic change in 1997 – one that many purists rue to this day.  The idea of interleague play had roots much further back than people realize, and it was considered as far back as 1933 and looked at closely in 1956.  But it wasn’t until 1997 that teams from the two leagues first played each other in regular season games.  The first interleague game was played on June 12th, featuring a Giants victory over the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington.

1998 – Sosa and McGwire chase Maris


The overwhelming story of the 1998 season was the home run chase.  After Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey, Jr. got close to Roger Maris in the ’97 season, both had 11 homers at the end of April, and McGwire had a whopping 27 through May.  Sammy Sosa joined the party in June – he broke the all-time record with 20 home runs in a month.  At the All-Star break, McGwire had 37, Griffey 35 and Sosa was at 33.

Griffey fell off in August, but Sosa and McGwire kept the pressure on.  Both had 55 homers at the end of August; an average month would put both ahead of the Maris record of 61.  McGwire had that average month in the first week.  Hosting Sosa’s Cubs, Big Mac tied Maris on the 7th and then broke the record with his shortest homer of the year – a line drive that barely cleared the left field wall.  McGwire ended with 70 to Sosa’s 66 – and we all know today what the real impetus was for this surge…

1999 – Yankees beat the Braves to stake claim as team of the decade

The 1999 season didn’t have quite the stories of the previous years, but it did feature a World Series with the best two teams of the decade.  The Braves had won every division title of the decade except 1990, and the Yankees had won 2 World Championships.  It wasn’t all that close, though, as the Yankees swept the Braves in 4 games.


Strikeouts – Roger Clemens recorded his 3,000th strikeout in 1998.

Saves – Jeff Reardon passed Rollie Fingers as the all-time saves leader in 1992, and he was passed by Lee Smith shortly thereafter.  Smith became the first pitcher with 400 saves at the end of 1993.  John Franco joined him in 1999.

Wins – Nolan Ryan won his 300th game in 1990.

Home runs – Mark McGwire and Eddie Murray joined the 500 home run club.

Hits – Paul Molitor passed the 3,000 hit barrier in 1996, a year in which he led the league in hits.  He’s the only player to do this, though Pete Rose and Derek Jeter have led the league in hits in a season after they notched #3,000.  In addition to Molitor, George Brett, Robin Yount, Dave Winfield (all ’93), Eddie Murray (’95), Wade Boggs, and Tony Gwynn (both ’99) all reached the 3,000 hit mark in the 1990’s.

Stolen Bases – In addition to breaking Lou Brock’s career record, Rickey Henderson became the first player with over 1,000 stolen bases in 1992.

Runs – Henderson became the 4th player with 2,000 runs in his career toward the end of 1998.

Doubles – Brett and Molitor became the 9th and 10th players with over 600 doubles.

Perfect games – Dennis Martinez (1991), Kenny Rogers (1994) David Wells (1998) and Dave Cone (1999).


  • Ryan retired in 1993 with 5,714 strikeouts, a record that seems out of reach.  He also ended his career with 2,795 walks, a more dubious all-time record.
  • Ryan extended his own record to 7 no-hitters.
  • Henderson passed Lou Brock’s career tally with his 939th steal in 1991.
  • McGwire and Sosa both passed the Maris record of 61 homers in a season, with McGwire establishing the new mark of 70.
  • Reardon passed Rollie Fingers’ save mark of 341, to be passed by Smith, who established the new career total of 478 when he retired in 1997.
  • Bobby Thigpen obliterated Dave Righetti’s single season saves record of 46, when he saved 57 in 1990.


Barry Bonds won 3 MVP’s while Juan Gonzalez and Frank Thomas each won 2.  Thomas and Bonds won awards in back-to-back years.

The Cy Young award was an oligopoly in the 1990’s.  Greg Maddux won 4 consecutive Cy Young awards.  Roger Clemens won 3 Cy Young awards, including his second time winning back-to-back. Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson won 2 awards, with Martinez and Johnson becoming the 2nd and 3rd pitchers to win an award in each league.

Best Player/Pitcher in baseball

Throughout my write-ups, I tracked who I thought held the title as the current “Best Player (and Pitcher) in Baseball”.  This was done by looking at looks at the players’ previous 5-and-3-year stretches as well as their most recent season.  Here was my breakdown (Clemens was a carryover from the late 80’s, Henderson had passed Boggs in 1990):

1997 Topps BondsBest Player

1990 – Rickey Henderson

1991-1998 – Barry Bonds

1999 – Jeff Bagwell

Best Pitcher

1987-1992 – Roger Clemens

1993-1998 – Greg Maddux

1999 – Pedro Martinez

1990’s Topps: year-to-year innovations

17 12 2013

Yesterday I did a long post covering just about every detail I do to “overview” Topps sets in the 1990’s.  Like I did for the 1980’s – I also wanted to take a look at what changed from 1990 through 1999 for Topps.  When I did this for the 1980’s – which I believe was around a year and a half ago, there was a big furor on the blogosphere about someone at Topps calling the 2012 flagship product to be a “game-changer”.  As we all know, 2012 certainly wasn’t a game-changer.  Not saying it had to be.  But the 1990’s was definitely an interesting time period for baseball cards.  After 20-30 years without much change, Topps got competition in the 1980’s and that was a big change.  Then Score and Upper Deck came along in 1988 and 1989, and the landscape of baseball cards and the sports memorabilia industry really changed in the 1990’s

Here’s some of the innovations & changes from year-to-year in the 1990’s on the Topps flagship brand.

1990 Topps Bo Jackson1990 – Overall, I tend to lump 1990 Topps in with the 1980’s in my mind as it’s a very similar product.

The biggest change? Not much, but probably with this set was the design – the colored borders of 1990 Topps were funky to say the least.

1991 – Topps issued “micro” cards for the first of 3 years in 1993 (the ultimate “mini”) – but I don’t think these were very popular.  While I tend to lump the 1990 set in with the 1980’s, I view 1991 to 1993 as transition years.  This was where Topps essentially modified it’s base product to be more competitive with what Upper Deck was releasing (it seems like the other 4 companies were essentially following Upper Deck’s lead during this time).

1991 Topps best pose Clemens

The biggest change?  Two significant things here.  First, Topps celebrated this as its 40th anniversary set (though I still have always felt like they do so a year – 1953 wasn’t the 2nd anniversary of the 1952 set) with a promotion to insert old Topps cards and Instant Win cards to win full sets (both had very  long odds).  The other thing is that the photography got a clear upgrade in 1991.  This has often been attributed to the “Stadium Club” effect – Topps released Stadium Club to compete as a higher end product with Upper Deck, and the better photos from that set trickled into the Topps base brand.

1992 Topps Gold Petralli

1992 – Further “transition”, and some very significant changes to the base product.  For the first time in its 40 years of producing cards, Topps no longer included gum in packs of Topps cards.  Also, the material of the wax packs was no longer “wax” – it was really plastic folded in the same way as wax packs had been created.  The card stock was changed, as well.  As opposed to the traditional cardboard color card stock – the 1992 Topps set was printed on white card stock, similar to what Topps Traded and O-Pee-Chee had been printed on in previous years.  The card back had a color panoramic photo of the player’s home ballpark.

The biggest change?  The inclusion of the parallel set “Topps Gold” in the product.  These cards had gold foil printing on the player / team name.  Topps also included the first autographed card into the 12,000 factory sets of Topps Gold cards that were produced – that of Brien Taylor.  At the same time Topps introduced Topps Gold, Topps Tiffany went away in 1992.

1993 Topps Black Gold Winners1993 – The set size was the largest Topps has ever produced – increasing it to 825 cards to include a number of Rockies and Marlins in series 2.  There was a factory set issued specifically for the expansion teams’ parks with a Florida / Colorado logo added to drum up further expansion excitement.  This was also the first time since the early 1970’s that Topps issued the set in two series, and it was the first year that O-Pee-Chee didn’t issue a Canadian parallel to the Topps base design.

The biggest change?  In 1993, the last of those “transition years” I mentioned, there were 2 significant changes worth calling out specifically.  Topps “upgraded” their card stock further by adding a glossy finish to the card front and added a color player photo on the back.  And, Topps got on the insert bandwagon by including a 44-card Black Gold chase set at a rate of 1 in every 2 boxes.  For how difficult a pull the cards were in 1993, they sure can be found cheap today.


1994 Topps scans Alomar

1994 – Topps went back to 792 cards in the set – for one last glorious year!  Topps also started a trend of “historic hero-worship” in this set by including a card honoring Hank Aaron and the 20th anniversary of his breaking the Babe’s home run record.  The Traded set featured an 8-card insert for the first time, this one using technology from the Topps Finest brand.

The biggest change?  Topps also went full-scale gloss, with UV coating on both the front and back of the cards – and significantly increased the price per card in the process.

1995 – Due primarily to the decreased interest in baseball, Topps included only 204 cards in series 2 to make 660 in the set.  This was also the first year Topps had multiple insert sets – going away from Black Gold to include League Leaders and a Finest Total Bases insert set.  Topps also abandoned the Topps Gold parallel set, replacing it with the partial parallel “Cyberstats” set that used “spectra-light” technology on the background and included statistics on the card back that projected what the player would have had if the 1994 strike hadn’t happened.

95 Traded Griffey pack

The biggest change in 1995? The Traded set came in pack form only for the first time.  The set was 165 cards and featured power booster insert cards.

1996 – Topps decreased the set size to 440 cards – the lowest since 1957, and the lowest of the modern era.  The Topps Traded set was completely abandoned, for the first time since 1980 – that is a pretty big change that would be the biggest deal in this year if not for the Mantle craze in this product.  There wasn’t a parallel set in the 1996 product, either.  The number of inserts went up – from 2 sets to nearly 10.  Though that’s still less than we’re used to today, it was more in-line with what other card companies were doing at the time.  Mystery Finest cards, where you had to peel an opaque cover over the card, was a new idea in this product.

96 Topps s2 Mantle Finest

The biggest change?  Topps also introduced a theme of “all things Mickey Mantle”.  There were reprints of all 19 of Mantle’s Topps and Bowman base cards, in glossy, Finest and Refractor form.  There was a tribute card of the Mick in card #7, and the card was “permanently” retired from the Topps flagship set going forward.  Finally, there was a promotion where collectors could win original Topps Mantle cards.  This idea of honoring a past legend was here to stay in the flagship product for the near future – as Mays, Clemente, Ryan and Aaron would all be honored in similar fashions.

1997 Topps Jeter auto1997 – Set size increased slightly to 495 cards.  Topps also capitalized on the introduction of Interleague play throughout the product, in both inserts and in the base set.

The biggest change?  This was the first year Topps inserted autographed cards into packs of its base set.  In series 1, there were autographed cards of Mays reprints inserted, and series 2 included a chance to pull a Derek Jeter autographed Rookie of the Year card.

1998 Topps A Rod1998 – The design change to include a gold border was notable – as Topps had used a white border since 1991.  The set size went up to 503 cards, and parallels were back, with Minted in Cooperstown cards featuring a stamp commemorating being printed at the Hall of Fame.  The Clemente promotion was similar to what had been done for Mantle in 1996, only you could win memorabilia in addition to older reprints of his cards.  Topps also produced expansion-specific factory sets to sell at the parks for the franchises new in 1998.

The biggest change?  Frankly, the border and Clemente stuff were relatively small modifications, so the biggest thing in 1998 may have been finally including A-Rod in its base set – after he had refused to sign with them for the first few years of his career.

1999 – Trending the other way with set size, Topps went down to 462 cards in 1999.  There wasn’t a whole lot of “different” for the base product, though the MVP promotion was introduced, where 100 parallels of each player were inserted and the cards of the 25 “MVP of the week” winners that Topps selected could be traded in for a 25-card set.  Also, Topps included an autographed set of current players for the first time – featuring 16 cards and, in hindsight, some pretty impressive names.

The biggest change?  Bringing back Topps Traded just beats out the autographs.  The 121-card set was issued in factory form and included an autograph of one rookie in each set – Josh Hamilton or CC Sabathia turned this into a pretty notable set.

The 1990’s may have been the biggest change of any decade for the Topps flagship set, which is in line with the industry in general.  After changing the set size twice (660 to 726 to 792) between 1973 and 1992, Topps changed it every year in the second half of the decade.  Card quality went from cardboard feel to UV-coating and photos on the back.  Inserts went from an oddball set or two that were only found in special packaging, to over a dozen per year.  Autographs and parallel sets were inserted for the first time.  Quite a big change from 1990 to 1999 – probably not all of them for the better in many collectors’ minds.

Topps in the 1990’s Decade Wrap-up

15 12 2013

I’m through my posts about the Topps sets from the 1990’s – hard to believe I’m through 2 decades!  That’s two-thirds of the way through this project!  Well, considering I still haven’t completed all the sets, it’s not really two-thirds of the way.  But it’s two-thirds of the way through my introductory posts on the sets, at least.  It only took 3 years to get this far.

Like I did for the 1980’s, I’m going to re-cap the decade in Topps.  Here’s info I usually put in the post for each year, only I’ve accumulated it for the whole decade.

1990 Topps Griffey, pack

1991 Topps Griffey Pack

1992 Topps Griffey Pack

1993 Topps pack Griffey

1995 Topps Griffey pack

95 Traded Griffey pack

1996 Topps Griffey packs

Griffey 97 Topps pack

1998 Topps pack and Griffey

1999 Topps packs Griffey

  • Subsets by year: Subsets were a lot less consistent and a lot more confusing in this decade compared to the 1980’s.  As was the set size, which probably is related.  There were only Record Breaker / Season Highlights cards for about half the decade, and they stopped doing all-star cards after 1995.  The All-Star Rookie cup was included in all sets.
    • All years: Draft Picks (’90-’99, also ’94-’95 Traded) – these were single player through 1996, 2-player from ’97-’99
    • 8 years: Prospects (’92-’99, also ’94-’95 Traded) – multi-player
    • 6 years: All Stars (’90-’95, also ’95 Traded)
    • 5 years: Future Stars (’90-’91, ’94-’96, also ’94-’95 Traded)
    • 4 years: Managers (’90-’93)
    • 3 years: Record Breakers (’90-’92)
    • 3 years: Season Highlights (’97-’99)
    • 2 years: Expansion (’97-’98)
    • 2 years: World Series Highlights (’98-’99)
    • 2 years: Coming Attractions (’93-’94) – single player in ’93, 2-player in ’94
    • 1 year: Turn Back the Clock (’90)
    • 1 year: Tribute (’90 – Ryan)
    • 1 year: Measures of Greatness (’94)
    • 1 year: Anatomy of a Trade (’94TT)
    • 1 year: On Deck (’95, also ’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: Star Track (’95, also ’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: At The Break (’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: Rookie of the Year Candidates (’95 Traded)
    • 1 year: Star Power (’96)
    • 1 year: AAA All-Stars (’96)
    • 1 year: Now Appearing (’96)
    • 1 year: Interleague (’98)
    • 1 year: League Leaders (’99)
    • 1 year: Strike-Out Kings (’99)
    • 1 year: All-Topps Team (’99)
    • Various stand-alone tribute cards were also included throughout – Bart Giamatti (’90), Russian Angels (’93), Hank Aaron (’94), Nolan Ryan (’94), Babe Ruth (’95), Mickey Mantle (’96), Cal Ripken (’96), Jackie Robinson (’97), Roberto Clemente (’98), Nolan Ryan (’99), HR Parade (’99 – McGwire, Sosa)
    • All-Star Rookie Cups were included for the respective players for all sets in the decade
    • Team USA playes were included in the 1991, 1992 and 1993 Topps Traded sets
  • Set Design: See pictures above.  In 1998 and 1999 Topps went with gold borders, the first time away from a full white border for the first time since 1987.  1993 also deviated from a kind of every-10-years tradition where Topps had a photo or logo in a logo in the bottom corner of the card.  Most notably, Topps went to white cardstock in 1992, glossy cards in 1993 and UV-coated cards in 1994.
  • Packs: Maybe the most notable change was that in 1994 the packs weren’t “wax” anymore – they were the plastic “tamper-proof” type packs that we’re used to today.  See the chart below for the cost of wax and hobby packs and cello packs.  Not only did packs go up from 45¢ to $1.29, but the number of cards went down from 15 to 11.  Packs were a quarter for 15 cards in 1980 – at the start of my “Lifetime Topps journey”.

Wax packs prices 1990s

  • Rookies: The Topps flagship set definitely suffered from having what are considered “true rookie cards” due to a couple of things.  The first is the Bowman effect of the 1990’s – Bowman sets included prospects often multiple years before Topps could put the same players in their sets.  The other factor was that from 1996-1998, Topps didn’t do a Traded set, which sometimes could catch up for the “Bowman effect”.  1990 still had a number of notable rookie cards – future MVP’s Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker and Juan Gonzalez.  After that, though Chipper Jones (’91), Manny Ramirez (’92), Derek Jeter (’93) and Jim Edmonds (’93) are really the only really notable rookie cards in the standard Topps set.  Topps Traded sets did have some more rookies – Jeff Bagwell (’91), Ivan Rodriguez (’91), Jason Giambi (’91 – USA), Jason Varitek (’92 – USA), Nomar Garciaparra (’92 – USA), Todd Helton (’93 – USA), Paul Konerko (’94), Carlos Beltran (’95), Hideo Nomo (’95) and then 1999 had a bunch – Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano and Carl Crawford.
  • Players who didn’t get rookie cards in Topps included Alber Belle, Edgar Martinez and Curt Schilling (first Topps card in ’90), Jim Thome, Mike Mussina and Kenny Lofton (’92), Mike Piazza (’93 Traded), Andruw Jones and Vlad Guerrero (same card in ’96), Alex Rodriguez (’98 – due to not signing a contract with Topps until then), Roy Halladay, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre (’98), and Miguel Tejada (’99).
  • Hall of Fame: See the Hall of Fame numbers by year below. The tribute cards throughout added a Hall of Famer or so each year. For context, the decade of the 80’s started with 38 in 1980 and peaked at 41 in 1983.  The lack of love for steroid suspects certainly keeps these numbers down for now.  Also, Topps stopped having manager cards after 1993, which impacts the numbers as well.

HOFers 1990s

  • Variations: The first year of the decade contained the most notable variant.  A small number of cards were mistakenly printed in 1990 without black ink on the front, leading them to have no name on the front (NNOF variations).  The Frank Thomas RC is one of these cards, and it has become the most famous and most valuable error card in modern sports card history.  There are a lot of minor printing differences with the backs of 1991 Topps that seem to have a bit of a cult following, plus there are some photo corrections in that set.  The Babe Ruth tribute card in 1995 has a couple of variations regarding the logo.  In 1995 Traded, there was an error that was never fixed where Carlos Beltran and Juan LeBron got their photos switched – leading to a rookie card for Beltran that doesn’t even depict him.  Aside from that, there are a couple of missing card numbers in later years, but not really any more variations worth noting.
  • Last Active Player: This category isn’t really relevant any more – but I will say that the 1995 Babe Ruth Tribute card has the earliest player in the decade.

Factory Sets

1996 topps factory retail

Topps continued issuing factory sets in each year throughout the 1990’s – a practice started in 1982.  There were often hobby and retail versions throughout the decade, with different inserts added as a bonus.  There was a Topps Gold factory set in 1992 that contained an autograph card of Brien Taylor as card #793.  Also, in 1993 and 1998, Topps issued expansion factory sets that had special logos for the Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Devil Rays.

Promo Cards

Topps issued pre-production cards to preview the upcoming set from 1991 to 1999, ranging from 6 to 9 cards.

Update Sets

Topps released a 132-card Topps Traded sets in factory set form for the first 5 years of the decade, just as it had done throughout the 1980’s.  In 1994, the set featured insert cards using Topps Finest technology.  Then, in 1995, Topps issued the Traded set in pack form only.  This set was 165 cards.  From 1996 through 1998, Topps stopped issuing update sets of any kind, before going back to a factory set of 121 cards.  That set had an autograph inserted into it.

Parallel Sets

For the first 2 years of the decade, Topps issued a Tiffany variation in factory set form – stopping in 1991 after 8 years.  In 1992, Topps issued the first modern parallel set – Topps Gold, which came 1 per box.  There was a bit of a controversy with a redemption game that caused them to also create a Topps Gold Winners paralle set that year.  Topps Gold was made in 1993 and 1994 at a rate of 1 per pack, and then a spectralite partial parallel called Cyberstats was issued in 1995 at the same rate – this featured a shaded background and statistical projections as if the 1994 season was actually completed.  For two years, there were no parallels, and then the Minted in Cooperstown parallel was printed in 1998 – featuring cards with a Hall of Fame stamp.  1999 had an MVP promotion as a partial parallel.

Insert sets

1993 Topps Black Gold

There are too many to go over all of them.  Topps started with Topps Black Gold in 1993 – there first insert set that could be found in any type of packaging.  Below are some insert themes that Topps created in multiple years.

    • 6 years:  Finest – 22 cards (’94 Traded, ’95-’99) including 4 different Mystery Finest inserts
    • 4 years:  Reprints – 19 to 27 cards (’96-’99) – Mantle, Mays, Clemente, Ryan
    • 2 years: Topps Black Gold – 44 cards (’93-’94)
    • 2 years: Power Boosters – 10 to 25 cards (’95 Traded & ’96)

Autographs & Memorabilia

Topps inserted Brien Taylor auto’s into all 12,000 of the 1992 Topps Gold Factory Sets, and then 1997 was the first year Topps ever inserted autographs directly into their packs.   In Series 1, 19 of the 27 Willie Mays reprints were autographed by Mays and inserted into packs.  There was a Derek Jeter Rookie of the Year autograph card inserted into series 2.

In 1999, Topps inserted Nolan Ryan autographs in similar fashion.  They also included a 16-card insert set of current stars for the first time.

There weren’t any relic cards in the 1990’s – though you could get some Roberto Clemente memorabilia as part of the promotion associated with him in 1998.

1991 Topps Instant Win

Notable Promotions

  • Wax packs in 1990, 1991 and 1992 contained a game card with some type of theme and a prize – for example, 1992 had a Topps “Match-the-Stats” game card where you could send in for Topps Gold winner cards.
  • In conjunction with the 40th Anniversary promotion in 1991, Topps also inserted one of every single card from the past 40 years (and then some) into packs.  The odds were very high, listed at 1:1,000.
  • In 1995, Topps “Own the Game” cards which were inserted 1:120 packs of series 1.  Usually, the winning card was a team set of CyberStats cards.  The grand prize was a $40,000 MLB passport – which i assume was an all-expense baseball game travel deal.
  • There were promotions associated with both the Mantle and Clemente tribute years (’96 and ’98) where you could win memorabilia and other prizes.
  • The 1999 set included the MVP promotion where winner cards could be traded in for a 25-card send-in set.

Other notable releases associated with the Topps flagship set

#1 – In 1990, Topps again created a “Gallery of Champions” set of 12 metal ¼-size replicas of the base cards.  There were still three variations – Aluminum, Bronze and Silver (#’d to 1,000), while there was a pewter variant given to dealers as well of one card (Ryan in 1990, Henderson in 1991).

#2 – In 1990, Topps issued a “Double Headers” set for the second straight year, available in packs that came 36 packs per box.  These sets were 2-sided miniature cards (1-5/8 x 2-1/4) with a reproduction of the 1990 card on one side and the player’s first Topps card on the other side.  The set was tripled to 72 cards.

90ToppsMylarStickersWinfield#3 – Topps produced 6 experimental Mylar stickers in 1990 of cards from the Traded set; these were early test runs of the refractor technology.  Joe Carter and Dave Winfield are the two most notable names in the set.

1-42#4 – As a favor to then President George Bush, Topps printed and presented him with about 100 cards of him in the 1990 design with a picture of him from his playing days at Yale.  Apparently his grandchildren didn’t understand why he didn’t have a baseball card even though he had played for 2 seasons in college.  Some of these cards made it to the open market, supposedly a very small few even got inserted into packs on accident.  The card is exactly like the design from the base set, and has Bush’s statistics from his 2 years at Yale.  His team is listed as “USA”.  Until looking at this card, I hadn’t realized that Bush had gone to Yale AFTER his stint as a war hero in WWII, though I guess that makes sense with the GI Bill.  Also, it looks like “41″ definitely improved in his 2nd season at Yale.  I can’t wait ’til they reprint these for the 2039 Heritage set!

1991 Topps Ruth F#5 – Topps issued an 11-card promotional set of cards to commemorate the NBC Babe Ruth movie in the design of the 1991 set.  This set is particularly significant as it contains the last card of Pete Rose printed by Topps.  Rose played Ty Cobb in the movie and was featured on one of the cards.  I actually ordered one of these sets the other day.

#6 – In 1993, Topps issued a 21-card jumbo set called “Full Shots” that was included in retail re-packs of either Topps or Bowman packs from 1993.

#7 – R&N China supposedly issued a bunch of “parallel” versions of Topps cards throughout the mid-90′s.  Some of the porcelain cards created were reprints – for example, they did a full run of all 26 of Nolan Ryan’s cards.  They of course did one of the ’52 Mickey Mantle card and quite a few others (I’ve seen a lot of Roberto Clemente cards).  And they did quite a few of current cards in the years released.  I’ve read some things that claim that a full reproduction was done of the 1993 and 1994 sets, but read other things saying that a full parallel being done is very unlikely.  Looking around on eBay seems to support the latter.  But there are certainly quite a few porcelain reproductions from the 1993 & 1994 sets.  There were also some reproductions of cards from 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998.

#8 – Topps participated in the National Packtime promotion along with the other 4 major card manufacturers (Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, Pinnacle).  The promotion was an attempt to increase interest in baseball cards after the strike severely hurt the sport and the hobby.  Each of the companies made 3 cards; the 18-card set was available by sending in 28 packs of any 1995 product.  Topps made cards of Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi and Deion Sanders.

#9 – As part of the Mantle madness that was the hallmark of the 1996 product, Topps produced a framed sheet of Mantle cards from his career.  There’s all 20 Mantle cards – the 19 Topps or Bowman from each year of his career, plus the “retired” card #7 from the 1996 set – surrounding the image from his 1952 Topps card.  It measures 19.5″ x 25″, and has a gold #7.  This sheet was numbered to 10,000.

Mantle sheet

#10 – In 1996, certain teams were part of the first “Team Topps” set sold at Wal-Mart with “Big Topps” cards.  The Team Topps cards were parallel versions of the players from the team, with the same number and picture as the regular card.  The Big Topps cards featured the superstar from that team.  The teams sold were the Rangers, White Sox, Cubs, Yankees and Orioles.  The Indians and Braves had “AL Champ” and “World Champ” versions, the Dodgers had “Chavez Ravine 35th anniversary” versions, and Seattle had “AL West Champ” versions.

#11 – From 1996 on, Topps issued a “Topps Chrome” product for the first time.  A certain number of the cards from the base set were reproduced using Topps chromium technology – as were many of the insert sets.

#12 – A special Wal-Mart box in 1997 included a jumbo version of the reprint of the 1952 Willie Mays Topps card.  The packaging had 10 series 1 packs as well.  For series 2, there was a box of 15 retail packs with jumbo versions of 3 different players from the set – Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken or Chipper Jones.

#13 – Topps issued the first “Opening Day” set in 1998 and did so in 1999 as well.  This 165 card set was retail only, and features the same photos from the base set.

1999 Topps Action Flats McGwire#14 – In 1999, Topps tried to enter the figurine market with little figures called Action Flats.  Included in the packaging for each of the 12 players is a card in the design of the Topps base set with an “Action Flat” foil stamp.  The figurine mirrors the picture on the card – and there was a home and away version of each player.  The picture on the card is not the same picture as the Topps base set.

So that’s my 1990’s decade in review for Topps.  It’s really just a re-cap of the decade – I’ll do a few more posts over the next few days relating to this.  I may not start posting on the 2000’s for a little while, but we’ll have to see.