Earliest active current player from this decade: Nolan Ryan – 1990 Topps #1, 1991 Topps #1, 1992 Topps, 1993 Topps #700, 1994 Topps #34
Amazingly, the earliest active player from the 1990’s Topps decade actually had a card in half the decade (60% if you count his 1999 Tribute card). That emphasizes how long his career was. You would expect it to be someone who only had a card in 1990 or 1991, but Ryan had a card as an active player in 1992, 1993 and 1994 (remember – card sets show what you did last year. Or at least they used to).
Ryan made his MLB debut in 1966, though he only played in 2 games for the Mets that year. He came in for mop up duty on September 11th of that year – pitching the 6th and 7th innings of an 8-3 loss. He walked one, struck out 3 – appropriate – and gave up one run courtesy of a long ball to fellow future HOF-er Joe Torre.
Ryan pitched one more game that year, starting 7 days later and leaving after giving up 4 runs in 1 inning. He spent all of 1967 in the minors, before coming up for good in 1968.
Three other players debuted in the 1960’s and had Topps cards in the 1990s – Carlton Fisk, Jerry Reuss and Rick Dempsey all played their first game in 1969. Reuss had his last Topps card in 1990 Topps, Dempsey had cards in 1990 and 1991, while Fisk was around long enough to get a card in 1993 Topps.
Tommy John is also worth mentioning. He actually debuted a year before Ryan in 1965. And while his last Topps card was in 1989, he did start 10 games for the Yankees in 1989 – so it would have been possible for him to have a card in 1990 Topps.
Earliest active player from this decade: Babe Ruth – 1995 Topps #3
The earliest player period is a different story. Topps did a number of tributes in this decade – the last year of Turn Back the Clock cards in 1990, tributes to Hank Aaron (twice), Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente. But Babe Ruth’s card #3 in 1995 represents the earliest player from the set.
Ruth made his debut on July 11, 1914, 7 days after the Red Sox purchased his contract from the Minor League Baltimore Orioles. He reported to Boston that day, and notched his first victory that afternoon. He went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs (2 earned) as Boston beat Cleveland, 4-3. He went 0-2 at the plate, striking out once. The greatest slugger of all-time was pulled for a pinch hitter in the 8th inning. Tris Speaker was manning center field behind Ruth that day. He faced off against Shoeless Joe Jackson (2-4 with an RBI), and an aging Nap Lajoie (0-3).