Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The worst year of the junk wax era

So what the hell is wrong with me? I start a post about the worst year of the junk wax era by displaying perhaps the era's finest moment in 1991 Stadium Club?

That was kind of the same thought process I went through when Chris Olds, of Beckett fame, tweeted today that 1991 ranked among the worst baseball card years of all-time. To his credit, he did mention the exception of Stadium Club debuting that year. But I thought that SC would be enough to push 1991 ahead of other ungodly baseball card years, like, say, 1990.

Olds dismissed my suggestion of 1990 being worse than 1991 by mentioning the number of star rookies to come out of 1990.

Ah, rookies. Rookies never crossed my mind when I compared the two years. I've found that this rookie deal is a generational thing. When many collectors under the age of about 35 grade the quality of certain baseball card years, one of the main criteria is "who were the rookies that year?"

But I'm over 40. I don't give a flying Brien Taylor about rookies. I never did. I never will. I'll never collect them. Ever. My collecting habits developed before the age of the rookie card being the Holy Grail of collecting. We didn't give a damn about nobodies who hadn't established themselves in the majors yet. They certainly didn't factor into whether a set was "good" or not.

All we cared about is what the set looked like, and how many star players or players from our team we could get. That is all there was.

For me, that's still all there is.

The rules over what makes a good baseball card set or baseball card year may have changed, but I'll still go by look of a set, quality of a set, and the kind of sets available, to determine whether a certain year was good or bad. Rookies don't even enter the argument.

So I decided to determine for myself, by my rules, which year of the junk wax era was worse, 1990 or 1991.

You may ask why I didn't pick 1989 or 1992 or one of those other junky years. Well, for 1987 and '88, that was early junk wax, and I like some of the sets in those years. Score debuted in '88, too. In 1989, Upper Deck began and the Topps set holds a place in my heart. 1992 marked the debut of Pinnacle, so that year is cool. And 1993 had a tremendous Upper Deck set, so I like '93, too.

But 1990 and 1991? Full. Of. Junk.

Let's begin:

Topps: Let's face it, I was not alone when I bought my first pack of 1990 Topps, opened it and had to hold back my gag reflex. Meanwhile, 1991 Topps is an understated beauty, filled with great cards and photos.

Advantage: 1991

Bowman: Not much difference between 1990 and 1991 Bowman. It's difficult for me to pick. But I am often disturbed by yellow on a card. Bowman had too much yellow in 1990.

Advantage: 1991

Upper Deck: Another company that didn't change its card presentation much between 1990 and 1991. I think the 1990 set on the left is much cleaner. I'm also not crazy about that "base path" on the bottom of the 1991 card.

Advantage: 1990

Fleer: I absolutely cannot stand 1990 Fleer. The first time I saw it, which was several years after it came out, I wondered how the hell they got anyone to buy any of it. I still think that way. However, it is approximately 300 light years ahead of 1991 Fleer. And I apologize that you're blind now.

Advantage: 1990

Donruss: Ugh. To both of them. The 1991 Donruss design is one of my least favorites ever. It looks like something that would be produced by Fisher Price. Did the cards come with little people and a school bus? The 1990 set is barely mediocre. Something about that red border makes me instantly bored with whatever photo is featured.

Advantage: 1990.

Score: I've always thought 1990 Score was a less-appealing knock-off of Score's debut in 1988. As for 1991, I collected a ton of it back in the day, and I liked the set. The look of it hasn't held up all that well, with all the various colored borders, but I like the white-bordered cards a lot. If the whole set was white-bordered, it would be kick-ass.

Advantage: 1991

Leaf: The debut of 1990 Leaf was awesome -- even if I never saw it. But 1991 Leaf is plain inferior.

Advantage: 1990

If you add up the totals, 1990 beats 1991 by a 4-3 score. But if I add a point for the greatness of 1991 Stadium Club, then it's all even at 4-4.

At first I wasn't sure how to break the tie, but I knew I wasn't going to look to see which rookies were featured in each year. Because I don't care.

I decided to break the tie by determining which sets I would mourn the loss of if they didn't exist. I'd be sad if 1991 Topps or 1991 Stadium Club didn't exist. As for 1990, I guess losing '90 Leaf would be a bummer, but I didn't see it until almost 20 years after it came out anyway, so that's no big loss. The rest of the '90 sets could disappear from my collection forever and I'd barely notice.

And that means, 1991 is better than 1990 because of those two great sets.

Sorry, 1990. You lose.

And I was all ready to say, "Chris Olds is right again."


  1. Now I like the Red Donruss and the Yeller Fleer.

    But I'm weird!

  2. I agree. 1991 Score was a huge set with a mess of both fun and overdone subsets. And, sorry to do this, but if we're talking rookies, how can you beat 1991 Bowman?

  3. I love both the 1990 & 1991 Score sets. But I would agree that both the white and black border cards in 91 are sharp. I hated the Topps and Donruss cards in 90, and Fleer I was indifferent about. But the yellow of 91 Fleer is horrible.

    Don't forget about Fleer Ultra in 1991. Another point for 91.

    PS: 1990 gets docked a bunch of points for the numerous errors in the Donruss set.

  4. I never understood what the big deal was/is about rookie cards. I liked getting cards of guys who had established themselves.

    While figuring out the "worst year," another thing that could be checked is how many "draft pick" cards were done. One of the things that turned me off were the cards of guys right out of high school in their street clothes. Bleh.

  5. Two words: Chipper. Jones.

    (dances 1991 superior dance)

  6. Great post. I totally agree with the rookie thing. What a bunch of nonsense. That's one of the reasons why I've never liked Bowman.

    I returned to collecting for a year in 1991 so it's a special year for me, but 1991 Topps was really a good set. Good design. Good photography. Just overproduced. And 1990 Topps is absolutely horrific.

    I also like 1991 Score a lot and actually don't mind the yellow monstronsities that were Fleer.

    Donruss always looked like a rec room couch and Upper Deck always looks the same.

    But based on Topps alone, 1991 totally kills 1990.

  7. I've always felt that 1988 is the worst year of the Junk Wax era because all five of the companies designs were ugly (Score and Sportflics included) and the rookie cards were lackluster at best.

    In my opinion when comparing between 1990 and 1991, 1990 is definitiely worse. I'd note that another highlight (for some) in 1991 design-wise that hasn't been mentioned was the initial Donruss Studio set.

  8. I agree, smed. In my books, Bumblebee Fleer just beats out Confetti Fleer by a year. Both brightened up their respective year.

  9. Sometimes when I get to go to a card shop I try to buy a big box of Red Sox cards. The first thing I do is sort them by year. I do the same thing when I get a package in the mail. 1990 always, and I mean always has the biggest stack. Sometimes it isn't even one stack it gets so high it falls over and I am forced to make two stacks. For this reason alone 1990 wins the title of junkiest year.

    I have a complete 1991 Fleer Red Sox team set yet I don't remember that picture of Burks. Surely I would remember that picture; it isn't a normal pose you see on a baseball card. It is going to drive me nuts until I get out the 91 binder and find out if I really do have it or if I passed over it somehow while building the team set.

  10. Adam's reasoning as to why 1990 is the junkiest of the junk is classic.

  11. I don't understand the 1991 Fleer hate. The yellow border is striking, and there is actually a lot of great photography. 1990 (and 1989) Fleer are dreadfully boring in both design and photography.

    I thought 1990 Donruss was very cool when it came out because it was the only major card design in my memory in which the photo was a perfect rectangle.

    Definitely agree with you on the 1991 Topps and 1990 Score.

  12. I may be alone here, but I always thought 1992 was the worst year. Topps was uninspired in its switch to white stock, Score was dull, Fleer's year of green was actually worse than its year of yellow, and Donruss released its worst set ever.

    Good God do I hate 1992 Donruss.

  13. 1991 Donruss drags 1991 down to the bowels of hell due to Donruss leaving the printing presses running way too long.

    That set alone kept many a closeout department store (Big Lots, Value City, etc.) stocked with baseball cards for years to come.

    Not to mention that Series 1 is unconscionably ugly, and Series 2 is actually worse.

  14. Wow, I could have written that post myself, there are so many parallels. Though I wasn't collecting at all (since about '85) and never really saw most of these sets until way after. I actually do like '90 Donruss and Leaf. I am still completing the Donruss set myself including the errors. It's more fun with the errors because you can be pretty confident that you'll find them at no extra markup. I recently picked up a monster box full of mostly 90's stuff (to get a batch of something else in it) for less than $5 and it included about two rows of '91 UD. I figured I might as well put a set together. I bought a 95% complete set of '91 Bowman from ebay that arrived in sheets and everything, so that looked pretty nice to me. I may eventually complete my stack of '91 Topps too, and maybe the '90 Leaf, which is nice, but I can't see how they called that set "premium".
    But the biggest point you make is about rookies. Unless it's a player I collect, I couldn't care less about rookies. I usually sort sets into teams, and the rookie stars cards go in the back of each team set.
    The worst part about the hobby now is that the companies and player associations have adopted as gospel that rookies are all that matter. Every single set produced has to be crammed full of players that haven't done a thing on the field. They've eliminated the possibility of any more "legends" type sets with this requirement. I don't mind that products like Bowman feature prospects, but why do all the others have to as well? The percentage of rookies in a set weighs heavily in my decision to buy - in a negative way.

  15. Nice post.

    Ha. 1990 was a bad year, but I actually love the 1990 Topps set. The pictures aren't great but I actually bought 1990 Tiffany Topps. It looks awesome.

    As for 1990 Donruss. I hate it too. The red border is terrible. But the 1990 Donruss Best set is basically the same set with a blue border, and I love that set. Just discovered it, 20 years after its release.