Monday, December 13, 2010

The lost years: 1996

Spiff of Texas Rangers Cards recently put this card up for grabs, and I indeed did grab it. I had no idea what it looked like before it arrived in the mail. But I did know it was from the V.J. Lovero insert set in 1996 Upper Deck, and that was enough for me. The few cards I've seen from that set are amazing.

The year this set came out is a complete mystery to me as far as cards go. I officially list my collecting hiatus as 1994-2005, but there were only two years in there in which I didn't see a single card. One of those years was 1996.

I'm not sure why that happened. I was buying a house in '96, but that's hardly an excuse for avoiding cards. The Yankees and Braves were in the World Series, but that happened after the card-buying season, so it wasn't like I was too depressed to buy cards.

The only thing I know -- 14 years after the fact -- is that I missed out on an absolutely seismic year in cards. After spending four years or so trying to catch up on all that I missed, I think I finally have an idea of what 1996 was all about -- maybe. With all the bells and whistles going off in '96, it's hard to focus on everything. Every time I go back to that year, I start seeing spots.

But this is what I have been able to gather about collectors in '96 as an outsider looking in:

1. They were intrigued by squished faces: I'm not sure what was up in the mid-90s with the squashed images. Upper Deck made it popular in 1994, I suppose. The whole thing seems pointless. Why duplicate the same head shot as what is in the color image and then squish it? The whole thing reminds me of Schwarzenegger in Terminator, or maybe it was Weller in Robocop. At any rate, I want to call '96 Topps "The Cyborg Set" in honor of this weird technique.

2. They became bored with cards that didn't shine: Topps Chrome debuted in 1996. What a fool I was for missing that! Chrome hasn't evolved a whole lot since '96, but at least there aren't those tiny dots that you could see on all the cards in the '96 set.

3. They were far smarter than we are now: You could explain the reasoning behind 1996 Finest to me for weeks and I don't think I would ever understand it. Silver cards, base cards, gold cards, rows, levels, uncommon, rare, secret entrances, invisible tunnels. Apparently an objective in '96 was to weed out the dumb-asses who collected cards. I would've never lasted.

4. They were obsessed with gold: Did collectors understand that there were far too many cards with gold on them in 1996? Did the fact that collectors were going blind tip them off? You can find gold in almost every set issued in '96. But there were certain sets that went into gold overload. Bowman's Best was one of them.

But Pinnacle was the worst. Anything Pinnacle made in '96 was plated in gold. I can practically hear disco music thumping when I see these cards.

5. Sometimes they were obsessed with copper: Upper Deck issued an entire base set with shiny copper foil at the bottom of each card. It's a shame that the copper part wasn't on the top so I could call this set "The Duracell Set," (the copper-top battery). I might still go with that name. I could call it "The Upside Down Duracell Set."

6. They were lucky bastards who got to collect an abundance of Hideo Nomo cards: There are loads of great Nomo cards from 1996. I am lucky enough to have a small sampling of them. But I am pretty sure I will never have all of them. It was a great year to collect Nomo.

7. They thought burning cards with a laser was cool: But when they saw what the results were, it wasn't cool no more.

8. Despite their love for shiny, they were tolerant enough to allow a card set with no shine, no gimmick, nothing: I personally think 1996 Fleer and its matte finish came out only because the police threw all of Fleer's card makers into the drunk tank after that '95 disaster. This sure was different, in a 180-degree departure kind of way.

9. They didn't mind collecting card sets that were designed so it looked like the player was wearing a metallic loin cloth: How did Donruss sell any cards that year?

10. They enjoyed having ball players provide profiles of their peers on cardboard: And by profiles, I mean Tony Gwynn saying on the back of the card: "Raul Mondesi -- what an arm!"

11. They wanted to see what their favorite ballplayers looked like roaming prehistoric lands amid the volcanos: Or how they looked dodging arrows, or parachuting toward earth, or being impaled by giant arachnids. Oops, sorry, that last one is Starship Troopers. But I certainly could see anything from that movie on a Metal card.

12. They wanted HOLOGRAMS combined with DIE-CUTS and dammit, THEY GOT IT: Because SPx was there.

13. They got to see the best card of the entire decade: Which is why I wanted the Maddux Lovero card in the first place.

Spiff also sent some more modern cards:

 I'm actually hoping that Kemp has a better career than Murphy.

A Nebulous 9 need off the list. I think that's Gagne cut off on the left there.

Unfortunately, today's cards aren't as interesting as what was going on in 1996. Not even close.

I totally missed out. Must've been fun.


  1. I started to collect in 1995, but my first full year collecting as a kid was 1996, when I was 10. I think the insanity that is my collecting habits is largely due to me beginning during a period of insanity. And I still LOVE GOLD!

  2. I love the blank cereal box in the Piazza Lovero picture

  3. I missed it too. We were in the process of saving for a house. I was just getting my MBA and got laid off from a job that paid for my MBA thanks to a shyster that screwed the company I worked for. Then I spent 8 weeks in Denver on a contract job. So 1996 was a weird year for me, but I was so away from the hobby - I was into buying 8 CDs a week or so.

  4. That Piazza Karros card is great!