Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The card after: still elusive after all these years

This is not the right card.

This card is not elusive. I think I acquired it in a random repack. It's Frank Thomas' rookie card, sure, but you all know the version that everyone sought.

This is an image of the card that everyone wanted. No, I don't own it. It's almost impossible to own. This is the no-name variation of Thomas' rookie card. It's also known as one of the "blackless" variation cards in the 1990 set as several cards are missing black ink and all of them were located on a card sheet near Thomas. This thread explains it in more detail.

The interesting thing to me about this card is how relevant it is even today. While a number of rookie cards from the junk wax era are still highly respected and coveted, they are readily available, some for mere dimes and nickels. But this Thomas variation rookie card will cost you hundreds of dollars -- if you can find it.

That's staying power. Long after the insanity of collectors searching for this card in the early '90s, there are still collectors searching. That's a card you can respect, especially one entrenched in a world of overproduction.

As for the card itself -- excluding the variation -- how significant is it? Well, it's the rookie card of a Hall of Famer, probably the first who made his name during the junk wax period that went to the Hall of Fame. But beyond that I don't know how notable it is. My personal distaste for players being featured in their college uniforms aside, the Topps Thomas non-variation rookie wasn't even the most pursued at that time.

It was his 1990 Leaf card. No, I don't own this one either. You guys, I don't collect this kind of stuff.

But because the '90 Topps card has that mysterious variation, this is the card we're going to focus on for this edition of "The Card After."


Please meet 1990 Topps Frank Thomas

Why it's iconic: As mentioned above, it's the rookie card of a Hall of Famer. It carries at least a little bit of extra oomph because although it's not the error variation, it's the closest you're going to get to the error card without it being the error card. For those collectors without deep pockets, that means something.

That "nuclear moment": When this card was issued, most collectors didn't have any idea who Thomas was, and you could buy it for the price of a common card. Thomas was called up by the White Sox late in the 1990 season and promptly burned up the league, hitting .330 in 60 games. In 1991, he hit over 30 homers, drove in more than 100 runs, batted over .300 and finished third in the MVP voting. It was then that collectors bought whatever Thomas card they could find. His card prices soared, and suddenly he was the man who replaced Ken Griffey Jr. as the "it" rookie.

This card's impact today: The base card has little impact unless you're dealing in graded cards. The blackless variation, however, has the biggest impact a card from 1990 could have as prices for that card when it shows up on ebay are in the hundreds of dollars. Meanwhile, you can get a 1990 Leaf Thomas for around $10-20.

Something about this card I think no one has ever said: Remember the noise Louisville made a couple years ago when their baseball uniforms mimicked the Houston Astros unis of the late '70s/early '80s? Well, as you can see here that wasn't a new thing. I don't know what team that is playing Thomas' Auburn squad, but the uniform is definitely inspired by Art Howe and company.

On the 1-25 iconic scale (with 25 being the most iconic): It's up there. I'll say 23.


Please meet 1991 Topps Frank Thomas.

Why it's not iconic: It's not Thomas' rookie card. It's also one of at least 14 different cards of Thomas issued in 1991 (there were six in 1990). But for my money this card is preferable to the 1990 Topps Thomas. It's Thomas' first Topps card in a White Sox uniform. And it shows exactly how powerful Thomas is. It's a lot less awkward than the 1990 card.

What Topps was doing here: Cashing in on Big Hurt mania. Kudos for such a good-looking card.

Something I can say about this card to make it interesting: I already said it, but I'd much rather have this card than #414 in the 1990 set.

Does "the card after" deserve to be iconic?: Well, if Bowman and Leaf and Score hadn't already put out a rookie card of Thomas in his White Sox uniform in 1990, then I'd say, yeah, it probably does. But there is really nothing new here.

On the 1-25 iconic scale: I'll give it a 6.

The 1991 Topps Thomas card has everything going for it except: it wasn't first and it doesn't have an error variation.

Sorry, '91 Thomas, that's how the game was played then.


  1. I'm looking at the 91 Thomas with fresh eyes thanks to your post. It's truly a good-looking piece of cardboard. Something I've never said before about any card from 91 Topps.

  2. I will always have high regard for the '91Topps Thomas- first card pulled out of a pack after coming back to the hobby.

  3. The team in the 90 Topps looks like it was inspired by the Charleston Charlies

  4. The 91 Topps Thomas is a thing of beauty. An awesome card of his power at the plate. Frankly, I'd rather gaze upon this card than the 90 Topps. However, I agree it is not iconic like the 90 Topps.

  5. "I love those throwback White Sox uniforms, I hope they keep them for more than a season or two, but knowing the the Sox, there's no way that happens." - Me in '91

  6. Also this picture taken at the last game at Comiskey Park Sept 30th, 1990

  7. Stack22 has it right... what makes the 91 iconic is that I believe it's his only 91 issue in the new Sox unis at the time.

  8. I pulled a blackless reprint (from 2010, I think) out of a repack a few months ago, and I suspect it's the closest to the real deal I'll be owning. I appreciate Topps' acknowledgement of the error and its place in cardboard history.