I am starting to get into very scary territory with this series.
It was right around 1991, or maybe 1992, when I first thought "I can't possibly collect all of this, or even pay attention to all of this. So I won't."
Consciously or subconsciously, I started to ignore sets that were available to me at the nearby drug or department stores. I did buy a selection of various sets, but I made a commitment to one set in 1991 (and 1992) and that set was Topps.
If I was going to complete a set, it would be Topps. It would be the only set in which I'd pay attention to exactly what was in it, so I could know when it was complete.
So I ignored a lot of the extra goodies that were available in other sets. Heck, I even ignored some '91 sets altogether. I don't remember opening a single pack of Upper Deck, Stadium Club, Ultra or Leaf in 1991. That is bound to slant my rankings of these sets here now.
Also, the rankings now include a whopping nine sets this time. I'm still limiting myself to the major sets (no Classic or Conlon or O-Pee-Chee). But since the "premium set" concept exploded in 1991, there is still plenty to rank.
Let's get to it:
1991 Bowman -- the front
Plusses: Instead of the yellow-dominated borders from 1990, Bowman went with a purple nameplate, which is an ever-so-slight improvement. The player name is bold and much easier to read. ... The set stays true to the Bowman '50s template, simple, posed shots and emphasis on photo space.
Minuses: Still boring as heck when compared with other sets issued in '91. ... I constantly confuse 1990 and 1991 Bowman. I just did it while scanning cards for this post.
1991 Bowman -- the back
Plusses: Bowman stays with the team-by-team breakdown for the third straight year and it's much appreciated. I now know that Mitch Webster smacked the heck out of the Twins in 1990. ... Easy-to-read number and I like the bold name at the bottom.
Minuses: Card backs like this get tougher and tougher to read the older you get.
1991 Bowman -- overall
Plusses: Bowman expanded the size of its set for a third straight year, increasing to 704 cards in 1991. ... Bowman really started to focus on rookies in this set as nearly one-fifth of the cards featured a rookie. ... This is one of the first sets with gold stamping as the Silver Slugger Award winners were recognized with a gold emblem on the front.
Minuses: There are rookie cards for Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell and others in this set, but the players also appear in other 1991 sets and their Bowman cards aren't as valued as those others. I have to think that it's because of the complete lack of excitement with the look of the Bowman set. ... This is the final year of Bowman using brown cardboard. Normally I like brown cardboard but anything that could brighten up this set is a plus.
1991 Donruss -- the front
Plusses: Gee, I don't know, readily available? These cards seemed to be everywhere in 1991. ... Donruss was all about the border during this time period and I do appreciate that.
Minuses: I call this set the "Fisher Price set," because it looks like something that would come packaged with a toy for an 8-year-old. It seems very childish to me, which is something that sticks out with several Donruss sets, none more so than 1991. ... This is the first time Donruss was issued in two series and the decision to make one blue-bordered and another green-bordered makes for a disjointed and jarring set.
1991 Donruss -- the back
Plusses: Donruss keeps churning out complete names ("Travis is his middle name!") and contract information.
Minuses: Same complaint as always, no more than five years of stats.
1991 Donruss -- overall
Plusses: This set is filled with subsets and inserts, one of the first sets to truly embrace the insert, providing such beloved series like Elite. ... Rated Rookies continue if you like that kind of thing.
Minuses: It's a toss-up on whether my least favorite Donruss set is from 1991 or 1992. I don't like either one. ... One of the most prevalent sets from the moment it appeared. These cards have zero appeal for me. ... Could be accused as the set that led collectors to devalue the base set in favor of inserts.
1991 Fleer -- the front
Plusses: THE BRIGHTEST SET OF ALL-TIME. 1991 Fleer will always be noticed, dammit. ... Nice acreage for the photo, although it's hard to notice with that border. ... There is something about this set that makes me take Fleer more seriously than I did for many previous sets. This could have been an iconic set if it didn't go with yellow.
Minuses: One of the most ridiculed sets ever because you need special eclipse glasses to view it. ... There is nothing that distinguishes team from team. You can say that about a lot of sets but it's very obvious with this set.
1991 Fleer -- the back
Plusses: I have to say, I don't mind the yellow here, probably because Fleer uses a few different colors to offset it. .. The head shot is nice-and-large and much better than the head shots that Fleer used on its backs during the 1980s. ... Dig the team logo.
Minuses: Really can't find any. This is the first departure from the Fleer card-back template that had existed since 1983.
1991 Fleer -- overall
Plusses: Fleer's set of 720 cards was the largest it had produced at the time. ... The Pro-Visions insert set is awesome and one of the best insert sets issued this year.
Minuses: Two things that keep me up at night: Who signed off on the 1995 Fleer design and who decided that every 1991 Fleer card should be bright yellow and whyyyyyyyyyyyyy????
1991 Leaf -- the front
Plusses: Although not nearly as classy or appealing as the 1990 Leaf set, there is still a bit of elegance with this set. ... Some people like silver-themed sets, I guess. I think they look dull and gray.
Minuses: The photo corners, although memorable, make the set look dated. ... This is a very ho-hum look for me from something that's supposed to be a premium-type set.
1991 Leaf -- the back
Plusses: It is similar to the 1990 Leaf back, simple, direct with an appealing design. ... There is a little more color with these card backs than in 1990.
Minuses: Silver/gray, ho-hum.
1991 Leaf -- overall
Plusses: Sturdy card stock. ... Um, it's not Donruss or Bowman.
Minuses: Leaf lost a lot of ground in 1991. Although it paved the way for sets like Stadium Club and Ultra, the latter two sets passed Leaf by in 1991 and it was tough for the brand to regain form. ... Relegated to the junk wax heap with other sets. ... I still couldn't find these cards where I lived.
1991 Score -- the front
Plusses: Colorful and distinctive. ... A pleasing border design with plenty of space devoted to the photo. ... The variety of borders -- blue, turquoise, black and white -- adds a bit of excitement to the set.
Minuses: I often question the border color choices. Turquoise? ... Depending on the border color, you could have the coolest card in the world (think any of the Pirates cards with a black border) or something that's just plain ugly (Astros on a turquoise border). ... The black and blue borders chip while the white borders always look awesome.
1991 Score -- the back
Plusses: The most informative card backs around. You couldn't possibly want to know more about Kevin Elster after reading this ... Very well-designed. Lots of space for a head shot and you don't feel like you've been deprived of information. ... This is the first horizontal orientation for a Score card back and I think I like it better.
Minuses: Not much. Score's addition of purples and yellows (and later oranges) around this time put me off, but that's personal taste.
1991 Score -- overall
Plusses: This is an 893-card set, which at the time was the largest major baseball card set ever made. Bigger is always better. ... The subsets are outstanding, possibly the best ever (K-Men, Master Blasters, No-Hitters, Dream Team, etc., etc.). ... An American flag card! ... I've said this before, but Score has always appealed to the basic collector, something that is a lost art.
Minuses: I wish the color scheme was changed a bit. I would have completed this set by now if there was some red in it. ... I do not need bare-chested baseball players in my subsets (*cough* Canseco/Puckett). ... The Magic Motion trivia cards that came in packs were fun at the time, but I have no idea what to do with them now.
1991 Stadium Club -- the front
Plusses: Considered landmark at the time. Full-color, borderless photos with a glossy finish. Nobody had seen anything like it. ... Many of the photos are different, some even unique, the first time seeing images like that.
Minuses: For people who wanted to see team names and positions listed on the front, they were out of luck. ... Some of the photos don't hold up over time, both in terms of quality and subject matter. ... Stadium Club designs -- if you can call them that -- are meant to be simple. I just don't like most of them.
1991 Stadium Club -- the back
Plusses: One of the most innovative card backs of all-time, displaying hitting zone and pitch chart information that had never been displayed before on a card back. ... My favorite part is a photo of the player's rookie card. This is phenomenal and something I wish Stadium Club still did.
Minuses: Some of the stat information isn't relevant anymore. ... Type can be difficult to read.
1991 Stadium Club -- overall
Plusses: One of the most memorable card sets of the last 30 years ... Some of the photos are still entertaining to this day (Eddie Murray).
Minuses: I'm going to upset people who grew up with this set, but it seems dated to me. The photo quality doesn't look as great as it was believed to be at the time and the card backs seem like they're trying a little too hard. I get that it is a landmark set, but I prefer other sets that came out this year.
1991 Topps -- the front
Plusses: Topps brought its A-game for its 40th anniversary and channeled its inner Upper Deck. ... Many of the photos are some of the best that Topps had created up to that time. ... Photos that stand out to this day, such as Benito Santiago, Roger Clemens and Walt Weiss. ... A fun design with the use of a team "wordmark" and sometimes allowing the image to break through the design.
Minuses: There are still a few clunkers in this set that seem to be holdovers from the 1960s.
1991 Topps -- the back
Plusses: It's the usual clean look from this time period, fairly readable. That's about it.
Minuses: Topps did not create interesting backs at this time. I think this is part of the reason that people focus on the "glow-backs" in this set. What else is there to pay attention to?
1991 Topps -- overall
Plusses: This is the final Topps card set on traditional cardboard. It should be praised for that fact alone. ... Another big, ol' 792-card set. ... There's lots of error-chasing in this set, if you like doing that. ... Although people didn't really appreciate it at the time, this is the set that showed that Topps was paying attention to what Upper Deck was doing and finally tried to catch up.
Minuses: An underappreciated set for years that's now getting the credit that it's due.
1991 Ultra -- the front
Plusses: Another premium card brand that places the focus on the photo, not the design. ... Out of the two silver-themed premium sets in 1991, I like Ultra much better than Leaf. ... Many of the photos in this set are a lot of fun (Shawon Dunston is a key one).
Minuses: I'd like this more if the borders were blue or red (but not yellow!).
1991 Ultra -- the back
Plusses: This set was praised at the time for showcasing three different images of the player on the card back. ... I happen to like the back design a lot although it's normally nothing I'd usually like.
Minuses: There is little to absorb from the card back, just basically another image.
1991 Ultra -- overall
Plusses: Fleer's first foray into the premium set market is a solid one. ... The Ultra Team set (the gold cards) received a lot of attention, although they don't appeal to me.
Minuses: I still have a difficult time finding these cards -- not that I'm looking.
1991 Upper Deck -- the front
Plusses: Upper Deck continues to make the photo the star of the card. ... The design, although similar to the previous two years, adds a fun team home plate to the corner.
Minuses: Of the first three years of Upper Deck, this is my least favorite. I enjoy 1990 UD a lot so this is quite a come down. ... I never liked the basepaths name background and the position designation is tiny. ... Until recently, you could find 1989 UD cards in my 1991 UD cards and vice versa.
1991 Upper Deck -- the back
Plusses: UD continues to make a name for itself with the card back, love those photos.
Minuses: Limited stats. ... Sometimes (as in the case of this card), the back image is better than the front image.
1991 Upper Deck -- overall
Plusses: An 800-card set. ... Still some great photos and fun photos.
Minuses: Man, these things are everywhere. Probably the most ubiquitous Upper Deck set ever made. ... Just doesn't match up to 1990 UD for me.
Geez, that took forever. How the heck am I going to get through the '90s with this?
Anyway, you want to see a winner, so here we go.
But it was a close one.
Ranking: 1. Topps; 2. Score; 3. Stadium Club; 4. Ultra; 5. Upper Deck; 6. Leaf; 7. Fleer; 8. Donruss; 9. Bowman
Total ranking: Topps - 7; Upper Deck - 2; Donruss -1; Fleer - 1