Monday, August 5, 2019

Best set of the year: 1992


I watched the "Jack of All Trades" baseball card documentary on Netflix yesterday. I didn't think I'd like it, but it turns out it was pretty good. It's far from perfect. But the complaints that "it isn't really a baseball card movie" are kind of pointless. Of course it isn't. Who could make money off of a movie that is about nothing but baseball cards?

Anyway, it was interesting to look inside the hobby a little and to reminisce about that junk wax period that is now over 25 years old!

One of the things mentioned repeatedly in the documentary is how everybody during that period was trying to get rich. Collectors, dealers, card companies. And one theory on how to do that back then was just to produce more. More of everything. More stores. More cards. More sets.

Definitely more sets.

It's 1992 now in the "Best Set of the Year" series and we're up to 12 sets that I have to analyze. I cried about having to review nine sets for 1991. And now there are three more to write. And I'm still not including O-Pee-Chee or Classic or Conlon or endless others issued in '92.

This will make for another long post. But you are all accomplices in this. You all bought cards in '92, right? You all thought they were going to make you rich, right? I was right there with you. So now we're going to have to deal with it.

Get ready:


1992 Bowman -- the front

Plusses: Well, howdy, what's this? Bowman ditched the gray cardboard from the previous three years and presented a slick, white card stock with an equally slick design. Clean and simple. I like it. ... The glossy finish is a nice touch and very unusual for what we knew of Bowman at the time.

Minuses: As far as the card front, not a lot. I suppose there were a lot of people looking for the position and team name designations but Bowman was in a habit of leaving those out anyway.


1992 Bowman -- the back

Plusses: Bowman modernized the back, too. It added a photo on the back, a simple mug shot. But it retained the "performance-against-each-team" stats that made the previous three years of Bowman backs interesting. ... The 1968-themed background is interesting.

Minuses: I don't like it when company logos are superimposed on stats. I'm trying to read here!

1992 Bowman -- overall

Plusses: For once, a set from Bowman that is collectible and not yawn-inducing. ... The look holds up if you ask me. A nice clear image but yet still a border. ... Bowman stayed with a large set, going with 705 cards after the previous year's 704. ... If you like this kind of thing, Bowman added special insert cards stamped with gold foil. They're rather snazzy. ... Watch out for that Mariano Rivera rookie card, even if he is wearing an aqua polo shirt.

Minuses: This is the real beginning of Bowman, The Prospect Set. There are several cards of players without major league experience in the set, which was a complete turnoff for me when I collecting during this period. ... Awkward, awkward, awkward young prospects in street clothes. Painful. ... Some of the gold-foil cards turned out to be SPs. ... To this day, '92 Bowman is one of the few sets issued in the early '90s that's still somewhat coveted and the cards aren't as easy to find as your average cards from '92. For that reason, it's one of the most frustrating sets from that period for this team collector.



1992 Donruss -- the front

Plusses: None.

Minuses: Everything. I cannot be objective with this set. I hate it. With a passion. The light-blue gradient lines make me want to throw up. This is not hyperbole. I instinctively think the design is gross.


1992 Donruss -- the back

Plusses: Donruss updated its set significantly, both front and back, after 1991's child-like release. Although it missed its mark with the front, the back isn't too bad. ... The vital info, stats and highlights are well-presented and the profile shot ties everything together. ... There is a lot of detail in the career highlights, maybe not so much on this card. But on many others, it travels up to the bottom of the contract status. ... Donruss keeps giving you that contract status that first made its debut in the '80s!

Minuses: The blue on the edges is giving me the twitches.

1992 Donruss -- overall

Plusses: Donruss finally decided to play with the big boys after some very simple sets in previous years. Unfortunately it fell flat on its face with the design. I think it's maybe just a matter of color choice, because the green used with The Rookies set doesn't bother me. ... Looking beyond the design, some of the action-oriented photos are interesting. ... The highlight cards in the set are appreciated. ... Donruss scaled back on production after burying the world in cards the previous four years.

Minuses: I want every 1992 Donruss card out of my house but I am sad that I must keep some for team-collecting purposes. ... Donruss is entering a period in which it tried to keep up with the times with its flagship sets, but it just didn't connect with collectors like other companies did. It would do better with its inserts and such later in the decade but there's nothing about '90s Donruss flagship that stands out to me.



1992 Fleer -- the front

Plusses: Bold design choice. The green background isn't as jarring as the previous year's yellow but it's still distinctive, as is the sideways last name and the fat font choice. ... Still like those team logos.

Minuses: One of those designs that limits what you can do with the photograph. The players seem a little cramped in that rectangular box. ... Also, most of the photos are the same because of the space limitations.


1992 Fleer - the back

Plusses: Fleer had struggled previously to fill the backs of its cards, but there is no problem this year. It merely expanded the size of the action photo on the back depending on how many stats were needed. Fleer is basically borrowing from Upper Deck with this format (although it's using full stats instead of UD's limited ones). ... Look at that card number -- no struggling to identify it here!

Minuses: That space between "runs" and "hits" in the stats is driving me nuts. It's on every batter card.

1992 Fleer -- overall

Plusses: After blinding collectors in '91, Fleer showed it cared about consumers' vision in '92. ... The set is 720 cards large for a second straight year. ... Fleer bumped up the number of insert sets available, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your view, adding Lumber Co., Rookie Sensations, Smoke 'n Heat, Team Leaders and a Roger Clemens retrospective. ... The black-bordered All-Stars insert set is quite cool. ... Pro Visions cards are included in the set instead of an outside insert.

Minuses: For I don't know how many years in a row, there's still nothing about a Fleer set that makes me think "I've got to collect those." ... Although it probably doesn't bother me as much as others, the "pistachio" design is a somewhat bizarre choice. ... Too much sameness with the photos.



1992 Leaf -- the front

Plusses: Much like '92 Bowman, this is a nice, simple, classic design. But unlike Bowman, it includes the player position and team name. too. ... Well-presented photo.

Minuses: Silver/gray borders for the second straight year makes for confusion when sorting '91 and '92 Leaf. ... A little blah.


1992 Leaf -- the back

Plusses: As in the last two previous editions of Leaf, this is a well-arranged card back. ... Continued use of complete stats and even more room than usual for the photo.

Minuses: The card number is pretty small, and somebody who is starting to realize he's going to need glasses for close-up viewing, too (*ahem* me), will struggle to read the bio.

1992 Leaf -- overall

Plusses: Leaf is still holding on to its reputation as the first premium card set. ... Solid 528-card set.

Minuses: I get the impression that this set was produced in more quantities than the previous two because these cards pop up in repacks all the time. ... It may be time to try a different look, Leaf.



1992 Pinnacle -- the front

Plusses: Holy smokes, is that a black-themed, a heavy black-themed set? Gimme. ... Strong, geometric design that gives off a slick, classy vibe. ... Just one of the coolest designs of the '90s is all. ... The design allows for that "breaking the frame" style that I enjoy so much.

Minuses:  The photo does seem a bit of an after-thought in this set.


1992 Pinnacle -- the back

Plusses: Card sets had already started continuing the theme from the front to the back by the time '92 Pinnacle came out, but I probably didn't notice it until Pinnacle because, my goodness, is that a black background on the back, too???? ... Seems like they jam a lot of good stuff into a tiny little space. ... The write-ups on the right are detailed and often-times interesting. They don't shy away from negative moments (injuries, etc.) that have occurred in the player's career. ... Love that team logo. ... It's like everything lights up on the back here.

Minuses: One line of stats and totals is pretty skimpy, although I know why. ... That weird rectangle underneath the photo confused me when I was opening packs. Although I assumed it was some sort of anti-counterfeit thing, it looked like a tire-tread to me and what is a tire tread doing on the back of a baseball card?

1992 Pinnacle -- Overall

Plusses: Score's first foray into the premium card market was a home run. Pinnacle would go on to create many memorable (and strange) cards over the next seven years, but this is my favorite thing it's ever done. ... I was not impressed by much that I opened in 1992 (and I opened a lot), but Pinnacle kept me returning to that drug store so I could find more of those black beauties. ... You can tell this is a Score set because there are several interesting subsets in here, such as Idols, Grips and Shades.

Minuses: Like many black-bordered sets, these chip like a mother. I think the glossiness causes them to chip even more.



1992 Score -- the front

Plusses: Really, not much. Some of the action photos are interesting.

Minuses: Let's count the ways. 1. The color combinations are icky. Green with orange with purple? 2. The half natural background/half monochrome background does not work. It looks like two-thirds of a card. ... The team logo is floating in empty space. ... The design is confining even with the "break out" effect.


1992 Score -- the back

Plusses: You cannot beat a Score back for detail. I've said this a few times. It's also very well arranged as usual. ... I like the number positioning. Different but not difficult to find. ... After that grating front, it's a relief to turn it to the back.

Minuses: For the second straight year, Score goes with a colored background behind the stats. It's not impossible to read but it's a tiny bit loud for a functional part of the card.

1992 Score -- overall

Plusses: Score sticks to tradition in a few areas so you have a nice, fat 893-card set with several fun subsets. ... Somebody somewhere pulled a Joe DiMaggio autographed card as DiMaggio autographs were inserted randomly into packs.

Minuses: 1992 is the nadir for me for both Donruss and Score. Like Donruss, I try to get rid of '92 Score as often as I can.



1992 Stadium Club -- the front

Plusses: For a second straight year, full-color, full-bleed photos and super high quality for its time. ... Some great action photos, particularly the horizontal shots. ... Still mind-blowing two years into Stadium Club's arrival. ... I like the '92 design element better than '91.

Minuses: For those who don't like full-bleed photos -- well, they probably weren't buying this anyway. ... I bought Stadium Club for the first time in '92 and I can say for a fact that not all the photos were great ...


There was a little too much of this in the set.

You know what could help this? A border.



1992 Stadium Club -- the back

Plusses: Still loving that rookie card on the back. ... Also enjoying the strike zone boxes. This graphic always fascinates me and I think it should be shown during games every time a player comes to bat. ... The stats are a little easier to read in this set than in the debut Stadium Club set. ... That card number size is out of sight. More of this, please.

Minuses: Does anybody know what "BARS" means anymore? ... The stats at the bottom get a little lost among all the other factoids.

1992 Stadium Club -- overall

Plusses: Since I never saw Stadium Club in 1991, '92 was my introduction to the set and I thought it was quite amazing. I bought more of this set than of any other card set issued that year and that includes Topps flagship. ... Stadium Club was still handing out special Members Only cards.

Minuses: When you compare Stadium Club from this time period to the current Stadium Club, the earlier SC doesn't hold up that great. I suppose that's only natural, but it's a little disappointing for someone who ate this stuff up in '92. ... These cards can stick together. ... At 900 cards I think there are STILL some 1992 Stadium Club cards I've never seen.



1992 Studio -- the front

Plusses: You have your up-close-and-personal portrait photo with a black-and-white background action shot. ... The gold border, I guess, is supposed to make it look upscale.

Minuses: Cheesy as all get-out (but fun). ... It's a bit simple. ... Does anyone buy Studio cards for the fronts?


1992 Studio -- the back

Plusses: The whole reason for the Studio set, so you can scarf up all the personal information on your favorite ballplayer. ... The "loves to face/hates to face" category is great. ... My eyes dart right to the "Up Close" category.

Minuses: More often than not you're going to be disappointed in the player's favorites, especially more than 25 years after the fact. Favorite actor is Patrick Swayze? Really?

1992 Studio -- overall

Plusses: For me, this set is what cartoons on the backs of cards were in the '70s. It gave you a glimpse into the person behind the baseball player. ... It is always good for comic relief.

Minuses: Studio first came out in 1991 but I forgot to include it in my "Best of '91" post and that's because it doesn't feel like an actual set on its own. It feels like an insert set. ... The card fronts are pretty boring.



1992 Topps -- the front

Plusses: I like the design of '92 Topps more and more. It's bright. It's clean. And I like the 3-D effect. ... The 1992 Topps photos are just as interesting as the 1991 Topps photos with the memorable Clemens, Ripken and Lee Smith just to name three off the top of my head.

Minuses: Uh, oh, Topps ditched gray cardboard with this set. It's a little difficult to get back into that mind-set in '92 but it was a quite jarring to see Topps looking like this.


1992 Topps -- the back

Plusses: Have you ever seen a Topps card back so bright? You hadn't in 1992. It's still one of the cleanest card backs that Topps has ever made. ... The panoramic look at each player's home park is a nice idea -- and saved Topps some work coming up with something different for every player's card.

Minuses: A little redundant. ... That whiteness looked so weird for a long time.


1992 Topps -- overall

Plusses: Topps at least was trying something different, I guess? For its first noticeable upgrade into Upper Deck territory I don't think it did so bad. ... The set is the usual 792 cards strong. ... This set marks the debut of the gold-foil parallels -- again this is a plus or a minus depending on your view.

Minuses: Many view this set as signaling the absolute end of baseball card collecting. Nothing would be the same and everything afterward would be worse. For this reason alone, some are placing this set at the bottom of the pile. ... This was the first time since 1951 that Topps sold baseball cards without gum in packs. That makes me a little sad. ... The Gold Winners prize snafu.



1992 Triple Play -- the front

Plusses: An obvious kid-friendly design with kid-friendly photos. Nothing wrong with that. Grown-ups can like this, too. ... Given my aversion to 1992 Donruss flagship, this was a nice alternative. I bought a fair amount of it.

Minuses: The loud border kind of takes over the whole card. ... Although a lot of the photos are interesting, many just make the player look awkward.


1992 Triple Play -- the back

Plusses: Sometimes you got a quote from the player featured. Sometimes the quote was pretty good.

Minuses: Not a lot going on with the back.

1992 Triple Play -- overall

Plusses: While most companies were expanding into the premium market, Donruss also ventured into the kids market (Topps would do this in the same year with "Topps Kids"). It was a nice idea for the time. ... Included in this set were mascots and ballpark photos. Honestly, these should be in every set.

Minuses: I almost didn't include Triple Play in this review and I might not do so in future posts, but this one seemed right because it was a regular purchase for me. Overall, though, it feels a little bit insert-ish. ... After a year or two, the point of the set seemed to be lost.



1992 Ultra -- the front

Plusses: Ultra, in its second year as a premium set, really flipped things around after its debut set, going for a Stadium Club-esque look. ... Lots of ballplayers in action with this set. Nobody standing still. ... I like the Ultra logo over the baseball.

Minuses: Nobody knew it yet, but this set would be confused constantly with 1993 Ultra. .... This was the beginning of the Sameness of Ultra, which would last the entire decade. Unfortunately '92 Ultra doesn't include some of the later creative photos that we saw in the brand.



1992 Ultra -- the back

Plusses: The "Tron"-looking back is interesting, I'll say that.

Minuses: I don't know what's going on here. Why is the head shot of the player so low? Why is there so much wasted space at the top? The vital information is tricky to read. ... Very little about this makes sense except for the large card number.

1992 Ultra -- overall

Plusses: Full-bleed card sets were all the rage at this time so Ultra capitalized on that and Fleer had to feel it was at least close to the same footing with Topps and Upper Deck with this set. ... The Ultra brand is a well-known aspect of '90s card collecting and it really started here.

Minuses: You know me and full-bleed sets: either make your photos really interesting or get a design on that thing. 1992 Ultra did neither.



1992 Upper Deck -- the front

Plusses: I like it a bunch. Now that Upper Deck had completed its trip-around-the-bases design (which lasted from 1989-91), it left the border alone, except for the speeding baseball. I appreciate the simple treatment and don't mind the shadow box at all. ... Love the word mark logo in the corner. ... Upper Deck features its usual interesting photos and I think they benefit from the simplistic design.

Minuses: I guess there's no position designation.


1992 Upper Deck -- the back

Plusses: One of the few cases where turning your card over is a must-do.

Minuses: The orientation of Upper Deck card backs can get tricky. Sideways stats or sideways card number and photo? ... As usual, limited stats.


1992 Upper Deck -- overall

Plusses: the '89 and '91 UD sets will never be my favorites. I think 1990 UD is criminally underrated and I'll place 1992 UD in the same category. It just doesn't get the credit it deserves and it was setting collectors up for the best two-year run in Upper Deck history. ... I have virtually no trouble distinguishing 1992 UD from other early UD releases and I can't say that for those other early UD sets. .... You could land a Ted Williams autographed card if you were really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really lucky.

Minuses: Beats me.

Good gosh that took a long time.

Let's declare a winner ...

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STADIUM CLUB!!!!

Two-year winning streak.

Ranking: 1. Stadium Club; 2. Upper Deck; 3. Topps; 4. Pinnacle; 5. Bowman; 6. Ultra; 7. Leaf; 8. Fleer; 9. Studio; 10. Score; 11. Triple Play; 12. Donruss

Total ranking: Topps - 6; Stadium Club - 2; Upper Deck - 2; Donruss - 1; Fleer - 1

14 comments:

  1. I can hear the cartoon screeching of brakes when I look at the Walker card..
    I found 1991 and 1992 Stadium Club to be too similar in design. But that era it seemed every company made their cards too similar to the previous year's..

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  2. Holy cow that was a lot of card sets! Anyway, my favorites from 1992 (in no particular order) ... Upper Deck, Topps, Leaf (always enjoyed 1992 Leaf, very clean design) and Pinnacle. Score and Fleer aren't bad, I sometimes have trouble telling them apart because they have a similar look. Stadium Club is nice but it's not really my thing. I'll keep a 92 Stadium Club card if it's got a cool picture but the posed shot ones usually go straight into the donation bin. I don't hate 1992 Donruss as much as you but it's not my favorite either. The others (Studio, Ultra, Triple Play, etc.) I could give or take.

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  3. 1992 was the first year in awhile that I didn't buy any cards. I was tired of them and I was out of the elementary school scene so I wasn't having kids bring cards in to show me. Some of those sets I am only dimly aware of even now. But looking thru them I'd agree...Stadium Club is easily the best of the bunch.

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  4. 1992 was the first year I started buying cards with my own money, and for me, 1992 Topps will never be beat.
    And BARS means Baseball Analysis and Reporting System (they had it listed on randomly inserted info cards that year).

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  5. I recently opened almost 200 loose packs of 92UD, but was not lucky.

    Leaf deserves a few bonus points for the black front/gold back parallel set -- which chip a lot more easily than Pinnacle. Still not enough to push it into contention. Though the color doesn't upset me, I agree that there's absolutely nothing redeeming about the Donruss fronts.

    Your analysis revealed a lot more "design sameness" than I realized existed. Score and Fleer both have the 'narrow front photo' problem.

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  6. 1992 marked the beginning of the end for the second phase of my card collecting career, though I might not have realized it until reading this post. The trend towards upscale everything started by Upper Deck started permeating the hobby. What? Donruss is suddenly upscale? Or trying to be? A pack of cards costs what? Plus there was just too much product out there. Obviosuly, that was the beginning of both of those trends and I found them offputting. Then came the strike and I pretty much shut it down.

    Good analysis ... my vote for best set does agree with yours.

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  7. I hated that movie - If someone was a collector back then AND cared enough to want to make a movie about baseball cards they would have had to know that 80's-90's cards aren't worth anything already. Wouldn't anyone look online before hiring a camera crew to film the day and hauling a bunch of cards to a show hoping to get rich?

    The whole thing felt very staged and phony

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  8. A. I really enjoyed "Jack of All Trades". In fact, I'll probably watch it again one day.

    B. 1992 Fleer Ultra is my personal favorite. Back in the day, I actually built a master set (minus the Gwynn autographs). At the time I worked at a card shop, so I had the help of several customers with the inserts. It's still one of my favorite sets from the decade.

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  9. Great write-up! And yeesh, there were so many choices in '92. I remember thinking the Topps design was okay, but then they released their hockey set . . . and used the same design. Booo! And then I discovered that they also used the same design for their basketball and football sets that year. Booo again! But who knows, maybe that laziness allowed them to focus more on Stadium Club, which wouldn't make it all bad.

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  10. My birth year! There were some really good sets in '92 -- Topps is my favorite, but Stadium Club, Pinnacle, and even Triple Play are up there for me. But man were there some clunkers. I still don't know what Donruss and Fleer were thinking with those designs.

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  11. I'm not a fan of sets in which every base card looks the same. There should be some slight variation from card to card, whether it's a change in color or something else. As much as I criticize modern day Topps Flagship, at least all the cards don't look the same. That's part of why, like you, I can't stand '92 Donruss.

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  12. I think I'd have made Pinnacle number one but otherwise I can get behind this ranking.

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  13. I'd like to watch that movie but Netflix in Japan doesn't have it for some reason. Guess they had trouble buying the rights to it from....Netflix?

    1992 was a peak year for me in terms of buying new cards and I collected all the sets in this post except Bowman and Triple Play, which is insane. Why did I try to collect 10 sets of baseball cards in one year? Weird times, though I did work in a card shop back then. I agree with Stadium Club as the winner, some of the photos weren't great its true but the ones that were (like that Larry Walker) were among the best ever. I'm a fan of the full bleed photo design in general.

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