Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Card back countdown: #2 - 1991 Topps Stadium Club

It just occurred to me that I've gone to the junk wax well for the last two card backs. They really were doing some good things back then.

In fact, they were so proud of their breakthroughs that they overproduced them so that no card from 1987-93 has any meaning at all. It's like the classic rock station playing "Eye of the Tiger," followed by "More Than a Feeling," followed by "Hotel California." You can go a whole half hour and not even be aware that there is music playing.

So, let's put a little meaning back in one of the sets from that period. The 1991 Stadium Club set was Topps' response to Upper Deck, and what a dandy-looking set it was at the time. We all know how revolutionary full-bleed photos and thick card stock was at the time. But how about those card backs from that set?

Stadium Club introduced us to the concept of a scouting report on the back of a baseball card. Perhaps it wasn't the first set to do this, but it was the first one to go this far.

I found the "Bars System" (the "Baseball Analysis and Reporting System" ... uh, "System") fascinating. The grid featured a batter's average depending on pitch location in 9 separate squares of the strike zone. It is endlessly interesting. Then Topps added a little commentary underneath, based on the stats shown. Topps was so proud of this feature that it offered a BARS book for each league that contained player reports. How wonderfully quaint.

As interesting as I found (and find) the strike zone grid -- which some people feared would turn off collectors with its complexity -- it wasn't the best part of the Stadium Club card back, for me.

The best part was the depiction of that player's rookie card on the back.

I didn't care that it was the player's rookie card. I mean, sure I guess it was a little cool to find out which card was a player's rookie card and what it looked like. But the best part was that there was a picture of an actual baseball card on the back of a baseball card! It was like two baseball cards in one!

The very greatest part is when you had a card of a player who had been in the league for quite awhile. That player's rookie card would be from a set that went way, WAY back. It was almost as if you had that card, too! All the way from 1974! Yeah, I know, I was pathetic. But that was very cool to me.

To me, the BARS grid and the rookie card photo far outweighed the fact that there was only one line of stats for each player (and some of the stats were semi-unreadable). Topps had a base set that featured full stats for every player. If I wanted full stats, I could consult the '91 Topps set.

A picture of a rookie card that took up space otherwise dedicated toward traditional stats was an excellent trade off. I enjoyed seeing sets like the '86 Topps Traded set that completely passed me by.

Stadium Club also introduced me to Topps Debut. I had never seen Debut until it was pictured as a player's rookie card on a SC card back. The set seemed as strange as the "insufficient Major League data" notice that accompanied players who played few games in 1990.

I suppose I should show the corresponding pitcher chart. This didn't interest me as much as BATS, but it was cool to see how often each pitcher used a different pitch, and how it varied for right- or left-handed batter.

The card back remains fascinating reading for me. I collected much more '92 Stadium Club than '91 ('91 was hard to find where I was). But the backs were essentially the same. 1992 looks a little better on the back, in my view.

However, 1991 is on the countdown because it was the first. It sure got my attention.

Best of the set:

I'll go with the Eddie Murray card:

Comical card front. And unless you're Robin Yount, George Brett or Dave Winfield (and maybe if you are), there isn't a better rookie card on the back in the entire set.

Only one more card back to go. Any guesses? (I'm assuming some of you have figured it out).

(previous card back countdown selections):

50. 1978 SSPC Yankee Yearbook
49. 1993 Score
48. 1999 Skybox Thunder
47. 2000 Upper Deck
46. 1999 Skybox Premium
45. 1953 Johnston Cookies Braves
44. 1995 Topps
43. 1997 Fleer
42. 1992 Pinnacle
41. 1989 Bowman
40. 1977 Kellogg's
39. 2004 Topps
38. 2004 Topps Total
37. 1992 Topps
36. 1992 Donruss
35. 2008 Upper Deck Documentary
34. 1963 Fleer
33. 1955 Bowman
32. 2006 Topps
31. 1961 Topps
30. 1955 Topps
29. 1967 Topps
28. 1970 Topps
27. 1969 Topps
26. 1966 Topps
25. 1963 Topps
24. 1911 T205
23. 1962 Topps
22. 1981 Topps

21. 1981 Donruss
20. 1958 Topps
19. 1977 Topps
18. 1974 Topps
17. 1957 Topps
16. 1988 Score
15. 1993 Upper Deck
14. 2004 Upper Deck Timeless Teams
13. 1971 Topps
12. 1965 Topps
11. 1991 Studio
10. 1954 Topps
9. 1953 Topps
8. 1978 Topps
7. 1980 Topps
6. 1993 Leaf
5. 1952 Topps
4. 1973 Topps
3. 1989 Upper Deck


  1. Best card back ever? 1992 Topps Kids of course. Was it ever in doubt?

    vw: guessist

  2. I'm guessing that anyone who's a regular reader of your blog's should be able to figure out the #1 card back.