Skip to main content

10 non-1950s Bowman cards that don't suck

Bowman's been out for a couple of weeks, I guess, I don't know -- I barely pay attention to the product -- and has been enjoying its darling status as the latest and greatest.

Of course, you couldn't find Bowman in stores even before sports cards were removed from retail shelves because this is the kind of product that draws the "investors," get-rich-quick dreamers and, yeah, some scammers, too. Isn't that a nice legacy for Bowman?

Bowman didn't used to attract that kind of customer, of course. It was once the primary card brand in the land, along with Topps, and produced some pretty nice sets in the first half of the 1950s. But today it's all about prospects and guys I've never heard of and I think the biggest issue I have with it is: it's not a complete baseball card.

Think about it. What is the drawing point for a Bowman card? Why do people buy it?

They buy it for the name. Sure there needs to be a picture, but what they are seeking is the name on the card. That's the most important thing, that's basically the only thing for those collectors.

The other things about the card -- the stuff that matters to me -- the design, what's in the photo, the words on the back, are meaningless to Bowman collectors, obviously. Because if you've been looking at Bowman for the past 10 years, Bowman -- or actually Topps -- isn't putting any effort into the photos or the design.

Every design for the past decade has been an indefinable collection of geometric angles or curves. There's a white border and a team logo and that's it. I challenge you to come up with a distinctive name to describe each of the Bowman sets from 2011 to present. Because they all look the same.

Bowman has been about solely the prospect for a long time. But at least 15 years ago, I could find an interesting photo or two to keep my attention. The black borders it used in the early 2000s were nice, in retrospect, although at the time I didn't think Bowman deserved them.

Currently, though, there is nothing interesting about any of the cards -- except for that name. And you end up with pages in the binder that look like this:

This is not just one year of this. I've looked at all the Bowman Dodgers since 1989. It's been exactly like this since 2011. What else happened in 2011? Well, that was right around the time that Bowman started adding inserts (I think there were inserts in 2010 Bowman, too). So why do we need to pay attention to the base set anymore?
Just about every Bowman card since has been one close-up shot after another of pitcher pitching, hitter hitting, runner running, thrower throwing. It's stale, it's mind-numbingly boring. And it's not a card to me.
A trading card is a complete package: the name, the photo with thought, the design, the back. It's a loving treatment of the item, a true collectible.
Bowman in its present form is a commodity. It is something to be bought and sold. That's it. If you want to appreciate a Bowman card for its art, you're going to have to get some chromed-up version with shiny refractors and colors all over it. You have to dress it up. Because the card itself is going to be an assembly-line piece of shit.
The cards are so uninteresting to me that I can barely get myself to do the things I do naturally for every other card set. I can't get myself to compile a want list. I can't get myself to store the cards I own in a box (you should see my box of Bowman cards -- while every other brand is neatly in order by year and team, Bowman is a scattered collection of "you stay in there and THINK about what you did.")

I would rather open any other kind of card set that is currently made than Bowman.

But you know all that about me already.

Let's make it really challenging. Let's see if night owl can find 10 Bowman cards in his collection that aren't from the 1950s that don't suck.

OK, I'm up for that challenge. Let's see what I've got.

This is from the black-border era of Bowman. It's from 2009. Russell Martin was making really good cards in 2008-09, so Bowman isn't special in this area. But at least they didn't screw it up. I also think it's cool that Martin's Bowman Chrome card from this set is a horizontal version of this photo.

It seems like Bowman has ditched horizontal cards the last several years (But I don't know any of this Bowman stuff for sure because I haven't purchased a pack of Bowman in at least six or seven years). It's unfortunate and it does lead to the current sameness that plagues its sets. There is nothing as interesting as the Iannetta card in Bowman base this year, I'm sure, and this isn't even all that great of a picture.

Remember when you could see people in the background of Bowman cards? Heck, in the background of any card? What an interesting shot. Who knew Bowman could do this?

Well, the people collecting cards in 1994 could because Bowman was still doing that then.

It seems a little unfair to show a 1989 Bowman card -- heck that might as well be the 1950s with the way Bowman is behaving now. But it's nice to know that there used to be baseball pictures on Bowman cards that weren't of swinger swinging and thrower throwing.

The one thing I do like about the 2021 Bowman design (and I'd show my 2021 Bowman card here right now except I don't have one because people must have their investments) is the the 3-D effect in which the player's helmets or arms or whatever break through the design. 1997 Bowman did it better though, because this design is bad-ass. Black-and-red borders with a glittering red Bowman logo. Now this is a card.

I tried to steer clear of Bowman Chrome cards, because this is a post about how everyone marginalizes the base set, but, let's face it, I'll take whatever interesting Bowman thing I can find in my collection. This is a nice practice shot of the always interesting Torii Hunter, back when we were allowed to see things in the background of our pictures.

OK, cheating again with an '89 card. But, really, card-set makers, I'd be happy with a card like this. Fake outfielder pose? Bring it on. Get me those billboards, too.

One of the greatest Darryl Strawberry cards, period. And it appeared in Bowman. Shocking. But you could still do stuff like that in the early '90s.

Can you imagine Bowman featuring a coach in their set today? The Twitter outrage that would ensue.

If you put shots like this back into Bowman, I will buy Bowman again. No, I won't stand in line for it, or overpay for it, but I will definitely want to buy it.

Listen, I know that Bowman isn't about the base set. It's about the shiny and the inserts and the parallels and mostly about the name of the player. I also know that the amount of collectors who appreciate a card for all of its elements -- picture, design, cool stuff on the back -- are declining and fewer and fewer people understand.
That's OK. Because there are products out there for all kinds of collectors and all kinds of people. I'm certainly not saying that Bowman should die or anything like that. I just think it's soiling the good name of "the baseball card."
You can like Bowman, not that you need permission. But if you say you prefer it? ...

Just prepare to get a look like this from me.


I actively hate modern Bowman. They waste a lot of money on players that, I think, do not deserve baseball cards. I dislike "prospecting", too. Thank you for featuring Darryl Strawberry.
gogosox60 said…
What last great summer for real baseball cards. Just when Upper Deck had their shiny 1.00 dollar pack of baseball cards (which I never bought) Topps rolls out an over sized full color baseball card with gum. Buying a box to open up was pure joy. And cheap!!
Not a fan of non vintage Bowman, a few of the 90's sets were okay. I would be completely okay if the entire brand was discontinued.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Love this post concept since it gets right at the problem with the Bowman reboot. Even before it became all prospect speculating there was no real point to the set. At its best it was merely a competitor to Flagship competing for the same market segment. At its worst it's an all-look-same boring-ass design and photos that only serves as packfiller for chrome prospect speculation.

I do like modern Bowman Prospects (preferably paper but I will use Chrome is I have to) for autograph hunting at MiLB games. Not prospecting but just having something to sign. But as a set it's a disaster.

For my money the best stuff Bowman has done is when it does something distinct. The Elon Mills 1992 photos. The Spanish/Korean/Japanese/Zulu Language Bowman International Parallel set. *Something* no other brand has done to the same degree
cardstacks said…
I’m glad Bowman exists because it’s one of few sets where I can get cards of minor league players, and I like cards of minor league players. No arguments from me on the base set design, no doubt it could be much better. I was thinking of specific Bowman cards in my collection, and a favorite than came to mind for me was a Draft Night card (Michael Chavis is the one I have), and I realized that is an insert set.
Fuji said…
Haha. Love the way you wrapped up this post with that Gibson. Bowman has been bland for years... at least in regards to their designs. But I enjoy collecting rookie cards, so I do track down 1st Bowman cards whenever possible.

As for a trio of my favorite Bowmans that aren't from the 50's:

A. 1991 Rickey Henderson - Cool photo of him breaking the stolen base record

B. 1989 Ripken Family

C. 1993 Jeter - HOF rookie card featuring a well-cropped action shot
bryan was here said…
Bowman these days seems to be a money grab for Topps, a way for thewm to work around the "must have appeared in the Majors before he appears on a card" rule imposed in the 2000s when everyone was putting low-A guys in their base sets.

I'll pick up select singles, but I won't (Haven't) bought a pack of Bowman in over ten years. And I agree, the early sets are miles better than the new stuff. However, the 1990 set seems to be maied in for the most part. I have the same expression that Kirk Gibson has in regards to that set.
hiflew said…
I don't really mind Bowman being a prospect heavy set, because those collectors deserve a spot at the table too. My problem is that Bowman limits the prospects. Especially with "lesser" teams such as mine. By the time Brendan Rodgers debuted in the majors in May 2019, I already had 72 cards of him. That put him almost in the top 50 of Rockies players of all time.

He was in 15 Draft, 15 Best, 16 Bowman, 16 Draft, 16 Best, 16 Platinum, 17 Bowman (twice), 17 Draft, 17 Best, 17 High Tek, 17 Holiday, 17 Platinum, 18 Bowman, 18 Holiday, 18 Best, 18 High Tek, 18 Platinum, 19 Bowman, and 19 Platinum. And those are just base/parallels. That doesn't even include inserts, autos, relics. And it also doesn't include Panini products where he was also all over the place.

I get that Bowman like to put the high draft picks and TOP prospects in, but don't give me so many cards of the same guy that I am sick of them by the time they make their big league debut. If you are going to have a set that shows minor league guys, then show more than 1 or 2. The minors are full of guys that aren't necessarily always in the wet dreams of Baseball America writers.

It can be fixed, but it won't be.
Bo said…
Post 2000 Bowman are my least favorite cards. I'll get them b/c I collect everything, but they're the least interesting cards for me.
John Bateman said…
2012 Bowman AROD, it has the clearest shot of a baseball fan I have ever seen. There are about 5 fans that can claim this as there rookie card
I kinda liked Bowman before they went glossy and rookie-dominated... But that's just me.

I haven't had the opportunity to buy so much as a pack of Bowman since 2019. I will buy relatively cheap Bowman Prospects cards if they fall in to one of these categories:

1) Mets & Orioles minor leaguers

2) Players I remember seeing in the minors, regardless of how much of a prospect they are

2) If they're really cheap, I'll buy players I know I don't have cards of so... this way, if/when they get called up, I have some cardboard to put into my "current rosters" binders
Nick said…
Bowman seems kind of backwards to me because the established veteran guys in it are the afterthoughts. People don't buy it for the Freddie Freemans, they buy it for the Double-A guy no one knows. It's always struck me as a bizarro concept.

Part of the reason I stand by the gloriously awful '92 Bowman fashion show cards is because they're so unlike anything we'd see in today's Bowman.
Matt said…
Not a fan of Bowman, but to this day I wish Topps/Bowman would bring back the crossed bat foil stamp it used for Silver Slugger winners like it did in 1991.
Adam Kaningher said…
I wouldn't mind it so much if the checklist was structured at least somewhat normally.

There are plenty of blah designs out there which I can handle, but trying to figure out Base vs. Prospects vs. Chrome Prospects vs. Draft Pick Prospects vs. what's the base card vs. maybe this is a parallel but it's sequentially numbered with an insert from another set, etc...

It's excessively annoying.