My Favourite Baseball Sets of the 1990′s – Part 2: #5 – #1

If any of you were reading around the end of January you might have come across a post looking my favourite Baseball card sets from the 1990’s. That particular article dealt with #’s 10 through to 6, and here we are again to countdown my Top 5 selection.

As I mentioned in my previous post this isn’t meant to be a definitive ‘best of’ list, more of a trip down Memory Lane for those of us who like to dip ourselves in the murky pools of nostalgia every once in a while!

To recap –

#10 – 1997 Bowman Chrome

#9 – 1999 Upper Deck SP Signature Edition

#8 – 1997 Fleer

#7 – 1997 Topps Finest

#6 – 1995 SkyBox E-Motion

So, let’s get going with…

#5 – 1998 Upper Deck Retro

In the late 90’s Upper Deck was one of the first card companies to spearhead sets showcasing players from yesteryear and in 1998 Upper Deck Retro Baseball was one of the first. However it wasn’t so much the content as the way it was released that garnered much of the publicity at the time. You see, a different distribution method was used (moving away from the traditional box) in the form of metal lunchboxes ,which to this day remain highly collectable.

As well as this unique packaging Retro Baseball had an absolutely outstanding autograph set seeded one in every 1.5 boxes, with over 50% of the checklist dedicated to Hall of Famers such as Nolan Ryan, Ernie Banks and Bob Gibson. Griffey Jr was another highlight from this autograph set.

For some reason I get a big kick from seeing retired and HOF players on more modern card designs, and Retro Baseball was right up my street!

1998 UD Retro Baseball Bob Gibson
1998 UD Retro Baseball Bob Gibson
1998 UD Retro Baseball Willie McCovey Autograph
1998 UD Retro Baseball Willie McCovey Autograph

#4 – 1993 Topps Finest

What can be said about 1993 Finest Baseball that hasn’t been said already?

Easily one of the most significant sets of the 90’s as it introduced the collecting world to Topps’ first foray into the ‘premium’ market while at the same time giving the Hobby the first chromium effect base set.It also gave us a new type of parallel – the Refractor!! Anyone heard of those?? Without 1993 Finest Baseball, we might not even have the Topps Chrome and Bowman Chrome products that we have today.

From Baseballcardpedia –

“Production was announced at 4,000, 12-box cases and cards were distributed exclusively through hobby dealers in the fall of 1993. This was the first time in the history of the hobby that a major manufacturer publicly released production figures.

Because production figures were released, it is believed that there are approximately 30,000 copies of each base card, 1500 of each Jumbo card, and 241 of each Refractor.”

The inaugural Topps Finest set was limited to 199 cards and was very ‘star’ oriented. It even had an All-Star subset featuring some of the biggest names in Baseball at that time and the whole set still remains incredibly popular amongst collectors. However it’s the Refractors that really carry the set and even today they still fetch some heavy coin on eBay, easily reaching triple figures for the Refractors of the All-Star subset.

I distinctly remember attending a card show in London around 1998/99 and speaking to some Australian collectors who had been lucky enough to open some 1993 Finest upon it’s release, and the way they described the sense of wonder they felt when opening the packs for the fist time and seeing the chrome finish (especially the look of the Refractors) made you really appreciate the significance of this set even when it first appeared in the Hobby.

1993 Topps Finest Mike Piazza
1993 Topps Finest Mike Piazza
1993 Topps Finest Barry Bonds (All-Star)
1993 Topps Finest Barry Bonds (All-Star)

#3 – 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends

Carrying on the theme of vintage based sets following the 1998 Retro Baseball release, Upper Deck game us Century Legends a year later in 1999. While nothing immediately stands out about the base cards in this set – nice design with some stock photgraphy of HOF and retired players – what really makes Century Legends stand out for me (and the reason it ranks so highly in my Top 10) is the Century Legends Epic Signatures autograph set.

Hands down this is one of my favourite autograph sets ever produced in a Baseball card product!! It’s just THAT good!!

Upper Deck gave us a horizontal card design with a profile image of the player covering about a third of one side of the card, with the rest of the card a huge blank space (in Baseball card terms) set aside exclusively for the signer to earn their money’s worth!

And with autographs from the likes of Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, Yogi Berra, Stan Musial and Tom Seaver, along with many other greats of the game, this particular checklist is literally overflowing with talent and collectability!! If you have a quick look for some of these autos on eBay you’ll notice that they can be picked up for pretty reasonable prices to!

So… What are you waiting for??

1999 UD Century Legends - Epic Signatures - Stan Musial
1999 UD Century Legends – Epic Signatures – Stan Musial
1999 UD Century Legends Lou Gehrig
1999 UD Century Legends Lou Gehrig
1999 Century Legends - Epic Signatures - Carlton Fisk
1999 Century Legends – Epic Signatures – Carlton Fisk

#2 – 1997 EX-2000

EX-2000 is an odd beast! Released in the summer of 1997 by Skybox (part of Fleer at this point) the set consists of 102 base cards. EX-2000 stands out as one of the most colourful and nicest looking card sets of the 90’s. The cards are printed on clear acetate with an embossed player photo (in all manner of action poses) standing out slightly from the card. As an additional quirk each card has a double picture on the front and the back.

The product was also notable for one of the earliest forays into the world of serially numbered base card with Credentials parallels. With the Credentials parallel each card was #’d/299 while the Essential Credentials were #’d/99. Rounding off EX-2000 were several insert sets including ‘A Cut Above’, ‘Hall or Nothing’ and the popular ‘Stardate 2000’ insert set showcasing the future stars of Baseball…

… and Brooks Kieschnick

1997 EX-2000 Will Clark
1997 EX-2000 Will Clark
1997 EX-200 Frank Thomas - Essential Credentials
1997 EX-200 Frank Thomas – Essential Credentials
#1 – 1997 Flair Showcase

1997 Flair Showcase Baseball is a 540-card ‘fractured’ set released by Fleer in the summer of 1997. Regarded as both one of the most innovative, yet confusing, card sets ever produced, I’ll hand you over to Baseballcardpedia to explain the breakdown –

“…the set consists of 180 players on three different, repeating, levels, each with it’s own front design: Style (Row 2), Grace (Row 1), and Showcase (Row 0). The Row 2 cards are the easiest to find with the Row 0 the toughest. Each “Row” is then sub-divided into three, 60-card, sub-sections, each with it’s own reverse icon: Showtime, Showstopper, and Showpiece. Each of the 180 players in the set has one card in each of the three rows, and one card in each of the backs.”

Did you get that?? If you did then you’re a better man than me 🙂

I first got to know this set through its Basketball release (containing the Kobe Bryant Rookie Card) and I remember the overall design of the card completely blowing me away at the time. Very shiny and an absolute joy to behold!

1997 Flair Showcase is also notable for two other reasons –

  • The inclusion of the “Masterpieces”, Baseball’s first “true” one-of-one parallel card
  • ‘Legacy Collection’ – #’d/100

Along with more insert sets than you can shake a big stick at – ‘Hot Gloves’, ‘Diamond Cuts’, ‘Wave of the Future’ – the 1997 Flair Showcase set was bulging with ideas and content!! The limited ‘Legacy Collection’ cards are still incredibly popular today, with stars still shifting for some hefty prices on eBay even today!

The production values on this set were outstanding, and with the inclusion of some great inserts, limited print runs and a ridiculously complicated set design, 1997 Flair Showcase was a set well ahead of its time… and a worthy No.1 on the list!!

1997 Flair Showcase Ken Griffey Jr
1997 Flair Showcase Ken Griffey Jr
1997 Flair Shocaes Ryne Sandberg - Legacy Collection
1997 Flair Shocaes Ryne Sandberg – Legacy Collection

So there we go… My Top 5!!

Any surprises in there?? Anything that you feel I missed out?

There were plenty of sets produced in the 90’s so please feel free to wade in with your thoughts!!

2 thoughts on “My Favourite Baseball Sets of the 1990′s – Part 2: #5 – #1

  1. I really liked ’93 Upper Deck as a base set. Great, simple design with a lot of good photograph and interesting subsets. I also liked ’93 and ’94 SP, and, I loved Flair from 1993. All three of the Super-Premium sets that came out in 1993 (Finest, Flair, SP) seemed like the best efforts those companies put out.

    Some of that is probably bias because it was just when I was collecting, though! Topps Archives (I think 91 and 94 maybe?) was pretty notable, too.

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