Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Back to base (Topps 1990 - 1993)

I've been showing off some fun cards and fancy inserts of late, but a lot of the cards in my collection are plain old 'base' cards. I find them pretty interesting in their own way, as comparing them year on year shows the evolution of baseball cards.

The couple of seasons between 1990 and 1992 are the "KT boundary" of the card hobby. As we excavate the card strata, on one side of the boundary are the fossil dinosaurs, cards with poor focus, cheap card stock, black and white print on the card backs, and on the other side of the boundary are fossils of the new mammalian masters of the card world, bright, glossy cards with full colour photos on both sides printed on much better stock.

The jury is out on what caused the rapid extinction of the old cards. The blame is often placed on the Upper Deck meteorite, which landed in 1989 and was hugely popular. But, as I've shown, the Upper Deck meteorite was not the first impact on the card world. Score were running pictures on the backs of cards prior to Upper Deck's arrival, and Fuji reminded me that Sportflics were doing the same in 1987. 'UD Boundary' would work for me as a descriptor, though.

Here are some base cards that straddle the UD Boundary, all from Topps.

Card Number 69: Topps, 1990; #730

As action photos go, this isn't great. Topps photography was pretty poor generally in this set based on the other cards I've seen. The clunky colours of the border and the lettering are absolutely 1990.

Topps haven't bothered with a cardback factoid and have included a monthly scoreboard for 1989. Tony was struggling with his hitting in 1989. It was one of his lesser seasons inbetween his two runs of four-in-a-row batting titles.

Card Number 70: Topps, 1991; #180

This is a much better effort from Topps. It's a better photo, a better frame, they use the official team name design with the sweeping 'Padres'. I need to check what colour the dug outs were at the old Jack Murphy Stadium, but I think this photo is take from the opposite side of the stadium at the photo in the 1990 set.

This was Topps 40th year producing cards and they have a watermark on the back to prove it. I think that is also a gum stain on the back of the card. Some collectors might not like a card in this condition in their collection. I'm an oddity, I know, but I think gum stains enhance these old cards. It also means it would have been the last card in the pack, and possibly the first one seen when the pack was ripped, depending on how the pack was ripped. (If you opened it along the seam, you got the gum first.)

The cardback factoid is back.

I have this slightly surreal vision of an elderly baseball factoids compiler with little index cards with all the player's names on getting a phone call. "Quick, Hank, we need a factoid for Tony Gwynn!" Hank, the keeper of the baseball factoids, slowly thumbs through his index cards that haven't been updated in years. "Here we are," he says in a reedy old man's voice, and proceeds to read out the minor league stats he made a careful note of back in 1982.

Alternatively, I guess Topps presumed everyone knew that Tony had amassed 4 batting titles and multiple All Star Game appearances by this point. But would everyone know about his minor league batting averages? Best put them on there. Although I'm surprised they didn't mention his stint in Hawaii. he played three times as many games there as in Amarillo.

[Wait, what's that in the sky? Is that asteroid heading for baseball card world? Why does is have UD written on the front?]

Card Number 71: Topps 1992; #270

And baseball cards were never the same again...

This photo is so crisp, you can almost feel the sunlight, as Tony squints in the batting cage. His head and bat break the frame, while his elbow is tucked inside.

And here is the back. White glossy stock, full colour on the stats, an up-to-date cardback factoid, which actually has two personal details about him. I think this is the first mention of Tony Gwynn Jr. on a Topps cardback.

Card Number 72: Topps, 1993; #5

Tony's just made a hit!

Photo on the back! I know I've talked about 90s design a few times when showing cards from the 90s, but holy heck, this is a 90s design!

The cardback factoid has gone back to the baseball stats, listing Tony's 3 best hitting streaks to date. Of note is that his career average at this point was .327 - Tony is one of those rare players, whose average improved toward the end of his career. 1993 was the year he met Ted Williams, who teased Tony about his choice of bat. That persuaded Tony to start using a longer bat. The next year he picked up the first of his next run of 4 batting titles.

Total: 72/394


  1. A. As much as I enjoy collecting inserts, rookie cards, relics, and autographs... I also enjoy sitting down and appreciating my plain old 'base' cards too.

    B. Wax and gum stains are awesome. They add a certain character to the card. I didn't appreciate them as a kid... and would often toss them. However I've really grown to appreciate them now.

    1. One of my favourite finds in a junk wax repack was a card where it had obviously had the stick of gum pressed into the card and so had the oblong imprint across it. It's like finding a dinosaur footprint in fossilised mud.