Monday, April 20, 2015

Card Evolution 1991

Here are the 1991 versions of the six brands I tracked through the 1990s and how they stack up on the evolutionary scale.

Bowman - Stage 1

Donruss - Stage 2
 Fleer - Stage 3

Score - Stage 3

Topps - Stage 2

Upper Deck - Stage 3

Friday, April 17, 2015

Card Evolution 1990

It occurred to me while I was doing my series on card brand evolution in the 1990s, that I could have approached it in a different way by showing in each post, a card from each year from the 5 brands. So if you can stand to see some more 1990s cards, I'm going to do that. I'll try to pick a card of the same player from each brand if I can. Let's see how 1990 cards fall on the evolutionary scale.

Bowman - Stage 1

Donruss - Stage 2

Fleer - Stage 2

Score - Stage 3

Topps - Stage 1

Upper Deck - Stage 3

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Baseball Card Evolution in the 1990s - Upper Deck

Here is the last of the 1990's sets (Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Topps, Upper Deck)  I'm going to profile. Check Capewood's Theory of Baseball Card Evolution.

Although Score did it first, putting a color photo on the back of the card in 1988, Upper Deck did it better in 1989. 1989 Upper Deck was printed on nicer card stock, had a full card length photo on the back and a holographic logo on the back to prevent counterfeiting. It was also packaged in a foil wrapper to prevent pack searching. And they had the luck to include Ken Griffey, Jr.

1990 Upper Deck #532 Edgar Martinez
 1990 Upper Deck was not much different than 1989. Still a very nice set but no real change, and still Stage 3 on the evolutionary scale.

1991 Upper Deck #132 Ryne Sandberg
If you've for a formula that works and nobody else is making cards as nice, why change it?

1992 Upper Deck #125 Eric Davis
1992 was still Stage 3 but with some design changes. They made more use of horizontal cards. I always like the drop shadow effect in the front.

1993 Upper Deck #364 Travis Fryman
Upper Deck moves to Stage 4 with the addition of gloss to the front and back of the cards. Upper Deck had always been known for great photography which continued this year. Of the 6 sets I'd been profiling in the series, 1993 Upper Deck may be the best set in the 1990s.

1994 Upper Deck #112 Wade Boggs
In 1994, Upper Deck jumps to their highest evolutionary level, Stage 6, by adding foil and full bleed printing, front and back. Bowman was the only other of the 6 sets to go to Stage 6, but they would abandon full bleed printing in 1995. Upper Deck will stick with it until the end. This is perhaps my second favorite Upper Deck set of the 1990s. The only reason it isn't my favorite is that I never really liked the distorted b/w photo insert on the front.

1995 Upper Deck #142 Fernando Valenzuela
Upper Deck cleaned up the front and produced this classy Stage 6 set in 1995. The only real problem with it is it's similarity to 1995 Topps Stadium Club.

1996 Upper Deck #85 Derek Bell
In the mid-1990s some sets started to get a bit foil-heavy (Pinnacle is the prime example). Of the 6 sets, Donruss and Upper Deck are the only ones at Stage 6. Upper Deck may have a little too much foil but it's a much nicer set than 1996 Donruss.

1997 Upper Deck #48 Lee Smith
In 1997 Upper Deck will experiment with multiple colored foil on the front of the card but will never do it again. The design is otherwise similar to 1996 with a block of foil across the bottom. A nice feature that I don't remember seeing again on any set, is the photograph date in the front. They also started to de-empathize the photo on the back, a trend that will continue until 2000 when the back featured just a small head shot which will remain the norm for Upper Deck until the end in 2010. In my opinion, 1997 was the last best year for Upper Deck.

1998 Upper Deck #224 Dennis Martinez

There is way too much stuff going on on the front of this card for me to ever really like it.

1999 Upper Deck #52 Nomar Garciaparra
This is just horrible, front and back. The color at the bottom of the front is transparent to allow more of the photo to show. It's hard to see on this card, but on some cards the player's feet show down there. The black box underneath the player photo on the back has always bugged me. Maybe they could have put the team, MLB and Players Union logos there and uncluttered the photo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Baseball Card Evolution in the 1990s - Topps

Topps started the decade with basically the same design they'd had for the past 49 years. By the end of the decade they would go through more design changes than any other set produced in the 1990s. Check here for my theory of baseball card evolution.

1990 Topps #150 Kirk Gibson
Topps was still a Stage 1 set in 1990, as it had been since 1951. The color borders were kind of startling at the time, but Topps had used colored or patterned borders before, most recently in 1987. The color highlights had nothing to do with the players team. The cards borders rotated randomly among red, blue, green, and purple. This is a set I always used to hate but maybe I'm getting soft in my old age but it's starting to grow on me.

1991 Topps #155 Dwight Evans
1991 found Topps still at Stage 1, but I think this is an exceptional set. The photos are well framed and the 40th anniversary logo is great. The highlight colors match the team colors. I like how on some cards, the player figure extends beyond the inner border, and on some cards, like this one, all the way into the white border. This is also the first set, I believe, where Topps mixed horizontal and vertical cards. It may be Stage 1 but it's a beautiful set.

1992 Topps #78 Ivan Rodriguez
In 1992 Topps goes all the way to Stage 3 with white card stock and a color photo on the back. Instead of using a player photo on the back they went with what almost looks like a 360 degree view of the player's home stadium. It was different but I always thought it a waste of back of the card space.  The front features another nice border busting design with highlight colors matching the team colors.

1993 Topps #14 Greg Briley
Topps solidified it's Stage 3 design with a player photo on the back. They also used a better card stock. The big news is the complete redesign of the back. It's like nothing Topps had ever done before. It's also a rare vertical back for Topps.

1994 Topps #100 Kirby Puckett
With a glossy front and back, Topps reaches Stage 4. Topps redesigned the backs again, with a larger player photo.

1995 Topps #454 Tony Eusebio
Stage 5 is reached by adding gold foil for the players name and the Topps logo. This is the height of Topps evolution to the present day. Topps went with a deckle edges border with a shadow. The back features a player head shot in Diamond Vision style along with a full view insert shot. I always liked the Diamond Vision use here.

1996 Topps #40 Orel Hershiser
Not my favorite Topps set of the 1990s. I never liked the weird little distorted photo inset on the front and I think the stat box on the back is a bit crowded. This is the first year since 1987 that Topps put a team logo on the front of the card. As has been the case since 1991, the set consisted of a mix of horizontal and vertical cards.

1997 Topps #37 Mark Grace
Topps did something different this year that I've seen since but this is, I think, the first time. The card front is only partially glossy. The area within the thin green inner border is glossy. Outside that the card is not glossy. The backs feature another big design change. The other interesting thing this year is that Topps only used two border colors. National League teams had green borders, while American League teams had red borders.

1997 Topps #40 Jay Buhner

1998 Topps #5 Vladimir Guerrero
This is the first of several years in a row that Topps will go with solid color borders. The set features several humorous photos like this Guerrero. Team logos were dropped from the front but are ghosted all over the back.

1999 Topps #125 Scott Rolen
 This is another 1990s Topps set I really like. The front has a classic minimal design, even if the borders are gold. The backs are bright and easy to read. Note that there are no team logos anywhere. Logos will reappear in 2000 and be the norm until the present.

Just a quick note for Topps going on to the present. They will continue with colored borders until the 2004 set, and with the exception of the black bordered 2008 set, will employ white borders from now on. They also started to de-emphasize photos on the back of the cards.