There were so many tributes given to Mariano Rivera during his farewell tour last year we sometimes forget his importance to the baseball card community. He was one of the signers for the 1996 Leaf Signature Series set and was the last active player to wear uniform #42 on a daily basis. One of my favorite trivia nuggets was Mark Sagmoen, a Rangers outfielder who did not even last one full season, was the last player to be issued uniform #42. But when Rivera stepped off the Yankee Stadium mound for the final time, he also took that walk for the final time as #42. Late in the 2013 season, the Yankees did retire #42 in Rivera’s honor to join Jackie Robinson with that honor and on that night when Derek Jeter and Andy Pettite came to the mound to take Rivera out of the game for the final time, the emotion in Yankee Stadium could be felt by baseball fans everywhere.
In card terms, however, Rivera was the last player to retire who debuted in the 1992 Bowman set. Topps was trying to establish Bowman as their home of the prospects but other than a nice debut in 1989 with lots of collector interest, the following two sets were released almost to an hobby silence. While we did trace and price those sets in my early Beckett years, they never seemed to be important sets among the Topps hierarchy. In fact, the Bowman set was so little thought of that I remember going to Houston on a show trip in 1991 and picking up a box to bring back to the office. That is correct, the PR operatives at that time (The Liss family) were so bad at doing their PR job that we had no idea Bowman was going to be released until I brought back live cards. Today, Topps generally does a very good job with getting the word out.
At least by 1992, we did know when the Bowman set was going to be released by getting advance information from the new PR firm Topps had hired and the flow of information to media was already significantly better. What none of us knew in 1992 was just how popular and explosive the 1992 Bowman set would be by the end of the year. Quietly, the Bowman set became the hottest 1992 issue among a bevy of popular sets. It stayed hot for many years because of the steady flow of rookie cards or early “best” cards of players who enjoyed long and exceptional major league careers.
Among the players who took over as key players in this set just after release were Nigel Wilson, who was the 1st player selected by the Florida Marlins in an expansion draft and whose book value went from about 15 cents to $3 in the month after his selection. Of course, today his price is right back to 15 cents. Others include Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Mike Piazza. But the final player standing was Mariano Rivera, who was then in just his third season in professional baseball. The photo of Rivera shows him in street clothes, which was used for many of the young prospect cards in this set. Cliff Floyd is shown in street clothes in a posed shot jumping to dunk a baseball.
In cooperation with eBay, the 1992 Bowman set is our Set of the Week. With all the great young players along with foil bordered cards honoring members of the National team, there is little doubt it will continue to be one of the more popular sets of its day. You can find sets, a PSA 10 Rivera, a wax box and a few other interesting cards from the set inside eBay's Collections feature where you can create collections from your favorite items on eBay.