by Chris Harris
I recently came across Beckett Sports Card Monthly’s “The 90s” issue. While it is refreshing to read about baseball cards that are actually fun to collect, Beckett did gloss over a few 90s sets that, I believe, collectors should take a second look at. Some are of sets you probably have hidden in a closet somewhere and haven’t looked at in years. At least one, you may never have even heard of.
With kids from the era now grown up, many are going back and rediscovering cards from the era.
Here are my picks for the Five Most Underrated Baseball Card Products of the 1990s.
1) 1990 Score McDonald’s
“RARE” does not usually apply to baseball cards of the Junk Wax era. The 1990 Score McDonald’s set is the exception. It’s a 25-card food set distributed only at a grand total of 11 McDonald’s restaurants in rural Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho for less than a month in the Spring of 1990.
In all my years of collecting, I’ve never seen a single card, in person, from this set. Ever. And I would venture to guess that most of you reading this have never even heard of this set either — unless, of course, you had an Aunt in Weiser who was addicted to McNuggets.
A complete set recently sold on eBay for $227.50 – an unheard of sum for a food issue of this size and from this period – but still, for its scarcity, criminally undervalued.
2) 1992 Ultra
Twenty years on and it may not be worth much in the price guides anymore, but it’s hard to understate the significance of 1992 Ultra Baseball. It was the first product that combined premium-level quality with the “insert mania” that swept The Hobby in the early 90s.
Fleer introduced the brand the previous year to compete with Upper Deck and Leaf which had brought the gloss to baseball cards but all were blown out of the water by the arrival of Topps’ Stadium Club. So, for ’92 Fleer adopted the Stadium Club “look” to Ultra (i.e. metallic inks, glossy card stock, foil stamping, et al).
What set Ultra apart from Stadium Club, UD, and Leaf were the inserts. It may seem laughable now, but pulling a 1:6/pack “Award Winners” was like striking gold – even if it was of Tom Pagnozzi.
In 1993, Upper Deck ruled The Hobby and their flagship baseball set showed it. Of all the years of Upper Deck Baseball, 1993 was their finest effort. Yes, there is the Derek Jeter rookie card, but the rest of the set was pretty solid as well. At 840 cards it was the largest set to date (a title it would hold until the monstrous 1250-card was issued 13 years later), and with the use of metallic inks and gloss on both sides of the card, also the classiest.
4) 1994 Fleer
1994 was the last truly great year for baseball cards. When it came to design, content, and collectability, all five of the licensees had it all together in ’94. Even the sets that were pretty bad, like Score Rookie/Traded, Triple Play, and Upper Deck Fun Pack really weren’t all that bad. I could have easily loaded this countdown exclusively with 1994 card sets, but that would get a bit repetitive.
If I had to design the perfect base-level flagship product, 1994 Fleer would be that product. 720 cards (of 705 different players), all in a single-series, all in a clean, simple, design; what’s not to like? Even the card backs looked great! How many sets can you say that about? Add to that, an insert in every pack (and not of the pointless variety, either), and you have the prototype of everything an annual flagship baseball card set should be – but sadly, is no more.
5) 1997 EX-2000
The basketball version of E-X 2000 (1996-97) may overshadow the baseball version (a Kobe Bryant rookie card would do that to any card set), but the baseball and basketball versions of E-X 2000 are virtually identical structurally.
A 100-card die-cut, translucent, layered, “shadowboxed” base set, combined with low-numbered parallels, low production (by 1997 standards), and the nearly-impossible to find “A Cut Above” insert set make 1997 E-X 2000 completely underrated. Even the clear plastic boxes looked cool.