#61 & #60. 1992 & 1993 Triple Play
When we sit by the fireside, maybe in a few years, with a blanket wrapped around our legs, one hand poking at the fire with a long stick, the other matting down the last few strands of our hair with the spittle collecting at the corners of our mouth, what will we be thinking about?
Please, please please—let it not be these godforsaken sets, with their hideous renditions of orange and black. Let it not be silver lettered surnames, writ large and wide like proclamations, like billboards worthy of our time and energy. Nor let it be the emotionless action photos of crashes at the plate, or the scratch-off game cards that subliminally spawned the deep-seated-yet-hard-to-pinpoint-quite-
how-it-started-so-very-long-ago love for instant win lottery cards.
No no no—no more Roger McDowell in funny getups, doing funny things in funny situations. No more Phillie Phanatic rain dances on the dugout roof. No more cards from Paul Molitor’s gap-toothed grade school glory.
Let’s not think about these lame little brothers to Topps Kids and Upper Deck Fun Packs. Let’s remember that these set names shorten to TP for a reason. Let’s try to forget that we spent $15.00 at one point for a box of the 1993 version.
Yes, let’s hope that we’re watching TV. And not thinking about any of this.
#59. 1992 Fleer
Here’s another set I’d rather not have to think about ever again. And yet every so often, I find myself looking through that old Beckett from 1995 and I can’t help but search out my shoebox of cards from 1992, just to make sure for the thousandth time if I had any of those insert cards. And I don’t, though I did buy a Frank Thomas Rookie Sensation for fifty cents at a card show a few months ago. (Oh, how the mighty have fallen.)
Because that’s what this set had going for it: insert cards. You could argue that if Upper Deck brought inserts and autographs into the spotlight, the guys at Fleer kicked in the footlights, the fills and maybe even the houselights in the insert bonanza. Think about this. From 1986 to 1989, Fleer produced four straight years of 660-card sets, 132-card updates and 18 total insert cards. In 1990 they kept things cool at 660/132 and upped the insert total to 30. In 1991 they bumped the regular set to 720, kept the update set at 132, and took the insert total down to 22. But 1992? That year saw the regular and update sets stay at 720/132 and the number of inserts climb to 97. 97! That’s an unbelievable 441% increase from the year before.
And yet as ridiculous as that jump is, 97 individual insert cards is on par with almost every other product line for the year: Donruss had 67; Leaf had 24; Pinnacle had 135; Score had 124; Stadium Club had 3; Studio had 14; Ultra had 65; Upper Deck had 98 and Leaf and Topps had parallel sets.
The other thing that Fleer had was its Update set, one of the few sets in 1992 to have a card of Mike Piazza, the 1992 National League Rookie of the Year and a sure bet for the Hall of Fame. It also had first cards of mid-Nineties hobby superstar Kenny Lofton, Tim Salmon, Tim Wakefield and the immortal David Nied, the original member of the Colorado Rockies. (And for ten points: name the first Florida Marlin.)
#58. 1992 Fleer Ultra
1992 Fleer Ultra had to exist, so right away it’s set itself apart from many of those ranked before it. Why did it have to exist? For a number of reasons, the first being that the hobby had to find out if 1991’s Ultra was a one-trick pony or if it had legs.
And not only did Ultra have legs for the long haul—it’s still going strong today, sixteen years later—but it had four legs, as the marbleized 1992 design hoofed its way across baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Not only that, but it cemented the Fleer mothership in the somewhat uncharted waters of random autographed insert cards and cribbed a page from the Topps playbook on Hero Worship before Topps had a chance to capitalize on the idea. Case in point: by the time Topps got around to worshipping their forever-sober/strong-kneed version of Mickey Mantle in 1996, the idea seemed a little warmed over to the early Nineties generation of collectors, as Fleer and Fleer Ultra had, by that time, been playing the Hero Worship card for going on five years.
Why else did this set have to exist? Because it completely elevated 1991’s Ultra. More so that Upper Deck and Leaf, and with the exception of Pinnacle and Stadium Club, 1992 Fleer Ultra had some heft. It felt like what a premium card should’ve felt like: glossed up, with matrix-y computer graphics on the back. Plus that polished marble on the front and those little gold rookie flags around the fireball logo. And cards that Tony Gwynn autographed (and probably didn’t exist anywhere except as words on the box)
Yeah, it’s not worth jack now. Yeah, the graphics haven’t aged well. Yeah, it feels tired in the grand scheme of things. But to put it plainly, 1992 Fleer Ultra was the shit.
More Countdown coming soon…
By the way, if you answered ‘Nigel Wilson’—ten points to you!