January 16, 2008

The 1990 – 1994 Countdown Returneth

This is my fourth stab at a re-introduction to the Nineties Countdown. I was going to characterize the Nineties as the baseball card hobby going through puberty, but it seemed a little over the top. Then again… voices cracking, overnight acne explosions, hair in weird places… all of these things happened in their own special way within the hobby, seemingly overnight.

Where did I leave off? More importantly, does it even matter? The early Nineties were a gluttonous, sweaty free-for-all, with so many sets that there seemed to be one for every type of collector. You like shiny things? No problem. Maybe you’re more interested in re-hashing the glory days of nostalgia? We got those. Don’t like grubbing with the kiddies? Might I interest you in a Superkalifrajilactor of Nolan Ryan? How about some bulk rookie lots of promising summer campers?

I know that I left off back in July at set #50 (1993 Stadium Club), but I just did another tally of the sets and I think I should’ve numbered that one #48. So, for those of you who haven’t read the first half of the Countdown, and the rest of you who’d like a reminder, here’s what’s come before:

The Early Nineties Countdown (So Far)

75. 1994 OPC
74. 1993 OPC Premier
73. 1993 OPC
72. 1994 Sportflics
71. 1994 Triple Play

Sets 75 through 71 were considered so bad that they weren’t worthy of analysis.

70. 1991 Leaf
69. 1990 Fleer
68. 1990 Bowman
67. 1994 Select
66. 1992 Donruss
65. 1991 Donruss
64. 1993 Select
63. 1990 Topps
62. 1992 OPC Premier
61. 1994 Pacific
60. 1994 Topps
59. 1992 Triple Play
58. 1993 Triple Play
57. 1992 Fleer
56. 1992 Fleer Ultra
55. 1994 Leaf
54. 1993 Fleer Ultra
53. 1994 Fleer Ultra
52. 1991 Fleer
51. 1991 Upper Deck
50. 1994 Stadium Club
49. 1993 Topps
48. 1993 Stadium Club

Whew. What a pile of garbage. And aren’t we all sort of to blame? I mean, we hyped them to each other and saved for them and bought them by the boatload. Well, at least we don’t have to think about them unless we want to. I mean, if you’re still wistfully pining over 1993 Triple Play, well, jeez…

47. & 46. 1993 & 1994 Upper Deck Fun Pack
Fun to the mutha-effin’ Pack, homeboy! Yeah, I can’t imagine any sort of respectable gangsta rapper saying that, either. But you have to admit it, the Fun Pack sets were pretty awesome, and for those all too brief ‘Kids Kards’ years (1992 through 1994), Upper Deck showed the world it knew how to really overstuff a set, especially a set with less than 250 cards in the checklist.

The subsets were so over the top that it was almost like Upper Deck was using the Fun Pack brand as a testing ground for the unbelievable decade they were quietly assembling. The more you look at Upper Deck in the early Nineties, the more you see that it wasn’t just creating sets, it was establishing itself as Master of the Subsets.

When you think about the Nineties, what do you think of? I think of inserts. And while all the card companies were in on the act, it felt like Fleer won the race for sheer quantity produced, and Upper Deck led the way in originality. And because printing plants had evolved from the Topps Sixties, inserts were no longer rinky-dink cardboard, but mind-blowing holograms, diecuts, cards with protective layers, refractors (you know, I’m not really sure what a refractor is made of, exactly, besides crystallized sugar, fun thoughts, and LSD-soaked blotter paper), cards in 3-D, and other glossy, see-through, heat-sensitive, fold-out, sequentially-numbered guilty pleasures that immediately went from pack to top loader. I still salivate thinking about some of those cards.

And just one more word about the ‘Kids Kards’ movement. 1992’s Topps Kids was a great set, but whereas Topps created it by removing the bells and whistles from their other sets from that year, the great thing about the Fun Pack sets was that all that extraneous bullshit that made inserts great was included within the base set. Maybe that’s why these sets seemed to do better than the noble Topps Kids experiment: kids like shiny things. They like interactive, over-the-top bullshit with bells and whistles.

I mean, who doesn’t?

More Countdown Coming Soon! This time, I mean it.

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