February 19, 2008

1990 - 1994 Countdown: #30. 1993 Fleer

Honestly, I didn’t think Fleer had it in them to create a well-designed set, but 1993’s offering was pretty great. Actually, I should probably amend that: the front of the card was great. The backs, not so much.

Coming off an unprecedented string of bad card design (1989 to 1992), the 1993 Fleer fronts were like a breath of fresh air: nothing competed with the photo for attention, borders were a dull metallic silver and name, team and position were relegated to the left vertical border. Even the Fleer logo was reserved. And everything was treated with a light gloss. In a word: nice.

1993 wasn’t the first year Fleer’s base set boasted a full-color back, but it was the first year you really noticed. With an action shot of the player silhouetted against a large graphic of their last name, the player’s stats and biographical information were mere afterthoughts. Sure, it was an ordered mess, but it always felt like they could’ve done more with less back there.

Like 1993 Donruss and 1991 Topps, 1993 Fleer can best be described as a transition set. 1993 was the first year Fleer applied any sort of gloss to the base set, and the last year the base set was free of any sort of foil stamping. Also, it wasn’t the first year the company included inserts (you’ll have to go back to 1986 for that), but it was the year Fleer took a moderate step towards their soon-to-be unchallenged position in the hobby as the House of 1,000 Inserts (128 to be exact, up from 100 in 1992). To be fair, 1994 was really the year Fleer went batshit crazy for inserts; ’94’s master set included—are you sitting down?—236 different insert cards.

And you know what? The various 1993 inserts were attractive additions to the brand. Hey, I don’t mean to imply that a lot of inserts automatically kill a set’s overall attractiveness. They can make a set better if they pull their own weight. And I think that’s the case here, with the possible exception of the Tom Glavine Hero Worship set, but even that one contributes a nifty autographed card.

No, what really sinks Fleer’s ship is the fact that there are so many cards on the checklist with very little going on (720 in the base set plus 310 in Final Edition, that’s 1,030 total base cards, plus 128 inserts… making it 1,158 cards for the 1993 Fleer master set. That’s a gigantic set with very little payoff. I say ‘very little payoff’ because of those 1,158 cards, none of them featured Derek Jeter. Or Chipper Jones. And out of the two rookie-centric insert sets, only a handful of the 56 players included were any good (even at the time). It boils down to a lot of nothing. Nice to look at, sure, but nothing nonetheless.

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