April 16, 2008

1990 - 1994 Countdown:
#10. 1991 OPC Premier

To properly celebrate the hot shit that was 1991 OPC Premier, I should really do my review in French, or some half English/half French (like the cards themselves). The only problem is that I don't know French, so I'm afraid you're going to have to bear with me.

When I was a kid I did not grow up wishing to be President (I spent my childhood trying to figure out how to take over a baseball card company). Even now, politics don't enter my thoughts all that often. That said, were I to assume an office, my choice would be head of tourism for Quebec. I'd bet that as soon as I got in there and put my ideas in motion, people would forget all about the gratuitous backroom fixing that was required in giving me, a U.S. citizen, a prominent job in the Canadian government.

First order of business: hire an intern and make him/her wear the Youppi costume and travel around the province for a series of impromptu photo opportunities. Second order of business: buy up the remaining unopened cases of 1991 OPC Premier and give out packs at hotels, tourism offices, hospitals, border crossings, forest ranger stations and with credit card bills at fine restaurants. Because really, card collectors already know of the majesty (and no-longer-valuable bounty) of the set, so saving them for hobby use is without merit. Really, a set of this magnitude needs to be shared by all.

Just how great was this set? Great enough that it's one of the best French Canadian exports of the last 25 years (definitely higher on the list than Celine Dion, herself a national treasure). Great enough that I still feel a lump of excitement in my belly every time I run across a loose card in a stack, like that card could somehow still be worth something, or its subject could come back to light up the circuit in one last go round.

It was unapologetically Canadian, with a boatload of Blue Jays and Expos. It was also unapologetically elitist, before that term really existed amongst manufacturers. It was high-class, with an elegant front, understated back and checklist to match. With only one or two rookies you could get your hopes up about (Kirk Dressendorfer, anyone?), Premier was all about second-year guys and superstars. Frank Thomas, Albert Belle, Bernie Williams, Kevin Maas, Mo Vaughn, Moises Alou, David Justice, Juan Gonzalez, plus most of the biggest names in the game (though no McGwire or Bonilla). With only 132 cards, the whole checklist had only two Brewers (Molitor and Yount), two Mariners (Griffey and Tino Martinez), two Phillies (Morandini and Dale Murphy) and one Pirate (Bonds). Oh, and exactly zero members of the Houston Astros.

The cards were thin, but printed on quality stock. They came seven to a pack (this at a time when packs had at least ten cards per) and cost an average of $1.25. Buck twenty-five in 1991! And I paid it gladly for a chance at Thomas, Belle and the others. And you know what? I don't think I was alone. This was a premium set that I could afford. And for someone who missed out on Leaf and couldn't afford Stadium Club, Premier was an attractive alternative.

So the next time you're flipping through a magazine in the waiting room at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire De Quebec, remember that if I had it my way you and the guy next to you with the broken nose would be bonding over a few packs of Premier.

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