April 11, 2008

1990 - 1994 Countdown: #12. 1992 Pinnacle

(Note: I figured out what set I had overlooked, so everything's okay now. Enjoy #12.)

Life is full of existential moments. Moments when you look around and say 'Goddammit, I'm alive!' Moments--however fleeting--when you can honestly admit you haven't the faintest clue why your life took the path it did, but you're willing to make the best of it.

I get this feeling every so often. Maybe it's because I'm mercurial by nature. Or maybe it's because I've been a card collector for so many years. My addiction has led me down strange roads, through countless binges on crap sets, depositing thousands upon teeming thousands of unnamed commons in boxes, bags and stacks in my closet, on my dresser, under my bed, in my thoughts and dreams. If somebody somewhere thought 1990 Fleer was a good idea, then there's no reason why I shouldn't exist too.

This is kind of a depressing tangent to indulge, but I wanted to somehow swing it back round to highlight just how welcome a set like Pinnacle's inaugural was in 1992. But I can't figure out how to do that, so I'll sum up my introduction like this: By the late winter of 1992, my class of baseball card collectors had been guzzling down set after lousy set, at least 19 since the start of the decade. We'd pined for Leaf and Stadium Club, ridiculed Fleer Ultra behind its back, kicked ourselves for stockpiling Ben McDonald and Greg Anthony and generally wondering how long we'd be able to keep collecting in the face of rising prices and our own waning interest.

Cue Pinnacle. The black borders. The silhouetted player photograph and gradient. The thin gloss on front and back. The Team 2000 insert set. The stars, the rookies--even the commons were awe-inspiring. On the whole, 1992 was a very good year for baseball card design, and Pinnacle was at or near the top of that heap. It was also one of the last mid-level 'premium' debuts before manufacturers began introducing high-end sets like SP and Finest in 1993.

It felt like there was a hierarchy with Score: Select was preferred, Score was the workhorse and Pinnacle was there to fill in the gaps. As a middle child myself, I was always endeared to this set for that very reason. This argument is not to say that the company did not invest in making Pinnacle a great brand; it did.

It was the quality of Pinnacle (more so than Select, if you ask me) that allowed the company to elevate itself back to the standard the premiere Score issue set back in 1988. It was a necessary move, especially as the perceived quality of the Score flagship brand began to diminish with its over-production in 1991 and 1992.

I never bought more than two or three packs of this set when it came out, but I remember pooling money with a friend to purchase the Series 2 set for $15 and going out of my way at shows to buy singles of my favorites. Why even mention this? My only point is that the checklist is a non-factor in my ranking this set as high as I do. By 1992 the checklist of a set became almost a non-issue in choosing a set to collect (key word here is 'almost').

With the explosion of the hobby came more rookie oversight. For instance, Bowman and Upper Deck included Kenny Lofton rookies in their 1991 sets (I consider UD's Final Edition as part of the 1991 set). You could chalk it up a casual exclusion by the other sets or as a Fred McGriff-type rookie scoop UD and Bowman got on their competitors. Whatever you want to think, it's very different from the old Donruss sometime-practice of including guys as Rated Rookies in more than one year (Danny Tartabull, Lance Dickson) and throws a wrench into the idea of knowing for certain which card is Lofton's rookie. Especially when Pinnacle includes him twice in its 1992 base set and again in the Pinnacle Rookies tack-on end-of-year set. And with confusions like this one, considerations towards checklist fall behind design in terms of determining a set's desirability.

Luckily in Pinnacle's case, the set's got design in spades.

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