May 06, 2008

1990 – 1994 Countdown: #3. 1992 Bowman

Every sport has at least one: a set with such a high quotient of rookie superstars that it’s not even fair comparing it to others. Basketball has three entries, simply because cards weren’t made all that often: 1957-58 Topps, 1961-62 Fleer and 1986-87 Fleer. Only in the last one were there a large number of actual rookie superstars, not just players enjoying their first card. In football, there are 1984 Topps, 1986 Topps and 1989 Score. Hockey’s got 1951-52 Parkhurst and 1980-81 OPC & Topps.

Baseball’s littered with sets like this: 1949 Leaf and 1952, 1954, 1965, 1975, 1985 and 1987 Topps come immediately to mind. And of course there are others, like 1992 Bowman. As an exercise of mental dexterity, I’m going to list the names of ten players who appeared in ’92 Bowman and I want you to tell me which ones had their rookie appear in another set. Ready?

Derek Lowe
Pedro Martinez
Jeffrey Hammonds
Mike Hampton
Manny Ramirez (two cards in the set!)
Carlos Delgado
Mariano Rivera
Mike Piazza
Trevor Hoffman
Garret Anderson

Only Martinez, Piazza, Hammonds and Ramirez had rookies in other sets. Now I want you to tell me if that mattered.

Of course it didn’t. 1992 Bowman was, is and always will be the muthafuckin’ set for early-Nineties rookies, and I’ll be damned if it mattered that Pedro Martinez’s only true rookie wasn’t part of it (it came in 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition). If you were a young player—and your name wasn’t Shawn Green—your rookie, for all intents and purposes, was in this set.

This was easily the biggest thing in the hobby in 1992. No other set even came close: ’92 was an off-year for the blossoming ‘premium’ craze as Leaf, Ultra, Stadium Club and Studio put out so-so sets. Only Pinnacle (Score’s foray into higher quality) made its debut. In other words, it was a perfect time for a below-the-radar set like this to take hold.

And thanks in part to a handful of short-printed cards, Bowman’s leap into foil (no more simple, thread-bare gold foil relegated to a corner icon, as in 1991) and at least three distinct rookie waves, it’s never had to loosen its grip.

As I mentioned in a previous post, 1992 was the most popular of the early Nineties Bowman sets. But was it the most deserving of the attention? I happen to like 1991 more, but that set doesn’t bring as much to the table as ’92.

1992 is in the top five of the early decade not just because it’s a rookie juggernaut. It’s in there because of the foil, the short prints and the general overhaul Topps did on Bowman between 1991 and 1992.

It’s fair to say that 1991 Bowman wasn’t much to look at. Actually, if we’re more truthful, the last time Bowman had released a good-looking set was 1955. Taking that into account, Topps printed 1992’s set on coated white stock with a bright action shot and thick white borders on the front and a color headshot on the back. All together it wasn’t a bad design; you could almost even call it attractive. In fact, you probably wouldn’t know the average card was a Bowman were it not for the completely indecipherable block of statistics on the back, the brand’s trademark inclusion.

The funny thing about this set is that it is one of the few modern-era sets that’s as relevant today as the day it was released. Simply put, every player of the last generation—regardless of his star quality—had a card in this set. Okay, at least a number of them did. And it’s not even that 1992 had such a great rookie class. It’s that this set managed to include a lot of guys years before they showed up in other brands. Take Derek Lowe, for instance. After his Bowman card in 1992, he doesn’t show up in another brand (besides Bowman) until Donruss 1998. Granted, he didn’t make the majors until 1997, but that was Bowman’s thing: get a guy early, way before the competition.

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