Score 100 Superstars 1991 – Borders. We've Got Borders.

2019 Topical Political Joke In-Coming! What’s red, white, and blue, and surrounded by borders? Score 100 Superstars 1991!

Seriously, though, it approaches the covers all the bases of baseball card design:

  • Picture
  • Name
  • Position
  • Baseball Card Company Logo
  • Team

BUT, it’s just about the minimum it takes to get there. It’s red, white, and blue. With borders. And an inexplicably green border (of course there’s a border… why is it only tangent with the right border and not both the top and the right??) around the team logo. It’s… handsome in its own way, with the only feature making a design statement being very odd choices for the typefaces for the player name on the front and rear (it’s so plain everywhere else… and it’s not matching on the front and back). But it has one terrible detail hidden in plain sight. The picture is hit by the blue border at the top, red on the left and right, white on the bott… wait! The red inexplicably continues across the bottom of the photo. Ugh. Why. Well, actually, it would provide a better ink shut-off for the edge of the photo compared to the white paper which would be there otherwise. Or would it…

And it’s better! Kind of. The method for faking things like this card doesn’t simulate the fringed edge of the four color process (well, someone could do it, but I don’t think that’s the best use of anyone’s time), so we still get a hard edge along the photo. Aesthetically, removing the bottom, red border is definitely an improvement, though. For this card, the light dirt blends against the white behind the name, but it’s still better than inexplicable red.

The back is the usual, very geometric Score rear with a headshot in full color, full quality, though it screams “high school picture day.” Look at that chin tilt. Also, trivia only. No stats. But look at that chin.

For comparison, Score 1991 base set – they don’t try very hard at Score:

For reference, here are the previous “Superstar” subset examples from 1989 and 1990.

Classic Game 1991 – Purple and Autograph Optimism

The way Fleer 1991 is yellow and Donruss 1990 is red, Classic’s 1991 Game set is purple. The purple-tinted rock pattern looks like a bad decision made at a family picture studio when the 8th grader gets to pick the effects applied to the photo. There isn’t much to it beyond that. The picture is a good example of his one-handed backswing, shows the 1991 uniforms, and showcases some odd cropping choices (head and right leg on border, left arm and left foot cut at border) with “’91” under Fisk but above the purple. It’s very much like the Classic 1990 which had its equally questionable (but era-appropriate) borders. Which all is to say, I’d describe it as “Purple. And “doesn’t really seem like a baseball card.” “Seems like a baseball card” a moving target, but the Arial-adjacent typeface and lack of position and team indicators is a big part of this card’s out-of-placeness. Oh, and it isn’t a baseball card, anyway.

Like the 1990, the card is printed as part of a board game where trivia questions are delivered in the form of baseball cards. It’s not a terrible idea, and counting the base set (of which this card is a member) and three 100 card expansions, it was a 500 card set. You wouldn’t likely be able to turn Trivial Pursuit into four purchases in one year, but presenting the questions as features of a baseball card with additional cards to collect is pretty savvy.

There is so much purple on the back. Woof. Again, a Donruss-aping design, it’s fine. Just so, so purple. What I still hate is the space saved for an autograph spot, implying getting baseball card autographs is just some easy thing that you can request at will. (No, you could not in 1991.) With that autograph spot in the back, it would cool to see someone’s “I collect this crazy one type of card” was Classic 1991 with every card signed…

I’ve done the research, and I could find no examples of that collection nor a blog detailing the completion of said set. It would be amazing if the blog was made into a movie,and the climax of the movie was the last card needing an autograph, a car chase to make it happen, then the player signing the front of the card instead of the dedicated “Autograph” spot on the back. The main character would have previously spent a lot of time establishing that “this is the best set for autographs because it doesn’t ruin the front!” That’d show him. Anyway.

I couldn’t find that blog, but I did find this interesting story about someone collecting the an entire autographed Topps 1952 set. But this set isn’t Topps 1952.

Trivia: I knew one question and “knew” a second. #5 was easy, and once I saw the answer for #4, I told myself “Oh, of course I knew that.” After I saw the answer.

To wrap-up, Classic used a single color for each of the 1991 sets and expansions, and the border pattern works on none on them. (spoiler: Carlton shows up in one of them).

Leaf 1991 Previews – Unexpected Fisks, pt. 2 AND Once You See it…

One of the most obvious “certainly a child of the parent” designs, Leaf 1991 continues the “luxurious” design from the 1990 set. It wasn’t until this project (and a career which touched on printing processes) that I realized the silver ink of the 1990 card was something different, and, holy crap, Leaf (well, Donruss) leaned into that in 1991. So much silver ink. (what’s all this silver ink business? It’s not one of the four color process colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. We’re into 5 ink world, people. This is uncharted territory. Well, I still swear Card Sharks said Upper Deck 1989 was six color process, but someone who knows more about printing baseball cards than I’ve forgotten says otherwise.

Leaf was so excited about the 1991 set, that they created 26 preview cards which were inserted four at a time as an exclusive to Donruss 1991 Factory Sets sold at “Hobby Locations,” meaning baseball card stores, not toy stores. In other words, there were two Carlton Fisk Leaf 1991 cards. What I’m not sure is what the cards were previewing. They came with the factory set of Donruss 1991, which was sold in 1991, so I’m not sure if they were previewing the design… or previewing the ownership experience of buying packs that were 2.5-3X more expensive than the standard Donruss cards.

The design is harmless but quite busy. With one silver flourish, the 1990 created a singular design which is unique among baseball cards of the era. Its design is that there isn’t much design to it. The 1991 is not that. The corners have a feature that makes me think of columns, and the actual photo area is smaller than it should be due to the corner features and white border. Yes, I do understand that it’s meant to be a picture being held in place on a silver background with picture corners (and, yes, I had to look up that term). What’s lost in just images of the card is that, ignoring the subjective aspects of the design, this was made as a “premium” product. Thicker, white cardstock. High print quality. Silver ink. Smooth but not glossy. It was “as good” as the other premium sets (somewhere between Score and Upper Deck, closer to Upper Deck), but it was rapidly part of the new normal of baseline for an acceptable baseline baseball. I’ve not gotten there yet, but Topps blew this and other “premium” cards from 1991 (mainly Fleer Ultra) out of the water with their Stadium Club set.

But can’t be unseen? Check out those corners. They don’t hit the photo at the same spot. I’m sorry.

At best, the card elicits nothing from me. It’s not a good design. The back does standout. Full color, lots of silver – headshot. I like it!

But what’s the Unexpected Fisk? It’s 2018. North Bend, Washington. Mt. Si Deli (also known as “the Mt. Si Chevron”). You go to checkout. You feel like you may have seen a Fisk. But that’s impossible. It’s 2018. But you see Fisk. On a box of… Leaf? Leaf??? Leaf was a “Wow! This card shop is selling Leaf!” situation in the early 90s where it was rare to even see boxes of Leaf. And they have a full one. As we’ve learned above, this card is from the preview set, and that’s the one on the box. For some heavy-weight trivia, zoom in and notice that the back of the card here doesn’t show “1991 Preview Card” text over the stats. More trivia, this is the Leaf 1991 Series 2 set. The series one set swaps blue for maroon (see below), but uses this same Fisk card as the box feature. I’ll point out that in 2018, they had a full box. In 2019, the box was simply a vessel for a variety of more recent packs. 2018, top. 2019, bottom.

Series 1 box for comparison

Bowman 1991 – So He DOES Sign Autographs

Hey! It’s Bowman!

That is what it looks like when a card doesn’t really cause any reaction when it comes up next in my queue. A struggle to find the words.

I didn’t forget this card, but I certainly didn’t remember it, either. Bowman’s 1991 card finally looks, not as much “modern,” but “up-to-date” after two retro designs.

This sequence of cards captures the oddness of the White Sox uniform situation. 1989 shows that the futuristic “SOX” logo from 1976 survived the 1982 redesign which is nowhere else to be seen, then the 1991 features the 1991 redesign, likely taken during one of the September 1990 series where it was worn (it looks cold in the picture, so Spring Training 1991 would be unlikely).

I’m not sure I ever noticed, but the borders on the card are orange and blue. Maybe not expected, but not the craziest thing. BUT, you might think that there were multiple color options, and Carlton Fisk’s card showcases one of them, like Score’s 1991 set. Nope, the whole set, 700+ cards, all has the orange and blue border. Most discussions of the looks of this set mention only “drab,” “uninspired,” or “bland.” What those don’t capture is that Bowman 1990 would almost never be called “bland,” but the 1991 is objectively a better, nicer design. The nameblock extending past the vertical borders is an intentional choice which I’d defend under any circumstances. I like it so much, I remade the card without it just to make sure my head was on straight. As always, you’re welcome.

Really, the name background extension gives the card a much more modern look. While I’m staring at this card, I’ll point out that the lower corners where the keyline meets the orange and blue borders is a mess because there’s no blue border on the bottom edge.

WHY???

The back shows off brown cardboard, green ink, black ink, and Bowman’s usual uncommon stats, again showing team-by-team offensive splits for his 1990 season. That’s it.

But what about that title? Carlton Fisk was my FAVORITE player. Notice the capital letters. Autographs were a huge deal. There was no real marketplace (at least known to dumb little kid me) for autographs of non-local and non-top 5-biggest-name players. There were never Carlton Fisk autographs, in other words. In other words: there was no internet, and more so, there was no eBay. Cards went into an envelope, a pre-stamped return envelope was also placed in that envelope, cards were mailed away, with no guarantee of return, signed or not. There were “rules” found in Beckett price guides and “baseball cards are fun for kids!” books saying:

  • “Here’s a list of players who sign and return your cards.” (namely Andy Benes. Thank you for autographing my Donruss 1990, Andy.)
  • Send your letter to one and only one player. It’s impossible to deliver one letter to all of Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, and Pat Borders.
  • Only send one card.

Carlton Fisk was never on that list.

He was the only player I liked on the White Sox, so there was no other player to put on the envelope. (I was dumb and broke this rule with the Blue Jays. They were my favorite team, but I didn’t have a favorite player. I sent one envelope with about 6 cards covering 4 players or so. Remembering this included return postage and went to Canada, it wasn’t a cheap shipment. That said, I’m not sure how I pre-stamped return postage for something being sent back from Canada. To their HUGE credit, the Blue Jays fan relations department send me back all of my cards, included a note about multiple cards and ‘just sending a single card doesn’t guarantee an autograph or your card returned,’ and included a copy of the Blue Jays junior fan club’s magazine, which was AMAZING.

I sent Carlton Fisk an 8.5 x 11″ mini poster and three or so cards of which I had doubles. Large padded envelope, return envelope with return postage, cards, poster, and extraordinarily heartfelt note to my favorite baseball player thanking him in advance for his autograph and efforts in shipping it all back to me. No big deal.

Well, Carlton didn’t sign it and he didn’t send it back. Darn. Never (try to) meet your heroes. (In hindsight, that aspect of professional sports could be a real pain in the butt. There’s something to be said for being a hero to little kids; there’s also something to be said about seemingly be expected to open and read all of their letters.) So, yes. It DOES appear he signs autographs. For someone. Just not me.

the (replacement) poster

Am I a little bitter? I’m a little bitter.

(Upon retelling the story of not hearing back from my hero Carlton Fisk to an employee at East Side Sports Cards in Allentown, PA when this was very recent news, I was given a replacement poster for free. That wasn’t my angle at all, but I was very appreciative, as was my mom, being that she was more offended at the non-returned or acknowledged envelope, especially with the hand-written, little kid letter inside.)

No Card Tuesdays! The Wax Pack

Though I started this project in January 2018, I had thought about doing it for a LONG time, literally years. Throughout that entire time, one of the rationales I also told myself was “well, no one else is EVER going to write as much about Carlton Fisk’s 1986 Topps card as I will.” This is a statement I would have aggressively argued if only because there is no reasonable counterpoint. Really, no one is ever going to write as much about Fisk and the 1986 Topps set as I will (at this point, did write).

Yeah. About that. Absolutely, completely 100% wrong. Someone wrote a book where an ENTIRE chapter is about Fisk’s 1986 Topps card. And it’s a really cool project! Brad Balukjian opened a pack of 1986 Topps baseball and tracked down all the players represented in the pack, and Carlton Fisk was one of the players in that pack and was also the biggest “get.” As the book’s release has gotten closer (April 2020), its website approach has moved from blog to book promotion (which makes perfect sense), so there isn’t any Fisk content remaining online (I assume some of the blog entries were re-worked to be segments of the book). By the time I found out about the book, all the Fisk-related content was in the book’s Twitter feed and any Fisk mentions led to dead blog links, so I’ll definitely be reading when the book comes out. Absolutely check it out and pre-order on Amazon.

For completeness and clarification, I’ll point out that the specific Carlton Fisk card he pulled is actually from the All-Star subset, not the base card (so, a card, not “THE Card“… let me also mention the wax box cut-out card), so not quite the same as my rationale above, but close enough. After that, he used a 15 card pack to find his 15 players. Great idea, makes lots of sense, but of course one of the cards he pulled is a checklist. Imagine that. The baseball card gods smiting someone 30(!) years after the fact. That is very impressive; checklists are the worst. (hopefully there’s a guest star representing the checklist, perhaps some from Topps, maybe even the designer?)

Fleer 1991 – Shamelessly, Horribly, Irredeemably Memorable

Topps 1987. Donruss 1990. Topps 1990. Fleer 1991. Not necessarily the most esteemed club in most regards, but all seared into our memories (if not our retinas).

I hesitate to say that “the design speaks for itself,” but it’s just so, so yellow (front and back!) that, well, the card itself is already into its fifth paragraph. Basically, it’s a swimming pool of yellow ink, serifs that Score 1991 would love, and so many horizontal lines that you’d be forgiven if you assumed the designer could only process reality in one dimension.

So, the design isn’t great. It’s risky, mainly in terms of all that yellow, and there’s always the school of thought that a bad, memorable design is better than a decent, forgettable design (note: that school of thought is wrong), but there’s something to defend in that I knew this card 25+ years later, but even having covered mid-80s Topps about one year ago, I can’t place them year-by-year if I were to be quizzed. And even ignoring all the yellow, serifs, and horizontal lines, this set features great pictures. Sure, the Fisk card is pretty clearly the throw to second after the between-inning warm-up pitches, but it’s still a good, well-framed picture. Check out the photos on these other cards; they’re REALLY good. So, memorable design (even if in a bad way), great pictures, is there anything else? Yeah. What really works against these cards is the manufacturing.

I would have assumed there’d be a bunch of articles about how huge portion of the Fleer 1991 print run used too little black ink. Why do I say that? Because almost all of my Fleer 1991 cards, most notably the Carlton Fisk above, show grey where it should be black. Even the Fleer logo is affected. It may be buried in a blog article somewhere, but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find anyone else mentioning this (please correct me in the comments). Now, this isn’t the most famous “black ink issue” of the early 90s, but it does the design decisions no favors. [Let me interrupt myself here: I LOVE how deep the No Name on Front (NNOF) Frank Thomas rabbit hole goes in 2019. In 1990, no one was even sure if it actually existed. May God continue to bless the internet.] Actual black ink doesn’t make it a good-looking card, but it certainly looks better, because it’s not just the lettering and Fleer logo. It’s everything that looks washed out. Shadows look TERRIBLE (check out the warm-up jacket of the guy scurrying off the field).

The black printing issue actually hurts the back more than the front, if only because the back is pretty agreeable as-is. Still very yellow, but agreeable. White paper, a full color picture on the back. A team logo. I like it! And, it looks A LOT better with all the black ink that’s supposed to be there (I apologize for the terrible joke in the caption). Also, note that the “last month of 1990 and 1991 and forward” team logo made it onto the back.

So, this is a memorable (for bad reasons) set, but some of the inserts aren’t too bad. (Fact-check: when I was eight years old, the inserts weren’t too bad.) One might think that like 1990’s “red” Donruss, inserts were the same design in different colors; that might actually be pretty novel! In reality, the World Series and All Star sets were their own beasts, but the two different “Pro-Visions” were variations on the theme of the base set. Fisk didn’t make it onto any of these inserts, but the Pro-Vision sets are improvements on the same design language of the base set. Black and yellow is MUCH better than yellow and black. Again, I loved the Pro-Vision paintings as a kid, and they’re a little (a lot) cringe-worthy today, but they were basically “painted” baseball cards of the terrible sports posters of the era.

Wait. What’s that? You want to see what this design looks like in different colors than yellow? You’re welcome in advance. (the orange and grey ones look pretty good. Notice that I also included cyan and magenta because it’s likely that they’d be picked due to being base colors in CMYK, just like yellow was “winner.”)

Anyway, on to the insert sets.

Score 1991 – The First Throwbacks (Really!)

The card? It’s an absolutely indelible design in my mind. I don’t know why, exactly; it’s at best “fine,” simultaneously a simple and busy design. There’s nothing below the header, but that header has SO much going on. I thought this was one of the classiest-looking cards when I was a (dumb) ten year old, probably because of the gigantic serifs in that header. And, in fairness, the serifs on the card match the serifs of the old timey Sox logo. OK, I also liked that the card was black and he’s pictured in a black uniform, not the usual 1990 navy and red.

Fine. I’ll pick a random sans serif typeface and touch up the card. Because you asked. I put no work into choosing the font other than “no serifs,” so the card could/would look better with more care taken to choosing the typeface. Long story short, it works!

And that uniform… that’s the first throwback EVER. The White Sox broke them out for a Turn Back the Clock game on July 11, 1990. Because God Bless the Internet, the entire game is available for viewing. These uniforms still look pretty good! (notice that they’re wearing the standard 1990 batting helmets, not special ones made for this game.)

Now then, this is when it gets confusing to (ten year old, 1991, out-of-market fan) me. I absolutely could not figure out what uniforms the White Sox wore in 1990. I don’t think I had grasped that cards were only supposed to use pictures from the previous year; I assumed it was required and just how it worked. So, we’re now looking at three different uniforms on the 1991 cards. Not just home/away/batting practice, but three completely different designs, two of which are badass (for 1991… remember how popular Raiders gear was) black and white.

It’s easy now; with a few minutes and the internet, I can see that they wore their then-standard uniform for most of the season, 1 game in the throwback, and a few games in the 1991 uniform, but this was mind-blowing in 1990 and 1991. There’d be pictures in Sports Illustrated or maybe you’d catch clips on SportsCenter, but this was truly one of the great mysteries of my childhood.

There are no complaints about back on its own, but it completely mismatches the old timeyness of the front. It’s plain, but it looks good! It mentions the most home runs by a catcher record set in 1990, and that will keep coming up throughout the 1991 cards.

A further issue with Score 1991: the cards which weren’t using the black template are…. questionable. The old timey typeface is especially jarring on the less traditional color schemes.

Upper Deck 1991 – Uhhh… Picture Day?

It makes no sense. There might be a nice card here, but all I can see is a college yearbook page. How does this even happen? It smells like a Spring Training photo session . . . but isn’t this 1991 (no Spring Training in 1990) and Upper Deck? Sneak a peek at the back, and there’s a great picture with amazing composition telling its own story. A player not known for speed in the act of speed (probably trying to break up a double play?) two team logos in the background, stirrups… it screams BASEBALL.

But let’s return to the front. Why would it be a “class picture day” photo? Because checkout the back of the card. He’s wearing a completely different uniform. The front has the (then) new (now, O-L-D) “Sox” logo, the back has the 1987-1990 uniform… except in a completely crazy move, the White Sox actually had two uniforms in 1990. The uniform seen on the back was worn until September* when they switched to the black, silver, and white uniform which is still their current look. (hint: some 1991 cards will show the “old” logo and uniforms as current in the 1991 sets, while others will include the new logo, but with pictures showing the old, and the finally some sets don’t even “know” there’s a new uniform and logo.)

*I can’t find exact dates, but I can find “late in the season,” final weeks of the season,” and “September” for when they switched to the current uniform, so we’ll just leave it at “September.” Fine. I’ll figure it out. After September 4. After September 15. Before October 3 (interestingly, the away uniforms were also ready for the sneak preview in 1990). Before September 30. Upon starting this list of links, I had a “THE INTERNET IS AMAZING” feeling, but the trail ran cold after these. I would expect that the “1991” uniforms were first worn against the Twins on September 25, OR against the Mariners a few days later as part of the last homestand. Regardless, here’s Carlton Fisk modeling the uniforms in July-ish.

So, the card itself. VERY premium. I love the red box around the stats table on the back. The home plate-shaped hologram screamed classy to me as an eight year old. I just can’t get over the picture on the front though; you can practically hear the photographer saying “ok, now turn your chin toward me… good… more… good… too much… now back a little”, and his hat is wearing him instead of vice versa. I really like this card design, though I literally just saw how “Sox” is placed in the home plate feature… and it’s not so great, sent way over to fit into the tallest section of the graphic.

For the sake of completeness, this is Upper Deck’s third design, its second with a “baselines” theme.

1989 had a first base line, 1991 includes the second and third base lines. Other than that weirdness in the logo/home plate area, this is a VERY nice-looking card, almost the “finished” version if the 1989 were to be considered a design study, and with glossy white paper, felt like a million bucks when I was too young to know better. The factory set was my “big” Christmas present in 1991, and it was awesome.

Topps 1991 – Top Five Card, No Doubt

After making a . . . statement in 1990, Topps comes back with one of their all-time best (Fisk-era) designs. There is nothing negative I can say about this card. It’s quite possibly the best action shot of action shots, with a picture that literally tells a story, with Cecil Fielder huffing is way to home plate (you can even see how hard he’s trying with his chest leaning backwards for more speed), his Tiger’s teammate telling him to “Slide!” We’ve got Fisk awaiting the throw, and the framing, landscape orientation, and background bokeh draw your eyes to the action. Just a superb card. Highest recommendation.

Though I have nothing negative to say about it, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some odd details worth calling out. The borders are team-colored (see below), but the White Sox used navy blue and red at this time; the blue on the card. While “White Sox” on the front looks fine, teams without established wordmarks don’t look quite right. I’m not sure these tricks would fly today. Check out the Expos. They only used the wordmark in conjunction with the logo prior to a redesign in 1992. I would imagine this was likely against the team’s branding guidelines, but here it is. Further making for an interesting story, “expos” gets a Registered Trademark symbol while the other teams in this survey only get the non-legal ™. Very interesting.

Ok, maybe the back isn’t quite so remarkable, but for a card printed on brown cardboard, it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s got full Major League career stats, red and blue ink, and a “Topps 40 Years of Baseball” whisperprinted on the back (a term I made! Not quite a watermark, but not quite calling attention to itself.)

This was a card I was looking forward to covering; it was classy in 1991 when I was 8 years old even if I didn’t understand the concept, and it’s even better now with the benefit of time. Lifetime Topps Project covered some of the better examples from this set, and there are A LOT of better examples in this set (there also more examples of ® vs. ™ to notice.)

Donruss 1991 – Completely Forgotten

First, welcome to 1991! Second, there are cards which I’ll (truthfully) say that I didn’t know existed until this project, but every now and then, there’s a card which I knew existed, but completely forgot about. This is one of them. Long story short, it’s so similar to the 1986 Donruss design but completely discontinuous from the 1986. Donruss was only making cards for 10 years at this point, so a set hearkening back five years is half the company’s lifespan.

I admit I ragged on the 1990 Donruss, and some of its 1990’s flair shows up along the perimeter. (speaking of the perimeter, points to Donruss for having the guts to print dark blue to the edge. Here’s the progression from 1986 to 1991 from Donruss.

Seriously, look. It’s a sequel, but five years later.

Upon looking at the card for what feels like the first time, it’s immensely forgettable. He’s bunting, which hasn’t been seen on a Fisk card previously (uhh… I need to fact check this, and/but he had zero successful sacrifice bunts in 1990, “SH” here for “Sacrifice Hits,” and let’s face it, it would definitely be a sacrifice bunt. His old man knees weren’t making it to first on bunt), so I can definitely appreciate the picture. Like a food issue or retail card with just a checklist of “baseball card” design features, it easily could’ve been the prize from a gas station giveaway. I’ll make up the scenario that Donruss 1990 was too garish (it’s bright red, up there), so Donruss marketing demanded (DEMANDED) a more conservative design. And here it is. Very blue (it’s the opposite of red!), safe design features (no custom font for the player name), and on-trend accents. And it’s forgotten. Be bold.

The back is the last year of what had become the “classic” Donruss rear style. Beyond that, he hit .285 in 1990! He also set the Major League home runs by a catcher record which I’ll discuss much more later. Notice that this is a “Series 1” card; Donruss split the 1991 base set into series 1 and 2 (more packs to buy! different players!). Where Series 1 was blue, Series 2 was green. (for completeness, let me say that The Rookies alternate set was red.)