Score 100 Superstars 1990 – Shapes. We’ve Got Shapes.

“So, we need to make a special set to increase the number of SKUs available this year.”
“Maybe we could change the color of the base design?”
“No, we’re not Donruss.”
“Retro design?”
“We’re Score. We don’t really do retro.”
“Futuristic design?”
“Hmm. Maybe?”
“I’ve got it! Shapes!”
“Huh?”
“It’ll have a ton of shapes!”

—Score Design Studio, late 1989 (likely)

Another card from the bowels of Junk Wax era, this one didn’t exist to me until I picked up this project in late 2017. It’s literally a picture with an assortment of geometric shapes. BUT DAN, ISN’T THAT EVERY BASEBALL CARD? Topps 1990 is “just” shapes, and even if it’s ugly, at least it’s a design.

Score’s pulled trick before, though. Don’t let them forget it, though the results were somewhat better in 1989 and at least baseball-relevant, with an out-of-proportion outfield to infield ratio around the name

There are certainly worse designs, but it just doesn’t elicit any reaction. The only character to be found is the image using hand cropping to encroach on the border for his feet and the catcher’s mask. AND, the catcher’s mask face guard is edited tightly enough the the red border is seen through the cage. OK. That’s pretty neat. Also adding a smidgen of character is the Futura-esque typeface for his name on the front. (and a year-accurate picture without the number on his left thigh). The back is just so many boxes. Even the lines are so thick that they’re basically boxes themselves. Check out the white lines below “SUPERSTā­R;” those big bois (poorly aging 2019 joke!) are practically shoeboxes, they’re so thicc. (ugh. 2019). Inexplicable purple circle around the team logo? Not adding any character.

Despite the copy on the rear commenting on his age but ‘no signs of showing it!,’ he certainly has the face of a dad whose remote control stopped working only two weeks after changing the batteries and he just realized it was because someone left the phonebook on it in such a way that it was continuously transmitting the volume up pulse for the last 14 hours. Don’t be the kid who put the phonebook on top of the TV remote.

Topps 1990 All-Star – All the Nonsense

I’ve talked at length about Topps 1990. It’s a landmark design in Carlton Fisk’s playing career. Sure, it’s gross, but it’s a landmark. As part of the main 792 card set, the All-Star subset is somehow even worse. We’ve got the “half-tones as design features” and player names in Helvetica (though bold italic on the base card), as well as the terrible player name typeface from the rear making its way to spell “All-Star” on the front. But then they added. . . more.

First, while the normal set allowed “3D” cropping to put features on top of the team name at the top, this set adds huge borders at the top and right (smaller ones on the left and bottom) all of which allow features from the photo to mask the border. Check out the Eric Davis All-Star.

Also, the hand masking of the details in the photos isn’t great. Check out Fisk’s left foot . . . yeesh.

Next, the background of the pictures have been made black and white. Classy? The masking for the desaturation again looks like it was done by hand (hey, it was 1989, I’m not judging). And, I’m not sure when computers were first used for creating (print) separations, so maybe it wasn’t even “desaturated,” the background maybe just wasn’t part of the detail on the C, M, and Y plates.

Woof. Next, the back. The horrendous greenish-yellow main rear color of Topps 1990 never looks good, and it really doesn’t look good on a non-typical baseball card back. At least a stats table taking up most of the back draws the eye. This All-Star card has a ton of “white” space around the legitimately interesting 1989 Fisk trivia on the left and the inexplicable 1989 Stolen Base leaderboard on the right. For the record, Fisk tied with 48 other MLB players in 148th place with one stolen base in 1989. For the actual record, he wasn’t an All-Star in 1989 or 1990, but such is how Topps fills a 792 card set in 1990. (and Topps included him in their 1990 All-Star alternate set, too, so who knows.)

Topps Woolworth Baseball Highlights 1990 – Unexpected Fisks

This entry isn’t about the card. It’s a retail card sold as part of a complete 33 card set which almost looks like it could be a normal yearly issue except for that weird banner at the top and the completely wacko rear. He’s got wicked dad face, this time in the “looking into the middle distance while waiting for the kid to use the bathroom after stopping at the third consecutive rest stop on the highway” variety. We’ve got a ton of cyan on the back to keep printing simple, but I do appreciate how “HIGHLIGHTS” is kind of gets a negative space effect by using the cyan ink to create the, well, negative space behind the letters. Also a neat feature: the “x'” in “White Sox’.” Now that’s a typographical nerd’s dream right there. (OK, maybe this article is about the card. I’ll also point out that the white “Topps” gets lost due to it overlapping the white stroke on “Sox” on his warm-up jacket.) Generally, it’s just hard to believe that both of these cards are from 1990. BUT WAIT A MINUTE. THESE PICTURES LOOK LIKE THEY MIGHT BE FROM THE SAME PHOTO SESSION. Anyway.

Now, then. Onto “Unexpected Fisks.” Minding my own business reading about Kevin Durant’s achilles tendon injury in the NBA Finals and the conflict of interest inherent in being a “team doctor,” what did I come across? The name-dropping of Carlton Fisk’s own terrible experience with a long-serving Red Sox team doctor in 1978/79 (who was sued for bad medical advice in the 90s and lost). These are the interesting details that this project has turned up; it wasn’t until diving through these cards that I had even noticed his abnormally low game counts in injury-plagued seasons. Seeing additional color added to it via a recap of basketball news from 2019 linking to articles from 2000 and the original 1979 source is another one of those “we’re living in the future” moments.

I couldn’t find much online about this card, but I did find The Yount Collector’s entry for it.

Donruss The Best of the American League 1990 – Don’t Adjust Your Set

This is yet another “I had no idea this existed” card. And I still can’t wrap my head around it. Donruss 1990 is so ingrained in my mind that this blue (more like cyan) oddball set is visual chaos in my brain. But, that’s all I really can say about it. It should be red, but it’s blue. (and the picture is actually from 1989, as it should be, unlike on the standard Donruss 1990. Note that the pants don’t have thigh numbers on the right.)

Despite the front being a blue version of the 1990 Donruss, the back is not an alternate color version. Instead, we get a portrait-oriented rear with complete career (minor league, too) statistics.

This was sold as a per-league factory set (well, sets) of 144 cards which I don’t EVER remember seeing in my baseball card hunting days at the time.

He was a cover athlete!

So, Donruss 1990 in red and blue. What about green? Check out the “The Rookies” set. Green!

As I did the last time we saw a “Donruss… but in a different color” oddball set, let’s check out the previous entries in these series. I get a kick out of them. (base set is first)

Comparing these… it’s time to investigate whether the 1989 Baseball’s Best photo is from the same at-bat as the 1990 base set.

Leaf 1990 – Donruss Gets Fancy

If Goldfinger was actually about silver, AND it was a baseball card set instead of a movie, Leaf 1990 would absolutely be Goldfinger. Look at all that silver. Leaf was a brand (actually the parent company) of Donruss which had produced cards in the 1940 and resurfaced as the Canadian version of Donruss cards in the 1980s. I said Upper Deck changed the game in 1989, and this was the first attempt from the established companies to compete with the new, premium competitor on the block.

I’ve previously remarked “as a nine year old, this was a very classy card design,” but this one remains that way, nineteen years later. Skybox’s 1990-91 basketball set had a very similar design ethos, except they turned their dials up to 12 or even 13. Super clean printing, an understated yet unmistakable design, great card stock, full color rears (well, “mostly silver with full color headshot” rears), and it checks all the boxes. It’s not obvious in the these scans, but despite being “premium” (foil packs = fancy), these cards weren’t glossy, which is a good time to mention that despite Upper Deck’s 1989 and 1990 sets (also 1991, but we’re to there yet) being described as “glossy,” that was only figurative. These mentioned cards show great, precision printing, but they’re not yet getting layers of gloss clear coat on top. The ONLY critique I have for the front is early-80s typeface for his name. Come on, Leaf! I won’t be quite as charitable to the back: it’s SO MUCH silver, that weird typeface shows up again for “MAJOR LEAGUE PERFORMANCE,” and the squares next to the headshot serve only as “ears” for the picture. The feature makes no sense. It implies a carousel-type layout, which would be pretty neat for a baseball card, where the headshots from the previous and next players in the set would show up in cropped form, but, hey, this is still 1990, so I’ll take what I can get. I won’t go after it here, but this was technically sold as “The 1990 Leaf Set,” which is truly one of the first occurrences I can remember of adding “the” to make something sound fancy. And for completeness, I’ll point out that I’m now old enough to have witnessed the removal of “the” from things that should have it in order to, wait for it, make those things seem fancy.

Another detail that other 1990 sets hit or miss is the oft-mentioned pants numbers that were removed for the 1989 season, but appear frequently in 1990’s cards. For the record, this card gets it right, with a picture from the 1989 season. This is the lie that I want; that despite a baseball card’s most relevant signifier being its year, the previous year is showcased, with stats and pictures serving as a one page yearbook for that player last year, a perpetual twelve month delay between the promises of the year in the name of the product and the cold, hard history on the cards show, both the art of the photography and data of the statistics. In other words, I am absolutely trying to make “I want the lie” happen. The always-great SABR Baseball Card Research Committee featured a post by “jasoncards” (sorry, I could only find a screen name), about the concept of trying to improve cards in bad condition. Easy example: using a paper cutter to turn rough edges into sharp edges. More complex example: cutting into edges to accomplish better centering or touching up missing ink. He used a catchy title, “Ruining with Scissors,” but what I really like is his dictum, “Condition is a one-way street.” If he helps make “I want the lie” happen, I’ll push “Condition is a one-way street” until I’m blue in the face.

For anyone looking for a bit more clarity, he’s positing that card condition can only decrease from the ideal pristine of the pack (or factory box), regardless effort spent to improve it. In fact, the improvement itself actually further decreases the condition of the card. In way, this is quite similar to entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. Kind of.

Sportflics 1990 – And It Was Finally Getting Good

Well, maybe good-ish would be a better way to put it. After Sportflics finally made what looked like a baseball card (instead of just a showcase for their lenticular technology) in 1989, they made it a trend of decent card designs in 1990. The gimmick is still very strong with this one, though. Check out the red and yellow “flashing” racetrack feature. Say it with me: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” (it’s tough to see in the animation, but most obvious along the bottom border)

The back is where the design really shows they figured it out. A HUGE full-color picture of one of those great not-quite-action shots where the photographer has captured an unmistakable “baseball moment” without it being part of a baseball play. Very cool. Not so cool: All that purple. Geez. Even the trivia sentences (fragments, really) are purple. The cyan around the team logo sticks out like sore thumb, as does the 50:50 magenta+yellow=red filling up most of the bottom of the card. (the cyan+yellow=green also sticks out). But, with Topps still printing one or two colors on brown cardboard in 1990 the quality and clarity of these backs is something which outweighs the purple and “printer’s friend” shades of the primary additive colors.

1990 was the end of Sportflics run which began in 1986, and for our purposes here, it ended pretty well. Interestingly, Sportflics came back in 1994 renamed “Sportflics 2000” (so, yes, it was the “1994 Sportflics 2000” set), then the ’95 and ’96 sets were branded “Sportflix.” If Donruss 1990 was the ultimate early 90s set, these two set names absolutely SCREAM “mid-90s.”

Kay-Bee Kings of Baseball 1990 – Forget Everything I Said

Remember how last time I was talking about how the 1989 Kay-Bee eschewed the trend of retail-issued cards only having the size of baseball cards, but not the design grammar of baseball cards? Well, forget all of that. From the RED front to the periwinkle barber shop pole rear (I’ll take ‘phrases no one’s ever said before now for $500.’), this showcases the worst of retail and food issued cards. Underdesigned graphic features (that crown… yeesh), and the brand in question getting the second billing to the player (as opposed to the team, his position, etc. Anything but a toy store.) But, Dan, Donruss was also VERY RED in 1990; why is this different? Because Donruss 1990 looked like a baseball card from 1990. This one is unplaceable. It could easily be a Christmas card, just swap out a family in for the batting practice shot on the front. Seriously. Look. I did the math.

Sorry, stock picture family.

Speaking of that front, I GREATLY appreciate two details in there; 1) it’s actually a picture from 1989 (no number on the pants) for once on a 1990 card, 2) sure, it’s a batting practice picture, but it’s from a real game and not Spring Training.

And that back. Maybe the worst we’ve seen so far. There’s the purple barber shop nonsense but that’s just decorating completely inexplicable (and not matching) design flourishes added with no rhyme or reason. Check out the color-coded, non-matching “highlights.” (and a ridiculous name frame where you can relive the moment when the designer got his first computer program which allowed creation of bezier curves).

So, so bad. Moving on.

Kay-Bee Superstars of Baseball 1989 – Rewind It Back

Ugh. It finally happened. After almost 1.5 years of this, I accidentally skipped a card in my collection. I’ve been trying to do this chronologically, only making exceptions when I didn’t know a card existed or when I haven’t yet added it to my collection. This one just slid by as I transitioned from 1989 to 1990. Sure, it’s not the nicest card, but unlike other retail “specials,” it looks like an actual baseball card with retail store branding, not a side project for the company’s existing art department where the end result only passes the size portion of the “baseball card” eye test. (note: except the back. The back is funky.)

There isn’t much online about Kay-Bee’s 80s and 90s sets, but they focused on younger players… until, well, they wanted some new-to-the-series names to fill out the 33 card checklist. Because if Carlton Fisk was anything in 1989, it was NOT “younger.”

There’s a proud Topps logo on the front, but it’s a completely different design than the rest of the 1989 Topps cards. (though it is more similar to Fleer’s 1982 set than one might expect). There’s a multitude of “printer’s friend” inks, with its magenta border (which probably was considered “eh, close enough” when someone said “it should be red”), and whole bunch of yellow, cyan boots on the Kay-Bee toy soldier, and, well, understandably, black lettering.

OK. So the front is passable (albeit eerily similar to that Fleer 1982, right?), but the back is one of those “this doesn’t look like a baseball card” mess. There’s a monochrome face shot there, but notice it’s monochrome brown because the inks on the back are brown and yellow. No black. We do see a unique layout back there with only 1988 and career stat lines, so lots of room for trivia and info, and we get some actually interesting trivia and info. The details of the American League games caught record are included (it’s come up before, but not with the count, the name of the player previously holding the record, or the era when it was set). We also get dates for drafted, how acquired by current team, then minor and major league debuts, which is a subtle reminder that while 1972 was his Major League rookie season, he clocked some MLB time (2 games, 5 at bats) in in 1969, too. (for the pedants, 1971, as well). Back to 1990 next time.

Donruss 1990 MVP – (Lack of) Memories

I don’t have a ton to say about this card. It’s the standard 1990 Donruss layout with a portrait+background combination repeatedly telling you he was the team MVP in 1989. Blech. And he looks sweaty in the picture. I didn’t remember this, but this card is not part of the regular set (notice the funky BC-19 card number); instead, the MVP cards were special inserts in wax packs. Even the back is the same as the normal card. Moving on.

I came across the video below today. I suppose I’ll chalk it up to serendipity. This is a period TV show’s “Best Players of the 80s” or something like that. Of course I looked for Carlton Fisk to make an appearance.

He shows up at 2:40 getting a pretty cool, single-handed doubleplay at the plate. And that’s it. I think of as a player of the 90s based on when I first knew of him, but that’s heavily Dan-biased; he accomplished very little beyond career records in the 90s. That sounds ridiculous, but think of it as “he’s been an above player for a long time. what happens at year 21 of an above average career? You set career records for your position.” But to what decade does he belong? His defining moment was VERY early in his career in 1975 (just his fourth full season), but he played A LOT of baseball after that. Obviously, he’s not a 90s player, but where is he in time? His White Sox teams made the playoffs just once in the 80s (trivia: they also made the playoffs in 1993, but he was released at the end of June year), and a very quick calculation shows a .280ish batting average in the 1970s to the .260ish in the 80s. So… I guess that means he’s a 70s player who played more games in the 80s and 90s. I’m on-board with that, BUT, I view him as a member of the White Sox: more years, SIGNIFICANTLY more baseball cards (compared to one per year for the most part in the 70s), more uniforms (4!), and, well, he was on the White Sox when he was my favorite player. It’s settled. 70s player for a team he didn’t play on until the 80s.

Classic 1990 – Lowercase 1990

Ugh. I hate this “IT IS SO 1990!” trope that I’ve been relying on for the 1990 cards, but unfortunately, it’s painfully accurate. Just look at it! It’s the baseball card of Jazz. Seriously, read that article. Generally relevant detail: notice that they wanted patterns where printing registration wasn’t critical. The two colors on the cup could be off by millimeters and still look fine. That isn’t the case on the card because the pink is integrated against the photograph (and, uh, it’s printed as part of the standard four color process, so, uh, it’s not really comparable to the cup. But how often do you read about printing registration!?)

The cup of the card (or maybe vice versa).

The card speaks to my youth of “this looked so cool when I was 8!” so I have a tough time viewing it objectively. It’s ugly, but it would be oddly fashionable today. I don’t love the pink, but it’s better than just a solid blue border, I suppose.

The back is vaguely Donruss-ish (more than vaguely, to be honest). It’s white paper, not cardboard, but not particularly high quality, with blue and black ink without any gloss clear coat. Honestly, the most I have to say about the card is that I have no idea how the game associated with this card works, but I could only answer the Single and Run questions. (I would’ve expected the Run question to be a lot harder). I guess I would’ve said “20+” for the Triple question about Willie Mays, but I’m not sure that would be a good answer. BUT, I do get a kick out of leaving a spot for the autograph. Was the front too fancy to be sullied by a signature?!