Topps BIG 1990 – One of the Worst

I can’t say “1990 was a good year for baseball cards” when this 1990 card exists. Let me also point out that I’ve literally been covering 1990 since March. March. It’s August.

Here, I’d normally break down the design features of the card, but this one speaks for itself. It’s a collection of “this is worst part of the card” items. Every part of this card is its worst part. I want to hate the doofy “Three Stooges haircut with a hat thrown on” headshot the most. I want to hate his “let me tell you about how I fixed my weed whacker. It took two trips to Home Depot. You know you can’t trust buying this stuff online” expression. I want to hate the metal Wordart shapes. That terrible inset action shot’s crop, which kind of evokes the shape of home plate.

The fact that, say it with me, the action shot isn’t from 1989 (again, I’ve covered this a lot, but no pants numbers after 1988. This gets it own paragraph on this recap of a trainwreck.

We’ve got fielding stats on the back, as is the pattern for Topps BIG (their spelling), but there’s the damn cartoon which combines the visual shorthand for both baseball and football uniforms, stirrups and “Northwestern” stripes, respectively, and features a non-joke joke. I feel like there must be a German word for that concept. The vegan chicken nugget presented as an actual chicken nugget. While I’m here, let me point out that the stats table shows all of the CMYK colors at lowered saturation. And also, let me add the number and selection of fonts (the serifs on “catcher” practically have their own serifs) to my list of things I hate.

Ugh. I hate this card even more than I did at the beginning. I couldn’t help but explain what was terrible on it despite saying the card is so bad that it speaks for itself. That’s how bad it is.

This was the last of the Topps BIG series. It will continue to be unmissed. (and, woof, the 1988 and 1989 are bad, but look like straight-up art compared to the 1990)

MSA/Soda All American Baseball Team 1990 – No License, No Problem. But Lots of Questions.

We’ve got a weird one here. MSA is “Mike Schecter Associates” which was a company which created what the hobby™ calls “Food Issue” cards. This specific one is from cases of soda, specifically RC Cola and Sun Drop (and maybe Squirt). That’s a very easy sentence to write, but it took A LONG time to gather it, as this is another 1990 card with very little info available online.

Aside from the card looking like something that would be free as a pack-in with a food product, the lack of the MLB license is practically advertised with his suspiciously (and, um, airbrushedly) blank hat taking up a huge portion of the picture. BUT DON’T WORRY. TEAM LOGOS AREN’T THERE, SO THE MLBPA UNION LOGO IS PROUDLY ADVERTISED WHERE THE TEAM LOGO WOULD BE ON THE BOTTOM-RIGHT. After that, the stars are just weird, and the three typefaces (four fonts… the “CATCHER” is a different weight of the same typeface as his name) is two too many. The “Chicago White Sox” Futura-esque lettering looks out of place. There is one interesting detail; at the top right of the scan, there appears to be yellow. This could be a re-trimmed version of the rarer yellow border variation. Maybe.

I’ll check the next time I have the card in-hand, but I believe this is thinner card stock than usual, effectively more paper than cardstock. The autograph on the back is a unique touch and very, very rare, and the hit by pitch stat in the trivia copy is also something that hasn’t shown up on other cards. Unfortunately, with no design features to speak of, the bag of the card looks unfinished, but it’s better than the front.

Topps TV All-Stars 1990 – Bad Design Feature Bingo

  • Gradients? ✔ (“ALL STAR”)
  • Lazy “3D” effect printed embossing? ✔ (his name)
  • Drop-shadow? ✔ (check behind the name box)
  • Printed light glints? ✔
  • Super thin, serifed fonts contrasted with block letters? ✔
  • Organic texture to offset the computer-created features? YES!!!! BAD DESIGN FEATURE BINGO!!! (I have no idea what that is on the left. Wool? Old timey baseball jersey fabric? Baseball stuffing?)

The back isn’t anything to write home about, either, but it’s a pre-1990 design, which, say what I will about the front, the front is definitely, shamelessly 1990. Credit where credit is due, though; the Career Bests method of stats delivery gives different insights than the usual “year-by-year, then aggregated career numbers.” His 37 home runs in 1985 are even more absurd after seeing his career best slugging percentage in 1974. That “Major League Service” counted to the days datapoint looks like the card was referenced in a labor negotiation.

There isn’t much online about this card, but it has some great trivia; it was only available as a TV mail order item, and there were actually six different Topps TV sets in 1990. There was one for All-Stars (again, Carlton Fisk was not an All-Star in 1989 or 1990), and five for large fanbase teams (Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, Red Sox, Cubs). Baseball Card Breakdown has some additional info about the set (ok, it’s basically the info from BaseballCardPedia, but I appreciate that someone else is writing anything about this set), and an amazing picture of the AWFUL rear of the TV team sets which took the mess of the above, but used front picture as a background with traditional year-by-year stats. Yikes. (BUT, they’re using all four colors of the four color process to print these backs, which was not something Topps was doing in 1990.)

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 “SUPERST⭐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.