10 Baseball Cards Every '90s Kid Should Own, Version 2.0
A couple of weeks ago, we published our list of the 10 baseball cards every '90s kid should own, and the topic sparked some great discussion, debate and overall nostalgia.
We're back for another round!
In case you missed the previous article, here's a look at the 10 cards we highlighted:
- 1985 Topps #401 Mark McGwire (Rookie Card)
- 1987 Topps #320 Barry Bonds (Rookie Card)
- 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr. (Rookie Card)
- 1990 Score #697 Bo Jackson (Football/Baseball)
- 1991 Upper Deck #SP1 Michael Jordan
- 1992 Upper Deck #SP3 Deion Sanders
- 1993 Topps #98 Derek Jeter (Rookie Card)
- 1993 Upper Deck #472 Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Avery
- 1995 Pinnacle #226 Frank Thomas
- 1996 Topps #96 Cal Ripken Jr. (2,131 tribute)
Which 10 made the cut this time around?
1985 Topps #536 Kirby Puckett (Rookie Card)
The most recognizable player in Minnesota Twins history and one of the faces of baseball during the early 1990s, center fielder Kirby Puckett carved his path to the Hall of Fame over the course of a terrific 12-year career.
He led the Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, and batted .318/.360/.477 with 2,304 hits along the way, earning 10 All-Star selections, six Gold Glove awards and six Silver Slugger awards while leading the league in hits four times.
After finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1984, his rookie cards were included in 1985 products, and back then there were only three players in the baseball card game: Donruss, Fleer and Topps.
All three carry a similar price tag, but it's the Topps flagship rookie that stands out as the iconic first-year card for the Twins legend.
1990 Donruss #33 Juan Gonzalez (Error, Reverse Negative)
There have been plenty of noteworthy error cards throughout the years, and one that stands out from the early 1990s is the 1990 Donruss rookie card of Texas Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez.
One of the forgotten superstars of the 1990s, Gonzalez won AL MVP honors in 1996 and 1998 and went on to slug 434 home runs over the course of his 17-year career.
While he has no shortage of different rookie cards across 1990 products, his 1990 Donruss stands out as a result of a printing error. A simple mistake was made in reversing the negative for the image used on his card. As a result, he is shown with a backward number on his jersey batting left-handed rather than right-handed.
The error was corrected midway through the set's print run, and since 1990 was the peak of overproduction, neither the error version nor the corrected version is particularly rare or valuable.
Still, it remains one of the more memorable error cards of the era.
1991 Stadium Club #200 Nolan Ryan (Tuxedo)
The 1990 season was an eventful one for Nolan Ryan.
At 43 years old, he picked up the 300th victory of his Hall of Fame career while also leading the league in strikeouts for the 11th and final time with 232 punchouts in 204 innings with the Texas Rangers.
That performance was honored in style for the 1991 Stadium Club set as he was pictured in a tuxedo with a Rangers hat and cleats delivering a pitch against a photography studio background.
The Stadium Club product line was the first premium product produced by Topps, and 1991 marked its inaugural release. The checklist includes rookie cards of Jeff Bagwell, Luis Gonzalez and Jeff Conine, as well as great-looking base cards of all the biggest stars of the era like Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken Jr. and Frank Thomas.
However, the Nolan Ryan tuxedo card still stands out as the most valuable card in the set.
1991 Upper Deck #636 Rickey Henderson (SB Record/Lou Brock)
Rickey Henderson played his final MLB game on Sept. 19, 2003.
More than 12 years earlier, on May 1, 1991, he broke Lou Brock's record for most career stolen bases when he swiped his 939th career bag while stealing third base off New York Yankees starter Tim Leary.
He went on to steal 467 more bases before he called it quits.
The milestone was honored with Henderson pictured alongside Brock on a card for Series 2 of the 1991 Upper Deck set, and it is the perfect commemoration of one of the most memorable moments of the early '90s.
Fun fact: Nolan Ryan threw his seventh career no-hitter on the same day Henderson broke Brock's record, and the duo was featured on an insert card together in the same 1991 Upper Deck set.
1992 Bowman #461 Mike Piazza (Rookie Card)
This is actually the first card I bought when I got back into the hobby last year.
An afterthought when he was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, Mike Piazza broke out as a prospect on the rise in 1991 when he hit .277/.344/.540 with 29 home runs and 80 RBI in 117 games at the High-A level.
That earned him a spot in the rookie-laden 1992 Bowman set that also includes the only rookie cards of Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Carlos Delgado, along with sought-after early cards of Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones and Pedro Martinez.
The Rivera card is now the one to own from the set, with ungraded copies regularly fetching north of $100 on eBay, but during the 1990s, the Piazza rookie was the set's headliner and one of the most valuable rookie cards of the era.
1992 Topps Traded #39T Nomar Garciaparra USA (Rookie Card)
In 1985, Topps changed the baseball card game when it included Mark McGwire and a handful of other members of the 1984 Olympic team in its base set pictured in their Team USA jerseys.
Should that be considered a rookie card?
The debate rages on to this day, and 1985 was far from the only year Topps included Team USA cards in its sets, with their inclusion shifting to the Topps Traded release in 1988 and subsequent Traded sets.
Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was selected No. 12 overall in the 1994 draft, but two years earlier, he was featured in the 1992 Topps Traded set as a member of Team USA during his time at Georgia Tech. This card is considered his only true rookie card.
At the height of his popularity, when he won 1997 AL Rookie of the Year honors, finished runner-up in the 1998 AL MVP voting and then won back-to-back AL batting titles in 1999 and 2000, this was one of the hottest cards on the market.
Now it can be found for under $10.
1994 Fleer Pro-Visions #5 Ozzie Smith (Wizard)
The "Pro-Visions" inserts were a staple in Fleer products throughout the first half of the 1990s.
They were first included in the 1991 set with a memorable collection of player illustrations that includes Dwight Gooden holding a flaming baseball, Mark McGwire against the backdrop of the American flag and Bo Jackson pictured as "Bionic Bo" with a robotic arm.
The cards were drawn by artist Terry Smith, and all of them are worth tracking down.
My personal favorite in a long list of great Pro-Visions cards was Ozzie Smith in 1994, where he is drawn in a wizard's hat and robe with a yellow brick road and castle behind him.
It's the perfect play on one of baseball's best nicknames and a great card of one of the most universally beloved players of his era.
1994 Triple Play Nicknames #2 Ryne Sandberg
Released by Donruss for the first time in 1992, the Triple Play set was marketed toward kids with a lower price point, fun subsets, mascot cards, etc.
The 1993 release included a "Nicknames" insert set that focused on player monikers like Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff and Roger "Rocket" Clemens. For 1994, they flipped the script for the Nicknames set and instead highlighted animal-themed team mascots.
The card of Ryne Sandberg with a pair of grizzly bears fighting in the background is truly a sight to behold, and it's a must-own for any Cubs fan. Here's a rundown of the rest of the eight-card checklist:
- Cecil Fielder and a tiger
- Gary Sheffield and a marlin
- Joe Carter and a blue jay
- John Olerud and a blue jay
- Cal Ripken Jr. and an oriole
- Mark McGwire and an elephant
- Greg Jefferies and a cardinal
Creativity points to Donruss for this one.
1995 Bowman #23 Andruw Jones (Rookie Card)
The first time I can remember hearing a player referred to as a "top prospect" was Andruw Jones during his time in the Atlanta Braves farm system.
He was the No. 1 prospect in baseball at the start of the 1996 season, and he debuted that August, ultimately playing his way onto the postseason roster and into the starting center field job.
When he went 3-for-4 with two home runs in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series as a 19-year-old, the market for his cards absolutely exploded.
The most valuable of the bunch were his two rookie cards in the 1995 Bowman and 1995 Bowman's Best sets, and for a brief time, those two cards were the pinnacle of the hobby. They are far more reasonably priced these days, but the aforementioned sets remain in demand thanks to an impressive checklist of notable rookies.
Along with Jones, both sets also include rookie cards of Vladimir Guerrero, Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, Chris Carpenter, Bartolo Colon and Hideo Nomo, among others.
1998 Collector's Choice #240 Ken Griffey Jr.
Since the 2009 season, every player in baseball has worn the No. 42 jersey on April 15 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. That date marks the anniversary of the Hall of Famer breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1947 season.
Did you know Ken Griffey Jr. came up with the idea?
Alyson Footer of MLB.com posted a brief history of the No. 42 jersey being adopted leaguewide, and it was Griffey who set the wheels in motion. He initially received permission from Rachel Robinson and the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1997 to reverse his No. 24 jersey to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Ten years later, he approached Commissioner Bud Selig about expanding it to a leaguewide tribute, and Selig obliged.
The iconic moment when he wore No. 42 in 1997 was captured perfectly on Griffey's 1998 Collector's Choice base card.
There is no shortage of awesome cards from the 1990s featuring the Seattle Mariners superstar, but this one stands out for its significance.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.