by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

Unless you’re an Atlanta Braves fan, 1995 was likely a forgettable year of baseball. Each team lost 18 games from the schedule due to a strike that, when all was said and done at its end, only proceeded to screw over the fans and small market teams. I have a late April birthday. Opening Day should not come after it. It was the first year in 90 that didn’t have a defending World Series champion from the previous year. Albert JoJuan Belle was screwed out of the AL MVP award by a bitter media.

And Topps released this disaster of a set. And I mean disaster. Seriously, I can find no redeeming value in it, aside from a card celebrating what would have been Babe Ruth’s 100th birthday.

You would think that following the strike, Topps would get it in gear and release some kind of epic set that welcomed baseball back from its self-imposed hiatus. Instead, it seemed more like they were preparing to have a set filled with truck drivers from Iowa who won the Cy Young Award or construction workers from North Dakota who led the league with an astonishing 21 homers. The design was a poor attempt at being edgy, with borders mimicking ripped edges and a font that just screamed Hot Topic faux-punk.

I feel like these cards should have bright red mohawks and leather jackets

The player selection left much to be desired. Of course, it’s the mid 90s, a time after Nolan and before A-Rod, where the star rookies were minimal and future Hall of Famers were making themselves into could-have-been Hall of Famers with various creams, clears, drops, pills, powders, injections, voodoo, witch doctors, rain dances, and other performance enhancers that weren’t good and wholesome and safe for an America that still believed it was in the 1950s. It was another one of those years before Barry Bonds’ head grew, before Ken Griffey Jr.’s body fell apart on him, when Mark McGwire was just an injury-prone power hitter who could barely hit his weight despite mashing balls 450 feet, and when Matt Williams was going to hit 62 and Tony Gwynn would surpass .400.

Speaking of those latter stats, Topps continued the parallel mania, but instead of Topps Gold, it was… CyberStats. With the strike-ended 1994 season, Topps simulated the rest of the season on some high-tech computer (probably something similar to the laptop I bought 8 years ago– which would have been amazingly advanced for 1994, but is now a giant pile of crap) and came up with stats for the remainder of the season. They then put them on cards and inserted them one per pack. For the record, Matt Williams hit 62, Barry Bonds hit a possibly-non-steroid-influenced 61, and Gwynn hit .420. Somehow the White Sox won the World Series over the Reds, with the two inexplicably getting past the Yankees and Expos. The CyberStats cards were hard to tell apart from the regular set cards by looking at the front. The background of the photo had some sort of dark foil thing done with it, so it just made us wonder if the photographer snapped the photo just as the stadium was undergoing a brownout.

L to R: Regular, CyberStats front, Cyberstats back.

1995 was also part of the doldrums of the Bowman Effect, a term you will be seeing a lot in this series. Topps of course brought back Bowman in 1989, hitting its apex with the post-1992 Bowman sets. Sharp photography, semi-premium packaging, and the kicker– massive ungodly amounts of rookie cards. This was great for Topps as a business, but terrible for the Topps set itself. By putting in loads of rookies into earlier sets, by the time they made their actual major league debuts, their Topps card was no longer their rookie card but just another piece of cardboard with that player’s name on it. 1995 should have been a decent year for them– Garrett Anderson, Andy Pettitte, Shawn Green, Hideo Nomo, Chipper Jones, Brad Radke, Troy Percival, and Marty Cordova all were in the Rookie of the Year voting. But Anderson, Pettitte, Cordova, and Percival all had their rookies in Bowman sets. The lone notable rookie cards in 1995 Topps: Rey Ordonez, Jay Payton, Terrence Long, and Aaron Boone. They did at least get Nomo and Radke in the Traded set, while Green and Jones had theirs as draft picks in previous Topps sets, so you can’t fault them on those two.

And thus, with a lame crop of rookies, a poor design, and really bad timing to release a total stinker of a set, 1995 Topps gets the pick as the worst Topps baseball base set of all-time. For all the great sets Topps has ever made, you’re bound to find a few bad ones in the bunch. No one bats 1.000 for a career.

About the Author: Drew Pelto hit .100 in the Painesville, Ohio Little League in 1995 as a catcher, middle infielder, and corner outfielder for the 2-16 Kent Marks Home Improvement Cardinals. He currently lives in Texas with his wife and a herd of cats.