By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

And here, the troubles began.

In China, “The Great Leap Forward” began in 1958 before ending disastrously in 1961. In the baseball card world, it began in earnest in 1993 and is showing no signs of stopping. With Donruss’ then “premium” quality 1984 set, the race was on to provide an improving product. Donruss would regress a bit, but then things escalated with Score entering the fray in 1988 with the first set with a full-color back photo, and finally reaching its first head in 1989 with Upper Deck’s emergence as the beyond-premium set. No one could compete with color action shots on both sides, an anti-counterfeit hologram, and foil-like packaging. If yearly card releases were the Olympics, then Upper Deck won gold, silver, and bronze and even placed fourth just for good measure in every event in 1989. Donruss proceeded to come out with Leaf in 1990. Score made Pinnacle and Fleer made Ultra in 1991. And so Topps struck back with Stadium Club in 1991 and a semi-premium Bowman set in 1992 that became the stuff of legends. And suddenly, premium wasn’t good enough. Now the buzzword was… SUPER PREMIUM! And 1993 is where is all began with Topps making Finest, Fleer making Flair, and Score committing epic acts of failure with Select.

Affordable cards? Bargain brands? HA! No way, no how. 1993 is when the low-end collector and the under-12 collector was forcibly removed from the market in a wave of gold leaf, UV coatings, chrome, 24-point card stock, refractor technology, dufex, six color printing, and foil wrappers. The days of gum, wax, and gray backs were long gone. What once was semi-premium was now considered ordinary, and what had been ordinary was now dead.

The birth photo of Jeter-Mania

Topps’ main 1993 set was an ambitious effort. 825 cards, their biggest set yet. A computer-aided set design. Full-color fronts and backs with a player’s headshot. Cards of new teams in Florida and Colorado. Dual-player cards of All-Stars and managers. And yet, Topps was behind the times despite releasing this “cutting edge” set. The other four major sets all had full color backs with a player’s photo as Donruss did it in 1992, Fleer in 1991, Upper Deck in 1989, and Score in 1988.  And because of all these new technological changes, the prices rose. The cards carried a MSRP of 69 cents a pack, a 25% increase over the 1992 offering’s 55-cent price tag. Go back 10 years to 1983 and it’s a 130% increase over the 30-cent packs from that year.

Now there are a number of things I like about the 1993 set. In spite of the computer-aided design, it looks pretty good. I didn’t buy a whole lot of 1993 Topps baseball, but I have tons of football from that year, where they used the same design. The photography was vastly improving. While the 1980’s sets were often blurry and distant action shots or a quasi-action shot of a guy waving in the dugout to a teammate, the Topps sets of the 90’s finally started using some good quality action shots and 1993 had some decent stuff. Even if the Junior Ortiz and Gary Gaetti cards did feature almost the exact same photo.

Oh wow, nice pho– hey wait… I see what you did there.

Problems: two words to haunt us some more. Bowman Effect. This was the first set to really be hit hard by it. While Bowman returned in 1989, it didn’t heavily affect Topps’ sets until 1993. A total of seven rookie cards that anyone would care about were in this set.  Seven. Now on the positive side, those seven had some good ones in Derek Jeter and Jim Edmonds while Jason Kendall and J.T. Snow were decent second-tier rookies. But still, when you have 825 cards, you’ve got to do better! I will admit I’m not counting those dial-player Marlins and Rockies ones. But let’s be honest, who cares now about the one featuring Jon Goodrich with Danny Figueroa? For that matter, who cared about it in 1993 even?

WHO?!

The 825 card set is the biggest Topps made as their flagship release, and likely will be the biggest. I don’t see them surpassing 800 any time soon, which is a shame. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I like a big set that has a card of everyone. It shouldn’t take much work to make 30 cards per team.  I mean you have a 25-man roster, a manager, a team photo, that’s 27 right there. And every team will have at least three call-ups, guaranteed. 30 teams, 30 cards per team, bingo bango, you have a 900-card set. Why can’t it be done? I know the 132-card sheet is an industry standard, so why not step it up to 924? 30 cards per team, and 24 to mess around with as you please– All-Stars, Award Winners, Postseason Highlights, Umpires, Batboys, Broadcasters, Guy Who Holds The Speed Gun, Random Awesome Fans, Epic Hot Dog Race Finishes, whatever. You give me 30 players per team and I’ll stop whining about filler cards. Deal?

More of this, less Gold Glove Winners. For the record, the text is pronounced “Zhot Prospekt.” It means “Joth Avenue.” I’m sorry, what were you going for here, Topps?

1993 was the beginning of the end for the low-end collector. This, and a limited new player presence causes a reasonably solid design to get overlooked.

About the Author: Drew Pelto was the youngest middle infielder in the Painesville, Ohio Little League in 1993. While his glove was great, he was 0 for 16 at the plate with 16 strikeouts, 17 walks, and a hit by pitch. He now lives in Texas where he still can’t hit anything above 40 mph.