By Drew Pelto AKA *censored*

On April 23, 1994, the Painesville Little League season opened and I began my second year of organized baseball. It was my tenth birthday, and I was the leadoff hitter and starting catcher for the Kent Marks Home Improvement Pirates (long story on the team change between 1994 and 1995, don’t ask).  I went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts as we got no-hit by the Malkamaki Builders Browns in a 10-0 mercy rule decision, but I didn’t care. It was my birthday, it was my first game behind the plate, and I wasn’t going to let what was by then an 0-for-18 start to my baseball career slow me down!

And so, with two friends in tow, it was off to Chuck E. Cheese’s for my birthday party. Typical of Jon, Michael, and me, we pretty much just played skee-ball the whole day because let’s face it, skee-ball rules. Even God plays skee-ball, just watch Dogma. After a few rounds, it was time for bad pizza, good cake, and presents.  And combined between the two of them, I ended up with about 20 packs of 1994 Topps cards as presents. Well done, lads. Well done.

A future Hall of Famer’s career ends… with no special tribute.

1994 Topps was another sort of “end of an era” set. Up until 1991, Topps cards had gum in the packs and were printed on gray card stock. Then the gum was eliminated in 1992 with cards on non-glossy white stock, then semi-glossy stock in 1993. 1994 was the beginning of the glossy UV-coating era for Topps.

Topps was actually a bit behind the times in that regard. Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck had switched to a high-gloss coating on their cards in 1993. Topps and Score jumped on the bandwagon in 1994.  As an autograph collector, I hate high-gloss coatings. Most autograph people will agree with me on that. It takes a lot of extra prep work to get cards ready to sign. Without the gloss, it was just marker on paper. You didn’t have to worry much about bubbling or smearing if you were careful. With the gloss, the signature bubbles and smears very easily, resulting in a pretty bad autograph. To keep it from happening, we have to now run a white eraser over the cards or rub some baby powder on them to counteract the gloss. It’s time consuming, and I, for one, hate having to do it. The autograph-friendly card was dead. Thankfully, Fleer resurrected it in 1996 and 1997. You can probably guess what product I bought most those two years.

And a career begins for a future Hall of the Steroid Tainted member!

1994 was also the early days of computer aided design on cards. With a lot of older designs (meaning up through about 1989 or so in this case), the designs looks like something that could have been created by hand at a drawing board. Even 1991 and 1992 could have been created at a drafting table. But by 1993 and especially 1994 and onward, it was all about the flash and dash. Topps needed something to compete with Upper Deck, who was always a step ahead of everyone else. And so, in come the flashy designs. At least 1994’s set had a baseball-specific design. The player’s photo was put in a sort of off-center home plate. You get the name, team, and position on the front. And the script player name was a nice touch. Classy. For better or worse, Topps’ main set had joined the semi-premium revolution.

Nice tribute, but…

But the player caliber was lacking. It did have its highlights: Nolan Ryan’s last regular issue card is in the set, with his entire career’s year by year stat line given. And they put his card as #34, same as his jersey with the Astros and Rangers. Also checking out were George Brett and Robin Yount, but without the uber-praise that Ryan was given. Donruss also made special notations for Ryan and Brett, but not Yount. Topps also made card #715 for Hank Aaron in commemoration of his 715th homer coming 20 years prior. Derek Jeter makes his second appearance, this time on a card with three other young shortstops whose combined career numbers don’t even match any two single seasons of Jeter’s put together. But the rookie class was led by… Billy Wagner, Julian Tavarez, and Brooks Kieschnick. Nothing like having three relievers as your big rookies! The Bowman effect was in full swing by 1994. This was, to me, the first set truly hit hard by it. Rookie of the Year winners Bob Hamelin and Raul Mondesi had been in previous Bowman sets, as had other top vote-getters Manny Ramirez, Ryan Klesko, and Cliff Floyd. And the 1993 Draft only had a couple of players that you look and scratch your head wondering why they weren’t put in. Of course, by having cards of Brooks Kieschnick, Jeff Granger, and Billy Wagner while inexplicably missing Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, Chris Carpenter, and Torii Hunter, you kind of massively lose face. And you go from scratching your head to banging it against a hard surface.

… why not one here?

While I like the design, the 1994 Topps set lacked in rookies and began the slow descent into gloss-coated hell that still plagues the hobby today.

About the Author: Drew Pelto would eventually end his streak of 18 strikeouts (with 19 walks) to start his baseball career by grounding out in his next game. He now only plays wiffleball where he was placed third in the voting for the Cy Young Award in the Emerson College Wiffleball League in Fall 2005. He currently lives in Texas where no wiffleball players exist.