Friday, April 3, 2015

Friday Five: Best 5 Sets From 1990

The last couple of Friday Five posts were focused on 1980s cards, but it starts to get a little bit more complicated after that decade.  The 90s brought in a boom of new products, some good and some not so good, which makes it harder to break down sets by brand.  I could have continued that same line of posts and just used the base sets for Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, and Topps, but there are all sorts of complications even within that.  

So, instead I am going to spend my Friday's during this baseball season counting down the best five sets from each year.  And by best five I am not speaking of value, although it's a consideration, same with design, player selection, and all sorts of other factors.  Basically, I am looking through boxes of cards for the year and pulling out cards from five sets I really like....Deal with it.  

The card sets are ranked in order from least liked to best liked.  1990 there were still a reasonable number of cards sets.  Besides the five sets listed below I also considered: Fleer Update, Topps Traded, Score, Score Rookie/Traded, and Donruss The Rookies.  Your consolation trophy is in the mail....

 5.  Donruss- This card design is a mixture of Eddie Van Halen's guitar and one of those Jasper Johns drizzle paintings.  You won't see Donruss on this list for a while after this one, because in my opinion, the products went drastically down hill after this one.  The 1990 Donruss set still had a similar feel to the 1988 plaids and the 1989 black borders.  It was the largest Donruss set up to that point, over 700 cards, but still kept a lot of the trademark Donruss features like the Diamond Kings and Rated Rookies subsets.  There were also a ton of minor errors in this set, which people swore were going to be worth something in 1990, but are actually not worth much of anything today.

Can we also talk about the smell of the cards?  There are people that swear by certain smells in certain sets.  I am not really too sensitive to the smells that come out of packs of cards, but for some reason this set hits my sense of smell.  It always has.   Don't think that I ran around huffing Scotch Guard or something as a middle schooler, but if you blindfolded me and asked me to identify a 1990 Donruss card I would know the smell anywhere.  Not a bad smell, not good, it's just there....

4. Fleer- Not as interesting design wise as the Donruss set, but there are a bunch of different things I like about the Fleer set.  First, there are a bunch of good rookies in the set.  All of these sets actually have them: Sosa, Thomas, Larry Walker, and Juan Gonzalez.  Others are unique to Fleer, like the Moises Alou rookie.....

The set also had some of the staples of 1980s Fleer sets like the SuperStar cards.  The Players of the Decade inset set is also a really nice touch in this set.  Throw in the fact that Fleer did a little better job of editing their set and I put it just ahead of the Donruss set.  

3. Topps- I like the design.  Seriously, this seems like a take or leave kind of year.  This set has a bunch of the usual 1990 rookie cards, Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa, but also has a few other really cool things going for it too.  The set has the normal 792 cards you would expect to see out of this era of Topps set, but the best part of this set is the Nolan Ryan subset....

There is one Ryan card for each of the teams that he played for over his career.  This set is really inexpensive and probably worth it for the Nolan Ryan cards alone.  I am pretty sure this is the cheapest Topps set you can possibly find....

2.  Upper Deck- I am a huge fan of the Upper Deck set.  It was still pretty much alone in being a high end set in 1990 and it's not all that different from the 1989 set.  Same card stock, similar elements in the design, but it just missed out on the rookie cards.  I am not sure I can really fault Upper Deck for the fact that Ray Lankford and Sammy Sosa did not pan out quite the same way as Ken Griffey Jr.  Believe me, I would love it if Ray Lankford had that sort of card value.  The backs of the cards are really awesome too.....

The design was honestly pretty simple and photography was really nice.  Not a lot of frills and extras here, but you do get a lot of really nice baseball cards.  Again, like the Topps set, the Upper Deck set is extremely cheap and inexpensive to pick up.  I have thought about picking up a couple of cheap boxes off of Ebay and opening them up just for fun.  Perhaps......

1.  Leaf- Notice on the Upper Deck write up I said that it was almost the only premier baseball card product released in 1990.  Donruss created this product to directly compete with Upper Deck that summer.  Foil packaging, better card stock, and color photos on the front and back.  Leaf was supposed to be the rival of Upper Deck and it actually did one better than that.  If I was going to tell you to buy one set from the 1990 set this would be the one.  While the rookies in the set are essentially the same names as the other 1990s products, Walker, Thomas, and Sammy Sosa, the cards out of this set have been far more popular and desired by collectors.  Easily the best set from 1990.


  1. Nice list. 1990 was the year I got big into card collecting, so these sets all strike a sentimental chord for me. I agree with Leaf being on top. It was too pricey back in the day for me to buy more than maybe a pack or two, but finally bought the set a couple years ago.

    1. Cool. I had been collecting for awhile at this point, but I love the sets this year. Really fun to look at these.

    2. I think Topps had a nice design that year. Canseco had a nice batting cage base card in that set.

  2. Great list. 1990 Leaf was one of the most expensive sets I ever built. It's so special to me... I chose to keep it when I dumped 99% of my collection back in the early 2000's.

  3. I really liked that 1990 Donruss set but my favorite sets from that era were all of the Topps Stadium Club releases especially that 1992 set. Those were really "cutting edge" cards back in that era and as I recall it was one of the first of the more "rigid" cards that were produced. I also liked the 1994 Pinnacle release!

    1. Those are great sets and they will be in future posts! Stadium Club is in next Friday's!