I shunned some of the high end stuff at this point in my life and went for packs of things that looked cool or unique. Sure, there are some really nice cards in my collection from this year, but most of those cards were bought, or traded for, as singles and not pulled. Looking back through my boxes of cards from this year, the emphasis was on new.......
5. Leaf Preferred- So, Leaf put out the Leaf Preferred set this summer and the cards generally looked like a rehash of lots of other Pinnacle/Leaf/Donruss sets from this era. Blah design, 100-200 cards, and the usual assortment of players. Not terribly exciting, but they did have these Leaf Steel cards in the set.....The Steel cards are really the star of the product and make this appear on my list. Collectors got one Steel card per pack, some collectors might have been tempted to throw away the other five or six cards that came in packs.....Leaf did not produce a Steel card for every player in the base set, but there are 77 of the cards which is roughly half of the set. At some point I owned all of these, but I am not sure where they have run off to in the year's since. It appears that I have 63 of the 77....Hello SportsLots!! (maybe COMC). If you do not own one of these Leaf Steel cards you are missing out on one of the true gems of the 90s.
4. Topps Laser- I remember buying a box of these and think that they were cooler than sliced bread. Once you break them out of the packs and actually have to sort them the challenges begin. They stick together and catch all kinds of things, but just take a step back and look at the cards. Is there anything else in my collection that looks anything like this? No. Sure I have tons of die-cuts and cool shaped cardboard, but these were really unique cards. I know a lot of collectors who start rolling eyes and look annoyed when you bring up Topps Laser cards.....Is it the ridiculous stat projections on the back of the Bright Spots inserts?
Yes, they missed on the Jimmy Haynes projections, but they made a cool Jimmy Haynes cards. Someone is happy about that. Seriously, these boxes are still floating around out there and they are dirt cheap. If you want a first hand brush with the coolness of baseball cards in the mid 90s this might be a good way to relive that experience.
3. Metal Universe- This is the third set on my list and the third product that was new to the baseball card world in 1996. The difference between Metal Universe and the other two? This set had a nice run for a few years that produced some really unique looking sets. You've never seen Ken Griffey Jr. chasing a fly ball through (what appears to be) space? Here's your chance. This was a pretty simple and easy set to assemble. All of the Metal Universe sets are cheap and easy to find. This one has one of the simpler designs and textures, but was a really cool product at the time of it's release.
2. SPx- We had several years of SP, but in 1996 Upper Deck introduced collectors to this brand new product. One pack contained one holographic card. The idea of only getting one card in a pack was a bit of bummer, but it looked cool. The base cards look similar to the card pictured above, which is a Ken Griffey Jr. Commemorative, which is actually my favorite card in the product. There were also two pretty nice autographs in the set. The Griffey card above has an autographed version and this Piazza........
There are still inexpensive boxes of this floating around too, but if you like the looks of the cards, you can buy the base set cheap on Ebay and sink some dollars into finding the Piazza autograph. It's easily his best autograph, in my opinion, and has gradually come down in price over the past decade after being sky high for years.
1. Leaf Signature- One of the best sets from the 1990s and the best set from 1996. There are years that I am willing to listen to some to debate, but not here. This was one of the earliest per pack autograph sets out there, first mainstream one by a big card manufacturer, and it got a lot of the details right. This product is really deep with lots of star power, but it also has plenty of autographs from a variety of different players. Everyone who played that year seemed to sign for this product (slight exaggeration), but seriously there is something for everyone. I have assembled the Cardinals set which features really nice 1990s players like Brian Jordan and Andy Benes, but also has signatures from dozens of other players on the team ranging from veteran backstop Tom Pagnozzi to veteran free agent pick ups like Mike Gallego and Rick Honeycutt, to young players like John Mabry who were just starting their career. Really, I should probably just give this set it's own post one of these days and cannot give this set its full due in one paragraph. This is a classic.