Apres 1996, le deluge

I want more. We all want more. Any collector worth his accumulating salt wants more, but in the constant pursuit of the new, it’s easy to forget what we have, especially when it comes to cards from the 1990’s. Not only have I lost track of what sets I have from that decade, but I can’t even remember the designs from year to year. Young me would be appalled at such neglect.

I wrote last week about the cards that dominated the Tim Raines party the night before Induction. In the goodie bag, along with a signed copy of Rock’s book, were a handful of cards. This one


caught my eye.

The 1996 Topps baseball set is not at the top of anyone’s all-time favorite sets list, but it’s damn nice. The design is sublime – simple, with the team logo in one corner, name at the bottom and a weird Phantom Zone face shot that would make General Zod grimace in remembered confinement. I kinda love it. Action shots dominate the set, but they’re varied enough to not be boring.

Look at Wakefield’s knuckleball grip:


Did Quilvio Veras ever look this good?


There’s not a lot of fluff here. At 440 cards, it has to be one of the smallest base sets Topps issued. Concise and to the point; I like that. The subsets are nice, with a glimpse of what’s to come, the good and the bad.


While going through the stacks of cards, I felt I was in the eye of the hurricane. The odd thing about looking at 1996 versions of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and others is the pervasive sense of innocence. In reality, nobody was innocent (no one ever is!), and what exploded only two years later was obviously in the mix in 1996. We just didn’t know. Looking at these cards, I could feel the storm coming, palpable outside the borders and ready to burst.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

9 thoughts on “Apres 1996, le deluge”

  1. As someone who took 1995 through 2016 off from the hobby, the weirdest thing for me in terms of figuring out what the heck happened when I was away are sets like this which are close to half the size I’m used to and there’s maybe a dozen players per team. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do in terms of collecting for these years either. Those dozen-player team sets are kind of a waste of time and a complete set is kind of overkill.

    Not a fan of the blue photos (LOL at General Zod). But otherwise I agree that this is a clean design with nice photos.

    I do really like your characterization of 1996 (really 1995-1997) as a belle epoque of sorts where the game and the hobby were in a weird state of post-strike, pre-andro innocence.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sort of considering letting my kids focus on 1994–present. I might have some overlap and interests but it’s cool they have a way to enter the hobby with a couple decades of a blank slate.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have exactly the same experience with the 1990s sets. In some manner this is because my son began to lose interest when the overproduction of cards caused the bubble to burst. I also had to do some serious searching a few years ago to see what I was missing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was a away from the hobby for the 1990’s and 2000’s so I’m not familiar with this set but I think it looks great until you get to the blue face shot. I think it almost kills them, the photo looks like a still photo from a surveillance video of a 7-11 robbery.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anyone else think that pitch to Raines (which looks to be high) was called a strike and he’s looking back as if to say “You gotta be kidding me?”

    And while I generally agree with your line about wanting more, I could do without any more 2nd series 1992 Score. In one bulk purchase I made there was basically a 5,000 count box of 1992 Score 2nd series. Not even 1st and 2nd series to make sets, just 2nd series. Of course, I do now have 15-20 Vinny Castilla rookie cards, so I got that going for me. If only Score had followed Topps’ lead from 40 years earlier and dumped cases of the high numbers into the ocean … or perhaps somewhere more environmentally friendly.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As a huge fan of 1990s cards, I really enjoyed this article. Keep the 1990s posts coming if possible. I don’t think baseball has ever been “innocent.” But perhaps in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was less innocent that usual.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Whenever I grab a box of 1990’s era cards, I’m always surprised at how much I like them. (BTW, I don’t think baseball has ever been innocent either. I wrote a book, Split Season:1981 about the 1981 season and strike. Check it out.)


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