The Express Expressed Exponentially

When conditions are optimal, a perfect storm may form. Three decades ago, the collision of an athlete at his peak and the excesses of the “Junk Wax” card era resulted in a “Texas tornado” cutting a swath across the cardboard landscape.

The legendary, laconic Texan, Nolan Ryan, was at the height of fame from the early eighties to the end of his career in ’93. (I attended his final game, played at the Kingdome.) This coincided with the emergence of new card companies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, all of which needed product lines. Ryan was the perfect subject for numerous “odd ball” and promotional card sets. Over 30 different sets featuring the “Express” would find their way into the hobby


The first company to cash in on the Ryan phenomenon was Star, who introduced a 24-card set in ’86. They follow up with 11 card sets in ’89 and ’90. The cards have simple designs with white backs featuring stats and highlights. Only one card out of the three sets show Nolan on the Mets.


Next in the “shoot” are two postcard sets consisting of 12 cards each in ’90 and ’91. The postcards were distributed under the name “Historic Limited Edition” and all featured original art work from Susan Rini. Since the company produced 10,000 sets each year, their definition of limited is questionable.


In my humble opinion, the best of the lot was produced by Mother’s Cookies, which included four different cards in the cookie bags in ’90 and four more in ’91. They returned with a eight card “No-Hitters” set in ’92 and culminated with 10 cards in ’93. The design follows the Mother’s template: simple design, excellent photography and a glossy finish. I have a few of these from each series


Donruss teamed up with Coca-Cola in ’92 to issue a 26-card career retrospective set distributed in 12-packs of Coke products. I collected these at the time and have 12 different cards.


Classic cards chimed in with a 10-card set in ‘91 that resembles all of their “crap” cards of the era.

Barry Colla

Other Ryan sets were issued by Spectrum, Barry Colla, Whataburger, Bleachers 23K. ‘95 MLB All-Star Fan Fest and Classic Metal Impressions. Also, Upper Deck produced a mini-set within the “Heroes” issue in ’91.


By any definition, this number of sets is excessive. But one company, Pacific Trading Cards, ‘jumped the shark.” The Seattle area company produced a 222 card, two series set in ’91. Add to that, a ’93 Nolan Ryan Limited regular and gold issues, plus a special 30 card box set called: “Texas Express.” But wait, there’s more. Pacific teamed with Advil — for whom Ryan was a spokesman — to produce a set in ’96.


Producing hundreds of cards for the same player results in mind-numbing repetitiveness. Even throwing in cards depicting Nolan on a horse, with other animals and his family doesn’t break up the monotony.

The next time you curse the Aaron Judge card explosion, remember how Ryan’s “heater” caused a “junk wax” era meltdown.


Author: Tim Jenkins

Sports memorablilia collector with Seattle teams emphasis. HOF autographs, baseball cards and much more. Teacher for over 30 years. Attended games at 35 different MLB parks.

6 thoughts on “The Express Expressed Exponentially”

  1. It’s funny. Even during peak Nolan-mania from 1991-1993, TradingCardDB “only” lists ~360-480 cards each year for him. And yes that’s a lot of cards but it pales in comparison to Aaron Judge’s 1756 cards in 2017.

    Though for the record, the peak too-many-cards years appear to be 2006-2008. Bonds has ~2800 cards in 2006, Jeter ~2600 in 2008, and A-Rod over 5100 in 2007 (and ~3100 in 2008).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beckett shows a different number, about 300 in 1991 and 1992 and almost 600 in 1993. 250 of those 1993 cards are the Pacific set. As you mention, it seems like a lot of cards, but Beckett lists Ryan as having almost 2600 cards in 2005.

      2005 is another bad year for player collectors. There are four companies (Topps, Fleer, Playoff, and Upper Deck) with MLB and MLBPA licenses, and the printing plate/parallel stuff was a little out of control. I was trying to figure out why A-Rod had so many cards in 2007, then saw he has over 3000 cards from Topps Moments & Milestones (1063 “different” cards each with a regular version, plus black and red parallels) and 1000 cards (regular and autographed) from Topps Road to 500 cross-product subset.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Pacific dates of production was confusing. I should have checked Beckett. Thanks for the correction. Anyway you slice it, the number is excessive.


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