Little Boxes

One of the underappreciated, yet voluminous, touchstones of the 1980’s – early 1990’s card boom (I try to resist “Junk Wax Era,” because there are a ton of wonderful cards that, though small in value, are high in aesthetics, i.e., not junk) was the mini-boxed set. If you had a chain store, you likely had a self-branded set, 33, maybe 44, cards in size. Ames had 20 Home Runs/20 Stolen Bases, Revco had Hottest Stars, KMart had AL and NL MVPs and many other titles. If I were so inclined to research how many of these sets there were, I’d be wading my way through stacks and stacks of them. I am not so inclined.


I can say, with some assurance, that Woolworth put out sets from 1985 – 1991, all made by Topps, all called Baseball Highlights (except the first two years, All-Time Record Holders and Super Stars, respectively), all 33 cards (except ATRH, which has 44).

I picked up the 1990 set (sans gum) for a buck at Yastrzemski Sports in Cooperstown, and it’s a glossy beaut.


The checklist is made up of players you’d expect to find circa 1990 – MVPs, Cy Young winners, ROYs and post-season heroes, but also MLBers who hit some milestones. It’s always swell to see a new Dewey Evans card.


As you’d expect, the set is overloaded with A’s and Giants, and that’s fine, but the highlights, for me, are in the Fisk, Murray, and Ryan cards. Especially that Murray card!


The tail end of the set is a run of World Series cards. Not a lot in the way of highlights, unless you’re an A’s fan, but excellent cards. Check out that Kevin Mitchell one. (I still believe that if there hadn’t been an earthquake, the Giants would have put up a better fight. That the A’s could go Stewart and Moore, then Stewart and Moore again after a long layoff, helped Oakland. The Giants may have had a hard time with Bob Welch, but I liked their chances against Storm Davis.)


The backs are simple, clear and uncluttered.

Granted, these boxes tend to blend into each other in checklist and shine. They’re not made of ticky tacky, but they do kinda all look the same. Still, I’m up to find more, but only at a dollar a piece. I do have my limits.

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.

8 thoughts on “Little Boxes”

  1. I wonder if that 1982 K-mart set was the first of these types of boxed sets. I know there were other product tie-ins (Coke team sets, all the MSA discs in the 1970s, earlier Post and Kellogg’s sets – I suppose technically pretty much all the pre-war and 1950s cards were product tie-ins for tobacco or candy), but I don’t know if there was a product packaged quite like the 1982 K-Mart set that was boxed and sold in complete set form.

    All the boxed sets associated with stores (there are other sets, like the True Value set, that were produced by MSA but I don’t think were sold in boxed set form) seemed to have been produced by Topps though I probably don’t remember every one of them. As a kid I remember trying to figure out who this T.C.G. manufacturer was that appeared on some of the card backs. Fleer produced its own sets – Limited Edition, Sluggers/Pitchers, Gamewinners, League Leaders, etc. – and while they were sold in retail stores they weren’t associated with a store. I know that Donruss had sets like Donruss Highlights and Opening Day and Baseball’s Best (and other pack products like the HOF Heroes and Pop-Ups) but I don’t know if the boxed sets were retail products, and Opening Day and Baseball’s Best have a much larger checklist. I think Score/Pinnacle produced some boxed sets (not sure if they were retail), but I know they produced 100 card Superstars and Rookies sets that were sold as retail and were packaged with a book (a magazine is probably a better description) so they weren’t sold in boxes but hard plastic cases to hold the book and cards.

    I would recommend picking them up at shows whenever there are card shows again. I’ve been able to get them for $1 or $2 each. The shipping is a killer for buying them online, though as a player/team collector (with a heavy emphasis on players from the 1980s and 1990s) it’s still cheaper to buy whole sets than to pick up the individual cards.

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