Unpacking the Mystery Box from Uncle Dan: 1990 Kmart Topps set

At least once or twice a year, my wife visits her uncle and comes back with a box of mystery for me.  Usually, the boxes of mystery hold a wide assortment of baseball cards or bobbleheads, or something to that effect.  My wife’s uncle is in the antique business and operates a number of estate sales, which means he visits homes where the occupants are looking to unload various merchandise for said estate sales.  The uncle, every so kind to me, keeps an eye out for baseball stuff.  He finds cards, and bobbleheads, and assorted things as I mentioned.  Kinda wished he’d come across gloves and bats, too!  That’d be fun! 

Recently he gave me a huge box of 1980s/1990s basketball cards and football cards.  Those things are a complete mystery to me, which means the box is sitting on a shelf waiting for me to trade them somewhere.  It’s funny to have such a distain for those, but an absolute worship for baseball cards. 

Anyway, the uncle’s current box of mystery held quite a few intriguing surprises.  One of the more interesting things included a 1990 Kmart Topps box of 33 baseball cards.  The box reads: “Collectors’ Edition Baseball Superstars Photo Cards” [that include] 33 super gloss photo cards with bubble gum.”    The set includes:

NATIONAL LEAGUE SUPERSTARS

1. Will Clark

2. Ryne Sandberg

3. Howard Johnson

4. Ozzie Smith

5. Tony Gwynn

6. Kevin Mitchell

7. Jerome Walton

8. Craig Biggio

9. Mike Scott

10. Dwight Gooden

11. Sid Fernandez

12. Joe Magrane

13. Jay Howell

14. Mark Davis

15. Pedro Guerrero

16. Glenn Davis

AMERICAN LEAGUE SUPERSTARS

17. Don Mattingly

18. Julio Franco

19. Wade Boggs

20. Cal Ripken, Jr.

21. Jose Canseco

22. Kirby Puckett

23. Rickey Henderson

24. Mickey Tettleton

25. Nolan Ryan

26. Bret Saberhagen

27. Jeff Ballard

28. Chuck Finley

29. Dennis Eckersley

30. Dan Plesac

31. Fred McGriff

32. Mark Mc  Gwire

SUPERSTAR TEAM MANAGERS

33. Tony LaRussa / Roger Craig 

For a bit of background, sets likes these are produced by the Topps Trading Company, and distributed through the Kmart department stores.  Each card features a masthead with the Kmart logo on the upper left side, with the designation of the year and the player’s league on the top right side.  The SUPERSTARS logo is imposed in the middle of the masthead with the player’s name and position imprinted on the third line.  The player photo and Topps logo comprise the majority of the card with a blue thin border.  A simple presentation of player stats with a fast fact are included on the reverse side with a red background.

The cards themselves are still glossy with sharp corners, and overall in very good shape.  Near mint, I would say.  I wasn’t paying much attention to baseball in 1989, save for the World Series, as I struggled through graduate school, so flipping through the cards was a bit educational.  Great to see Will “The Thrill” Clark (card #1).  A favorite from my hometown Giants.  It’s always weird to see Pedro Guerrero (card #15) in a Cardinal uniform, still thinking of him as a Dodger.  I had to flip the card over to see when he changed team.  Oh, about 60 games into that season.  That’s right, recollecting to myself.  And Fred McGriff, “Crime Dog” (card #31)!  He was with the Blue Jays before his days with the Braves.  That’s right, nodding my head.  The funny about these recollections is that you want to stop what you’re doing and open a browser to run a quick search on that player of interest.  Thank goodness for high-speed Internet and Baseball-Reference.com! 

I think the fun thing about these box sets is the discovery, itself.  Cracking open the box, flipping through the cards, and wondering about the players.  It’s a treasure chest!  I’m looking forward to rummaging through that box from Uncle Dan and finding my next discovery.    

Author: sabrlatino

Anthony Salazar is the chair for SABR's Latino baseball committee, and editor of its publication, "La Prensa del Béisbol Latino." He has written on the Latino experience in the national pastime, and has consulted with baseball teams, museums and programs looking to tap into the US Latino market.

3 thoughts on “Unpacking the Mystery Box from Uncle Dan: 1990 Kmart Topps set”

  1. The whole boxed sets of cards from the eighties are seeing a renewal since a lot of collectors were too young to collect those card sets. So these are new to 30-40 year olds. I have a large group that I am selling on ebay and they are selling well.

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  2. The Kmart Baseball Superstars set was actually the last of 18 boxed sets Topps did over a nine-year period for stores like Circle K, Woolworth, Kay-Bee, Toys ‘r’ Us, Revco, Ames and Hills. Fleer did 13 of its own boxed sets from 1985-89.

    The first set may have been the best, the 1982 Kmart 20th Anniversary, which featured cards honoring the MVPs in each league over a 20-year span with replicas of the Topps cards from those years inset on the card front. This forced Topps to create a 1962 replicard of Maury Wills, who hadn’t been under contract to Topps at the time..

    Most of the themes of the sets were just excuses to print more cards of star players, but the cards were generally attractive, relatively cheap and not really that difficult to collect, even in a pre-Internet era. If you didn’t live in an area with the sponsoring store, they were readily available from dealers advertising in the hobby press.

    It’s not surprising that they would be popular, because even with two new companies joining Topps in the ’80s, there wasn’t a ton of stuff to collect. Score — the rebranded Sportsflics — started producing in 1988, Upper Deck arrived in 1989, and that opened the floodgates in the early ’90s for each company to add “premium” brands to their roster (Stadium Club, Ultra, etc.) and cluttering the marketplace. But in the early-to-mid-’80s, the boxed sets were a fun summer diversion.

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