A Classic Case Of Confusion 

…or, “How a PWE lead to an unexpected amount of research”

I got this card in a recent PWE from Shane of “Shoebox Legends”:
It’s a nice card that made me think that I should keep an eye out for more Classic cards… which then made me realize that I don’t have any wantlists for Classic because I don’t have the sets loaded into in my personal database.  All I had is the list of cards I owned from back in the 1990’s  (i.e. 1991 Classic:  cards 98, 100, 110…)

So I started getting information ready to load into my database. 1987 and 1988 are relatively straightforward… There are four distinct sets with four different border colors, but they’re all numbered consecutively so it’s all good.

It was when I got to some of the later sets that I started to realize I might have to do a bit of digging.

As an example, I’ll go with 1990.  There are three sets with three primary border colors:  Blue, pink and yellow.  However, the Blue set is numbered from 1 to 150, the Pink set is numbered from T1 to T50 and the yellow set similarly numbered from T1 to T100… So when I look at my old inventory list and see something like “1990 Classic #44”, it could be from any of these three sets.

Wait, it gets worse.  Take the pink 1990 Classic set.  The packaging for the pink set calls it a “Travel Edition”, my Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards calls it “1990 Classic Series 2”, the Trading Card Database calls it “1990 Classic Update” and COMC covers all the bases and calls it “1990 Classic Update Pink Travel Edition”… and my inventory list just says “1990 Classic”.


I did get it largely sorted out and will lay my findings out for you – with a disclaimer that even though I spent a couple of hours working on this, but I don’t consider this exhaustive.  Too much of it came from other sources rather than first-hand knowledge.

Now for those who don’t know, these cards are meant to be part of a baseball trivia game; each card has several questions of varying difficulty which (if I’m understanding this correctly) will get you a single, double, triple or homer when you correctly answer the question… Kind of a baseball version of Trivial Pursuit.

The key thing to understand is this:  First off, there are Classic sets which were issued with a full-blown board game in a board-game-sized box.  These sets are generally 200 cards or so, weren’t issued every year, and the ones from 1991 and 1992 came in serially-numbered boxes and called “Collector’s Edition”.  There are also smaller sets which were often, but not always, called “Travel Edition”.  These came in smaller boxes (cardboard at first, then plastic clamshell) which one could bring to a friend’s house or with you on vacation or whatever they had in mind with “Travel”.

Once I got an understanding of this, the rest more or less fell into place.

By the way, I don’t have examples of all of these sets in my collection, so I’m going to try to use images from COMC… something I’ve had mixed results with in the past, so if you get a little blank space instead of a card image, then either COMC or I did something wrong.

1987 Classic is fairly straightforward… A 100-card green-bordered set which came in a full board game box…

…followed by a yellow-bordered Travel Edition numbered from 101 to 150.  The Travel Edition came in a smaller cardboard box.

According to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, about a third of these sets were printed with green backs instead of the intended yellow;  these erroneous (?) parallels carry something of a premium.

1988 Classic is a continuation of the 1987 set with different colored borders; Red (cards #151 – 200) and Blue (# 201 – 250). You already saw the red-bordered Cal at the beginning of the post, here’s a COMC card from the blue set:

1988 Classic Update Blue Travel Edition - [Base] #220 - Tony Gwynn - Courtesy of COMC.com

1988 Classic Update Blue Travel Edition – [Base] #220 – Tony Gwynn – Courtesy of COMC.com

1989 maintains the pattern but complicates things some. You’ve got the 100-card “Second Edition” board game set, which had pink and light blue borders.

1989 Classic Update Pink/Light Blue Travel Edition - [Base] #2 - Wade Boggs - Courtesy of COMC.com

1989 Classic Update Pink/Light Blue Travel Edition – [Base] #2 – Wade Boggs – Courtesy of COMC.com

There are also two “Travel Edition” sets that can be legitimately be considered updates or series.  The first is the orange-bordered update numbered from 101 to 150…

…The second is grey/purple-bordered and numbered from 151 to 200.

1990, as I mentioned, is where things get a bit confusing.  You’ve got the “regular” edition that has the blue borders with the pink 1990’s thingies;  this is numbered from 1 to 150.
1990 Classic Howard Johnson
By the way, this design amuses the hell out of me because you could take any random person who was around in 1990, show them this card with the year covered, and they would be able to tell within a year or two when this card was manufactured.  Some people make fun of the 1970’s, but the 1990’s were just as bad in the colorful cheesiness.

Next up is the aforementioned Pink Travel Edition Update Series 2 blah blah blah.  This set is numbered from T1 to T49, plus unnumbered instruction card which features a “Royal Flush” with Mark Davis and Bret Saberhagen on the front.

And THEN you have the 100- card yellow set that isn’t labeled on the packaging as a “Travel Edition” but still prefixes the card number with a “T”, and also starts with T1… plus there’s an unnumbered Mike Marshall instruction card, and an blank-backed “Four-in-one” card for 101 cards in total.

1990 Classic Update Yellow Travel Edition - [Base] #T5 - Scott Radinsky - Courtesy of COMC.com

1990 Classic Update Yellow Travel Edition – [Base] #T5 – Scott Radinsky – Courtesy of COMC.com

In 1991 there were four distinct sets, the first of which was the purple “Collector’s Edition” that came in a full-sized game box numbered to 100,000.
(I like how Cal’s bat is completely covered by the card design)

In addition there were Series 1 (blue, which some sources consider “1991 Classic”)…

1991 Classic Update Blue Travel Edition - [Base] #T51 - Eddie Murray - Courtesy of COMC.com

1991 Classic Update Blue Travel Edition – [Base] #T51 – Eddie Murray – Courtesy of COMC.com

…Series 2 (red)…

…And Series 3 (green).

1991 Classic Update Green Travel Edition - [Base] #T95 - Matt Williams - Courtesy of COMC.com

1991 Classic Update Green Travel Edition – [Base] #T95 – Matt Williams – Courtesy of COMC.com

Series 2 and 3 are also referred to as Travel Editions, although when I looked at the original packaging in several eBay auctions, it doesn’t seem to say anything about being a “Travel Edition”. To add to the fun, the green third series has a different back design.

1992 is similar to 1991 in that you’ve got the full board game which isn’t numbered but proudly proclaims is limited to 125,000 copies.

1992 Classic - [Base] #102 - Bernie Williams - Courtesy of COMC.com

1992 Classic – [Base] #102 – Bernie Williams – Courtesy of COMC.com

This is also referred to as “Collector’s Edition”, “Base” or “Game”.

In addition, there are two Update/Travel sets, the Series 1 white set…

…and the Series 2 red/blue set

The final Classic set in 1993 has just one travel-esque set numbered from T1 to T99.

So that’s my rundown of the 1987-1993 Classic sets as I currently understand them.  The way things have been going with this post, I’m going to publish it and then learn a few more new facts about these sets.

These cards strike me as something that generally appeals to player and team collectors, but I could be wrong about that. Does anybody have complete sets that they own because they like them and not just because they got them for next to nothing at a card show (something I’ve seen numerous times before).

Has anybody actually played the game?

8 thoughts on “A Classic Case Of Confusion 

  1. I like the sets, and I think I have a few, but at the same time I bought them just because they were cheap. They’re an interesting novelty but not special enough in the past to be worth chasing. I think it would be fun to get them all now and try playing the game, or at least checking my trivia knowledge.

  2. Wow, that was a heck of a rabbit hole you went down. Well done. I have a handful of Classics here and there but I sure don’t remember many of the sets you turned. I remember Classics as being on the same card show tables where you found stacks of Broders and those plastic player phone, beanie dolls, and player ‘credit cards’. Some “dealers” jumped into the hobby and specialized in semi-legit collectibles.

    • I walked past those cheap sets countless times at shows, myself. Now I’m starting to think it might be easier and cheaper to buy those sets the next time I’m at a show, keep just the cards I want and find new homes for the rest, rather than tracking down singles.

  3. Wow that PWE led to some serious research!

    I will sometimes look for cheap copies of these cards on COMC (which is where that RIpken came from), and have also grabbed a couple of full sets from dollar boxes (which is how the Ripken became a dupe, haha). As far as cheaper cards go the Classic releases are actually somewhat interesting in my opinion, worth picking up if you can find them on the cheap. I’m bookmarking this post for sure!

  4. I picked up a bunch of those 1988 Blues from a dime box over the weekend. Memories!

    I’m doing a “Dime Box Buy of the Day” on my blog, so I will have to go pull one of them and post soon.

    -kin (ifeellikeacollectoragain.blogspot.com)

  5. Confusing to say the least. Terrific research! Worth bookmarking for future reference. I’m not a big 90’s guy so I doubt if I have more than a few of them. I definitely agree that collectors from this era would pick them up for player collections.

  6. Never played the game, but I have a handful of the cards (and maybe a set or two laying around). Great job on the research. I’m going to bookmark this page and use it as a resource from this point on.

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