Love Of The Unloved: 1989 Bowman

I was originally going to do a post about a value pack of 2017 Bowman I bought, but 2017 Bowman is just like 2016 Bowman is just like 2015 Bowman is just like… The usual overly-busy Bowman design, the same Major Leaguers you’ll find in every set, the prospects you’ve not heard of…

However, I left a comment on a recent Night Owl Cards post, one where I found myself defending 1990 Bowman to a small degree. Since I’m one of the few people who actually likes those early Bowman sets, I thought maybe instead of doing a half-hearted post on a pack of 2017 Bowman, I’d do a short series defending each of the first three Bowman sets, those repack fodder sets that only a guy who calls himself Joe Shlabotnik could love.

1989 Bowman is a set that apparently was made to annoy card collectors everywhere. They’re slightly oversized at 2.5″ x 3.75″; normal width, but just tall enough to not properly fit in 9-pocket sheets. One of the appeals of the set is that the slightly larger size combined with the minimal design leaves a lot of room for the photo, so they seem a bit more oversized than they really are.

The set weighs in at 484 cards with only two subsets. Four checklist cards and a four-card “Father and Sons” subset featuring the Griffeys, Ripkens, Alomars and Stottlemyers. I didn’t include any scans of this subset because I think it’s kinda ugly, and I only wanted to feature cards I like.

So let’s start with one of the more familiar cards in the set, the card for Nolan Ryan

This card was more of a big deal in 1989 than it is now;  it was one of the first to feature Nolan Ryan in a Rangers uniform.  Most of the major sets came out early in the year and showed Nolan Ryan with the Astros.  It was the late-season update sets which generally reflected Ryan’s off-season free agent signing.  Bowman came out later than the other sets – late enough to feature photos from Spring Training – but earlier than everybody’s Traded/Update sets.  I’ve kept my recent cards organized by team rosters since I was a wee Shlabotnik, so a major set which had players in 1989 uniforms was a major selling point for me.

By the way, this looks like the same photo that was used in Topps Traded, but it’s not.  There are subtle differences, such as Nolan looking off to his left on the Traded card.

Here’s the back of Ryan’s card, featuring those stats split by team and a big, beautiful card number:

Looking back, I have to admit that Bowman was the ultimate low-effort set.  There’s no text on the front, other than the player’s signature.  A lot of the photos are portraits, and the backs feature no text and all had the same amount of stats.  Veterans like Nolan Ryan had as many lines of stats as young guys like Tom Glavine, so there’s no space to be filled by writeups or cartoons.

Probably THE most famous card in ’89 Bowman is the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

I’m including it here just because I feel like I should include it here.

To my thinking, this card is a must-have for any Kirk Gibson collector.

This Mike Henneman card is a kind of odd candid shot, but that’s the main reason I like it.

Rey Quinones does his best fake fielding pose, which just barely fits into the Bowman borders.

The signature says “Tim Raines”, the back says “Rock Raines” as Raines had requested and Topps had complied.  I have never once in my life referred to him as “Rock Raines”… well, not without rolling my eyes, anyway.

One can tell from the pennant on the outfield wall that this photo was taken at Shea Stadium.  Knowing that it’s Shea, one can also tell that RC Cola was a major sponsor for the Mets at the time.

Every pack of 1989 Bowman came with an “insert” that was really a sweepstakes entry form.  Win valuable vintage Bowman cards!  Win a 1953 Bowman Color set valued at approximately $10,000!  Yay!  The front of the cards featured famous Bowman cards like this 1951 Bowman Willie Mays.

As with all of the cards in this pseudo-reprint set, this is likely as close as I’ll ever get to owning one of these cards.

Here’s the back, featuring the entry form:

The deadline for this sweepstakes was 3/10/1990, so we’re all a little too late to be entering.

I’m the first to admit that the early Bowman sets go much too heavy on the headshots… but I felt like I should include at least one, and I’ve always liked this shot of Cal Ripken.

Here’s another semi-update card;  all of the other non-update sets showed Eddie Murray with the Orioles.

I don’t know why I like this card of Jody Reed, I just do.

Finally, what is probably my favorite card from this set, one which features two HOFers: Gary Carter and Ryne Sandberg.

I’m not going to wrap things up by saying that 1989 Bowman is a great set, or even one of the best sets of 1989. It’s just a set that I like and I wanted to give you an idea of what there is to like about the set.


Update:  I forgot to mention that COMC’s Spring Cleaning promotion starts today and runs through Sunday. This morning I dropped over $10 while eating breakfast.

You can check out my promotion here. Thanks!

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12 thoughts on “Love Of The Unloved: 1989 Bowman

  1. I like the set for some of the same reasons you shared. I believe it was also meant to mimic the size of the Bowman and early Topps offerings of the early 50’s. I do like the Griffey combo card since it is a father-son one. Sr. was still an active player after returning home to the Reds that offseason and Jr. grew up and played his HS ball here in Cincinnati.

    And I do like the 1990 and 1991 sets too. To me they are “Topps-lite”. Minimal frontal graphics and they were pre-update updates for the year like you mentioned. And plenty of grey card stock to go around.

    During the following years it became too hard to distinguish between brands and lines even though I think they were all very colorful and eye-catching. Blame it on Upper Deck I suppose.

    • I was mildly surprised to find that 1989 Bowman *wasn’t* “1950’s size”… it’s the same height, but a little narrower.

      I used to blame EVERYTHING wrong with the hobby on Upper Deck. Now I only blame certain things on UD. :-)

      • Baseball card math…..didn’t realize they were narrower. How do they compare to the 1988 “BIG” cards? I always thought that was a test run for the larger sized format which ended up being the Bowman set in ’89. I know they didn’t fit in any box, sheet or card holder that I had which was frustrating.

      • OK, now that I have access to my cards… 1989 Bowman is equal in size – or roughly so, anyway – to my 1954 and 1955 Bowman cards, and Big Baseball is equal in size to 1956 Topps. The Bowmans are the same length, but slightly less wide (my untrained eye says 1/8″). I’ll do a visual comparison with more exact measurements in my next “Love of the unloved” post.

  2. I somehow ended up with the Alomar family card you mention. Somebody must have given it to me. Of course, due to the size, all 4 corners were badly dinged (if that is a word!) before I got it, that, to me, is the real problem with these slightly oversize cards. I have a box I sourced at my local shop that I store my oversize cards in. I think it’s a box for graded cards but I’m not 100% sure. Either way, it works!

    I always look forward to the COMC sales. I am forever grateful that you first told me about them, and this year is my first as a hockey collector. I have been saving for a while and have $100 to spend. I’m going to see how many cards I can get out of that!

  3. There’s something about Night Owl and 1989 Bowman cards that go hand in hand. Four years ago, I left a comment on his blog about me wanting to pick up a 89B set for my collection. The next day I found one @ the flea market for $5.

  4. Pingback: The Guy Before The Guy #3: Guys Who Wore 41 And 51 | The Shlabotnik Report

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