Oddball Odyssey: 1990 Topps Major League Debut Box Set

Today’s post was indirectly inspired by Ray Giannelli, who had two cups of coffee in the Majors in the 1990’s.  Like me, Ray is from Long Island – well, OK, Ray was born in Brooklyn, but he went to high school at Long Island and played high school ball with a guy who would later be a friend of mine.  My friend was very excited when the Blue Jays called Ray up, and even though I’d never met Ray, I still had a connection to him so I got very excited as well.

Anyway, I got to thinking about Ray the other day, and wondered if there were any cards of him outside of the three nationally-issued minor league cards I already have.  The only Topps card I could find was from the 1992 Topps “Major League Debut” set, which in turn got me thinking about the 1990 “Major League Debut” set that I own and given that people aren’t generally familiar with this three-year run of Major League Debut (hereafter abbreviated MLD) sets, I thought it might be fun to dig mine out and write about it.

A year after JuniorMania, everybody wanted to have the next big rookie card, and I guess Topps figured that featuring everybody who made their debut in a season was a good way to catch both the heavily hyped prospects and the “out of nowhere” rookies.  In some ways, it was similar to what Topps Now currently does, just in a box set form.

My own reasons for buying the set had nothing to do with prospecting.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’ve long kept my cards organized by each team’s current roster, so I thought the MLD set would allow me to have real cards for a bunch of players who might otherwise be represented by a placeholder.

No matter the sales of the MLD set, it was probably doomed from the start.  When a set features everybody making their debut, that means a lot more “cup of coffee” guys than collectors really want.  Also, when one set is lacking in star power, that makes the following year a hard sell.  I don’t know what exactly lead to its demise, but the fact that a lot of people aren’t familiar with it is pretty telling.

I don’t specifically remember what kept me from buying the 1991 and 1992 sets, but I think that the 1990 set was more “miss” than “hit” for me.  The guys who had success were ones I had multiple cards of anyway, and many of the lesser players would come and go and end up in the “Not on a 40-man roster” box.

When I decided to write about this set, I thought that along with featuring the bigger names to appear in the set, I would also try to figure out which guy was the ultimate “cuppa cawfee” guy, the guy who would win the title of “Mr. MLD” by having the shortest Major League career.  You’ll see who that is at the end of the post.

But first, let’s compare the MLD cards to the standard Topps set;  For this, I’ll use the Robin Ventura card from both sets.

As you can see, the basic card design is the same, but the MLD set had a unique color design, and the team name is replaced by a parallelogram containing the date of the player’s debut, a box which mirrors the one on the bottom of the card.  In addition, the cards were on the same white card stock that was used for the traded set, so the picture looks a little clearer.

Speaking of the card stock, here are the two backs;  Topps on top, MLD on the bottom.

I love that the news story is from “The Register”.  Fake News!

Oh, and BTW, the MLD card back isn’t quite as glowing as it looks here, my scanner tends to wash things out a bit.

Let’s run through some of the bigger names in the set…

Albert Belle went by “Joey” at the beginning of his career.  He, like another player on this list, put in a less-than-spectacular stint with the Orioles towards the end of his career and is a member of “Shlabotnik’s Hall Of Disdain”.

Dave Justice had a cup of coffee in 1989, but would be the 1990 NL Rookie Of The Year.

Neon Deion Sanders was a two-sport star who had more success in the NFL than in MLB.

Jim Abbott went 12-12 in his rookie year of 1989 and finished 5th in ROY voting behind winner Gregg Olson, Tom “Flash” Gordon, some kid named “Griffey” and Craig Worthington.

John Olerud was one of those guys went straight from college to the Majors without playing in the minors.

It took a few years and a couple of trades, but John Wetteland would become an all-star closer with the Yankees and Rangers.  In December, 1987 he was selected by the Tigers in the Rule V draft, but returned to the Dodgers near the end of spring training.

Speaking of “some kid named Griffey”… This is his MLB Debut card, but not his rookie card.

Larry Walker put together a nice career and was the 1997 NL MVP while with the Rockies.

Marquis Grissom would twice lead the league in stolen bases and twice make the All-Star team… and interestingly enough, we’re talking about four different seasons here.

1989 was the first of 24 seasons for Omar Vizquel in the majors.  Between his longevity and his “Hall Of The Very Good” career, Vizquel is one of those guys who strikes me as being fun to collect.  Does anybody have a Vizquel PC?

Sammy Sosa played  just 25 games with the Texas Rangers and is the “Hall Of Disdain” member I’d previously mentioned.  His cap is airbrushed, his jersey is not;  I suspect the original photo was taken when he was a member of the Port Charlotte Rangers, Gastonia Rangers or GCL Rangers.

Here is the guy I am hereby labeling as “Mr. 1990 Major League Debut”.

Bobby Davidson pitched one inning in the Majors and the only other Major League card I could find of him was from the 1990 Topps “TV” Yankees box set, which was very likely issued in much smaller numbers than the ML Debut set.

So here’s the details on his game:  July 15th was a Saturday afternoon and the Yankees were facing the Royals.  The Yanks are losing 5-1 going into the 9th, and coming in to pitch for the Yankees is Davidson.  Willie Wilson grounded out to second, Kevin Seitzer walked and then George Brett comes to bat.  Davidson gets behind 2-0 when Brett takes him deep to right field, putting the Royals ahead 7-1.  Davidson would then get Danny Tartabull and Jim Eisenreich to ground out, and that was Bobby Davidson’s Major League career.  The Yankees would go down in order in the bottom of the 9th.

Davidson would pitch in AAA in 1990 and 1991, and then call it quits.

So, those are the highlights of the set… or are they???? I realized shortly before putting this to bed that I missed the Juan Gonzalez card, which makes me wonder if it’s misfiled somewhere instead of being in the binder with the other better MLD cards. If someone asks me nicely, I may do another post featuring Juan Gone and some other players I didn’t cover like Steve Finley, Kenny Rogers and Jose Vizcaino.


9 thoughts on “Oddball Odyssey: 1990 Topps Major League Debut Box Set

  1. Sammy looks so out of place in a Rangers uni… This is a concept I’d like to see come back, mostly because I have such an affinity for roster fillers and cuppa joe types. I suppose I’d be in the minority there though.

    • I would be open to it as well, but I don’t know if it would be logistically possible these days given Topps using Getty for their photos. I don’t think the Getty photographers make much effort to get photos of the non-hyped rookies like Austin Bibens-Dirkx or Chad Bell.

  2. To me, one of the benefits of these sets was in completing team sets for a year. It was an avenue to have a card of a player that was not included in the Topps main set. So if somebody was trying to get a card of everyone who played for a team during a year it filled in some of the missing pieces. Plus the design was similar enough to the Topps main set that they fit right in (especially when put together into a binder).

  3. As a lover of all things ’90 Topps I thoroughly enjoyed this, and would love to see a “volume 2” where you address some of the other cards you didn’t show here. Great stuff!

  4. I owned this set… but didn’t realize they made 1991 and 1992 sets… which seems odd since that was right in the middle of the Junk Wax Era. Maybe the 1991 and 1992 were produced in much lesser quantities.

  5. Pingback: Oddball Odyssey: More From 1990 Topps Major League Debut | The Shlabotnik Report

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