Can 1990 Bowman Be Best?

I have this project I’ve been working on and off for a number of months;  I’m taking several thousand cards from 1990 and making a sort of “yearbook” by taking one and only one example of a particular player on a particular team and putting it in binders devoted to 1990 cards. So, for example, there would be one card for Joe Carter with the Indians and one card of him with the Padres. The decision on which Joe Carter cards to binder are strictly aesthetic (and completely subjective).

Here, as an example, is page 5 from the Tigers section of the 1990 AL Binder. Players are in alphabetical order and here we have Tigers from Mike Schwabe to Gary Ward.

Mixed in with the Topps, Fleer, Donruss and Bowman are two oddballs: top left is from 1990 Topps Major League Debut (which was a box set different than the current Pro Debut) and bottom left is a Starline Long John Silver’s card.

A little side note:  In the case of the two Bowman cards, they’re here mainly because each player – Eric Stone and Steve Wapnick – didn’t have any other Major League cards in 1990.  Stone never pitched in the Majors at all, so if there’s ever a crunch for space in my Tigers pages, his card stands a good chance of getting removed.

I brought this project up when I was recently somewhat defending 1990 Bowman in a Twitter discussion. My outlandish observation was that, despite all too many cards like this…

…There are, in fact, cases where a player’s Bowman card is the best 1990 card that player has.  My statement was met with some skepticism, I must say, so I’m here to show a few examples which (I hope) prove my point.

A couple of things to keep in mind with these cards is that there are a lot of cards from each 1990 manufacturer which do not hold up under 2019 quality expectations.  Poor photo selection, dark shots and off-register printing all contribute to the cards looking less-than-great compared even to the low-end sets of today.  Bowman wasn’t as high-end of a set as Upper Deck or Leaf, but it was also at a higher price point than regular Topps, and it seems that it was printed a little nicer than some of the other sets, even while being printed on the usual Topps cardboard stock.

So with all that out of the way, let’s start with Keith Hernandez;  he was with the Mets in 1989 and signed a free agent contract with the Indians.  Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Score and Upper Deck featured him with the Mets, but Bowman (which came out in early Summer, if I remember correctly) and the various Traded/Update sets showed Keith with Cleveland.

Now none of these four cards is a stinker, but I’m partial to the Bowman card even though it’s just a posed shot.  I think that, even 29 years later, part of me is still a bit weirded out to see Keith Hernandez in a Cleveland uniform, so I want the photo which most exemplifies that weirded-out state.  For this example, I’m expecting that most of you are going to disagree with my choice.

Let’s move on to Dave Bergman, a player whose Bowman card is more objectively better that the others.

As you might guess, there are 1990 Dave Bergman cards I don’t own… His Fleer and Upper Deck cards are nice enough, but I don’t think they stand up to the action shot on Bergman’s Bowman.

1990 was the rookie year for five-time All-Star Travis Fryman.  The 21-year-old Fryman made his MLB debut in early July and not surprisingly he wasn’t in most of the flagship sets.  He did appear in Bowman, Topps Traded and Fleer Update.

None of the cards are what you’d call a thing of beauty, but I went with the Bowman on this one.  I just preferred the home uni and  spring training photo to the Topps headshot and Fleer empty stands on the road shots.

I’m going to wrap up with Rickey Henderson.  I have six different 1990 cards for Rickey, and I went with the Bowman (although it was a close fight with another card).

Before I get to the “finals”, here are the four cards which got eliminated rather quickly…   The action shots are pretty good, but I  prefer cards where the player’s face can be seen, and a couple of these (Score especially) are pretty dark.

It finally came down to Bowman vs. Upper Deck, and I (obviously) decided to go with the Bowman… but I would’ve ultimately been fine with the UD.

So that concludes – for the time being anyway – the argument I’m making for 1990 Bowman;  it may not be the best or most visually exciting set, but within the context of the times it was a better set than people currently give it credit for.

2 thoughts on “Can 1990 Bowman Be Best?

  1. I have no problem at all with Bowman occasionally being the best. It’s a simple design, and while it’s not a great design, that means when there’s a good photo, the photo shines. While I’m at it, I don’t know when posed shots became so frowned upon. Would I want Topps (flagship) to be all, or even mostly, posed shots again? No way. But I think having about 10 or 20% posed shots (including portraits as well as the pose-with-a-bat kind of things) would be a big improvement. Get rid of some of the more redundant action shots and get a little variety in there. Next year would be the perfect time to make that change, because it’s the first year that Heritage should include some action shots.

    I agree the Bowman Hernandez is really nice, although I like the Score Traded one, too, probably a little more. The Bergman is the best of his by far, and I have no quarrel with your other choices, either. I’m sure I’d find other cases where I’d chose the Bowman.

  2. It’s hard to choose my favorite Rickey. You make a good point about it being hard to see his face on the 90S card… but I’d still go with that card as my favorite. 90B would be my next choice though.

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