After a 34-year absence, the Bowman Baseball brand returned to the hobby late in the summer of 1989. While the return offer earned a rookie card from the likes of Ken Griffey Jr, it disappointed in many ways. The oversized cards may have been an attempt to evoke images of the original Bowman cards from the 1950s, but ended up being seen as more of an annoyance than anything.
In 1990, Topps went back to a standard size card with a very simple design and some nice RCs, including the White Sox slugger and future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. In 1991, the product grew a bit, but it showed that not much had changed since Bowman’s return to baseball just a few years earlier.
That all changed in 1992 when Topps released one of the most iconic sets, not just of modern times, but arguably of all time. 1992 Bowman became a big hit from the start.
With a higher quality UV glossy cardstock, a brighter, whiter border, and more colorful and sharper graphics, Bowman hit one out of the park. The cards also offered high-quality color graphics on the front and back, the first time for a Bowman baseball product.
The back of the cards broke a player’s performance against other teams.
Not only did the quality improve, the rookie class was a driving force behind the product’s success. Simply put, Bowman had made every effort to become a premium baseball card product by 1992.
1992 Bowman Baseball Rookie Cards
At the top of the 150+ players in the ’92 Bowman rookie crop is New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. The Baseball Hall of Fame’s first unanimous roster and arguably the greatest closing in the history of the sport, coupled with having spent his entire career in Yankees pinstripes, puts his card firmly at the top of the pile in this particular set. The only strange thing, but in hindsight perhaps one of the more endearing features was that the early cards of Rivera and others show them in plain clothes.
The only rookie card from another Hall of Fame illuminator from 1992 is that of notable San Diego Padres Trevor Hoffman. While he didn’t have the same level of star power as “The Sandman,” Hoffman had an incredible career of his own, retiring with the most career saves in the game’s history. Not too shabby either.
You will also find T in this set. For years, the Piazza rookie card was the standard bearer for the set. While Piazza has a more valuable rookie card in the 1992 Fleer Update, this card is still hugely popular and memorable for many reasons.
A-listers aside, don’t sleep on the next batch of rookie cards, including one of the biggest pure hitters of his generation, longtime Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, Toronto Blue Jays left-handed powerhouse Carlos Delgado, Anaheim Angels Angels all around star Garrett Anderson, the Angels all-time great reliever Troy Percival and a solid long-time pro in Cliff Floyd.
Stars of the second year
Aside from the outstanding rookie pick, there were just as many notable sophomores led by Hall of Famer and Atlanta Braves slugger Chipper Jones and one of the greatest pitchers of his era, none other than multiple Cy Young Award winner and World Series champion Pedro Martinez, also makes his Bowman debut. While they may have made their cardboard debut in ’91, the sheer population numbers make their first Bowman cards more appealing to many.
Oh those pictures
One of the biggest takeaways and long lasting, lasting impressions of this great set is the quality of graphics and interesting fashion choices found on many of the prospect cards. A whole piece could be written focusing just on the wardrobe choices. The aforementioned Mariano Rivera is chilling, leaning against a pillar in a collared shirt and light khaki on his RC. I’m pretty sure Derek Lowe’s card in the set contains an image from his senior photo shoot. I’m sure Ryan Long’s card is his last photo, as he poses with his hand on his chin wearing sunglasses in front of the same background where I took my fifth grade photo. After thinking about it for a while, I’m convinced that some of the prospects just submitted photos of the upper classes to be used by Bowman for their cardboard debut. Check out Nigel Wilson and Paul Byrd’s rookie cards. One of my personal favorites is Cliff Floyd paying tribute to Michael Jordan’s Jumpman image by dipping a baseball through…a basketball hoop. All jokes and 20/20 hindsight aside, the images are a perfect representation of that era and time frame in the history of fashion and sports cards.
There are 705 cards (45 foil stamped cards) in the complete 1992 Bowman Baseball set. It’s not quite the flagship Topps 792 card level, but it’s still quite large on its own. It’s an MLB roster heavily featured and little in the way of multiple cards from the same player. You’ll get close to everyone who sniffed at the Majors that season (and some who didn’t).
Bowman, released in August 1992, could be found in 15-card, 36-pack hobby boxes, 23-card, 36-pack hobby jumbo boxes, and 23-card, 18-pack boxes from jumbo stores. They could also be found in 80 cardboard boxes with a suggested retail price of $9.99 at the time. To add even more to the revolutionary aspect of this set, the retail jumbo boxes were distributed exclusively to retail stores and are considered by some to be an early form of a blaster box.
Puttin’ on the foil
Not only did Bowman raise the bar on the overall design, they certainly added some sparkle and shine with more gold foil-lined subset cards that really stood out and stood out, especially at the time. The gold foil cards fall one per hobby pack and two per jumbo pack. Eighteen cards are considered short prints. The checklist of 45 gold cards included former and current members of the U.S. national baseball team and winners of the minor league Player of the Year Award.
While 1992 Bowman baseball was by no means rare, it was in fact much scarcer than many of its junk wax-era contemporaries. With its legendary rookie class, complete and total product overhaul and upgrade, and perceived scarcity at the time, the 1992 Bowman baseball set stands as a shining example of a quality product in a vastly over-produced era.