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Before Cards Had Part of the Game

by Paul Angilly
April 12, 2005

With the (quite literally) tons and tons of game- or event-used memorabilia cards being included with nearly every set in every sport made today, it’s hard to believe the concept is less than 10 years old.

While Upper Deck takes the credit for introducing game-worn jersey insert cards beginning with its base-brand 1996 football card set, it was really Press Pass that got the ball (or the wheel, in this case) rolling with its "Burning Rubber" insert cards released in January 1996 with that year’s Press Pass NASCAR set. An actual piece of a NASCAR race-used tire was applied to those insert cards, starting a trend that continues today.

This week, I want to take a trip back to the time just before the invention of game-used inserts changed the hobby forever: 10 years ago, 1995.

Without the shirts off the athletes’ backs to drive sales, the card companies kept trying to come up with other types of new innovations to attract collectors -- everything from 3-D cards to pre-paid phone cards, new sets, interactive trade cards, several food-related issues and even a cooperative card release that combined the efforts of all the major companies.

On the heels of the cancellation of the 1994 World Series due to a players’ strike, Major League Baseball, the players’ association and the trading card companies were eager to get card collectors back into the fold. Thus was born the "National Packtime" set -- a precursor to last year’s National Trading Card Day set.

Donruss, Fleer, Pacific, Pinnacle, Topps and Upper Deck contributed three cards each to an 18-card set of star players, available to collectors as a mail-in offer. The cost of the set was 28 wrappers from any licensed 1995 baseball card product, plus $2 for shipping. A six-card second series was made available later in the year.

Topps had an interesting response to the previous year’s strike -- perhaps most importantly, publicly announcing that the print run of the Topps brand set that year would be the lowest since the 1966 set (although specific numbers were not announced).

Also, the base-brand Topps set along with the Stadium Club brand each included special parallel cards which included statistics for a full, 162-game 1994 season, based upon a computer simulation of the unplayed games. Included with the Topps set were "Cyberstats" parallels of 396 cards from the 660-card set, while Stadium Club included "Virtual Reality" parallels of 270 cards out of the 630-card set. Topps factory sets in 1995 also included a seven-card "Cyber Season in Review" set, noting highlights from the computer-simulated end of the season, including Barry Bonds hitting 61 home runs.

Back in 1995, redemption cards were being tested as a fun, interactive part of various card sets.

Upper Deck led the way in that area. Its 1995 Collector’s Choice set included "Crash the Game" cards of 20 different players, each with one of three different dates printed on the front. If the player pictured hit a home run during the game played on the date listed on the card, that card could be redeemed for a special version of the 20-card set.

The Upper Deck brand set from 1995 included a generous assortment of "Predictor" cards for awards including league MVP and Rookie of the Year, along with statistical leader versions. If the player pictured on the card either won the award or led his league in the category depicted, the card could be redeemed for a special version of the set.

Redemption cards were also needed for collectors to complete their Collector’s Choice and Upper Deck base sets in 1995. There were 530 base cards found in packs of 1995 Collector’s Choice, but an additional 55 update cards (numbered 531-585) could be obtained by redeeming each of the five "trade cards" randomly inserted into packs. Similarly, the Upper Deck base set included 450 cards found between first- and second-series packs, but 45 additional update cards were available by redeeming the five special trade exchange cards randomly inserted into second series packs.

Even more valuable than most of the cards found in 1995 Upper Deck packs were the wrappers themselves -- because collectors had the opportunity, while supplies lasted, to mail 35 wrappers of either series (one box’s worth) back to Upper Deck, along with a few dollars for postage, to receive a jumbo card personally autographed by either Roger Clemens or Alex Rodriguez (Clemens for series 1, Rodriguez for series 2). Today, those cards are worth about twice as much as a full box of cards cost back then.

The 1995 Score set also had an interesting interactive element.

Just three years previously, Topps had introduced the concept of parallel sets to the hobby when it made the first Topps Gold cards. The other companies were quick to pick up on the idea, with Score introducing its own version, "Gold Rush" parallels, beginning with its 1994 set.

The Gold Rush parallels were back in the 1995 Score set, but with a new twist. Collectors completing a complete team set of the Gold Rush cards could mail those cards back to the company to receive a Platinum team set, limited to no more than 4,950 copies made.

Food-related issues were also quite popular in the mid-1990s.

In 1995, collectors could get holographic baseball cards with a meal at Denny’s restaurants or cards of 12 all-time greats at Sonic restaurants. Baseball cards also came with King-B meat products, Kraft cheese, Mr. Turkey meat products, Post cereals and Tombstone Pizza. Autographed cards of Yogi Berra and Frank Robinson were available by redeeming UPC codes from Ball Park Franks, while autographed cards of Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Billy Williams and Al Kaline were available with proof of purchase labels from Jimmy Dean products.

All in all, it made for some tasty card collecting.

More about card sets from 1995 next week ...

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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