Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Always Be Collecting -- 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations

Now it's time for a new feature on Stale Gum, a little something I call: Always Be Collecting. Here, I'll take a look at a some of my favorite cards and sets from years gone by. The kind of cards and sets that I feel deserve a second look by The Hobby. So PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN! dig out those dusty ol' commons boxes, and join me on this journey through a cardboard time machine. Come on, will you?


First up is one of the truly great insert sets of the 1990s. In fact, it was this set -- more than the 1990 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson's Baseball Heroes -- that kicked off the "insert mania" that defined collecting throughout the decade. I'm talking, of course, about the 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations.

So what's the big deal, you ask, about a fifteen-year-old insert set anyway? Especially an insert set that is neither serial-numbered, nor autographed, nor has a piece of something glued to it? And why do I like it so damn much? Plenty.

For those of you either a) too young to remember, or b) part of the "lost generation" of collectors who are now just getting back into The Hobby, this may seem strange to you. But there was a time when pulling a "valuable" card out of a brand new pack was a novelty. But first, let's set the WABAC machine to 1992.

1992 was a year of transition in The Hobby. Upper Deck had taken the card world by storm in '89, and while the established companies were quick to add new products to compete with UD, for the first few years of the decade the "base level" products (a term that was coined during the era), remained stagnant. By '92 it had become obvious that in order for the "base" product to survive in the marketplace, they had to evolve. They had to become like Upper Deck.

And in 1992 Fleer and Donruss did just that. Both companies reconfigured their flagship products, leaving the 50-cent wax pack market to Topps and Score. Both Fleer and Donruss greatly improved the quality of their base sets -- both in design (at least by 1992 standards) and in card stock. But that wasn't all. 1992 was the first year both Fleer and Donruss began to exploit the new market in the limited edition "mini-sets" we now know as inserts. Donruss pulled their popular Diamond Kings out of the base set and made them into an insert -- the result of which being one of the nicest looking card sets of the era. (but that's for another ABC) But it was Fleer that really took the concept to the next level.

'92 Fleer had four such insert sets, each UV-coated and dripping with gold foil. But what made Fleer different, was that three of the four were exclusive to specific pack types. Wax packs (which were now made of a poly-plastic shrink wrap) had a 24-card "All-Stars" set. Rack packs featured the 20-card "Team Leaders." And the 35-card jumbo packs had the Rookie Sensations. The '92 FRS's marked a new point in The Hobby. For the first time, a collector could purchase a brand new pack of baseball cards, and have a realistic chance of pulling a card worth $100.

Ah yes, the '92 Frank Thomas Rookie Sensation. The card that had collectors from Maine to Malibu willingly pay $5 for a pack of baseball cards with a $1.99 price tag printed on the wrapper. And who could blame them? With the Rookie Sensations dropping at the rate of one every fourth pack, you had a 1:80 chance of hitting The Big Hurt. (Compare that to astronomical odds of pulling a Donruss Elite, or an Upper Deck Baseball Heroes autograph.) And even if you didn't get a Thomas, there still were 19 other super prospects.

With Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Brian McRae, Phil Plantier, Juan Guzman, and Chuck Knoblauch -- all of which were booking for at least $20 Beckett HI through out the Summer of '92 -- the checklist reads like a who's-who of early-90s baseball mega-prospects. Heck, even pulling a common like Scott Leius or Chito Martinez, was like getting your money back.

So let us raise a glass. To the 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations! By the end of the decade, with the birth of game used cards and the "Rookie" card renaissance, The Hobby seemed to move on from you. And today, the once almighty Frank Thomas from your set can be had for less than a sawbuck, and the whole set for less than what the Phil Plantier once went for. But we recognize your lasting influence on The Hobby with inserts that followed in your wake.

Three cheers for the 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations!

Oh, and here's something to chew on. Here's a factory case of 1992 Fleer jumbos that I found on eBay. Current bid: $79.00.


Anonymous said...

I still to this day have been known to buy a stray pack or two just for the rookie sensations. I have the set but I still like to open them and look anyway. It also helps that one of my Big Three was included in the set, Ivan Rodriguez.

Offy said...

Wow, I remember that set well. I was working in a card shop and heading out to card shows every weekend back then. I've got some really nice, numbered prints of that set. It's got 10 cards on one side and 10 on the other.

I didn't chase this set at all, but I did put together both series of the Gold Leaf Rookies. I spent most of what little money I had back in 92 on boxes of Bowman when it could still be found in the $55 - $75 range.

Anonymous said...

The hilarious part about the Thomas is that he was actually a rookie in 1990 -- TWO WHOLE YEARS before this set was issued. Either way, it's kinda cool I can afford this set now.

Anonymous said...

And just to complete the story, the case listed for sale above went unsold!