Today I wrap up what became parallel weekend here at Starting Nine with one of my favorite sets of all time. First, let's jump into the WABAC machine...1995 was an odd time for baseball. The 1994 strike was damn near armageddon for the sport. Both sides got themselves in a Mexican standoff over the issue of a salary cap and neither side blinked; we lost the World Series because of it. Spring of 1995 brought folly to the proceedings when the owners decided to bring in replacement players for spring training. Once they realized how ridiculous that idea was, they blinked and the sides settled, but nothing was really settled. Not to get into the boring details, but it is obvious that the only one's who lost the 1994 strike were the fans. I know folks who still don't care about baseball because of the whole nasty affair and I really can't blame them.
Topps released their flagship set of cards in 1995 in a rather muted manner. It wasn't in every toy store and CVS and they say the presses were run at their lowest levels since the mid 60's, so the cards were a little hard to find. I was in my junior year of college in 1995 and probably at an all time low in terms of excitement about baseball in general and card collecting specifically. So, due to the combination of youthful shenanigans and ennui over baseball, I don't think I bought a single pack of 1995 cards in 1995. And it is a shame, because the Topps put out a quality set:
The simple borders and non-offensive but stylish font make for some good looking cards. They used some nice pictures and the area for the photo is nice and big. Most noticeably, for the first time, Topps used gold foil on the base set, not the parallel set. Turn the cards over and you see the backs also had some flair to them:
You get two pictures, an action shot and a head shot cleverly stylized into a Diamond Vision scoreboard look. There were also the usual stats and some good write ups. It is a shame no one noticed at the time, but the 1995 Topps set was put together very well, I wish they put as much time and creative effort into the contemporary base sets.
So, with gold foil on the front of the base cards, what on earth was Topps to do for a parallel? I think the world would have continued turning without a parallel set (the base set did just fine without one inserted from 1996-2000), but Topps did something very different and kinda ballsy. Now, because the mid 90's cards are not as deeply discussed in blog circles as current or vintage stuff, I have not seen many opinions about this parallel set...but I will throw out the notion that what Topps did was one of their most ingenious and daring efforts.
I present the 1995 Topps Cyberstats:
First, let's cover the aesthetics, the shimmering, refractor-like glow these cards have make them very attractive. Sadly, I don't think my scanner captures the effect perfectly, but believe me, the shiny foil fronts alone would make this a worthy parallel set. The kicker is the backs:
This is where this set differentiates its self from any set, before or after. Topps decided to run a computer simulation to complete the unfinished 1994 baseball season and the put the results of that on the backs of these cards...
That's right, this is a parallel set from a parallel universe.
Like I said, I was too busy ignoring baseball and being a capricious youth to notice this set early in the year. But the 1995 baseball season in Boston (where I was living) was pretty exciting. The Sox surprisingly won the division and, little by little, they sucked me back into baseball fandom. It was this team that made the Red Sox my baseball mistress (I am married to the Mets, after all).
Oh, back to the cards, lets look at a few more fronts and then get back to those backs.
Diving into some of these stats...according to Topps, Ken Griffey Jr. would have a monster year: .330 average 55 HR 133 RBI, which seems pretty accurate, given how well he was doing up until then and he would pretty much have two or three years just like that in the next few years. I have to disagree with the Jeff Bagwell numbers, though. The players went out on strike on August 12, and Bagwell was hit in the wrist with a pitch on August 10, breaking it. I am pretty sure he would not have returned until very late in the season, if at all, so his numbers would have stayed right where they were (Bagwell won the 1994 NL MVP unanimously with a .368 average 39 HR and 116 RBI and an incredible .750 slugging - and no, I didn't have to look those numbers up...I am a big Bagwell fan).
This is the last page of the set. You can check out the stats for Darryl Strawberry on the original base card (above) and here in the Cyberstats world. Darryl Strawberry was, as usual, coming back from injury and a drug suspension. Look at that very Pedro-esque year they had for Pedro. You might have thought it kind of a long shot then, but Pedro went on to put up those kind of numbers - and a heck of a lot better - over the next 10+ years. Pedro Martinez makes me as happy as Darryl Strawberry makes me sad.
The set itself covers 396 of the 660 cards in the set, so most major players are covered and a lot of the rookies too. If you have been paying attention to my odd predilections, I love that this set is 396 cards, because it fits perfectly into 44 pages, but that is certainly not why I kept this set. When I discovered this set late in the 1995 year, I didn't do much about it, but in 1996, when my card collecting habit regained some steam, I bought as much of the 1995 cards as I could to catch up. I built most of this set myself from those packs and finished it off at a show in 1996. This set grew on me exponentially, both because of the spectra light fronts and the weird, bizarro-world stat backs. I found it such an audacious choice for a parallel set and I poured over the alternative universe Topps created. I wish they had advertised it more back then; I wish Topps would make such bold choices today in their set making. I wish I knew more people as obsessed with this set as I am. The set is in the front of the first book on my set shelf and it will probably always keep that status.
Post Script. The set was punctuated with an insert set that was only available in the very hard to find 1995 factory set. The set celebrates the pretend achievements of their alternative 1994. I only have three of those cards seven cards, but I have the shiny foil Ken Griffey Jr. promo card, which is also pretty rare - and features a much better photo than the base card.
I will hopefully complete this page someday. I have added the cards I need to my wantlist...if you think you can help, drop me a line.