If Bowman’s Best was a person, its tale would be a tragic one. A middle child, born after Bowman’s 1989 return, who was overshadowed by the very late debut of Bowman Chrome. Bowman’s Best was somehow, the least popular of the three Bowman brands in 1997. The flagship was gobbled up by prospectors getting in early on the hype, while Chrome’s November debut shadowed the “paper” design but added shinny Refractors to the mix. By the end of the year, thanks to Kerry Wood, Bowman Chrome a smash success.
Meanwhile, ’97 Bowman’s Best featured a stand-alone design, which at best can be described as unique. It was a product that just didn’t “fit” the Bowman line. Like many great things, however, ’97 Bowman’s Best has aged like wine (and not the cheap Gary V. kind). For starters, ask any collector today what the most desired card is and 99.9% of them will tell you, “an autographed Bowman Chrome”. Out of the 3 Bowman releases from 1997, only one lacked autographs and that was … Bowman Chrome, ironically.
1997 Bowman’s Best had the first prospect autographs that featured chromium card stock and Topps’ Refractor technology, EVER. What that means is, despite its status as a 2nd rate Bowman line, Topps essentially considered Bowman’s Best, “The Chosen One”, a product to lead the revolution of autographed prospect cards. Topps gave us the first “Chrome” Refractor autographs in ‘Best’ yet all that mattered to collectors by year’s end was Kerry Wood’s Chrome, unsigned card. What a strange time.
By 2001, it was Bowman Chrome and a particular St. Louis slugger’s Refractor autograph that cemented Topps’ status as the king of baseball cards, a title they firmly hold to this day thanks to continued added patterns to the original Refractor and millions of autographs of career Minor Leaguers, future hitting coaches, journeymen infielders, and the occasional superstar. Meanwhile, Bowman’s Best has come and gone, come again, and ultimately floundered. With well over a dozen releases under its belt, it’s fallen through the cracks of a 40+ Topps yearly product schedule.
Unfortunately, no amount of blogger write-ups or out of this world eBay auctions will be able to save Bowman’s Best reputation but 1997 was a year that Topps gave the brand every possible chance to succeed. From certified autographs and die-cuts, to a stunning, new Atomic Refractor pattern. Topps even produced one of the rarest inserts of the entire decade, the mysterious Inverted Mirror Image. If you were to hunt down every remaining, unopened box of ’97 Best, odds are you wouldn’t even come close to pulling an Inverted Mirror Image or its even tougher to find parallels.
You can read about the Inverted Mirror Image here.
In a month, collector’s will get their chance to bust open 2019 Bowman’s Best and much like other Topps products like Gold Label and High Tek, it will be forgotten in a week’s time. Clearly today, Bowman’s “Best” offering is Chrome but that wasn’t necessarily the case in 1997 as Topps put together a product with elements that appealed to just about every type of collector. Although it wasn’t as well-received as its younger brother, Chrome, in many ways, it’s won over many collectors over the years.