Three billion, six hundred million.
That’s how many 1991 Score cards are believed to have been produced. Thirty-two million of those alone are cards of Ken Griffey Jr. Four million unnecessary copies of Jose Canseco’s infamous Dream Team card. This set was destined to be the Junk Wax era’s swan song, a massively overproduced swing and miss. Collectors had already discovered that less was more with the resurrection of Leaf in 1990 and with 1992 Bowman, Topps chose to drastically cut production. Just two years after 1991 Score, collectors would be introduced to Topps Finest, with just 30,000 copies of each base card and a shockingly-low, 241 copies of each Refractor. The game was changing and sets like 1991’s Score & ’91 Fleer were instantly relegated to garage storage status or sent to landfills all across the country.
Speaking of Jose Canseco, who was baseball’s brightest and highest-paid star when 1991 Score was released, the photograph that inspired Score’s Dream Team card originated from an American Express magazine advertisement and was shot by world-renowned photographer, Annie Leibovitz. The Score card instantly became iconic and even inspired a Broder (AKA unofficial) card titled ‘Power & Glory’. The irony of it all is that clearly Score’s version is all-around much better card and is official licensed by Major League Baseball but thanks to rampant overproduction, the knock-off usually sells for a couple of dollars more today on the secondary market.
We can all poke fun looking back today but in reality, Score’s Dream Team was a subset way ahead of its time. Unlike many products from that era, it managed to capture a little bit of each player’s personality smack dab on a baseball card. One specific Dream Team alum, Doug Jones, is a perfect example. Jones, a late-bloomer and eventual 5-time All-Star, may have been one of the weaker selections on the Dream Team checklist. Ironically enough, his fireball card may be the most memorable of the entire set that’s packed full of Hall of Fame players. Sadly, two weeks ago, Jones, 64, succumbed to complications of Covid-19. To many collectors who were around during the Junk Wax era, the Dream Team card was probably the first image you thought of when you heard the sad news of Jones’ passing.
Another memorable subset, the All-Star caricatures, was a favorite of mine when I was 11. The Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco versions are particularly interesting because any steroid user knows, a large head is one of the tell-tale signs of abuse. I recently discovered, thanks to Beckett’s Ryan Cracknell, who the artist was behind these cards. It was something that had been bugging me for three decades. These days, card artists are revered and publicized all over social media but back before the internet, there was almost no information available. Perhaps as a small tribute to Score, Topps recently created their own “big head” cards, as extremely rare, super short prints, which were all the rage two weeks ago. I have a feeling that 20 years from now, the overproduced Score Big Heads will be remembered more fondly that the Topps SSPs.
1991 Score is a lot of things to a lot of people. Overproduced, redundant, gawky, and behind the times even at the time of its release but it conjures up heavy feelings of nostalgia that I truly believe modern collectors from 2020 and up will never experience. We will likely never again see a 900-card set and if we do, none could match the imagination and effort that went into ’91 Score. It may have been late to the party and unable to read the room but in the end, it is still one of the most memorable and dare I say, most important releases of the Junk Wax era. Score will forever live in collector’s hearts, at least those who lived through its release. Yes, us Boomer collectors, if you must. With Fanatics around the corner, it would be great to see Panini America, who owns the rights to Score, put out a few throwback Score baseball cards. It’s unlikely, especially from a company like Panini, but a collector can dream, can’t he?