1988 was one of those memorable years in the baseball card world. The hobby was booming. Rookie cards were all the rage. Topps, Fleer, and Donruss were churning out cards by the million. There was probably at least one retail source nearby that you referred to as a "local card shop". Baseball card shows were being held at hotels, VFW halls, firehouses, and shopping centers on a weekly basis. And on top of all that (or maybe as a result), a new trading card company jumped into the game.
A year before Bowman's resurrection and Upper Deck's inaugural release, and three whole years before other premium brands like Stadium Club and Ultra appeared, it was Score who stepped up to the plate.
Here's how you would have found their cards on store shelves back in 1988:
That purple Don Mattingly card on the box top is the first card in the set. But it only tells part of the color story. Score used six different colors for their card borders in this set, which, if displayed in 9-pocket pages, makes for a very colorful binder.
The colors weren't randomly assorted, however. Neither were they designated by team. Instead, Score decided to make things nice and numerical.
Each color was assigned to 110 cards, consecutively. And because there were six different colors used, that makes a complete set of 660 cards. Here's the rundown:
1–110 = purple
111–220 = blue
221–330 = red
331–440 = green
441–550 = yellow
551–660 = orange
Interestingly, that same color progression appeared in packs. You'd get roughly three cards of each color, also consecutively. So for example, the pack might have started off with three purple cards in a row, then three blues, three reds, three greens, three yellows, and two oranges for a total of 17 cards. This might seem like a good idea for distribution, but it actually led to some pretty crummy collation issues. If you tried to put a set together the old-fashioned way—buying a box, opening all the packs, and then sorting the cards by number—it was a killer. You'd get lots of duplicates across those packs, and even some repeated trios. (How do I know this? Personal experience. I'll leave it at that.)
The player images on the cards also show evidence of repetition, as you'll see next. I wonder if Score's executives had a conversation with their photographers that went something like this:
Executives: You know what, guys? It would be really cool if you could take some photos that show hitters at the moment they're making contact with the ball.
Executives: And maybe you could do the same thing for pitchers, just as they're releasing the ball.
Executives: Ooh! And pitchers throwing the ball right into your living room.
Executives: And we've got to have some photos that show hitters taking a really big cut at the ball.
There were also some unfortunate runs that showed practically the same image, card after card. For example, #516 through #523 are all pitchers, all captured at some point in their throwing motion. So there were some growing pains with photography in this inaugural set. Along with the photo repetition, there were also some niggling typos and name misspellings throughout the set. It's to be expected, I suppose.
However, Score did pay attention to some of the finer details, and they definitely deserve credit for that. For instance, relief pitchers received an "RP" designation on the front of the card, instead of just a "P" for pitcher. That's pretty cool. Check out these three RP studs.
Outfielder designations also varied. Some players received the standard “OF”, but other outfielders who were more established at a specific position were noted. Have a look at these three guys, for example.
So it's not all negative, by any means. In fact, I think Score had a very good debut. The card design is clean. The images are crisp. That very thin white border that's inside the photo frame is a classy design touch. Most of the time the players were framed very well inside those borders, and there are plenty of good action shots that don't follow the templates shown above. Take these, for example.
Then we get to the back of each card. It's where Score really shines.
Not only do you have a full-color headshot (a step above Fleer's card backs of the '80s), but look at all that descriptive text! Right from the start, the copywriters at Score were masters at cramming in a lot of player information. It's often interesting information as well.
Here's the text from Bo Jackson's card, in larger print:
Bo, who has awesome power, a fantastic arm, and blazing speed, sizzled at the start of 1987, his first full season in pro baseball, and gave fans a hint of his immense talent.
That would be plenty of content for most card backs of the day. But for Score? Not even close. It continues.
In a three-game series against the Yankees, he got on base 10 of 14 plate appearances. In a game against the Tigers, he hit a three-run homer and a grand slam (his bat broke but the ball still went 410 feet). In a game against the Twins, he hit the longest home run of the season in the Metrodome, a 466 footer. Bo topped off the year by playing with the Raiders as a “hobby” in the off-season. “Bo has more natural ability than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said hitting coach Hal McRae.
The awesomeness of Bo was made quite clear. But wait, there’s an ENTIRE SECOND PARAGRAPH.
Bo played only 79 college games at Auburn, where he was the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner as a tailback and the NFL’s no. 1 draft pick. In a surprise move, he signed with the Royals in ’86 to play baseball rather than football. After a slow start in the Double-A Southern League, Bo batted .388 in his last 40 games. Brought up to the Royals in September with only 53 pro games behind him, he awed everyone with his prodigious power and blinding speed (3.7 seconds from home to first, the fastest time in baseball). “Bo has so much ability, it’s downright scary,” said teammate Frank White. “You don’t see that combination of speed and power in many human beings.”
And it wasn't only phenoms like Bo Jackson who received detailed write-ups like that. Just about everyone did.
Score also dipped their toes into the "rookie craze" waters, devoting space toward the end of the set for 25 consecutive rookie prospects on a modified card design. Here are the three biggest prospects of the group.
If you were a kid who had a penchant for organization, you would have loved having all your rookie prospects lined up one after another in your binder.
As for subsets, Score had just a few of those.
Reggie Jackson had just finished his stellar career, and Score produced a few tribute cards. There were five in all, each card documenting one of his MLB stops: A's, Orioles, Yankees, Angels, and A's again.
Then there were a few combination cards that featured stars of the day.
And finally, a few cards at the very end of the set documented highlights from the 1987 season.
Score did take note of how popular subsets were, however, and added even more in years to come. (Remember the Dream Team, bighead cartoon all-stars, K-Man, and No-Hit Club subsets to name a few?)
In every pack you'd also get one of 56 different "great moments in baseball" mini lenticular cards. Fans of Sportflics will have been familiar with the look of these.
The great moments range from the previous year all the way back to 1920.
Interestingly, however, there are no checklist cards or team leader cards in this set.
Just as interestingly, card #439 of Jeff Robinson seems to be the only posed shot in the entire set. That's it. No headshots. No batting poses. No fielding poses. Just one pitcher's pose. I guess Score was early on the whole "ACTION SHOTS ONLY!" idea.
So that's 1988 Score. Overall, it was a pretty solid introduction. Crisp photos, eye-catching colors, great write-ups on the backs. And it's still affordable 35 years later. I have some really good memories of collecting cards from this set with my stepbrother when we were kids, and of the excitement that came along with a new card company. I'm happy to have finally completed it.
What are your thoughts on Score's first attempt at baseball cards? Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!