Wednesday, February 8, 2023

There's something about Bowman

I'm about to do something I don't think I've ever done in the history of this blog, and that's devote an entire post to Bowman.

Bowman fascinates me for all the wrong reasons - it's become a historic brand while also producing decades and decades of entirely forgettable baseball cards. How forgettable, exactly? Enough that I had to do an internet search to remember what 2022 Bowman looked like. That's how little the cards stick in my memory.

When we're talking about post-revival Bowman (1989-present), we're talking about cards that really aren't meant for me. There's a desultory group of known stars alongside a gluttony of rookies, of whom only a small fraction will ever crack a big-league roster. 

The latter, however, are what most people buy Bowman for - the hope that a Single-A unknown will become The Next Big Thing. 

Modern Bowman began under a bad moon - I've often declared '89 Bowman to be The Worst Set of All-Time.

I don't know if I still believe that these days - I've found other sets I hate more than this - but I think most of us can agree that '89 Bowman is just plain dull. Not to mention the weird oversized thing that triggers my OCD every time I look at one of these in my binder. Just an incredibly bottom-tier group of baseball cards.

People are justified in believing crazy sets like '95 Fleer are worse than this (not me, of course!), but if nothing else I would have to imagine those people would at least admit that '95 Fleer is interesting - not one of us can say the same for '89 Bowman.

Bowman was never destined to be a set we were supposed to collect or even discuss, really - it's pretty much about the prospects and that's it.

No one is buying a pack of Bowman because they fancy themselves as a connoisseur and want to appreciate the design. Most of what Bowman puts out there barely qualifies as a design. It's like Stadium Club but infinitely less fun for collectors like myself. I suppose I don't fault anyone for wanting to get the jump on the next hot thing, but that's just not the way I collect - I struggle to understand how that can be called "collecting" at all. 

But whether you want to call it branding or whatever else, even I'll admit there's something special about having a guy's first Bowman card - although do me a favor and don't tell anyone I found this Trout rookie in a dime box back in 2011, or, perhaps even more egregiously, that I wouldn't have bought it at all if he wasn't wearing a throwback jersey!

While I sat and tried for a good few minutes trying to think of what random Bowman sets looked like without consulting the internet.

1996 Bowman? 2002 Bowman? 2007 Bowman? I couldn't remember a single one. And when I finally broke down and looked, the reaction wasn't Oh yeah, that's right! as much as it was Oh, I can see why I forgot that. I'm in the minority, in that the only cards I even remotely care about in today's Bowman are the veterans - on the rare occasion I open a pack of the stuff, the prospects feel like filler to me. And even then I forget what the cards look like two seconds after I put them in my binder.

So that begs the question: are there any Bowman designs I actually like?

The answer: in the 34 years of Modern Bowman (1989-2022), there are exactly two sets I can honestly say I like.

The first is 1992, probably the most universally adored Bowman set among card collectors. The prospect lovers get their fill with some of the most famous rookies of the generation (Piazza, Rivera, Hoffman, etc.), but it's also just a darn good-looking set of baseball cards. I don't own as many as I'd like - they didn't seem to be mass-produced like most cards of the era - but the ones I do have are excellent. (Even the weird fashion-show rookies are memorable in their own way.)

In Bowman's long string of apathy, '92 is really the only time I can say they hit on something classic.

Perhaps as a result, I think most people sleep on what Bowman did the very next year.

There's a Jeter in '93 Bowman, but it's not one of his more famous rookie cards, and outside of that I'm not sure this set has any other notable prospects. As a whole, though, I'd argue this is one of the most unjustly ignored offerings of the '90s. While not as timeless as '92, I've always thought '93 Bowman was a solid set, with a few cool photos mixed in for good measure (something you can't say about Bowman very often). It doesn't deserve to be lumped into the rest of Bowman's long and generally unspectacular history.

In the end, I suppose what I find most interesting about Bowman is that I hear both everything and nothing about it - people talk about this prospect and that prospect, but no one ever seems to care anything about the cards themselves.


Mike said...

Those two years you mention ARE pretty cool looking! But,uhg those too big '89s...I think your cousin Scott had a whole box of them for some reason,he didn't collect baseball cards...I'm sure he tossed them when he moved!

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

I have always had an issue with the modern day Bowman cards, especially the Chrome. Then the 2000's came out with the cp, dc, dp, bdp, bddp, bdpp, and whatever else they had, drove me nuts and still does. Very cool on the Trout RC.....really really cool. I am hoping that one day I find one sitting in my dupes/trade boxes (back then I wasn't building sets). Otherwise I don't own a single one. What I really find funny is that immediately after the initial release there are tons of the not hot yet guys in the dime boxes. Typically "that guy" takes a few years to get it rolling. Then his cards take off. Unless I am buying a bulk box deal, Bowman scares me. Give me my Braves, PC guys, and the base flagship set (100 cards nowadays )and I am good to go. Vintage Bowman that's a whole other story, love them.

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

correction. Just checked my set builds and the Bowman and Topps sets are complete so I guess I do own a TRout rc or two, the PC doesn't have any though.

night owl said...

Does anyone actually try to complete a Bowman set? I know I never have. It's the only major brand I have not attempted to complete.

Nick Vossbrink said...

Bowman is great for autograph collecting in the minor leagues. I don't treat it as prospecting but rather a way of generating mementos when I go to games.

Designs have been mostly forgettable though. Not bad (in general) just boring and indistinguishable year-to-year. I enjoy getting them of my Alumni guys when they're in the minors but always find myself wishing it was a more comprehensive set like those early-90s minor league sets from Classic or Upper Deck.

I've said it before though that the MLB portion of Bowman is even more boring than the designs and that I really wish Topps would turn he MLB portion into MLB Debut and create cards of everyone who debuted in MLB the previous season. Would get the RC creep out of the other products and result in a similar prospecting philosophy the entire set.

Oh. And you're 100% correct about 1992 being good. I don't dislike 1989's design but the photos are 90% mugshots that all look the same. I *did* like the backs though.

beefman said...

I like 1991 as well because they were cheap and came with gum. I remember on Christmas Eve 1996, buying a complete factory set of 1990 Bowman for $5 at some kind of thrift store near San Diego. According to TCDB, I'm the proud owner of 87.5% of the 1994 Bowman set, 46.9% of 1993, 100% of 1990-1992, but, like yours, my knowledge and interest wanes significantly after the early 90s sets. It's like they try to be minimalistic AND boring at the same time. Best thing about Bowman? Home of the Zero-Year card!

Fuji said...

Back in 1989, I was still working at Thrifty's and there was a point where I had access to tons of Bowman. I ended up buying a couple boxes of it and tried to build a set. It was a pain to store, but I still have a soft spot for that set.

Mark Zentkovich said...


Jeff B - Wax Pack Wonders said...

You nailed it with this analysis. Nothing I can add!

Jafronius said...

I enjoyed those early Bowman backs where they broke down stats per team. But otherwise, yeah the occasional pack when I haven't opened anything in a while is more than enough for me

BillK21093 said...

1989 Bowman are probably the most damaged cards from the junk wax era.
Due to the oversized cards being jammed into regular sized 3200 count boxes.

1989 Bowman were also way over produced.

I agree with Johnny, the recent year Bowmans are very confusing to try and collect with DP, Chrome, etc.

Nice synopsis of Bowman.

Shlabotnik Report said...

I have built one Bowman set in my life and it's -- LOL -- 1989 Bowman. 1989 - 1991 Bowman were fun sets in the moment because they featured spring training photos and served as a mid-season update set. I'll make no claims that 89B is a good set, but like Fuji I have a soft spot for it.

The main appeal for current day Bowman is collecting minor leaguers I've seen or could see in upcoming seasons. In the last year or two I made a decision to not chase the base set at all, not even for team/player collections (although I welcome any which happen to come my way)

As for remembering the designs, I made a quick Word document which serves as a visual guide to the different designs, printed it out and keep it in my hobby room as a quick reference... because other than the 1989 - 1993 era I never have a clue

Jeremya1um said...

1991 has a good design in my opinion, as well as 1994, 1998, and 2001. You are right about the designs being forgettable after that. I feel like I forget them starting around 2009 or so.

Anonymous said...

Your view on '89 Bowman is extreme. Annoying size, but nice photography. Of course I like it so much I have none.

GCA said...

Completely agree with JTP about the initials and the overlapping subsets that don't make any sense.
The only set I've built is 2007 Bowman Heritage, and I'm almost done with the "no-sig" variations.
I don't care about rookies really so Bowman is basically useless to me. I've liked the look of a couple Sterling sets, but wouldn't try to make one.

Chris said...

I missed the boat on '92 Bowman as a kid, and to make up for it I bought *tons* of '93 Bowman - jumbo packs in particular. Fond memories of those, even though I never pulled the Jeter.

1989 Bowman, OTOH... yikes. You nailed it, these cards were bland and awkward. I bought at least a few packs of them and the most notable things about them (besides their size) was that t was the first time I'd seen cards of players born in the 1970s. LOL.

I just went through a big box of sets in my collection and found some '89 Bowman tucked in the front of a 600-card box of hockey. Most of an Expos team set, including that Raines. I have no idea what to do with them because I dont have pages or top loaders that will fit :/