In the days before serial numbers, relic cards, certified autographs and countless parallels, simple base insert cards ruled the hobby.
The first modern insert cards arrived on the market in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the insert card craze truly swept the hobby, aided in part by rising young superstars Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas.
In the coming weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the more memorable insert sets from that era and their progression over the years.
No company churned out insert sets at a greater rate than Fleer during the 1990s, and one of their staples was the Lumber Company inserts which highlighted some of the game’s biggest sluggers. Let’s take a closer look at the progression of those inserts over the years.
1992 Fleer Lumber Company
Hall of Famers: 2
The inaugural Lumber Company inserts were not found in packs, but were instead included as a bonus in the 1992 Fleer factory set.
Barry Bonds ($8), Cal Ripken Jr. ($6) and Ryne Sandberg ($3) have the highest book value on the checklist. The rest of the nine-card checklist includes Jose Canseco, Cecil Fielder, Ron Gant, Darryl Strawberry, Mickey Tettleton and Matt Williams.
The black-bordered cards are accompanied by woodgrained “The Lumber Co.” wording on the right side. That woodgrain design would become a consistent part of the set’s aesthetic in the years that followed.
1994 Fleer Lumber Company
Hall of Famers: 2
Lumber Company inserts returned in 1994 and this time they could be pulled out packs, specifically jumbo packs where they were found in 1:5 packs.
The cards have a woodgrain background with the player name and “Lumber Company” in a stamp that makes it look like a baseball bat barrel.
Ken Griffey Jr. ($4) and Frank Thomas ($1.25) are both new to the 1994 set. They are joined by Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, David Justice, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro as the other first-timers on the checklist. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds ($3) is the biggest returner from the 1992 checklist, while Ron Gant and Matt Williams are also back.
1995 Fleer Lumber Company
Hall of Famers: 3
The Lumber Company inserts were one of the tougher pulls among a wide variety of inserts in the 1995 Fleer release, as they were found in 1:24 retail packs.
The design was a bit more subtle this time around with a borderless player photo accompanied by a bat-barrel name badge and the usual “Lumber Co.” branding.
Ken Griffey Jr. ($12) and Barry Bonds ($10) have the highest book value on the checklist, and Albert Belle, Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff, Frank Thomas and Matt Williams are also back after appearing in a previous set.
The only newcomers this time around were Jeff Bagwell, Joe Carter and Kevin Mitchell who was coming off a resurgent 30-homer season with the Cincinnati Reds.
1996 Fleer Lumber Company
Hall of Famers: 3
The 1996 Lumber Company inserts pivoted to a horizontal orientation, and had a similar design to the 1994 inserts with a wood-grained background and bat-barrel stamp. They were an easier pull than the previous year, found in 1:9 retail packs.
Ken Griffey Jr. ($8) is the highest book value once again, and he’s joined by Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas and Matt Williams as returning names on the checklist.
That means a seven-player class of newcomers on the checklist, with Mark McGwire ($6) and Mike Piazza ($4) headlining a list that also included Dante Bichette, Manny Ramirez, Tim Salmon, Sammy Sosa and Mo Vaughn.
1997 Fleer Lumber Company
Hall of Famers: 4
The 1997 Fleer Lumber Company inserts changed things up with an elaborate die-cut design, although the wood-grained background design returned once again.
They were exclusive to Series 1 and found in 1:18 retail packs, making them an easier pull than the Team Leaders and Night and Day inserts that were also available in the Series 1 release.
Once again, Ken Griffey Jr. ($15), Barry Bonds ($10) and Mark McGwire ($10) have the highest book value in the set, and they are joined by Jeff Bagwell, Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas and Mo Vaughn as returnees from previous year’s checklists.
With the checklist expanded to 18 cards, that still meant eight newcomers, with Alex Rodriguez ($8) headlining a group that also includes Brady Anderson, Jay Buhner, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Todd Hundley, Ryan Klesko and Gary Sheffield.
1998 Fleer Tradition Lumber Company
Hall of Famers: 8
The Fleer company rebranded in 1998, and the flagship release became known as Fleer Tradition. The Lumber Company inserts were found in 1:36 Series 1 retail packs with a 15-card checklist.
For the first time, the card had a foil design, although there was still a wood-grain background design with the “Lumber Company” wording at the top and player’s name at the bottom.
The cards still fetch a premium with Ken Griffey Jr. ($20), Cal Ripken Jr. ($20), Barry Bonds ($15) and Mark McGwire ($15) leading the way in book value. Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez, Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas are the only other returning sluggers to the set, and there were some big new names.
Tony Gwynn, Chipper Jones and Larry Walker were the Hall of Famers among the six new names on the checklist, while Jose Cruz Jr., Nomar Garciaparra and Tino Martinez also joined the fun.
The Lumber Company inserts would return again through Upper Deck in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006.