Topps Major League Debut

Last week, I covered the Traded and Update Sets during the 1980’s. Those were sets where you could find rookies and players that were traded during the season and after the flagship set was released. In this post, I want to cover another twist on the “update” set that Topps introduced in 1989. The new option only ran in 1989, 1990 and 1991 and are many times forgotten by collectors but they did provide an additional “rookie” card for players that debuted that year and weren’t otherwise included in flagship products. These sets were called Topps Major League Debut.

The first set that was produced was in 1989. What was most interesting about the set is that while they were classified as ’89 and the players debuted that year, the design was that of the 1990 flagship Topps set. So not only was it all rookies, it was also a sneak peek at the upcoming season design. The ‘89 set was a total of 152 cards, including 2 checklist cards. The 1990 Topps set is very nostalgic to me because even though I had already been collecting at that point, the flagship set was the first full set I ever owned. I got the sealed box set for Christmas that year and I remember immediately breaking the set and putting the stars in my binder. I’ve come a long way since those early days of collecting.

As I mentioned above, the ’89 debut players appear on the ’90 design on the front. But the backs are a little different than the normal flagship set. They still have the same basic color scheme but they are a little brighter, almost like the Tiffany version, and the stats are for only the 1989 season. The first line is for the minor league stats for that year and then another line covers what the player did after being called up. In the center of the card, there is a news excerpt from a fictional newspaper called “The Register” that breaks down the major league debut for the player on that particular card.

For example, Sammy Sosa was not included in any major flagship product in 1989 but was found in Donruss’ 1989 “The Rookies” set. He also appeared in several minor league sets as well. His 1989 Topps Major League Debut card pictured him in his Texas Rangers uniform, which is the team he debuted with. He was traded to the White Sox during that same ’89 season so all of his 1990 rookie cards feature him in his White Sox uniform. The Major League Debut and Donruss Rookies are the only two major league sets that pictured him in the Rangers uniform so they are a bit unique for collectors. “The Register” excerpt on the back reads:

“Bronx, New York – Sammy joined the Rangers June 16 to replace injured Pete Incaviglia. He made his major league debut in the opener of a twin bill at Yankee Stadium that afternoon and collected a Single and Double while scoring a Run.”

Sosa would ultimately play a total of 25 games for Texas, hitting .238 with 1 HR and 3 RBI. With the Rangers trying to fight for a playoff spot in 1989, they were looking to bolster their lineup and didn’t want to trade away their prized prospect Juan Gonzalez to do so. That meant Sosa was expendable and they would package him with Wilson Alvarez and Scott Fletcher in exchange for Harold Baines from the Chicago White Sox. The Rangers ultimately didn’t make the playoffs that year and it is reasonable to think that had the Rangers held on to Alvarez and Sosa, together with Pudge and Juan-Gone making their debuts in the coming years, the Rangers would have had a very young and powerful team throughout the 90’s. But as they say, hindsight is 20-20 and the trade made sense at the time.

While I’ve mentioned how fun card backs were back when I was a kid, the excerpts from “The Register” only highlight some of the cool information you can learn about a player. Sometimes, you learn enough to want to research the player even more, like the Sosa trade. Here are a few of the players that were included in the 1989 Debut set, along with their debut excerpts. As you will notice, grammar was not great at “The Register”.


“Cleveland, Ohio – The Brewers summoned Greg from Denver August 10 to replace the injured Rob Deer. He made his major league debut with pinch-running appearance at Cleveland that evening. Greg batted .305 at Beloit in 1987 and led Midwest League with 33 HR and 292 Total Bases.”


“Atlanta, Georgia – Dave joined the Braves May 23 replacing the injured Lonnie Smith. He made his major league debut by collecting a Single vs. Pirates, May 24. Dave entered pro ball at Pulaski in 1985. He tied for Appalachian League lead with 10 HR and was named to All-Star Team.”

“Oakland, California – Ken made his major league debut drilling a Double and scoring a Run at Oakland, April 3. He entered pro ball at Bellingham in 1987 where his first pro Hit was a Home Run vs. Everett, June 17. Ken was named Northwest League Player of the Week, June 16-thru-22.”

“Anaheim, California – Jim made his major league debut in starting assignment vs. Mariners, April 8. He arrived in 1989 Spring Training Camp with Double-A contract but impressed Angels’ coaching staff in early workouts. Jim had a superb performance vs. A’s in first Cactus League game.”

“Arlington, Texas – Juan made his major league debut as centerfielder vs. Royals, September 1. He entered pro ball at Sarasota in 1986 and led Gulf Coast League with 233 At-Bats. Juan led Gastonia with 74 RBI, tied for lead with 14 HR and ranked second with 69 Runs and 135 Hits in 1987.”

“Montreal, Quebec – Larry joined the Expos August 16 to replace injured Mike Aldrete. In his major league debut that evening he collected Single in his only official At-Bat and scored 2 Runs in 4-2 win vs. Giants. Larry led Midwest League with .623 Slg. Pct. at Burlington in 1986.”

“Cleveland, Ohio – Joey joined the Indians July 15 to replace the injured Cory Snyder. He made his major league debut that evening with Single, RBI and Stolen Base in 7-1 win vs. Rangers. He entered pro ball at Kinston in 1987 with .324 Avg (12 for 37). Joey batted .301 at Kinston in 1988.”

“Oakland, California – Omar made his major league debut as shortstop at Oakland, April 7. He entered pro ball at Butte in 1984, batting .311. Omar led Salinas with 61 Runs, 8 Triples and 25 Walks in 1987. He led Eastern League shortstops with .959 Fielding Percentage at Vermont in 1988.”

“Bronx, New York – The Yankees summoned Deion from Albany NY May 31 to replace Bob Brower, optioned to Columbus. Immediately installed in centerfield, he made his major league debut that evening and produced Single and RBI while scoring a Run in helping club to 9-5 win vs. Mariners.”

“Toronto, Ontario – John collected Single in first major league At-Bat vs. Twins, 9-3-89, and scored Run. Selected by Baseball America as 1988 College Player of the Year, he was pitcher-first baseman at Washington State University where he had 14-0 record while batting .449.”


2-5/8 x 3-3/4″ 2 mil POLYETHYLENE NO flap.

As you can see, the 1989 set is loaded with top tier rookies and the information about their actual debut in the majors is great knowledge for collectors. Topps would release another Major League Debut set in 1990, with the 1991 Topps design and a checklist of 171 cards, and the final set in 1991, with the 1992 design and 194 cards on the checklist. The highlights from 1990 included Moises Alou, Steve Avery, Carlos Baerga, Delino DeShields, Kevin Maas, Tino Martinez and Frank Thomas. The checklist from 1991 included Jeff Bagwell, Vinny Castillo, Eric Karros, Kenny Lofton, Mike Mussina, Bernie Williams, Mo Vaughn and Jim Thome.

While the 1990 and 1991 sets included some pretty big names, the 1989 set remains my favorite today. Part of that is because of the 1990 Topps design but also, the inclusion of Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Belle and others mentioned above make this one the king for me. This set is very nostalgic and very affordable as it can be found for as little as $10 online. I certainly consider that money well spent for the rookies you can find in these sets. Some of these rookies sell pretty well if they are in good condition or graded. Do you have any of the major league debut sets? If so, what are some of your favorites? Comment below!


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