Insert Card Craze: Flair Hot Gloves Inserts of the 1990s
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.
This time around, we look back at the insert set that paved the way for die-cut designs to become a regular part of the hobby. The Hot Glove inserts first appeared in the 1994 Flair release, which was the premium product line from Fleer and was printed on a thicker card stock than other cards.
1994 Flair Hot Gloves
Hall of Famers: 4
This is where it all started for die-cut cards.
“The set was notable for employing a die-cut “glove” design, which was a revolutionary design at the time and is the foundational inspiration for all die-cut cards in the hobby today,” reads the BaseballCardPedia page for the 1994 Flair set.
The toughest pull in 1994 Flair Series 2 packs, the Hot Glove inserts were found at a 1:24 pack pull rate, and the original idea was to highlight some of the best defensive players in baseball with the glove-shaped cards.
Ken Griffey Jr. ($100), Barry Bonds ($30) and Don Mattingly ($30) have the highest book value in the set, and with a combined 27 career Gold Gloves between them they were all logical inclusions based on the theme of the set.
In fact, the only player on the checklist who never won a Gold Glove in his career was Tim Salmon. However, his inclusion made sense as he was a hot commodity in the hobby in 1994 coming off 1993 AL Rookie of the Year honors.
1995 Flair Hot Gloves
Hall of Famers: 5
The 1995 Hot Gloves inserts moved away from the die-cut approach in favor of a gold foil background that included an embossed glove, giving it a look similar to the actual Gold Glove Award.
They were once again Series 2 exclusive and an only slightly tougher pull at 1:25 packs, and the checklist was expanded to 12 cards.
Even more of an emphasis was placed on including defensive standouts, which led to some outside-the-box selections in outfield Devon White (Blue Jays) and Darren Lewis (Giants) among the usual cast of 1990s stars.
The cards are less condition sensitive since they are not die-cut, and that makes them the most affordable of the insert set’s four-year run. Ken Griffey Jr. ($15) and Cal Ripken Jr. ($6) have the highest book values in the set.
1996 Flair Hot Gloves
Hall of Famers: 6
The Hot Gloves inserts returned to their roots in 1996, bringing back the die-cut glove design and returning to a 10-card checklist.
The 1996 Flair set was not split into Series 1 and Series 2, but instead released as one single 400-card set. The Hot Gloves inserts were the toughest pull among four different insert sets at 1:90 packs, and the 1996 Flair hobby packs certainly fit the premium bill with a $4.99 per pack price tag.
The checklist again focused on defensive standouts, with the exception of Mike Piazza who doesn’t quite fit the theme alongside a list of perennial Gold Glove winners, including fellow catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Ken Griffey Jr. ($250) is once again the big chase card, and he is joined by Roberto Alomar, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken Jr., Piazza and Rodriguez as the six Hall of Famers in the 10-card set.
1997 Flair Showcase Hot Gloves
Hall of Famers: 10
The Flair product line was rebranded as Flair Showcase in 1997, with a focus on parallels as the massive 540-card checklist was made up of 180 players who each had three different cards in the set broken into Row 2, Row 1 and Row 0 versions that all had different photos.
The set is perhaps best known for its Masterpiece parallels, which were the first true one-of-one parallel in the hobby and found in 1:3000 packs.
The Hot Gloves inserts were once again the toughest pull of the insert sets at 1:90 packs, though they featured a new design with die-cut flames taking the place of the previous die-cut glove. They were also produced with heat-sensitive ink that would change from bright orange and red to a lighter orange and white when exposed to heat.
The checklist was expanded to 15 cards, and the inclusion of Frank Thomas gives a good indication of how far the focus strayed from defensive standouts to simply big names in the hobby. Rising stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones were also included in the set for the first time, and an impressive 10 Hall of Famers are part of the set.
The Hot Gloves inserts returned in 2001 Fleer Legacy with a game-used ball patch accompanying the die-cut glove design. They would also pop up in 2003 Fleer Showcase, 2004 Fleer Showcase and 2006 Flair Showcase.