The 1991 Score rising star baseball card set featured many promising young players who were just starting to make a name for themselves in Major League Baseball. Featuring 100 cards in total, the 1991 Score rising star set highlighted some future all-stars and even a few future Hall of Famers who were still early in their careers at that point. While it may not be as highly sought after as other vintage card sets from the early 90s, the 1991 Score rising stars provides a unique look at players on the verge of stardom.
Arguably the biggest rising star featured was Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter. As a 29 year old in 1991, Carter was already fairly established, but his monster season that year where he hit .281 with 33 home runs and 96 RBI made him one of the premier power hitters in the American League. Carter would go on to have several more excellent seasons and is best remembered for hitting a World Series walk-off home run for the Blue Jays in 1993. His rising star card from 1991 neatly captures him at the peak of his career.
Another major leaguer with a rising star card in 1991 who would enjoy great success was Atlanta Braves first baseman Fred McGriff. Nicknamed “Crime Dog,” McGriff was just starting his first full season with the Braves in ’91 after coming over from the Padres. He responded by hitting .266 with 25 homers and 84 RBI, establishing himself as a middle of the order force. McGriff would go on to have a Hall of Fame caliber career playing for several teams over 19 seasons, recording 493 career home runs.
A pair of legendary pitchers also got rising star recognition in 1991 – Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Glavine had just enjoyed a breakout 1990 season with the Braves where he went 20-11 and finished third in Cy Young voting. His card in the ’91 set marked his emergence as the ace of Atlanta’s staff. Meanwhile, Maddux was in his first season with the Cubs after winning the World Series with the A’s in 1989. His pinpoint control made him a rising star at just 25 years old. Both pitchers would cement themselves as surefire Hall of Famers with decades more of success.
While most of the players highlighted so far went on to have long, productive MLB careers, the 1991 Score rising star set also included some players whose promise was not fully realized. One such example is Cubs third baseman Gary Scott. After two decent seasons with Chicago in ’89 and ’90 where he hit around .260 each year, Scott’s card in this set seemed to hint at a breakout campaign on the horizon. Unfortunately, injuries would limit Scott to just 29 games in 1991, and he was out of the league by 1994. His card stands as a reminder that potential doesn’t always equal production.
The Pittsburgh Pirates got two rising stars featured in the ’91 set with outfielder Jay Bell and promising pitcher Steve Cooke. Bell, 26 at the time, was a solid regular for Pittsburgh and would go on to enjoy his best statistical season in 1993 when he hit .287 with 28 homers. Cooke on the other hand never panned out, pitching just 21 major league innings total. He’s an example of a prospect who didn’t fulfill his upside. Pitchers tend to carry more risk than position players in that regard.
Two more future Hall of Famers received recognition as rising talents in 1991 – Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Larkin. By then, Ripken was already a two-time All-Star and Gold Glover at shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, on his way to breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record. Larkin meanwhile was coming off his first All-Star campaign in 1990 as the Reds’ starting shortstop. Both were 26 in 1991 and still improving as offensive catalysts in addition to their defensive prowess. Their cards are a testament to consistent excellence over the long haul.
Of all the players featured, arguably the biggest “rising” star at the time was Houston Astros outfielder Steve Finley. At just 24 years old in 1991, Finley was coming off a breakout campaign where he hit .307 with 51 steals and established himself as an five-tool talent. Traded to the Orioles that offseason, Finley continued to develop and ultimately played in the majors until age 40, amassing 2,844 hits and 414 steals in a memorable career that spanned four decades. His journey from prospect to veteran role player exemplifies the appeal of following a player’s career progression.
While the ’91 Score rising stars set is over 30 years old now, leafing through its 100 cards continues to provide baseball fans a window into the potential that existed for so many young players on the cusp of greatness. Figuring out who fulfilled expectations versus who fell short is part of the evaluation process that makes following player development so intriguing. Whether you’re tracking Hall of Famers like McGriff, Ripken and Larkin, or studying the paths of stars and busts alike, this set from 1991 endures as a snapshot in time for some very promising rising stars.