When you grow up in a rural area, as I did in the northwoods of Wisconsin, you often find that your opportunity to pursue your interests constantly runs up against the logistical problem of access. Certainly this was an even greater problem in the past, but nevertheless when we talk about rural-urban divides it’s useful to understand that in urban areas the impediments to access are more about socioeconomic inequality and government negligence than a lack of resources. If I needed some sports equipment, for instance, the basics were 85 miles away in the nearest city, and the specialized stuff had to be shipped. These seem like quaint problems to adults in the Age of Amazon, but they were often nearly insurmountable when you’re a rural kid in the 1990s.
In any case, when access is limited, children learn to reach for any little bit that can connect them to the zeitgeist. And what they can access shapes their perspective, resulting in a sort-of bare bones understanding of the mainstream, flecked with regional peculiarities. In the sports world, trading cards are an excellent medium that can cut through all of that. Here are the players, what equipment they wear, where they are from, what way they shoot/bat/throw, what they’ve done and blurbs that suggest how they are gonna do. And sometimes, as with the Topps Stadium Club hockey sets covering the 1991-92 and 1992-93* seasons, they give you a little bit more: player ratings! On a brief lull between projects, I decided to reach back to these sets, bring together the data (shared below), and do some analysis.
* By name, the sets are referred to as the 1992-93 and 1993-94 sets, but I will instead refer to them by the NHL season they feature, 1991-92 and 1992-93(more…)