Thursday, August 6, 2009

When Upper Deck was king

So, what will become of Upper Deck now that Topps has gained exclusive rights to manufacture MLB-licensed cards?

You've come to the wrong blog, my friend. I'm not very good at prognosticating. But I do know the obvious: UD can't possibly be as good as it once was under this current format. And to me, it's just the continuation of a downward slope.

For me, Upper Deck was king in 1993. That was their peak. They were never better before or after. And their card set that year annihilated every other set on the market. Start with UD's usual awesome photography and combine it with a design that has to be one of the most pleasing of the last 20 years.

Isn't that a fantastic-looking card? A nice border, sharp team-colored strip across the bottom, and script font. And the "Upper Deck" lettering across the top makes the entire card.

I bought more Upper Deck cards that year than any other brand. Any other brand combined. And for someone who grew up with Topps and always preferred Topps, that's saying something. UD ate everyone for lunch that year.

So, while many collectors are lamenting the demise of Upper Deck and competition in collecting, I thought I'd pay tribute to UD by going back to when it was doing something fantastic. I'm going to show my favorite Upper Deck cards from 1993. I am about one-third short of the full set, so I'm sure there are some great cards I'm missing.

Keep at it, UD. Maybe in a few years, you'll have a license again. Just make sure you're not trotting out a Piece of History when that time comes.

MY '93 UPPER DECK DIRTY DOZEN

12. Orlando Merced, Pirates: A photo of fans' faces when a ball or bat enters the crowd is always entertaining. The poor guy on the right probably still hears about how he covered up like a frightened baby doe.

11. Scott Radinsky, White Sox: As a lefty, this card is near and dear to my heart.

10. Hammers & Nails, Team Stars subset: One of the great elements of '93 Upper Deck were the subsets and insert sets. Just about all of them were well thought-out. No filler like you see today.

Some may think these Team Stars cards are cheesy now, but I still like them. They remind me of the '60s combo cards. And to get those guys to pose like that with the props and all? Nice work, Upper Deck.
9. Albert Belle, Indians: OK, Upper Deck, I'm being nice to you. So you have to tell me how you got Albert Belle to smile in this shot. Did you tell him you found the trick-or-treaters?

8. Phil Hiatt, Royals: If the card is in my blog banner, you know I like it. (In fact there are two '93 UD cards in the banner). Just a nice-looking card.

7. Tony Fernandez, Mets: A fun card, even if the Astros player totally looks like he's checking out Tony.

6. Mark McGwire, On Deck insert: Awesome. The combination of McGwire's intensity with the whole kelly green-and-gold theme is a visual delight. One of the best insert cards of the set.

5. Chipper Jones, Inside the Numbers: Just a classic shot. I don't know how they made Chipper look so skinny. Not that he's ever been large.

4. Wes Chamberlain, Phillies: I'm a sucker for broken bat shots, Phillies uniforms and photos in Dodger Stadum. This card has all three.

3. Darryl Strawberry, Dodgers: Can't go wrong with a sky shot can you? Darryl's about to hit the next pitch 1,000 miles, all under the Big Dodger in the Sky.

2. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox: I've shown a few of these cards before, including this one. Upper Deck's photographers thought of so many new portrait poses, which when you think about it anyone could come up with, even Topps. Look! Big mouth Ozzie has a big mouth!

1. Ken Griffey Jr., Iooss Collection insert: It's a former Cardboard Appreciation subject. It got me to see backwards-cap-wearing-people in a new light. It's basically one of my favorite baseball cards of all-time (and I just realized, there is no major league logo visible on this card).

The cards in this set are so great that I can't limit it to just 12. I mean look at the images. I could go on ...
... and on ...

... and on ...

... and on ...

... and on ...

... and on ...

... and on ...

... and on ...

... and on.

There are probably more than 200 cards in the '93 Upper Deck set that are among my favorites. It's too bad that UD couldn't keep my interest in the years that followed. The stuff just got to be so repetitious, and like I said in the previous post, it got to a point where I bought Upper Deck reluctantly.

But I hope the company still has it in them for when/if they ever get the MLB license back. Maybe one day they'll find their inner 1993 and deliver another stunner. Because even though I'm a bit relieved that this exclusivity deal will probably mean fewer sets/cards to chase (yeah, yeah, I know, competition and all that -- I'm trying to work this whole thing out in my head), all I really want is a set like 1993 Upper Deck. No matter who produces it.

13 comments:

  1. I was done by 1990 and had never seen that before. That's a sweet looking set.

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  2. If Upper Deck was still producing sets like this, I would be much more upset about today's news.

    Hopefully their setback will encourage Upper Deck to make better cards in the future.

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  3. Come to think of it this is the last, and come to think of it only, base Upper Deck set I really liked.

    Really bright, clean bordered design, great photography, fun subsets, and a nice checklist.

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  4. I agree. 1993 was the best. They even nailed it with the inserts, and no one really does that.

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  5. Walter Iooss is one of the best sports photographers around. I didn't realize they had an insert built around him. A pretty good idea though. Makes me want to go out and try to grab some of these cards.

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  6. 1993 was the year I quit collecting and only bought 10-12 packs of UD. I remember getting that Strawberry card- it was by far my favorite. I also got the Piazza card and a few years later kicking myself in the ass because I gave it away.

    I loved the 1990 and 1991 UD sets, but you are right- this set had by far the best photography.

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  7. This is my new favorite post ever. Anywhere.

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  8. 1982 Donruss, 1988 Score and 1993 Upper Deck - the sets that lured me away from Topps because they were better than the current year's Topps offerings. I'm optimiscally thinking this one license situation is temporary.

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  9. I have to agree 93 UD is a great set.

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  10. Wow, I've never seen this set either. I want to say I bailed out of the hobby around 92ish.

    Thanks for posting.

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  11. Yea, it's funny but I bought maybe a box of 1993 UD. As a Topps guy, that set was what UD should have continued to produce and might have kept me interested in their products in the later years....

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  12. I was out of the hobby from 1993 to 1995, so I never bought any of this stuff. However, the photography is pretty amazing... I really like the Dawson card too.

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  13. Great post on a great set. How updated is your want list? I have some doubles from this set that might help you out.

    Justin G.

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