Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Upper Deck through-the-years primer

All right, the Topps apologists are getting their unmentionables in a bunch. They say Upper Deck always looks the same. They can't tell one year from the next. Everything blends together. It makes them feel like they wasted five bucks every time they open a pack.

I gotcha. Perhaps you've heard -- I feel the same way. It can be difficult to decipher the subtleties of the UD brand. I mean, if you had only 10 seconds to place the year with the Upper Deck card, could you do it with these four?

I probably could. But I'm a card expert. I blog about cards for a living. Well, not for a living. It's more like I blog about cards for my sanity. But you get the idea. I think about cards a lot. So sometimes knowledge seeps into the ol' noggin.

But what about the rest of you poor souls? How are you ever going to be able to tell the 2008 Upper Deck base card from the 2003 Upper Deck base card? A work promotion could be riding on your very answer. Or at least a card contest.

That's where I come in. Right here on this post, I am going to feature a card from each year of Upper Deck going back to 2000. I could go back farther, but the last 10 years is about where the confusion lies. (But don't ask me to tell '96 and '97 UD apart -- I still don't know).

Bookmark this post. When you are sitting there with your Upper Deck cards in your hand, and your lady friend tells you to find the UD set that corresponds with the year you two first dated, you are definitely going to want to have this post handy.

Pay close attention:

2010 Upper Deck

2009 Upper Deck

2008 Upper Deck

2007 Upper Deck

2006 Upper Deck

2005 Upper Deck

2004 Upper Deck

2003 Upper Deck

2002 Upper Deck

2001 Upper Deck
 (yeah, I know he's facing the wrong way. I have like 6 cards from 2001).

2000 Upper Deck

You're welcome. Use your new Upper Deck knowledge wisely.

(Explainer: Yes, UD fans, I realize that you could take any card brand and find a simliar pose for each year. That's not my point. My point is there are only so many different kinds of photos you can take. Upper Deck is quite good at taking photos. But if there's no design or minimal design, you can't enhance the photo or make the card distinct. A photo by itself won't make a card stand out enough to differentiate it from year-to-year.

A set won't stay in your brain on photo alone unless there's a separate memory to attach to it -- like it was the first card set you ever collected. Iconic card sets -- '75 Topps, '93 Upper Deck -- are iconic because of photo and design. A photo is rarely iconic by itself unless it's Glenn Hubbard wearing a boa constrictor. True, you can't make an iconic set every time. But there's zero chance at all if you're not going to try).

Anyway, while going through my UD cards, I immediately noticed how this year's Upper Deck really pales in comparison to the Upper Deck cards of just a few years ago, especially 2006. That's probably because of its half-attempt to hide logos. Too bad Upper Deck didn't go full-on rebel and show logos in all of their glory like in years past. Now, that would be something to admire.

But the biggest disappointment for me, by far, has been the same disappointment there has been with UD ever since 1993, when Upper Deck was king.

I'm still waiting for an encore. But I don't think I'm going to get one.


  1. Oh man, don't get me started on 96-97 Upper Deck. Even 96-97 Collector's Choice looks nearly the same. I was trying to sort my cards by set when I was home over Christmas, and so many of those cards ended up in the wrong pile. At least in the early 90's (90-92) they gave you the little year on the front.

  2. I haven't seen any 2010 UD in my neck of the woods yet. In an earlier post you mentioned their half-assed attempt to hide the logos. Donruss got sued last year for a similar not so successful attempt to hide logos. Doesn't UD have enough legal trouble?

  3. When you see them side-by-side it's easy to pick out minute differences. A handful of these (2002, 2007) do have a rather distinctive yet boring look. But even to someone with a moderately sharp eye, 2009 and 2001 look virtually identical. And 2004 screams "1994 UD rotated 90 degrees minus gold" to me.

  4. Good job. Only once, 2007, did they even attempt to add a little style.I just don't know what they are thinking.

  5. Gorgeous photography in the "vintage" UD. Almost all of their 2000's look alikes could have benefited from a border. Full bleed is boring.

  6. I got a sealed 92 set from the thrift for a dollar (along with a set of micro-topps 1992)
    It is one of my least valuable hightreasures.
    Favorite set of the 90's maybe...
    93 was great, but the scripty stuff bugged me.

  7. I get the impression that through the years Upper Deck went through periods where they thought they were doing us (the card buying public) a favor by putting out a set every year and we (the card buying public) were lucky to have them. With that type of attitude comes zero motivation to make a decent or different product. At least Topps, for better or for worse, changes their style and ideas from year to year.

  8. the photography may be superior on UD cards, but borderless cards bore me.

  9. 93 UD was my fav 90s set. :)

  10. Upper Deck hasn't wowed me with their base set in quite a long time as their current calling is much more in the high-end realm. I love their photography (even though I think they pay for the images from Getty) and wish Topps would improve the photographs in their flagship release. I hope Upper Deck keeps producing cards because it's fairly evident from recent releases (Tribute and Sterling) that Topps doesn't know how to do high-end, at all.

  11. Not Fair! My comments

    2008 - You used a rookie logo card which gives the card some pazazz (sp?)
    2007 - This card seems to have border on each size
    2006- Another rookie card logo
    2005- Not Fair- a first pitch card. Did the 2005 regualr cards have the green upper deck logo

    These card all look the same and have the awful gold foil stamp on them.

    The only set or style I would say I like was the 2003 set - it worked because of the team logos

  12. See, I agree - UD does not have any real design element to it - but for me the photo is king - I like a lean card with sharp borders - UD brings that every year - I would rather have a nice looking card with little design than the abominations that are 10', 08' 07' etc... Topps - those are all realllly ugly cards

  13. I want to like UD, but its gatting harder and harder to like em

  14. There must have been something in the air back in 1993 because that is the last year I bought a box of Upper Deck cards...however I have totally ignored all their past issues since that year. Give me Topps ginger board designs every year...they may have a hit or miss but at least it's like life itself...a little variety!

  15. It's almost like they're counterfeiting themselves. Maybe this is what really tipped Konami off.

    I think '93 was one of my last UD sets for baseball. Around that time I switched over to basketball, and I remember liking a lot of those designs (until about '98 when I stopped there too).