Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Card back countdown: #3 - 1989 Upper Deck

I don't understand the reverence for '89 Upper Deck.

I do understand that it was a game-changer: exceptional photography (for its time), different card stock (which I'm now sick of), premium-priced packs (ooooh, now there's a bonus for the consumer), and "anti-counterfeit" holograms (I was going to say I don't think anyone was trying to counterfeit late '80s cards, but judging by how many are still floating out there, maybe they were and still ARE).

I think some collectors who were kids at that time are looking at the set in a haze of nostalgic bliss, much like I look at sets from the 1970s.

But there was no 1989 Upper Deck at the drug store where I bought monster piles of '89 Topps just out of college, so I can't tell you what I thought of UD in '89. I view the set with no nostalgic attachment.

However, I can tell you, years later, that the card backs were definitely something worth noticing:

People who are stridently anti-Upper Deck -- and they are out there  -- will look at the back and point out the limited listing of stats. Up until this point, listing complete stats on the card of every major leaguer had been regular business practice for card companies between 1972-88 (except for Donruss and, I think, Hostess). For the anti-UDers, limiting a player to just two years of stats and a career total is unforgivable, a practice that eliminates them from the countdown.

Although I am not a fan of incomplete stats on the back of a card, I prefer to look at what was innovative about the card back.

In terms of innovation, especially when you're talking about kids collecting cards, you can't get any better than putting a SECOND picture on the back of the card. Add the fact that the second picture is in color and takes up half the card, and you have got yourself some interested collectors.

I hope my purist, traditional-collector self will forgive me, but that is a phenomenal card back. Full game action, in color, and featured large enough to pick out people in the dugout. This was definitely different, which is why kids begged their moms to spend a buck on a pack of cards.

I don't know enough about Upper Deck's history (I still haven't read "Card Sharks"). So, I am only assuming that this is the first time full-color photos appeared on the backs of baseball cards. If it is, it falls in the "so-simple-it's-genius" category.

When the picture was clear and the player took up the entire frame of the photo, these card backs were amazing -- the best-looking card backs ever to that point. That is a great-looking photo.

Upper Deck added a little humor to its card backs with some candid photos, a practice that would continue for UD (and other card companies) throughout the 1990s.

Maybe not the greatest photos by today's standards, but if I try to envision myself as a 12-year-old in 1989, I can see what all the fuss was about.

Ever since, card companies have been copying '89 Upper Deck just about every year. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, you have to admit the set changed everything. And that's why it's ranked this high on the countdown.

Best of the set:

I don't have a ton of cards from the set, but I'll go with Fernando:

The front of the card is rather strange, but amusing. The back captures the essence of Fernando.

(previous card back countdown selections):

50. 1978 SSPC Yankee Yearbook
49. 1993 Score
48. 1999 Skybox Thunder
47. 2000 Upper Deck
46. 1999 Skybox Premium
45. 1953 Johnston Cookies Braves
44. 1995 Topps
43. 1997 Fleer
42. 1992 Pinnacle
41. 1989 Bowman
40. 1977 Kellogg's
39. 2004 Topps
38. 2004 Topps Total
37. 1992 Topps
36. 1992 Donruss
35. 2008 Upper Deck Documentary
34. 1963 Fleer
33. 1955 Bowman
32. 2006 Topps
31. 1961 Topps
30. 1955 Topps
29. 1967 Topps
28. 1970 Topps
27. 1969 Topps
26. 1966 Topps
25. 1963 Topps
24. 1911 T205
23. 1962 Topps
22. 1981 Topps

21. 1981 Donruss
20. 1958 Topps
19. 1977 Topps
18. 1974 Topps
17. 1957 Topps
16. 1988 Score
15. 1993 Upper Deck
14. 2004 Upper Deck Timeless Teams
13. 1971 Topps
12. 1965 Topps
11. 1991 Studio
10. 1954 Topps
9. 1953 Topps
8. 1978 Topps
7. 1980 Topps
6. 1993 Leaf
5. 1952 Topps
4. 1973 Topps


  1. By 1989, I was married and not as "in love" with my baseball cards as I was during childhood.
    But, if you look at my prime childhood collecting years, 1974 to 1979, I would have absolutely hated the fact that I could not get a full career's worth of stats on the card. There was no Internet, no I finally got a Baseball Encyclopedia in 1979, but in the years before that, the NL green book and the AL red book, plus my cards were my reference. I could go look up just about anyone I wanted with those references. I would have screamed murder if some picture on the back came at the expense of me getting my career stats year by year!

  2. That's a good Fernando card.

  3. 1988 Score had full color photos on the back a year before UD. Not nearly as big as the ones in this set, but they were there. Sportflics had full color on the back on some of their sets too, but I'm not sure when they started it.

    Stats or no stats, these are excellent backs.

  4. I like the score backs better than these

  5. Really, you were getting 2 cards for the price of one!! What could be wrong with that?

  6. I had started collecting cards as an adult in 1985. For the first few years I pretty much only bought Topps. I'm sure I bought a few packs of 1989 UD and I remember liking them, but they were pretty pricy compared to Topps. I remember my brother (another adult collector) and I discussing that we'd seen the boxed set on sale at Christmas for $50. "Who would pay $50 for a box of baseball cards?" was the basis of the conversation.

  7. And don't forget the easy to read numbers - something UD went away from, especially by the turn of the decade...