Friday, June 15, 2018

The All-Time Upper Deck Countdown: 7-1

And so it's come to this: the top tier of Upper Deck's long and storied history.

After all was said and done, I'm glad I decided to compose this list if for no other reason than it forced me to cast a more careful eye on UD's designs, which isn't something I can say I'd devoted much brain space to before this series of posts. And that's really the main reason I blog, when you get down to it: to think about things I might not have ever thought about otherwise.

But as much as I enjoyed writing these posts, here we are at the inevitable end: here, in all their glory, are the best of the best from the Upper Deck annals.

#7 -- 1991 Upper Deck

This was a bit of a dark horse candidate, as I didn't think '91 UD was anything more than a ho-hum set going into these posts.

It seems to me that '91 Upper Deck is the inverse to a lot of other UD designs (and a lot of sets in general), in that I like this one the more I see it. It perfectly wraps up the baseline-themed borders of Upper Deck's nascent years (notice the team logo inside home plate), and the photos are some of the best of early UD.

Given all that, I'm not sure why this set never really clicked with me until now -- but that's why we make these lists, isn't it?

#6 -- 1995 Upper Deck

I'm not sure any Upper Deck set has grown on me more than 1995 has.

This would've been a bottom-feeding design for me had I composed this list a couple years ago. And while my appreciation for '95 UD began before these rankings, I didn't quite think it'd climb as high as #6 on my list.

Again, it's hard to see why I was so down on it in the past. Perhaps I thought the design was a bit too minimalist back then. But that's exactly what I've come to like most about it these days: the photos are left for us to enjoy with almost no distraction (and the photos are good enough to back that up).

Perhaps '95 Upper Deck could be a Top Five UD set if I revisit this list a year or two from now -- but for now I think it should be darn proud to be #6.

#5 -- 1989 Upper Deck

What I'm about to say may sound crazy considering this set came in at #5 on my list, but...I think 1989 Upper Deck is overrated.

I seem to remember something happening on Twitter recently where people were voting bracket-style on the all-time best baseball sets, and I think the final round came down to 1956 Topps vs. 1989 Upper Deck if I'm remembering right. Geez. Come on, people. Let's not go THAT far.

Look: I like '89 UD quite a bit, and you can't argue the impact it had on the hobby (both short- and long-term). The first "high-end" set, the first to feature front-and-back photos, the Griffey, etc., etc. And fact is Upper Deck's inaugural design is quite clean and well executed, probably more so than any other brand's debut in baseball card history.

But fact is that -- while I do enjoy the design and can appreciate its historical impact -- '89 Upper Deck isn't even in the same ballpark as '56 Topps, Griffey rookie or no.

#4 -- 2006 Upper Deck

I doubt many other people would put 2006 Upper Deck as high as I did on this list.

But in the end, '06 UD is just one of those sets I always find myself going back to and admiring. The design isn't wildly stand-outish (if that's a word), and I feel like it gets lost in UD's catalog sometimes. Fact is, though, a lot of the reason 2006 Upper Deck is so high here doesn't have much to do with the looks of the cards themselves -- it's the sheer size of the set that I enjoy so much.

Without looking it up, I'd bet that 2006 UD's 1,250-card(!) set is the largest they ever made. And it's not just that there's a lot of cards in it: it's the fact that they used those 1,250 cards to create a wide and varied checklist, one of the best of any Flagship set ever. Backups and/or obscure guys I collect (like Todd Pratt) are galore in 2006 UD. It's kinda like if Topps Total became a base Flagship brand (think of it!).

Sets like 2006 Upper Deck gave the Todd Pratts of the world their moment in the sun.

#3 -- 2008 Upper Deck

I don't know that I have much more to say about 2008 Upper Deck other than what's already been said by countless others -- I mean, it's the best UD design of my collecting lifetime.

It checks off all the boxes for what a good Upper Deck set should look like: clean design (check), terrific photos (check), wide checklist (check), fun to collect (check). I can't think of many other sets that provided more pure pleasure on a pack-to-pack basis than 2008 UD.

With such a great and widely loved set like this one, it's a bit hard to believe that UD would be out of the baseball card business just two years later.

#2 -- 1997 Upper Deck

I'll go out on a limb and say that 1997 Upper Deck might well be not only the most underrated UD set, but the most underrated set...ever.

I love everything about '97 UD, but what really puts it over the top for me is the fact that every single photo is tracked to a specific date (and there really are a lot of awesome photos throughout the checklist). As someone who's, shall we say, obsessed with trying to track down the exact moment certain baseball card photos were snapped, this set does all the work for me.

A lot of the fun of card collecting for me is being able to hold specific moments of baseball history in my hand and, in turn, preserve those moments in my mind -- I can't think of a set that does that better than 1997 Upper Deck.

#1 -- 1993 Upper Deck

Looking back, perhaps a big reason why I never thought to do an Upper Deck countdown until now was because I knew it wouldn't be much of a contest: it's 1993 UD at the top, and then the rest of the field way far behind.

I'd argue that '93 Upper Deck is the most well-made set in baseball card history. UD's execution is simply off-the-charts here. The design is fantastic. The photos are some of the best I've ever seen. The backs are probably even my favorites in the Upper Deck catalog. Few sets get closer to sheer perfection than 1993 UD, vintage or modern.

I'll put it this way: I'm not a set builder, nor have I ever aspired to be, but often I find myself quelling the urge to complete 1993 Upper Deck. The cards in it are just that consistently spectacular (I honestly can't remember seeing a bad card from it, and the set's 840 cards strong). And as each day passes, the more and more I start to worry that one day I just won't be able to fight that urge any longer. That's how much I like 1993 Upper Deck.

And so that's a cap on it: all 22 Upper Deck sets, ranked -- much thanks to everyone who came along for the ride.


Jon said...

Even though I didn't think that you would, I'm still glad to see that '89 isn't in the #1 spot.

P-town Tom said...

1991 is my favorite, but '93 is a VERY solid choice. Loved this mini UD series!

sg488 said...

Great list,really enjoyed reading it.I hope in the future you can do other brands Fleer,Donruss,Leaf etc...

The Shlabotnik Report said...

A very fun series. I'd fogotten how much fun I had with the ginormous 2006 set. It's a bit surprising nobody has repeated the captions from the 1997 set, but maybe it turned out to be a major pain in the...

Mike said...

Cool to see these lists..UD is part of the hobby i wasnt a part of,so its nice to go in-depth on 'em..great job!

night owl said...

1993 Upper Deck is the only Upper Deck flagship set I've completed. End of story.

ketchupman36 said...

I recently opened a box of 1997 UD because I love the design of it. Glad to see it get some love

Doc Samson said...

Well done, Mr. Dime Box! Glad that you're showing '97 UD some big time love. The photography is awesome, great use of foil and the captions are brilliant. I actually like that it's smaller. It just feels like the right amount of cards and oh boy, do these cards ever display well in a binder.

JediJeff said...

You need to flip #2 and #3. In fact, I think '97 might be a little high on the list at three. I would move it to 6 and bump all the rest up one except '91.

Fuji said...

1991 is my favorite UD set design, but 1993's photography helps that set take home the crown. Great list.

Matt Prigge said...

Great list! If only there could be a 1250 card set today...

GCA said...

I like your choices, but I'd put '97 on top and '93 would fall to #4. The gold name is just hard to read sometimes, and I like team logos too much for it to win.
I was pleasantly surprised to see 2008 that high. It was probably the first UD set I've done.
And frankly, I'm glad to see someone feature one of the companies not named Topps for once.