February 22, 2008

1990 - 1994 Countdown: #21. 1994 SP

Yes, I can feel your stares on the back of my neck. And I’m ready for the comments expressing your incredulity at my not including this set in the top 20 of the early decade. First ’93 Upper Deck and now this? This one even has an A-Rod rookie! What, exactly, are you smoking?

Yes, 1994 SP was one of a handful of sets to including an Alex Rodriguez rookie card. Actually, it had four of them, plus a special autographed version available through Upper Deck Authenticated. But this is not the A-Rod Countdown, so I’ve approached sets with Rodriguez rookies like I did a few years back with those sets with Canseco, Clemens, Bonds and other hobby titan rookies (nice company, eh Alex?). This hasn’t been done to spread my personal dislike of Rodriguez, but because sets have to be rated objectively. Maybe you don’t agree with my rankings (and wait till you see who made the top ten!). That’s fine; let’s open the debate. I’m not doing this countdown to make friends (or really enemies, for that matter).

1994 SP was a beauty of a set. The cards weren’t the first to be printed on metallic stock, but they were the first to silhouette the players in such a way that they appeared grounded in reality, not floating through some Lawnmower Man alternative dimension. They were little pieces of gold, and packs were insanely expensive for the time (and today. Have you tried buying a pack? Forget it. It will probably run you $20 or more, and I’m guessing that it will keep going up as Rodriguez races towards the career home run mark).

I only bought one pack of these when they came out, and even though I got mostly commons—though check out the Delgado die-cut; yeahhh boy-eee—I coveted them like they were the treasure of the Sierra Madre.

But so what? As Upper Deck’s answer to the Finest and Leaf brands, SP may have been the popular choice as 1994’s king of the premiums, but that wasn’t exactly a tall order: Topps Finest couldn’t rebottle the magic of its debut set in 1993 and Leaf/Limited wasn’t that great (though it too had a Rodriguez rookie on its checklist). And besides, SP was the hot shit second fiddle to Topps Finest in 1993. That Upper Deck’s competitive fire was enough to turn the tables on Topps in 1994 was almost to be expected. That’s the way things work.

I’m not trying to come across as downplaying a set of SP’s caliber, but I… ah forget it. Call this set #17. Dammitt… now I have to rethink my top twenty.

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