February 21, 2008

1990 - 1994 Countdown: #23. 1992 Upper Deck

While other kids my age were busy doing whippets under the bleachers after school, I was at home, in my room, by myself, blowing my mind with the three-photo cards found in 1992 Upper Deck. Upper Deck debuted the gimmick in 1989, but it was hardly old hat three years later. I mean, did you hear me? Three photos on one card! And they all overlapped! The concept rocked then, and it still rocks today (I’ve stared at this card of Ken Griffey, Jr. now for at least five minutes straight and still can’t figure out if I’m looking at three or four overlapped photos).

With cards like these stealing the spotlight, you almost forget that 1992 Upper Deck had all the hallmarks of a great set: a fantastic design, memorable rookies, fun subsets and a checklist that didn’t turn anybody away at the door. Toss in a bizarre (yet timely) insert of Tom “Mr. Baseball” Selleck, an autographed Ted Williams Hero(es) Worship card and enough holograms to start your own hall of mirrors and you were looking at probably the best set Upper Deck had assembled up to that point. Taking nothing away from its landmark inaugural set from 1989, 1992 Upper Deck was great simply because it didn’t look cheap, with its bright colors, inviting graphics and thinly glossed stock, even though it was.

And that’s an important distinction to make. 1989 wasn’t a cheap set to buy into, even though it probably should have been: the cards, while totally revolutionary at the time, have not aged very well (outside of the Griffey rookie and two or three others). They feel flimsy, with dull, muted colors and photography that doesn’t jump as far off the page as it probably should, given the set’s stature in the hobby. But cards from 1992? Perhaps because it was never going to be (or intended to be) considered a Pillar of the Hobby-type set, it hasn’t had as far to fall. My argument’s coming out all convoluted, but the gist is that because 1990 Upper Deck missed out on one of the biggest rookies of the year (Frank Thomas) and 1991’s design can best be described as ‘eye-gougingly painful,’ the expectations for 1992’s set were very low. Obviously, Upper Deck learned from the previous two years’ mistakes and had a few tricks up their sleeves, but if anything the set’s goal seemed to have some fun out there. And it passed with flying colors (not to mention with a stash of three-photo motion cards).

I should probably also mention something about the ill-advised Comic Ball 3 set, as it featured much of the same design as 1992 Upper Deck. All I can say is that the Upper Deck writers must’ve been on something more potent than junior high-strength whippets in order to come up with coherent dialogue between Jim Abbott and the Tasmanian Devil. I mean, writing for Reggie Jackson and Daffy Duck is easy: they’re both obsessed with themselves. But Jim Abbott and Taz? First, I thought Taz could only shriek nonsense, and second, I didn’t realize Jim Abbott had enough personality to carry a conversation, much less one with a cartoon character.

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