They were no longer newcomers. In fact, as the collecting year unfolded, it had become pretty clear that in four short seasons, Upper Deck was producing the most desirable baseball cards on the market.
While the other trading card makers seemed reluctant to push the envelope much, Upper Deck continued to produce higher quality, more expansive products while hitching their wagon to baseball history.
The 1992 Upper Deck Baseball base set consisted of 800 cards split between 700 initial cards released in the first printing and a 100-card “High Series.” This would be the last year that Upper Deck did the Low/High series breakdown.
Wax boxes consisted of 36 packs per box with 15 cards per pack and an MSRP of $1.00 that year. 20 boxes were found in each case. A jumbo box consisted of 20 packs per box with 27 cards per pack and an MSRP of $2.19. There was also a standard factory set available.
The card design offers some crisp photography that spans the majority of the card front. There is a thin, clean white border surrounding the card with the Upper Deck logo in the upper left hand corner with a ball traveling left to right. The upper right hand corner holds the player’s name and black text and you will find a nice, clean team logo in one of the two bottom corners of the card.
The card backs offer the player’s name, team name and position in a thin strip on the left hand side running bottom to top. You will find a few years individual stats that culminate in career stats just to the left of the name bar. A full color image takes up the rest of the back of the card. The card number is found in the upper left-hand corner with the classic Upper Deck hologram just to the right.
The rookie crop was rather light for the product. It featured nearly 50 true RCs, most notably Manny Ramirez, who was a blossoming slugger in Cleveland, and Shawn Green, who was a star for a brief time with the Blue Jays. You can also find rookie cards of two sport star Brian Jordan, Los Angeles Dodgers Rookie of the Year Raul Mondesi, and Pat Mahomes, who enjoyed a long pitching career and later became dad to one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks.
The base set was jam-packed with various subsets and started off with the Star Rookie subset. You could find a few of the aforementioned rookies and also what’s considered a second year Pedro Martinez card in this offering.
This was right in the middle of Upper Deck doing the painted team checklists, which featured one of the team leaders on the front with hometown and home stadium design work and the entire team checklist on the reverse of the card. The Texas Rangers card features a painted image of Nolan Ryan, apparently showing his young son Reese how to properly grip a ball.
The paintings were done by Vernon Wells, Sr whose son Vernon Wells, Jr. played for the Toronto Blue Jays for a time in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. There are a number of other fun sketch cards sprinkled throughout the set.
Cards number 51 through 77 were labeled Top Prospects. This is where you would find the Shawn Green and Manny Ramirez rookie cards.
There was a Bloodlines subset which featured a handful of cards of fathers, sons, brothers and cousins who star at the Big League level. The design is very similar to the base set with the addition of a Bloodlines logo found in the corner of the card.
The standout card in the set is a great card of Ken Griffey Senior, Junior and less successful brother Craig. It’s a fun subset on the heels of many companies tying baseball playing families to the hobby.
The 1992 Upper Deck set, on top of having crisp photography and a high-end feel, offered a number of funny photos. Look no further than Cecil Fielder being tended to on a lawn chair with a water bottle by the San Diego Chicken.
Billy Ripken’s card shows him on one knee, batting helmet on backwards, seemingly taking a picture on what appears to be a very expensive camera.
Toward the end of the series one set you would find American League Major League Diamond Skills subset which featured “awards” given to players including the honor of Most Exciting Player which, not surprisingly was Griffey, Jr.
The National League Diamond skills subset was found in the high series packs.
A third prospect driven subset called Diamond Debuts was found towards the end of the high series set and featured Brett Boone, Pat Listach and the aforementioned Patrick Mahomes, Sr. UD adds a cool Diamond Debuts logo to the design.
The inserts start off with the SPs. Card number SP3 was a beautiful card of two-sport sensation Deion Sanders. With its horizontal design, Prime Times Two races from the right hand side of the card, in full Atlanta Falcons gear, ball in hand, taking off towards the end zone and through the magic of frame by frame photography, is transformed into his Atlanta Braves uniform, taking off on the base path.
The quadruple exposure card is unique and one of my personal favorites, not only in this set but of the entire era. A similarly styled card is the Ken Griffey Jr. triple exposure that showcases the sweetest swing in baseball history in perfect segments.
PSA 10 examples of this otherwise “junk wax era” card typically sell for $50 or more.
SP 4 was a card that featured Tom Selleck in New York Yankees gear which, in reality, was a promotional card for the 1992 movie Mr. Baseball.
As a cool side note, you will see Frank Thomas in the background for maybe the first and last time in full Yankees gear- pinstripes and all. If you flip the cardboard over you will see Magnum P.I. raking during a BP session.
The incomparable Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams was the focus of the Baseball Heroes series for Upper Deck this year. Exclusive to low series packs there is a 10 card Ted Williams BH subset. The set highlights many of Teddy Ballgame’s career achievements from his Triple Crown to his Hall of Fame induction and everything in between.
On the bottom of each low series wax box was an oversized copy of a Williams Baseball Heroes card.
Speaking of The Splendid Splinter, there’s also a Ted Williams hologram card, which is a holographic version of the Baseball Heroes checklist card also inserted into the series one packs.
Home Run Heroes is an insert set that features each team’s home run leader for the 1991 season. One HRH insert card was placed into each of the low series jumbo pack.
The card design and feel is very similar to the base of the exception of a large, sparkling gold colored bat with the words ‘Home Run Heroes’ scrolled on the left hand side of the card running bottom to top.
Next up in the insert lineup is the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball set. Upper Deck had organized a number of Old-Timers games at Major League Baseball stadiums around the country. Corresponding to such games, Upper Deck also organized various card shows. Dealers who had tables and set up at Heroes of Baseball card shows were able to purchase a run of the 1992 Upper Deck low series boxes that contained an exclusive Heroes of Baseball insert set that features Vida Blue, Lou Brock, Rollie Fingers and a card with the combination of all three legends.
The UD Baseball Heroes series plugged forward and in the high series offered Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. Bench was featured on the first three cards with Morgan on the second three. The two Big Red Machine stars shared the last three cards.
They also appeared on high series wax box bottoms, similar to the Ted Williams offering in the low series product.
Ted Williams’ endorsement deal with Upper Deck also played out on an insert set called “Ted Williams’ Best Hitters in the Game.” The design features a nice, crisp full color image of the player on the front with the lower quarter of the card offering a design that featured a Ted Williams facsimile signature and a black box that had a title for the player featured such as the best hitter in the game and then the players name at the very bottom of the card front.
The card backs featured a quote from Ted Williams about the featured player. This 20-card set included the likes of Barry Bonds, Ricky Henderson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Frank Thomas among others.
Scouting Report was an insert series found in high series jumbo packs. The 25-card set showcased a full color image of the player with the words Scouting Report scrolled from the bottom of the card to the top and the left hand corner.
The back of the card featured a clipboard with a polaroid of the player, some handwritten information and a paragraph of biographical information about the prospect. Future Hall of Famer Jim Thome was the biggest star in the set.
Upper Deck was not done with the hologram idea as they also offered a College Players of the Year set, with three players who were winners of the 1989, 1991 and 1992 Golden Spikes Award in college baseball.
Inserted into high series packs, you can find David McCarty, Mike Kelly and Ben McDonald.
Next up is Heroes Highlights which similar to the Heroes of Baseball cards. Selected dealers that set up shop at the aforementioned shows were also entitled to purchase a special run of Upper Deck high series boxes that contained the exclusive Heroes Highlights inserts. There was a much smaller run of the Heroes Highlights in relation to the Heroes of Baseball inserts, actually making it one of the more difficult insert sets to find from the dreaded junk wax era.
Some of the all-time greats are featured in the 10 card set including, you guessed it, Ted Williams, Brooks Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.
As Upper Deck continued to set the standard as far as product quality, ingenuity and revolutionary ideas, one of the most iconic autograph inserts ever was produced by the company this year. Signed and numbered Ted Williams autographed cards were randomly inserted into the product. The Baseball Heroes checklist card, with its beautiful painted front, was the recipient of the Williams signature. This card, coupled with a dual signed and numbered Bench/Morgan autograph offering made this one of the more memorable early hits in the hobby, although they were very tough to pull.
The 1992 Upper Deck set marked a broadening effort by the company to include multiple subsets, inserts and autographs while showcasing its relationship with baseball’s retired stars.
The company produced a lot of product, so boxes, sets and most singles are inexpensive today but a 30-year retrospective shows the upstart card maker’s extensive efforts to set itself apart have held up quite well.