In 1989, Upper Deck introduced its first baseball cards, shaking up the trading card industry. By 1993, card sets were becoming more complex with inserts and parallels beginning to take off and the company again made a bold move, releasing its 1993 SP Premium brand cards. In addition to baseball, SP cards were also printed for football and hockey.
SP was another high-end product that catered to collectors willing to spend a little more. There were some insert cards but many collectors flocked to the foil prospect cards presented in the issues as a subset. Some of them were not true rookies. For example, players included such as Chipper Jones and Manny Ramirez had earlier cards. But 25 years later, the roles for a couple of true rookies have been reversed.
Rise of the Derek Jeter Card …
Derek Jeter’s rookie is in the baseball set and high-grade examples have soared in recent years. How expensive is it? A PSA 10 1993 SP sold earlier this spring for nearly $100,000.
Jeter, for what it’s worth, was no slouch as a prospect. In 1993, he was not known by many collectors, despite being a first-round draft pick. The MLB Draft simply wasn’t as big of a deal back then and without the internet, you often didn’t hear much about the top prospects until they reached the majors or happened to live in a minor league town where they were playing. There were exceptions to that as some players were overhyped before ever playing (i.e. Brien Taylor) but, in general, even early baseball draft picks largely went under the radar.
That was the case with Jeter to some degree. Despite his rookies being distributed in 1993, Jeter didn’t surface in the majors until two years later in 1995. It wasn’t really until 1996, when he won the Rookie of the Year award, that most collectors truly began taking notice. It’s not that Jeter’s cards were largely ignored early on because he wasn’t a good player. Like any baseball rookie at the time, he was just sort of an unknown commodity, particularly with younger collectors.
Unfortunately for Jeter’s card, even though he was playing well, the hobby was taking a nosedive around that time with prices on just about everything plummeting. Since then, however, it’s obviously rebounded in a big way and that’s helped propel this card to legendary status.
The 1993 SP Jeter card, in and of itself, is not rare. Even as a card found in a premium set, there are plenty of them to go around for virtually anyone that wants one. PSA and SGC, for example, have graded more than 20,000 of them. Many ungraded copies likely exist, too. Usually, about 1,000 of them can be found on eBay at any given time. Tough card, it ain’t. But the foil on the cards have made finding perfect copies difficult and, to date, there are only 22 known with a perfect score between those two companies. That means the prices for ones in exceptional condition are through the roof.
Can the card remain that high? That will likely depend on how many more perfect-graded cards are found. For now, though, it is arguably the hottest junk era card around.
But while the Jeter 1993 SP issue is now one of the biggest cards of the decade, things were quite different at the time.
… and Fall of the Drew Bledsoe
While the baseball product was popular, the SP football cards produced by Upper Deck were arguably an even bigger hit with rookie collectors. Football card collecting was starting to gain in popularity and that helped SP’s brand.
In the early 1980s, collectors really had only one primary choice for cards in Topps. That changed, though. In 1989, Score came along producing a rare set that included a boatload of big rookie cards, including those of Barry Sanders, Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders, and more. Pro Set also jumped on board in 1989 and became a player and soon after, Fleer, Stadium Club, and others, would enter the market as producers of regular sets.
As a premium product, the 1993 SP football set was one of the hottest issues on the street at the time. Many of the collectors were just familiarizing themselves with the rookies in that set. But, unlike baseball, these were players you’d see immediately. No one benefited from that more than the No. 1 overall pick, Drew Bledsoe, who saw his card reaching new heights for a base football rookie card. The card of Bledsoe was hotter than those of the baseball rookies and really helped SP establish itself as a desirable premium brand. At the time, there was talk of it reaching $100, which was pretty rare for a base rookie.
Unlike the Jeter card, though, Bledsoe values have sunk since reaching those heights. It’s not that the quarterback had a bad career. Bledsoe was overshadowed as he ultimately lost his job in New England to Tom Brady but, overall, did pretty well for himself. He would go on to throw for more than 44,000 yards and 251 touchdown passes in a 14-year career. Suffice to say, that’s better than a lot of top quarterbacks taken early in the Draft. Jeter, however, did even better as a beloved player that will ultimately reach the Hall of Fame after being named to 14 All-Star teams and winning five World Series titles with the Yankees. And the Jeter, as mentioned, is nearly impossible to find in perfect condition.
Bledsoe’s cards, it should be noted, face similar condition issues as the Jeter cards because of the material used on them. However, they are also easier to find in top grade. PSA has graded only about 2,000 of them in all (approximately 1/10 of the Jeter card) but more than twice as many 10s have emerged (56). Bledsoe PSA 10s sell for a fraction of Jeter’s perfect cards. One recently sold on eBay for a little more than $100.
25 years ago, the popularity of these cards was reversed. But after a Hall of Fame career for Jeter and the knowledge of just how difficult it is to find in high grade, things have wound up a bit differently.