Upper Deck burst on the baseball card scene, walked up to the plate and cracked what the hobby generally regarded as a grand slam home run with their first baseball product in 1989. Right from the leadoff position with Ken Griffey, Jr.’s iconic rookie card, the company set the tone as the new leader in premium baseball card products. That first offering became as impactful as any first release in modern baseball card history.
The following three seasons didn’t produce the same kind of long term buzz. 1990, 1991 and 1992 Upper Deck Baseball releases were produced in large quantity and didn’t offer much in the way of fresh looks. The company seemed to be focused on its “Baseball Heroes” chase cards and growing its insert game. In 1993, the company dipped into its bag of tricks and took the trading card game to the next level with a secondary product that delivered not only a new look but a card that collectors are still talking about 29 years later.
1993 Upper Deck SP was the newest in a baseball card arms race of “premium” products. It would be a bar setting (and bar raising) offering by which all mid 90’s premium cards would be judged. With Topps debuting their own higher end product called Finest in 1993 and Fleer offering the fancy Flair product, more expensive options were suddenly multiplying.
The 290-card, single series set was released in 12 card, 24 pack boxes. The cards showcase beautiful imagery (look no further than card number 4 in the set, Ken Griffey, Jr., or Darryl Strawberry on card number 99) and a minimal card design.
The cards are basically borderless with a thin stripe at the bottom of the card with the player’s name and position. You will find a bronze foil SP logo just above the name plate on the right hand side of the card and a thin foil line extending up the right side going toward the top. It forms an arch which is where the team name (or All-Star status) is located. There is a two color block bar in the top left corner of the card.
The Premier Prospects subset cards make up the last 18 cards of the set. They feature a background entirely made of foil with the SP logo and the bottom right hand corner, the player name in a gold shimmer at the bottom, the position and team name flowing up the left hand side of the card in two colored boxes with the Upper Deck text and neat gold wave at the top. Backs offer great imagery with a nice action shot (or shots on the Premier Prospects cards) and all of the stats and bio information you would come to expect.
SP was a late season product and the first 18 cards of the set replicated the starting lineup for the 1993 MLB All-Star Game. From card 19 on, the set was arranged alphabetically by team name with exactly nine cards per team: perfect for a starting lineup or a nine pocket sheet for your album or binder. Somebody at the company was really thinking ahead.
Card number 271 in the set starts the run of the aforementioned Premier Prospects, an extremely condition sensitive 20- card foil covered subset. These cards offer crisp pictures of upcoming talent with the remainder of the card being covered in a shiny silver foil. Most notably is card number 279. It would become Derek Jeter’s most valuable rookie card by wide margin.
The card isn’t super rare. You can find plenty of graded copies online anytime.
A quick look at the PSA population report shows over 19,000 of ‘The Captain’s’ 1993 SP RCs graded with only a stunning 21 copies scoring the ever elusive PSA 10. The BGS version of the card has found the 9.5 Gem Mint holder 275 times, with NO BGS 10 Pristine copies in existence. You can all but forget about seeing a Black Label, ever. Even PSA 9 (just over 600 examples) and BGS 9 Mint cards sell for thousands of dollars.
Aside from Jeter, Boston Red Sox legend Johnny Damon’s best rookie card is found in the Premier Prospects subset as are second year cards of Chipper Jones, Carlos Delgado and Manny Ramirez.
Not only are the eye catching foil cards beyond condition sensitive, both they and the standard cards tend to brick coming out of packs, especially decades later, which leads to chipping, peeling and sometimes flat out ripping the face off a card. No bueno.
Still, factory sealed hobby boxes routinely sell the $4,500- $5,500 range, with individual packs selling for north of a Benjamin.
Back in 1993, Upper Deck managed to produce a premium product that offered no autographs, game used material or serial numbered cards, which seems impossible by today’s standards. The lone insert set is a die cut offering called Platinum Power which features 20 of the biggest sluggers in the Big Leagues including Griffey, Frank Thomas and other big boppers.
With a busy, wordy, stats based background and crisp imagery, the cards really stand out. The inserts fall one per nine packs.
1993 Upper Deck SP Baseball came along at a time in the hobby when everything was firing on all cylinders. Dealers couldn’t get enough product. Collectors couldn’t spend enough money and the card company’s couldn’t produce enough cards. As we all know, that alI came to a screeching halt later in the decade when things came crashing down but 1993 SP Baseball stands as a beacon of quality, value and a worthwhile product in the midst of the craziness that was early ’90s market oversaturation.