By 2008, I was deep into my baseball card addiction. I spent 7 days a week writing, sorting, scanning, trading, and buying cards. During this time, thanks to the growing popularity of Topps’ Superfractor, Upper Deck was far behind in the hearts and minds of collectors. Frankly, Topps was just cranking out far too many Refractors with Upper Deck having no well-known or popular parallel to compete. Baseball cards had suddenly become a one-horse race.
This was a much different scene than the one collectors enjoyed in 1990, when Upper Deck, in only their second year as a company, was laying the smackdown on Topps, Fleer, Score, and Donruss. Coming off an enormous debut in 1989, Upper Deck turned up the volume to 11 by releasing the first ever, pack-inserted certified autograph with a Reggie Jackson Baseball Hero insert #’d to 2,500.
While no one can deny that pack-inserted autographs changed the world of sports cards FOREVER, it wasn’t something to brag about 18 years later. By 2008, the climate had changed once again and now it was 1/1 Superfractors that were dominating the scene and Topps was in complete control. That didn’t stop Upper Deck from paying tribute to their ancient idea from 1990 by producing 2008 Baseball Heroes.
The product was full of star autographs, young and old. Each hobby and retail box were absolutely loaded with serial numbered parallels (and lots of color), and many of their game-used patches, which were growing stale even back then, came with stripes. It should have been a perfect, mid-level product but there was just something missing. It was like going to your high school reunion and finding your crush with 5 kids by 4 different men.
2008 Baseball Heroes was heartbreaking.
To make matters worse, the product was a dud from the start. This, followed by a very unpopular 2008 SPx, a once God-like release, signaled the official changing of the guards in the hobby. I consider the last few years of Upper Deck to be a complete disaster. It was a time when the company seemed to completely give up on new designs and concepts and chose to rely heavily on nostalgia and gimmicks like game-used relics and autographs.
I remember seeing boxes of 2008 Baseball Heroes for under $100 at my local card shop but I instead chose 2008 Bowman Chrome, which at the time, was so much damn fun. I wasn’t alone, either. I spent the next year passing by blaster boxes of Baseball Heroes sitting untouched at my local retailers. They were more likely to start growing mold than they were to sell, even at $20. Eventually, they hit $15 and one by one began to vanish.
It’s now 2021 and I have to say, I’d give anything for a re-release of Baseball Heroes. They say you don’t know what you have till it’s gone and while I did take Upper Deck for granted in their final years, I would have never expected them to lose their license. I was a long time fan of the company who felt they needed a refresher but seeing what happened in 2009 with the Topps monopoly makes me look back in sadness and regret.
Baseball Heroes wasn’t fresh or popular at the time. If there were 40 products released between Upper Deck and Topps in 2008, Heroes would fall somewhere down the middle. Still, at its price point it delivered just enough “hits” and serial numbered cards to keep the hit-chasers happy. The memory of collectors can be very short-termed, but this is one product from Upper Deck’s final years that I believe will stand the test of time.