Can Upper Deck be saved?

They may have a popular Facebook page, a hip, new blog, and the hottest athletes signed to exclusive contracts (Woods, Jordan, Lebron) but we collectors know their latest baseball efforts have been less than stellar.

Take a look at this 1998 SPx parallel of Jose Canseco. At the time of its release I was furious Upper Deck got rid of the holograms of the previous years but as a decade have passed, ’98 SPx continues to age gracefully while other products from that era don’t quite hold up as well.

For starters, every 1998 SPx card was serial numbered. It was also full of just the right amount of parallels. On the front you had a Refractor-like finish, an extremely thick card stock, and two great photographs. On the back you had yet another photograph, stats, and a paragraph of information (see here).

I hate to say this but I have not seen Upper Deck put anywhere near close to as much effort into 2009 as they did for SPx a decade and change ago. Is this the result of collector’s obsession with game-used relics and certified autographs? Who or what team designed ’98 SPx and where are they today?

There are no guaranteed relics or autographs in 1998 SPx but today you won’t find an unopened box for under $70 dollars. If you do take a plunge, you will be left with just over 50 cards from a forgotten era that looks as good if not better than most releases of the past few years.

Perfect.

There is a place on the Internet where you can buy a complete set of 1991 Topps for considerably less than a pack of 2008 SPx or Stadium Club. Having been a collector in 1991 when Topps hit a grand slam with their flagship release, it pains me to see so many collectors young and old completely ignore the past for a chance at a Kevin Millwood “game-used” relic.

What makes matters worse is that brands like SPx and Stadium Club were once beloved by collectors. Today, they stand for everything that is wrong with the Hobby. A guaranteed “hit” per pack only means you are destined to leave the card shop with a scribble from some career Minor League middle relief pitcher with a serial number almost higher than his career walks.

If you ever need a break from today’s “MOJO” and 3D animations to really enjoy collecting when it was not full of shysters and lawsuits, get yourself a complete set of ’91 Topps to enjoy what is perhaps Topps’ most underrated cardboard masterpiece of the last 50 years.

If you love baseball & collecting and want to see what can happen when a company puts all their efforts into photography and design and not into sending bats to the chipper, you will love this set. It’s such a perfect product that it can make even the biggest bum look like a legend on each card.

Benito Santiago will thank you for it.

How Upper Deck can save SPx

Hello Upper Deck, my name is Mario Alejandro.

Do you remember how obsessed your company was with the hologram? First it was a hologram on every card and a few years later you were making amazing inserts using hologram technology until finally SPx was born.

Originally, SPx was like the pretty girl in your High School Algebra class. She’d never look your way and whenever she spoke there was no substance but damn was she nice to look at. In 1996 & ’97 SPx was not about rookie cards or even prospects. It simply had the best of the best, along with some unbelievable on-hologram autographs.

You want rookie cards? May I suggest Topps Traded?

Oh, you like low serial-numbered cards? Try Pinnacle Totally Certified.

Are autographs more your style? May I recommend Donruss Signature Edition?

See, SPx wasn’t for everyone but I have never met a collector who didn’t love the early releases. So, what the hell happened? Why were the holograms kicked to the curb after just two years? You dumped holograms faster than Britney got rid of her first husband and for what?

Today SPx is perhaps the most bloated, meaningless product you guys purge from your factory. $200 dollars for $20 dollars worth of game-used memorabilia and $10 dollars worth of autographs. Why not take this opportunity to go out on a limb? Don’t lose baseball like your lost the N.B.A franchise.

What have you got to lose? Bring back holograms, include on-card autographs, and give a nod to the old school collectors who find new reasons to leave the Hobby more and more with every “dud” that hits the shelves.

If done right, 2010 Upper Deck SPx might be product of the year.

You Be the Judge! – King of 1997

If ever there was one year that catered to the infamous “Joe Collector”, it was 1997. Sure, Topps Finest had already created the favored drug of the Joe Collector years earlier with the debut of the Refractor and made them much easier to come by thanks to Bowman’s Best and Topps Chrome, but 1997 was just a special year for trading cards, maybe baseball in general.

Below are ten of my favorite releases of that very special season of trading cards. In this very special ‘You Be the Judge’ I am asking you the collector to chime in with your favorite brand from 1997. Was it SPx, with it’s beautiful and sometimes creepy holographic images? How about the first-ever release of Bowman Chrome or the original Bowman “Chrome” autographs released by Bowman’s Best? Maybe like me, you are a “Pinnacle Man” who loves Certified and Totally Certified, or perhaps you keep it old school with the bad ass Topps Finest of the year. If you collect and love this hobby and were around in 1997, this is your chance to speak your mind. Is your favorite 1997 baseball release not pictured? Please, let us know!

Finally, here is a full scan of eight of the images combined which would make a decent wallpaper, if you are a big enough card collecting nerd. Unfortunately, I had to leave out two products and chose Upper Deck SPx and Bowman’s Best. You can view the Wax Heaven wallpaper by clicking HERE.

Upper Deck SPx

Pinnacle Totally Certified

E-X 2000 (Fleer)

Donruss Signature Series

Topps Finest

Flair Showcase (Fleer)

Leaf Limited (Donruss)

Bowman’s Best

Pinnacle Certified

Bowman Chrome

A piece of art in every pack?

In my rookie season at Wax Heaven I wrote a short, little piece about the best-designed set of the 90’s, in my opinion. Now, it’s not often art and baseball gets together (unless you are the immortal Dick Perez) but in this case this is exactly what happened. The year was 1997 and Fleer was looking to make some waves in the hobby. After all, one of their competitors had put out the first-ever “Autograph per pack”, in Donruss Signatures and Upper Deck was continuing to stun collectors and observers with their innovative SPx holograms.

Fleer’s response is a perfect example of “thinking outside the box”. It was essentially, tiny pieces of art in every single pack. Check out this Astros’ Jeff Bagwell selling on eBay for a mere $5. Even more shocking is this Cal Ripken Jr. with the overcast sky behind him with no bids and a starting price of one penny. Perhaps the storm clouds were an ominous sign that next time you pulled a Ripken Jr. baseball card the amazing consecutive games streak would have come to an end.

Unfortunately, lightning never strikes twice and next seasons’s E-X line was a complete mess. By 1999, it was clear they had completely lost their way. Still, you will always have the memory of busting packs of 1997 ‘E-X 2000’ for the very first time. It was without a doubt, the greatest five packs of baseball cards I have ever opened.

Unfortunately, with the death of Fleer baseball, we have probably seen the very last of a company who truly created a “Masterpiece” for every single collector. Goodbye Fleer. Thanks for all the memories.

1997 FLEER EX 2000