Upper Deck Baseball Cards

Angels pitcher DeWayne Buice happened to walk into the Upper Deck trading card store in 1987. Bill Hemrick, the owner, was able to strike a friendship. Hemrick had a plan to produce high quality cards for Major League Baseball, but Hemrick had been told by the Player’s Association that new bids would not be accepted for three years.

Hemrick and Buice became business partners. Buice agreed to a 12 percent stake if he could acquire the rights, and he became instrumental to the process. In late December of 1988, the rights had been acquired. Buice made $200,000 as a player, and he received $17 million from the deal with Upper Deck.

Two months after receiving the MLBPA license, Upper Deck jumped into the baseball card trading scene on February 23, 1989 with its first produced cases. The brand was immediately popular. It sold out its first release midway through its first year, and its second release was sold out during presale.

Licensing for the NHL, NBA, and NFL soon followed in 1990. Upper Deck took the hobby by storm by strongly rivaling Topps. Upper Deck was the first company to be licensed by all four years since 1980.

Upper Deck brought innovation to the hobby. Part of the reason for the quick sale of the second season was that Upper Deck offered autograph inserts. They followed this up with inserts of game used material (pieces of jerseys, nets, etc.). The company introduced high quality stock, excellent photography, and more dynamic designs.

Other companies soon followed in competition, fighting to make their own premium brands. The sports card industry was evaluated at $50 million in 1980. By 1992 the evaluation was up to $1.5 billion.

Many consider Upper Deck to be the most important modern brand because they helped the industry skyrocket through competition.

However, with all other major brands, the industry was changed by a series of lockout and negotiations across multiple sports starting in the mid 1990s, as well as the pitfalls of overproduction. Upper Deck was hit hard. For example, the six year payment plan of DeWayne Buice took up practically all of Upper Deck’s profits in 1995 and 1996.

Upper Deck continued to produce high quality cards. They purchased Fleer in 2005, and Upper Deck was competitive enough to bid on the sale of Topps in 2007.

The major sports leagues began to consolidate the card distributors in the 2000s. Upper Deck lost the NFL, NBA, and MLB. The company continued to produce many cards by simply omitting official trademarks.

Upper Deck is different today, though it remains successful. The 250 employees work to produce a variety of figurines, memorabilia, and toys that include the major sports, as well as other collectible items. Upper Deck produces hockey cards through their purchase of O-Pee-Chee, and they have delved into other areas such as Yu-Gi-Oh with the acquisition of Konami in 2002.

Though they produce far fewer cards, Upper Deck sells items such as game used helmets, balls, and jerseys with an autograph, or there are more creative displays.

For trading cards, Upper Deck has a strong legacy. They are a company that helped drive the boom and bust of the 90s, which created superior cards along the way.

There is no better place to look than Upper Deck’s effect on baseball cards, and there is no better place to start than the 1989 Upper Deck.

1989 Upper Deck

The inaugural set for Upper Deck had 800 cards of standard sized. The cards were released in two series. Series one had cards 1-700, and series two had cards 701-800. The second series of cards had a blend of the first two series. They came at the price of $1.00 per pack which was very high at the time.

The cards were noted for the high quality paper stock. They had a bold image on the front with the player’s name and team logo on the bottom. The backs of the cards had a hologram card which worked against counterfeiters.

Cards 1 through 26 are under the Star Rookie subset. The major rookie cards are Ken Griffey Jr. (#1), Sandy Alomar Jr., John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, and Jim Abbot. A notable veteran card has Nolan Ryan throwing a football.

1990 Upper Deck

This set was explosive upon release. It sold out almost immediately because Upper Deck inserted autographed cards into the set. However, it has not stood up exceptionally well over time because so many of the cards are available today in high grade.

It was an 800 card set with the same series division as the 1989 Upper Deck. The set contained a diversity between action and still shot, and the photograph quality was heavily praised.

The major rookie cards are for Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker, and John Olerud.

1991 Upper Deck

The 1991 release was similar to the 1989 with 800 cards released in two series of 1-700 and 701-800. The stock and design were also similar.

The major rookie cards include Eric Karros, Chipper Jones, Mike Mussina, Luiz Gonzalez, and Jeff Bagwell. The regular issue cards of Ryne Sandberg, Nolan Ryan, and George Brett are also featured. As a side note, Upper Deck inserted a Michael Jordan card into the packs.

1992 Upper Deck

The cards remained at 800 in the same two series format for 1992. The cards feature an action shot on the front with the player’s name, team, and the Upper Deck logo.

The major rookie card is Manny Ramirez, and Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome are some notable regular issue cards.

1993 Upper Deck

The 1993 Upper Deck has 840 cards of standard size. The cards are split into two series of equal size. The set continued with its high quality designs, particularly in the photo and card stock. Upper Deck also continued to innovate sports sets with inserts.

The most important rookie card is that of Derek Jeter. The Gold Hologram insert of Derek Jeter is more valuable, and it is worth $1300.

1994 Upper Deck

The 1994 Upper Deck set consists of 550 cards. While the major rookie card is for Alex Rodriguez, there are Michael Jordan cards. These are considered some of the best MJ baseball cards.

From here, Upper Deck went through some troubled seasons. While Upper Deck had left their mark on the industry, baseball cards would continue to change. There are some excellent rookie and other cards, but consolidation was looming ahead.

2010 Upper Deck

We skip ahead to last set released by Upper Deck that contained MLB logos.

This set was released in the midst of controversy. Upper Deck released the set after their contract had expired with MLB. Upper Deck was quickly sued by MLB and the exclusive distributor Topps. A settlement was reached, and Upper Deck was allowed to release the second series.

This set consists of 600 cards with multiple parallels and subsets. The fronts of the cards have an action shot, the Upper Deck logo in the top corner, player name, team name, and position. The backs were printed horizontally.


Baseball cards, as well as the cards of all sports, were changed by the influence of Upper Deck. They brought higher expectations to the market. Brands needed better designs, higher quality stock and photographs, and more engaging inserts and parallels. Even though Upper Deck focuses on other revenue streams today, the industry improved as a result of Upper Deck’s contributions.