I will be the first to admit that at first sight, I had a barrel of laughs when copies of Upper Deck’s “Asterisk” autograph hit the web in 2007. I mean, really, what harm could insulting a guy like Barry Bonds really do? The card in question, seeded into tins of 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot, were put there to commemorate Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record. Then something crazy happened. Just a day or two after the debut of the asterisk card (the first sold for over a grand), there was yet another card from Upper Deck, this time taking a jab at Topps Company’s Michael Eisner. I knew it was only a matter of time before things hit the fan and by 2009, Upper Deck had lost its MLB license. Today, they are a shell of the card company they once were.
To me, Upper Deck did more for our hobby than one can really put into words. Does anyone remember just how boring and bland cards from 1988 were? Upper Deck introduced bright, crisp photography and kept bring innovations to our hobby almost every single year after their ’89 debut. Yes, somewhere along the way they missed out on the prospecting movement to Topps’ Bowman brand but did they ever really care? Their high-end releases were hands down some of the very best I have ever seen and coming from me, who has never been a fan of today’s “high-end” products, that says a lot. What’s sad is that more and more collectors today are demanding an end to Topps’ monopoly on baseball and when I really think about it, Upper Deck alone cannot do it alone. It appears that the very man who helped their company shoot for the stars in the beginning was also the man who destroyed the company’s reputation and perhaps there is only one man who can restore it.
Since my return to collecting (and it’s only been two months), I have seen all sorts of products and right now Topps is a freakishly well-oiled machine producing cards that set collectors, player collectors, prospectors, and even high-end collectors are getting behind. I’ve seen much of Panini’s offerings and while the Donruss brand was a fun restart to the 80’s favorite, much of the stuff is the same old same. On the other hand, it appears that Leaf Trading Cards and Brian Gray are truly pushing the limits and giving collectors the cards they want, albeit with limitations of no MLB logos. There was once a conspiracy rumor that Brian Gray’s Razor company (before he bought Leaf) was being financed by Upper Deck. While we may never know the truth, it’s interesting that the shoe is now on the other foot and Upper Deck needs someone like Brian to save their company before it’s too late.
As for the gimmick to end all gimmicks, the Sweet Spot asterisk card below, which doesn’t appear too often on eBay anymore, recently sold for a whopping and questionable $600 dollars. It’s still a pretty valuable card almost a decade since its debut. A card that was orchestrated by a man who ended up drinking himself to an early grave and leaving behind a family and kids. A man who stuck around just long enough to see his once great company fall apart from within. So the question we don’t have the privilege to ask is … was it all worth it? My guess is that the big shots at Topps Company sure think so.