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Baseball Heroes: From Inserts in 1990 to New Set in 2005

by Paul Angilly
June 14, 2005

What began as a groundbreaking insert 15 years ago will become a new set of its own next month when Upper Deck releases its new, $60-per-pack Baseball Heroes issue.

As mentioned in this column two weeks ago, Upper Deck introduced its "Baseball Heroes" inserts in high-number series packs in 1990 with a 10-card tribute to company spokesman Reggie Jackson. The set included eight cards detailing key moments in Jackson's career, a checklist card featuring artwork from Vernon Wells and an unnumbered title card. Also randomly inserted were 2,500 cards personally autographed by Jackson - the first certified autograph card inserts in hobby history, still valued at about $100.

Upper Deck continued the "Baseball Heroes" line the next year with insert cards of Nolan Ryan (cards #10-18, plus an unnumbered header) in first series packs and Hank Aaron (cards #19-27, plus header) in high-number series packs. In 1992 came a series of Ted Williams (#28-36, plus header) in first series packs and the "Big Red Machine" - Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan (#37-45, plus header) - in high-number packs.

The "Heroes" inserts returned in 1993 first series packs with a salute to Willie Mays. The cards, numbered 46-54 with another unnumbered header, carried on the traditional "Baseball Heroes" design with the player's image popping out of a circular photo on the front of the card and a description of a specific career highlight on the back.

But later in the year, in second-series packs, the insert line evolved a bit with a set of "Future Heroes" (#55-63, plus header) with full-bleed photos and gold-foil signatures on the front. The series included Roberto Alomar, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett and Frank Thomas, along with a collage portrait of all eight by Wells.

Each of those first seven "Baseball Heroes" sets can be found for about $5 each today (and are a great value at that price), but Upper Deck took the ongoing series a bit more upscale in 1994 with a 10-card Mickey Mantle set (cards #64-72, plus header) that was printed in much lesser quantities and still sells for around $25. The Mantle set was issued in second-series 1994 Upper Deck packs.

Second-series 1995 Upper Deck packs included Babe Ruth on "Heroes" inserts that were seeded just one per 34 packs. The set (numbered 73-81, plus an unnumbered card with - for the first time - complete career statistics on the back) included colorized photos of Ruth during his career with the Red Sox, Yankees and Boston Braves and sells for about $50 today.

The next year, the insert series continued its upscale climb, switching to the high-end Upper Deck SP set with foil-covered cards inserted at a mere one per 96 packs. The set, which still commands about $80 today, again featured current players like the "Future Heroes" set from 1993.

Pictured in the series (on cards #82-90, plus an unnumbered header) were Frank Thomas, Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Chipper Jones, Hideo Nomo, Mike Piazza, Manny Ramirez, Greg Maddux and Ken Griffey Jr. (on both a regular card and the header).

The "Baseball Heroes" line continued with the 1997 SP set, with 10 cards of Ken Griffey Jr. (#91-100), all serial-numbered out of 2,000 copies.

The set brings about $55 today.

The "Heroes" line went on a hiatus after that, but was resurrected as an insert series in packs of the 2002 Upper Deck Authentics set - a throwback series which featured the original 1989 Upper Deck design.

There were 30 "Baseball Heroes" inserts in all, each numbered out of 1,989 copies, with 10 each for Ichiro Suzuki, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. Autographed "Heroes" cards were also available for all three players.

Although they follow the same design as the original "Heroes" inserts, the cards found in 2002 Authentics were not numbered as a continuation of the original series.

Also in 2002, the Upper Deck Prospect Premieres set included 90 "Heroes of Baseball" inserts, 10 cards for each of nine different players, designed similarly to the original "Heroes" series but again numbered separately - not as a continuation of the 1990-1997 inserts. The players featured were Cal Ripken Jr., Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell, Tom Seaver, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire and Ozzie Smith.

After another two-year hiatus, "Baseball Heroes" returned in this year's 2005 Upper Deck base-brand set with a 10-card tribute to Derek Jeter in series one packs. Unlike the 2002 sets, the Jeter cards were apparently meant to be a continuation of the original series of inserts, but the numbering was a bit off. The Jeter cards are numbered 91-99, with an unnumbered header card - someone at the company apparently forgetting about the Griffey Jr. cards from 1997 that were numbered 91-100.

Big-name autographs and memorabilia cards are the main focus of the new stand-alone 2005 Upper Deck Baseball Heroes set, due out the week of July 18.

Each sealed tin - with a suggested retail price of $60 - will contain eight cards: five of 100 different regular base set cards, one of 100 different short-printed base set cards (numbered to 575 copies), one base set parallel numbered to 199 or less and one signature or memorabilia card numbered to 99 or less. All the base set and insert cards come in several parallel varieties, some numbered as 1-of-1.

A complete checklist is not yet available, but expect the base set to include 10 cards each for players including Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth. There will be just five players in the set that are not in the Hall of Fame: Thurman Munson, Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Will Clark, and Cal Ripken Jr.

One of the top features of the product is 100 cut signature cards from names including Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Cobb, Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx and Jackie Robinson.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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