Diamonds in the Junk – 1990 Upper Deck Baseball5 min read

For collectors of a certain age there is something oddly comforting about junk wax cards. Far too many were printed, they’re littered with quasi-errors and print issues, and “rare” chase cards are numbered in the thousands. However, they are also full of players who are now in their respective halls of fame, the cards are necessary parts of many PSA Set Registries and a $5 or $10 investment can still bring hours of enjoyment. Not a bad deal. Here is the latest installment in the PSA Blog series called Diamonds in the Junk, where we crack some junk wax, review the results, relate them to the hobby today and have fun along the way. Today I review 1990 Upper Deck baseball cards.


The 1990 Upper Deck set is kind of interesting. Following along on the heels of the iconic 1989 issue, ’90 UD was highly-anticipated back in the day and collectors scrambled for product as it was released… and released… and released. Looking back on that set through the lenses of nearly 30-year-old hobby glasses, this set that was once so loved is now essentially cast aside after being labeled with the moniker of death that is “junk wax.”

It’s kind of unfortunate, really. The 1990 UD set contains really good-looking cards. In fact, I believe it to be one of the nicest sets of the 1990s. The design is clean and simple, photography is crisp and interesting, the card stock is snow white and the overall presentation is very attractive. There are 700 cards in the base set, that were later accompanied by a 100-card update that was labeled as the High Series.

Upper Deck included a handful of Rookie and Team Checklist subsets within the 1990 issue, along with a handful of special cards like Bo Jackson‘s #75 all-star card. There are some error cards that come mostly in the form of incorrect photos being used, as well as cards with-and-without copyright information and a handful with incorrect statistics. None made the same splash as UD’s Dale Murphy reverse negative card of the year before, but they still add a slight twist to opening packs.

The rookie crop was very hot in 1990, but has dimmed considerably with time. Sammy Sosa (#17), Juan Gonzalez (#72), John Olerud (#56) and Larry Walker (#466) were the notable RCs of the day. A solid number of eventual Hall of Fame players are featured, some appearing on multiple cards


I have mixed feelings about opening older UD packs. I typically enjoy the cards that are revealed with each rip, but I must admit that I detest how the cards come out backward, upside down and front side up. I realize that this makes me sound like some sort of card geek diva, but I feel that it really spoils the opening experience. Is it too much to ask for the cards to come out all facing the same way? And while we are at it, I don’t much care for the hologram stickers that come in every pack, either.

Now that my griping is out of the way, I will say that this was otherwise an enjoyable box break. I really can’t overstate the attractiveness of these cards. The set is loaded with beautiful action shots, and my box had a bundle of them. Bo Jackson (#105), Dwight Gooden (#114), Ryne Sandberg (#324), Benito Santiago (#325), Lou Whitaker (#327) and Andy Allanson (#590) were among my favorites. I pulled two of the Andy McGaffigan (#597 – Rich Thompson pictured on front) error cards, in addition to corrected versions of the others, and all of my cards included appropriate copyright information.

While I didn’t get all of the possible HOF players in cards #1-#700, I did pull Craig Biggio, (2) Barry Larkin, (2) Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Greg Maddux, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Roger Clemens, Ryne Sandberg, (2) Andre Dawson, (2) Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Nolan Ryan, Alan Trammell and a Wade Boggs. What I didn’t get was a Ken Griffey Jr., which might have caused a minor uproar back in the day, but is now merely something to mention.


This is a tough one to quantify. On a positive note, the cards are beauties, there are a lot of great players and this set built upon the revolutionary ’89 release. The flip-side reveals crummy pack construction, questionable collation, a whopping $12 price tag (we are talking junk wax, so “whopping” is relative) and nothing really specific to chase. It’s kind of a toss-up, but I tend to see more positive than negative with these cards. A Griffey would have been nice, but at this point, raw examples are not quite a dime-a-dozen but pretty close, and I did get a bundle of other cool cards. I probably could have gotten a carne asada burrito AND rolled tacos for my $12, but I don’t really need the calories and this break did result in a couple of hours spent enjoyably, so no complaints there. The 1990 Upper Deck box doesn’t deserve a top grade, but there is also no need to unnecessarily slam a pretty decent product.



I just love this card and so I’m selecting it as my Diamond in the Junk. Anyone who was around during Bo Jackson‘s short time in the spotlight can’t help but believe that the entire sports-loving world was cheated of the day he suffered a hip injury as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders. The guy was simply a joy to watch at everything he did. What a loss.

Posted by Todd Tobias

Todd Tobias is a longtime hobbyist and PSA staff member who is constantly on the hunt for vintage lacrosse issues and autographed cards for his American Football League (1960-1969) collection.

Johnny Robinson - Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019!!!

4 thoughts on “Diamonds in the Junk – 1990 Upper Deck Baseball5 min read

  1. Love this set. I have to admit, the salad shooter way they come out of a pack really dampens my experience too. I feel like I’m sorting cards instead of ripping packs.

    No mention of the Ben McDonald or Mike Witt errors? McDonald was white hot back in the day and the Witt is still highly sought after.

    1. I love the salad shooter reference, Adolfo. Tops quality description right there!

      Good call on the McDonald and Witt errors. I probably should have dropped those in.

  2. Hi, thanks so much for this. I’m not a collector or have anywhere near the passion you display here. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous of that and it makes memories of carrying binders full of cards to friends houses for trading.

    I have somehow come to possess an error card from this set with Rickey Henderson on the front and #367 Carlton Fisk on the back. Any chance you might have info on this card? I can’t seem to find anything on it anywhere.

    1. Hey Eric,

      Thanks for the note! It sounds like you have what is known in the hobby as a wrong-back. Basically, cards in which unmatching fronts and backs have been accidentally matched up and issued in packs that way. These are fun and quirky and can be desired by certain player or set collectors, but they typically don’t have great value over the price of the standard card. Still a neat card to have!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.