Thursday, April 21, 2016

1989 Upper Deck Baseball Randy Johnson Proof Card

Collectors who are interested in oddball cards may also have a natural interest in collecting proof cards. To be clear: over the years, several insert and parallel sets have used the "proof" name in their title, but this is nothing more than a title... True proof cards are printed for the purpose of in-house analysis; colors are checked, designs and photos are approved, and paper stock is tested.

Proof cards, and other production items like original artwork and player contracts, first became widely available to the market in 1989 when Topps teamed with the Guernsey auction house. In an unprecedented move, Topps opened their virtually secret archives and released several hundred items to a hungry hoard of sports and non-sports card collectors (the proceeds were donated to various charities). 

In the modern internet age, proofs from all the major cardmakers of the 1980s and 90s have found their way into the market, with some examples being scarcer than others. One random example comes from Upper Deck, who released their inaugural baseball set to much fanfare back in 1989. This particular proof card features rookie fireballer Randy Johnson on the front, and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor on the back. 

I no longer collect proofs per se, and actually sold most of my proof collection a few years back when I decided to focus on collecting oddball cards... But every now and then a proof will catch my eye, and if the price is right, I might just add it to my cardboard compendium. This Johnson/Molitor proof is one such instance, which I snagged off of eBay for a very reasonable sum.

I have closely examined both the front and reverse, and both sides appear to be similar to their issued versions. One difference I did notice, though, is how dark the Molitor graphics appear on the back. While a shadow already darkens most of Molitor's face and chest in his photo, the deep and heavy application of color on the proof renders his face almost featureless. The proof is also missing the hologram that should be found on the back of an issued card. 

The Johnson/Molitor pairing is a fortunate combination for the card owner, but isn't totally random. Randy Johnson's card is number 25 in the 1989 UD set, while Paul Molitor takes card number 525. Upper Deck's uncut sheets featured cards printed in numerical order, with each sheet containing 100 cards. Therefore, if Johnson did not have his own reverse, he'd likely share it with Bob Horner (#125), Bert Blyleven (#225), Don August (#325), Kevin Bass (#425) or Paul Molitor (#525).

Proof cards are a great way to supplement a player or team collection, and anyone looking to add a truly rare item to their archives needs to be diligent with their eBay search... It will surely pay off over time.


  1. I am a fan of the proof cards like this one. I just love it when cards are mis-matched front and back, uncut or unfinished in any way.

    1. I agree. Sometimes I want to drift back into proof collecting, but I have to draw the line somewhere!!