The odds are that you collected baseball cards if you became a fan of the sport while you were in elementary school. Former Yankees pitcher and noted author Jim Bouton said in his book “Ball Four” that as a kid he wanted to become a ballplayer so that he could have his picture on a Topps baseball card. It’s that kind of immortality that appeals to both players and collectors. In the 1960s, when Bouton played, and when I was an avid card collector, Topps was the exclusive maker of baseball cards.
In the 1980s, baseball cards became a very hot collectible commodity as prices soared for all the stuff in the shoe boxes that moms took delight in throwing out. Major League Baseball, and its players union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, sensing this increased interest, allowed other companies to enter the market, such as Fleer, Donruss and Upper Deck. MLB and the MLBPA figured that competition between Topps and its assorted rivals would lead to more revenue.
A saturated market, combined with a downturn in the economy, eventually forced Fleer to merge with Upper Deck, and for Donruss to concentrate on other sports.
Last Friday, MLB announced that it had signed a long-term exclusive deal with Topps to produce baseball cards. That announcement would seemingly extinguish all competition for the firm. Upper Deck, however, had just signed a licensing deal with the players union and has said that it will stay in the business.
The question, of course, is how does Upper Deck continue to manufacture baseball cards if it can no longer photograph players in Major League Baseball uniforms or use any MLB logos and trademarks including team names?
My guess is that Upper Deck will have players dress in generic uniforms that come as close to that of their teams without getting in legal hot water. Derek Jeter, for example, could wear a pinstripe baseball jersey that has the generic name “New York” in dark blue lettering but is not the official Yankees uniform.
Another option is that Upper Deck, with the help of the players association, will design apparel for baseball players. On the Mets’ last homestand, the players association held a press conference at Citi Field with Omir Santos, Bobby Parnell, JJ Putz, Daniel Murphy and Gary Sheffield in which they modeled T-shirts and hats they had helped create.
Two weeks ago, when the Mets were in the midst of a five-game winning streak and giving their fans a glimmer of hope, Channel 11 ran a promo for an upcoming Mets telecast that stated, “David Wright hasn’t given up and neither should you!”
When I asked Wright his thoughts on that, he seemed a bit mortified about what his teammates would think. “I haven’t seen the ad yet and I hope the guys don’t see it,” he said. “They will get all over me about it.”
“So I guess that you don’t want that to become a 2009 rallying cry the way Tug McGraw’s ‘You Gotta Believe!’ was in 1973?” I queried. “Absolutely not!” he quickly retorted.
Given the Mets’ putrid play in San Diego last weekend, Wright proved to be prescient.