Thursday, February 12, 2015

That's a Wrap!

In the past two months, I've watched the series finales for three of the better television shows I've ever had the pleasure of viewing: Sons of Anarchy, Dexter and, this past week, The Sopranos (yes, I was way behind on two of the three). One thing each had in common (besides the violence) was an ending that left many viewers unsatisfied (and even angry, in some cases). Ambiguity surrounding the fate of certain characters and story lines that didn't go where we thought they would are the primary complaints I've heard. I guess we set ourselves up for disappointment when we invest ourselves wholeheartedly into such things.

Which has me thinking... since we only have one licensed MLB card manufacturer, how did the 'finale' turn out for each of the other card companies? Were we happy with the outcome- did it end with a bang, or a whimper? Is there a possibility of a 'spinoff'? Today, we'll look at one of the last two men standing, so to speak.

True to tradition, the 2010 edition of Upper Deck included its iconic 'Star Rookies' subset- the one that got it all started in 1989.

Despite not having the license to include Major League Baseball team logos, here they are- clear as day. The company claimed there was no way around not including at least partial logos/team names. They also claimed to have chosen photographs where the logos weren't so conspicuous.

Did they succeed? I think they genuinely tried to not make the logos so blatantly recognizable- but I don't buy into their claim that there's no way around their inclusion. Companies (yes, even UD) had been airbrushing/photo-shopping for years.

Once again, the company made the photo the primary focus of the 2010 set, and they didn't disappoint. I love the colorful, full-bleed pictures and the use of a profile picture for each player. While some didn't care for the forest green color along the bottom panel, I found it quite refreshing. I also found it quite fitting that their final baseball product would include green along the edges- just as their first set had.

Card backs contained the typical career stats, with a brief write-up. It has a nice, earthy-look to it. 

Team checklists- a staple to the brand. The set also included a beautiful subset featuring the different major league parks.

Of all the card companies that we have come to know and love, I have to think that the loss of Upper Deck is the one that cuts the deepest for most collectors. Sure, their business ethics were called into question on more than one occasion, but they were second to none when it came to innovation and superb photography. 

But for me, one of the biggest losses of the 2010 baseball card season (besides the 'Update' series that didn't get released) was the deal they struck with Greg Maddux to have his autographs included in their 2010 products. Greg's a pretty tough signature to get, resulting in hefty prices, so I've got to believe that this would have made his autograph much more reasonably priced.

It's been five years now since the final Upper Deck MLB product was released, and its demise certainly left me with unanswered questions. If they had played fair and put out a product(s) that did not violate the terms of their agreement, would we still be seeing baseball products from the company that revolutionized the hobby as we know it today? Would collectors' opinions be different concerning unlicensed products? Would we now have two MLB licensees? How mind blowing would the company's 25th anniversary baseball product have been? Furthermore, a Second Series- originally set to release in May of that year- never found its way into the marketplace. Which players might have been included in its checklist? I guess we will never know.

The Spinoff That Wasn't

My questions in the paragraph immediately above have been answered- in part. Surely you remember the news that UD was returning to the baseball card market in 2013 with the introduction of the 2013 Fleer Retro brand? But then, for unknown reasons, the plug on the product was pulled. Judging from the photos offered on the Cardboard Connection website, perhaps it's best that the release was shelved. Buster Posey looks like he's in a Cincinnati Red's uniform, the Big Hurt looks like he's playing in a beer league, Mike Trout looks like he's a weatherman and Bryce Harper...I don't know what that is.

But at least they were going to bring back the gum!

While we didn't get a 25th Anniversary baseball-only product, we did see the inclusion of three players from the diamond in their 150-card anniversary set: Ken Griffey, Jr. (to no one's surprise), the late Tony Gwynn, and former Golden Spikes winner and Number 1 overall pick, Bob Horner. But that's a story for an upcoming post.

In a statement released by MLB back in 2010, the collectors were declared the real winners in all of this: "Our settlement in the case against Upper Deck is a clear and decisive victory for Major League Baseball. Upper Deck will be unable to release baseball trading cards that incorporate Major League Baseball's intellectual property in the future. The real winners today are the millions of fans who collect baseball cards. They will be able to clearly identify official Major League Baseball trading cards without any confusion."


  1. That last line still stings to this day. Still one of the most arrogant, tone-deaf summations of anything ever committed to print. We lost. We lost bad. We continue to lose. And we will never, ever win again until the exclusives not only end, but the prevention of such behavior is made into law.

    1. Amen. Thank God we have MLB looking out after us, because we're too stupid to recognize when a product isn't licensed.