The offseason between 1998 and 1999 was busy for the Chicago Cubs marketing team and Vine Line magazine staff. A marketing campaign with Old Style beer was conceived to conduct a fan vote for the Cubs’ All-Century team in early 1999 that included the production of an accompanying 21-card set. As discussions of the greatest players of the century were ongoing, the marketing department proposed a second set of cards highlighting “greatest moments.” According to Cubs team historian Ed Hartig, however, the problem they grappled with was “top moments of what? Of the team? Of the team during the century? Of the park? Of the team at the park?”
Ultimately, they decided to do a card set highlighting the top ten Cubs moments that occurred at Wrigley Field. A Budweiser sponsorship provided for a 10-card set to be given out at the August 6, 1999 game.
Unlike the Cubs All-Century Team, there was no fan voting component for the top moments. Instead, Hartig was tasked with selecting the greatest moments at Wrigley Field. After surveying media members, media relations staff, broadcasters, and others, Hartig took their suggestions and made the call on the definitive Cubs moments at Wrigley Field. He wrote some notes for each event and reviewed them with the Vine Line staffers. Hartig had “a couple ‘extra moments’ in [his] back pocket in case there was any pushback.” However, the conversation went almost as planned.
The only moment they struggled with was Babe Ruth’s alleged “Called Shot” during the 1932 World Series. Hartig jokingly argued it should not be included “because it didn’t happen and wasn’t truly a Cubs moment.” They eventually agreed it was too big a happening (despite its apocryphal nature) not to be included; however, they decided to use a photo of Cubs twirler Charlie Root on the card instead of Ruth.
Once the “moments” were finalized, the project was turned over to the Vine Line staff to design the cards. Photos for the older moments were selected from the George Brace Collection and newer ones came from Cubs photographer Steve Green. Hartig wrote the highlights for each moment to be used for the card backs. They intentionally did not rank the moments, but instead chose to list the cards chronologically.
Hartig recalled “a little bit of pushback from fans” regarding some of the top moment selections. Some folks were critical of what constituted “the moment” of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game pitched on May 6, 1998. Others suggested that Mark Grace’s catch for the final out of the 1998 Wild Card tie-breaker game against the Giants on September 28, 1998 was more of a “moment.” Regardless, Ed knows they made the right call including the Kerry Wood game because “the whole game was a special moment!”
Some other games/moments considered included the first Chi-Fed game at the ballpark (then called Weeghman Park) on April 23, 1914; the first Cubs game at the park on April 20, 1916; the August 25, 1922 game in which the Cubs beat the Phillies 26-23 (still the most total runs ever scored in a game); Game 6 of the 1945 World Series; Jackie Robinson’s debut at Wrigley Field on May 18, 1947; no-hitters by Sam Jones and Ken Holtzman; and All-Star games at Wrigley Field in 1947, 1962, and 1990.
If only Topps Now existed all along!
Here are Ed Hartig’s personal Top Three Moments (through 1999):
September 28, 1938 – Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’”
“Hartnett’s HR gets the number 1 spot for me because it checks off so many boxes. He was a Cubs legend and Hall of Famer, it was dramatic AND it had a significant impact on an improbable comeback to win the NL pennant. The HR didn’t win the pennant as many may claim, but it certainly crushed the Pirates’ spirit.”
May 6, 1998 – Kerry Wood Strikes out 20 Houston Astros in his fifth Major League start
“Wood’s 20 K game would be second. I’ve jokingly said that game reminded me of an adult playing in a kids’ game of Wiffle Ball—with the kids mouthing off. Rather than take it easy on the kids, the adult is throwing curve balls with two-foot breaks or blowing fastballs right past them. It just wasn’t fair.”
December 12, 1965 – Gale Sayers Scores Six Touchdowns
“Number Three is the “Kerry Wood Game” equivalent for football—when [Bears running back] Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns against the 49ers. I know we didn’t include football in the top moments card set, but in a true list of top moments at the park, this game must be included. Sayers was the adult running through, over, and around a group of kids. It was the original ‘it just wasn’t fair.’”
May 12, 1970 – Banks’ 500th Home Run
August 8, 1988 – First Night Game at Wrigley Field
“The first night game and Ernie’s 500th would likely come next—I go back and forth on which is fourth and which is fifth. I got to know Ernie while working with the team and his 500th was the first great moment I can remember watching as a kid, so maybe that pushes him to fourth. But without the lights, the Cubs might not be playing in Wrigley Field today. Toss a coin which is fourth and which is fifth.”
October 1, 1932 – Ruth’s “Called Shot”
“A lot of people list Ruth’s home run high on their lists. As one who thinks it is more myth than truth, I personally don’t rate it very high. But I know others do, so I included it among the top ten—but it would be further down the list.” [Regardless of all the lore that has followed this alleged event, video footage clearly shows that Ruth was pointing at the Cubs’ dugout, not predicting a home run.]
Hartig also had a few ideas for moments that would crack the Top Ten today: the Cubs clinching the Central Division at home in 2008; knocking off the Cardinals in the 2015 NLDS; and Miguel Montero’s grand slam against the Dodgers in the 2016 NLCS. Kyle Hendricks’ two-hit gem over the Dodgers to win the NL pennant in 2016 would certainly be a worthwhile entry for that new list, too.
1999 Budweiser Wrigley Field Top Ten Moments Checklist
(Cards are unnumbered, list presented in chronological order)
May 2, 1917 – Hippo Vaughn-Fred Toney Double No-Hitter
October 1, 1932 – Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” (photo is Charlie Root)
September 28, 1938 – Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in Gloamin’”
May 15, 1960 – Don Cardwell’s No-Hitter
May 12, 1970 – Ernie Banks’ 500th Home Run
September 2, 1972 – Milt Pappas’ Near-Perfect Game (Cubs broadcaster Lou Boudreau in foreground)
June 23, 1984 – The Sandberg Game
August 8, 1988 – First Night Game at Wrigley Field (uncorrected error – “Wrigley Feild” on front of card)
May 6, 1998 – Kerry Wood’s 20 Strikeouts
September 13, 1998 – Sammy Sosa Hits Home Runs 61 and 62
Special thanks to Chicago Cubs team historian and Chicago SABR member Ed Hartig for the behind-the-scenes information into how he helped the Cubs create this fantastic card set.
Like many Chicago kids of the 1960s and 1970s, Ed Hartig owes much of his baseball love to WGN-TV broadcasts of afternoon Cubs games from Wrigley Field. When his older siblings were at school, he would sit in front of the television with his baseball cards spread out in front of him arranged in the line-ups for each team. When his siblings got home from school, mom would kick them all out of the house. So Ed would grab his glove and play ball in the backyard while listening to the rest of the Cubs game on WGN-Radio. Little did he know at that point that he would someday help prepare an All-Century Team card set commemorating the ultimate Cubs roster for the 20th century.
Hartig began working for the Cubs as a freelance writer on special projects in 1988 and was a regular contributor to the Cubs’ Vine Line magazine by 1996. Shortly after the 1998 season ended, the team’s marketing and publications departments met to pitch story ideas and promotions for the coming year (perhaps a few of which may have involved the home run chase from the previous season). One of those ideas was selecting a Cubs all-century team in either 1999 or 2000. However, once Major League Baseball decided to run their All-Century promotion during the 1999 season, the Cubs decided to follow suit.
Hartig was tasked with compiling a ballot of the best Cubs players and managers whose careers took place in the 1900s and—crucial for our story—was told that the finalized team would be memorialized with a baseball card set. Hartig carefully put together a slate of the 40 most deserving individuals and got approval from the marketing and publications departments. The final ballot included 26 position players, 10 pitchers, and four managers.
The selection of the Cubs’ All-Century Team was then turned over to the fans. Voting began during spring training and ran through mid-April, which gave the team time to produce the first set of cards for a scheduled giveaway on May 15. Votes were accepted either by mailing in a paper ballot from the newspaper or on-line through Metromix.com, an entertainment-based division of the Chicago Tribune. The ballot was divided into position players, pitchers, and managers; however, fans were asked to simply select their favorite 20 Cubs with no special instructions for picking so many per category or position. The promotion was sponsored by Old Style beer and voters were automatically entered into a contest to win tickets and the chance to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game later that season.
In total, Cubs fans cast over 120,000 votes and the All-Century Team was announced in early May. The final team consisted of 21 individuals, instead of the 20 originally planned, after a decision was made to add Frank Chance as the manager.
The baseball card fronts and backs included a handsome Wrigley Field marquee motif done by the Vine Line staff. Photos of older players were selected from the George Brace Collection and the more recent photos were those taken by Cubs team photographer Steve Green. Hartig prepared the card backs using the materials he had researched during the initial ballot construction and he separately authored full-page articles for the Vine Line’s All-Century Team. Unlike a number of the Cubs’ team-issued card sets, the Old Style All-Century Team cards were produced in the standard 2½” x 3 ½” size.
The set was distributed in seven-card packs across three home dates on May 15, June 26, and August 3. Because the card set was sponsored by Old Style, the cards were only handed out to the first 20,000 fans at each game who were 21 years of age or older. Accordingly, it is not easy to determine how many of these cards survived.
The living All-Century Team members—including current Cubs Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa—were honored at the September 25, 1999 game and the retired players serenaded the crowd of 39,000 with their rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
Although there was some apparent recency bias in the fans’ voting, Hartig was generally satisfied with the results. If he had to pick one slight, however, it would have been 1940s outfielder Bill “Swish” Nicholson, “what a great slugger and an even nicer person!” Ed also wished that he had thought to honor a trainer (Andy Lotshaw), equipment manager (Yosh Kawano), and traveling secretary (Bob Lewis) on the All-Century team photo after the fan’s selections were tallied.
As for his All-Century starting lineup, Ed would have gone with this squad:
On May 2, 1993, an 18-year-old phenom hit his first major league home run for the Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants against Shingo Takatsu of the Yakult (Tokyo) Swallows. This was his first of 507 hit in two continents across three decades.
Hideki Matsui was that prospect that lived up to the hype. From his teenage years in amateur ball, he was touted as a future legend. Today, he is one of the best-known people in Japan and even has a museum honoring his accomplishments.
Hideki Matsui struggled early in his rookie season and was demoted to the minor leagues. His second home run was on August 22 upon his return. He didn’t miss another of his team’s games until May 2006 with the New York Yankees.
Each of his 507 home runs is commemorated in a special card set produced for NTV (Nippon TV) by Toho and then continued by Upper Deck and Topps. As a Yankees collector who wants to have everything, this set piqued my interest, for the 140 cards, one for each Yankees home run from 2003-2009. Angels, A’s, and Rays homers are represented also, along with one for each of his 332 home runs with the Yomiuri Giants.
Cards for his 1st, 200th, and 214th home runs
What I like most about these is that each has a unique picture- featuring the actual home run. What a contrast with the Topps Alex Rodriguez Road to 500 or the Barry Bonds 756 set! For milestone home runs the card was even more special. On the back Matsui tells the story of the home run, along with the date, the opposing team and pitcher.
The cards were sold by subscription starting in 1993. Subscribers were notified when a group of 5-10 or more were ready, usually two or three times per year. The cards sold for about 50c-$1 per card. There were also several albums offered for $10-15 each that held anywhere from one year to several years. Albums can be found for certain years, or by team. An album was even released for the Rays, where Matsui hit just two home runs!
The cards and albums were sold by NTV throughout the run, but because of licensing the manufacturers changed. Toho produced the cards from 1993-2002 coving his years in Japan. There were 332 cards representing each of his home runs in Japan. Upper Deck continued the collection through much of 2009, when Topps took over until Hideki’s retirement in 2012 after a stint with the Rays.
Matsui in America
But there’s more! There were additional Matsui cards offered to subscribers around special events. There were editions to honor postseason home runs. There were at least five folios with cards during his Yankees career. One in 2004 covers Hideki’s return to Japan with the Yankees for opening day. Also, there is a two-card collection for Matsui’s 55th (he wore number 55) home run in the USA, and another 17-card folio with a card for every Matsui hit in the 2009 World Series. A single bonus card welcomes back Matsui from the disabled list in 2006.
A few of the special event series
I purchased the main set and have enjoyed going through these albums reliving his career. They really bring out the passion that Japanese people have for baseball, and one of their greatest heroes, Hideki Matsui.
Special thanks to Jason Presley, an expert on Asian baseball cards.
Baseball announcers occupy an odd space that straddles the line between team members and adoring fans. They often enjoy tenures longer than players and managers and can weather multiple ownership changes. Some broadcasters even become so connected with a ballclub’s identity that their popularity rivals the team’s Hall of Fame ballplayers. Numerous broadcasters have been inducted into team halls of fame and 47 individuals have received the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball,” an honor that includes recognition (but not official enshrinement) at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In fact, beloved announcers such as Harry Kalas, Bob Uecker, Dave Niehaus, Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, and Jack Buck have been immortalized with statuary at the ballparks where they called (or continue) to call games for their given teams. Yet, there is seemingly little love paid to announcers by card manufacturers, especially with national issues.
The Trading Card Database (“TCDB”) lists just 471 results for a search of baseball cards in the “announcer” category, with the first result appearing in 1933. This list includes cards depicting nightly sportscasters and disc jockeys, which would tend to indicate that the “announcer” label is often used as a catchall for any on-air broadcasters, not just play-by-play commentators or game analysts.
The labeling issue becomes more apparent, however, when totaling the number of cards for the broadcasters who have been bestowed the Ford C. Frick Award. This number is 580, over 100 more cards than found on the “announcer” list.
Searching TCDB by individual broadcasters’ names demonstrates conclusively that the “announcer” label (“ANN”) is not used with any consistency. For example, a search for “Vin Scully” will produce 114 results, cards spanning from 1960 through 2023, including parallel releases and autographed editions. A search of “Vin Scully” and the “ANN” qualifier, however, produces only two results.
Considering that Pittsburgh’s KDKA first broadcast a baseball game on August 5, 1921 (an event itself worthy of commemoration on a baseball card), it seems incredible how few broadcaster cards have been issued in the past 100 years. Indeed, utility infielder Tommy LaStella has had more cards issued since 2011 (586) than all of the Ford C. Frick Award winners combined (580).
Radio (Baseball Card) Pioneers
The 1933 Minneapolis Millers of the American Association were managed by future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft and featured first baseman Joe Hauser, who clobbered an incredible 69 home runs that season. Although Wheaties is best known for its collectible cereal boxes, the company also promoted minor league baseball across the country and particularly in Minneapolis, hometown of parent company General Mills. That season, Wheaties issued a set of 24 postcards (4″ by 5-9/16″) featuring the players, manager, and for the first time ever documented, a team’s radio broadcaster.
Jerry Harrington, dubbed “The Little Irish Tenor,” was a multi-talented performer for WCCO radio and was often called upon to sing and participate in dramatic productions for the station. In 1929, Harrington broadcast play-by-play accounts of the Millers’ away games from the sports office of The Star and beginning in 1930, was tabbed to broadcast both home games from Nicollet Park and the away contests. The 1933 Wheaties Harrington issue is his one and only baseball card.
A second set of similarly designed and sized postcards were purportedly produced by Wheaties for the Seattle Indians in 1933; however, only five postcards from this set have been found so it is unclear whether they were ever released to the public. One of the cards that has surfaced, however, is that of Indians broadcaster Leo Lassen. Lassen was named the publicity director of the Pacific Coast League Seattle club in 1931 and began broadcasting games for the team that season. He was a mainstay radio voice of the Indians and Seattle Rainiers through 1958 and was inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 1974. The 1933 Wheaties Lassen issue is his one and only baseball card.
In 1938 Chicago’s Sawyer Biscuit company issued a set of 52 cabinet photos depicting Chicago Cubs and White Sox players available as a mail-in promotion. The set included Bob Elson, a tireless broadcaster who handled the home games for both the Cubs and White Sox from 1931 through 1942 for WGN radio.
TCDB also lists a second “broadcaster” card for Babs Gillen, but no example of the card has ever been found. According to some sleuthing by Pre-War Cards it appears that Delores “Babs” Gillen was Elson’s broadcast partner for certain radio programming, but she was not known to announce baseball games with him. Regardless, the Elson cabinet photo appears to be the first issue for a Major League broadcaster.
The Emergence of Baseball on the Radio
As of the 1940 Census, 28 million households in the United States (82.8% of the population) owned a radio and baseball owners began realizing that broadcasting games—both home and away—was a terrific way to promote live baseball at their respective ballparks, especially on the home front during World War II. Still, very few broadcaster cards were issued in the 1940s.
The Reds sold a boxed team card set in 1940 called the “The Cincinnati Reds by Harry Hartman, Radio Sports Expert” published by the Harry Hartman Publishing Company. Coincidently, Hartman was the radio voice for the Reds on WCPO and was entering his 13th season behind the microphone in 1940, a season in which the Reds won their first World Series championship since defeating the Black Sox in 1919. A card featuring Harry Hartman was included in his namesake set.
The 1940 Playball set included a “Former Major League Star” card for Gabby Street, who had last played for Yankees in 1912 (although he had given himself an at-bat as Cardinals manager in 1931) and last managed for the Browns in 1938. The final line of his biography on the reverse of his card indicated “Today, he is doing baseball broadcasting in St. Louis.” Street was eventually paired with Harry Caray in the Cardinals’ booth, and they worked together from 1945 to 1950.
The balance of cards for the 1940s belong to Oakland Oaks announcer Bud Foster, with a string of issues in each of 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949 sponsored by either Remar Bread or Signal Oil/Gasoline. Foster was voice of the Pacific Coast League’s Oaks from 1946 through 1956, as the team won three championships during his run (1948, 1950, 1954). In 1985 Foster reminisced how ballparks in the old days had no radio booths for him on the road so he would just set up behind home plate, which left him vulnerable to bombardment by cushions, peanuts, and insults hurled by the opposing fans. Additionally, Mel Allen was featured in Yankees Picture Packs in 1948 and 1949, with seemingly indistinguishable photos.
Video Killed the Radio Star
In 1950 approximately 9% of American households had a television, but by 1960 the figure had skyrocketed to 90%. Regardless, there were still just a smattering of announcer cards issued in the 1950s, even despite the rise of the national baseball card product offerings by Bowman and Topps that included non-players such as umpires and league executives.
In 1954, future Ford C. Frick Award winner Bill King was named fulltime sports director at KOLN and KOLN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska and took over the play-by-play announcing duties for the Western League Lincoln Chiefs. Weaver’s Wafers were a potato chip brand that issued a set of cards for the Chiefs in 1954 that included a card for King that encouraged fans to follow the team on KOLN. Despite King having announced for the San Francisco Giants from 1958-1962 and the Oakland A’s from 1981-2005, the 1954 issue is the only card that appears to have been issued for the venerable broadcaster. The card itself is exceedingly rare and the distribution method is sure to send shivers up the spines of condition conscious collectors—the cards were affixed to the outside of the potato chip bags with staples!
Future Ford C. Frick Award recipients Russ Hodges (New York Giants and San Francisco Giants) and Lon Simmons (San Francisco Giants) both appeared on a number of team-issued cards at the end of the 1950s, but only in their capacity as broadcasters for the San Francisco 49ers football team. Simmons did not get a proper baseball card until 1999, the Giants’ final season in Candlestick Park. His famous home run call “Tell it Goodbye!” was a fitting farewell to the ballpark, where he had broadcast since the Giants first began playing there in 1960.
The final announcer card issued in the 1950s featured Mark Scott, host of the popular Home Run Derby television show. The 1959 Home Run Derby baseball set contained 20 cards measuring 3-1/4” by 5-1/4” and included the participants in the game show filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Scott died unexpectedly on July 13, 1960 from a heart attack and the show did not return for another season.
Vin Scully and the Rise of the Beloved Broadcaster
The first TCDB entry for Vin Scully is the 1960 Union Oil 76 “Meet the Dodger Family” booklet, which he shares with Jerry Doggett. Scully’s first proper baseball card—a whopper at 4” by 6”—is the 1971 Ticketron Dodgers issue, which also happens to feature Jerry Doggett, with whom he worked from 1956 through 1987. All told, Scully is the leader of all broadcasters with 114 different cards listed on TCDB. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Scully did not make another appearance on a baseball card until 2004, when Fleer produced a 10-card “Greats of the Game” subset that paired announcers and players, such as Scully/Steve Garvey, Harry Caray/Ryne Sandberg, and Jon Miller/Cal Ripken Jr. Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of Scully’s cards were issued after he had already turned 77 years old.
Vin Scully’s first inning broadcast partner for the 1989 All-Star Game was former Chicago Cubs broadcaster (and newly former POTUS) Ronald Reagan. Reagan made a cameo on a recent Bo Jackson card, as a broadcaster.
Ernie Harwell is next on the list with 80 cards. Harwell is best known for his work for the Detroit Tigers after stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles. By the time his first card was issued in 1981, Harwell was already beginning his third decade of work as the Tigers’ main play-by-play announcer. Harwell holds the distinction of having been traded for a player when he was acquired by the Dodgers to broadcast in 1948 from the Class-AA Atlanta Crackers in exchange for minor league catcher Cliff Dapper. Harwell broadcast for the Detroit Tigers from 1960 to 1991 and 1993 to 2002. Detroit’s Wayne State University’s baseball team plays its home games at Harwell Field, named in his honor.
Harry Caray is third with 68 cards. Caray’s first known card is a playing card with a photo shared with another Chicago broadcasting legend, Jack Brickhouse, issued in 1985 (40 years after Caray broadcast his first game for the St. Louis Cardinals.) Caray popularized the live singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while a White Sox broadcaster and made the tradition so popular at Wrigley Field that a video of him signing the song is still played for the seventh inning stretch when the Cubs do not otherwise arrange for a celebrity to handle the honors. Perhaps Caray’s most interesting baseball card is his cameo on Michael Jordan’s 1995 Upper Deck, featuring a photo taken at Wrigley Field when the White Sox visited for an exhibition game against the Cubs on April 7, 1994.
Mel Allen boasts 58 cards and was awarded the first-ever Ford C. Frick Award in 1978, along with Red Barber (the only year in which more than one award was given). Allen, a 1937 graduate of the University of Alabama Law School, immediately pursued a career in broadcasting and handled CBS radio duties for the 1938 World Series. He was hired as the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer in 1940 and saw 12 championship teams from his position behind the microphone through 1964. Allen eventually returned to the Yankees broadcast team in the mid-1970s, but it was his work with This Week in Baseball starting in 1977 that made Allen’s voice synonymous with Saturday baseball highlights to kids across the country. How about that?!
Rounding out the top five is Philadelphia’s Harry Kalas with 33 cards. Kalas first appeared on a Tastykake card in 1984, along with fellow Phillies broadcasters Chris Wheeler, Andy Musser and Richie Ashburn. Kalas began his broadcasting career in 1961 with the Hawaii Islanders and made his Major League announcing debut with the Astros in 1965. After moving over to Philadelphia in 1971, Kalas became a mainstay in the booth, working side-by-side with Ashburn until Ashburn’s unexpected passing in September 1997.
Comprising some of the most popular men to ever call a baseball game, Vin Scully has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (and a statue at Dodger Stadium cannot be far behind). Ernie Harwell has a statue at Comerica Park in Detroit. Harry Caray has a statue at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Mel Allen has a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium in New York. Harry Kalas has a statue at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. A bust of Jack Buck is displayed outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And Bob Uecker (who has 23 cards for broadcasting and another 51 related to his role as a player) is honored with two statues at American Family Field in Milwaukee.
By contrast, Denny Matthews has just two cards, despite having been inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame and having been in the Kansas City broadcast booth since the team’s inception in 1969.
Similarly, Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ Spanish-language play-by-play announcer from 1959 through 2022 (also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) only has two cards.
Felo Ramirez was the Spanish radio announcer for the Miami Marlins from 1993 until April 2017. His prior broadcasting work included calling Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit, and Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Despite his distinguished career, no cards of Ramirez have ever been listed on the TCDB. All three of these men are Ford C. Frick Award recipients. In fact, 36 of the 47 Frick Award winners have nine or fewer cards, with eight having none.
Card manufacturers are seemingly content to issue the same card with a border in every conceivable color combination. Allen and Ginter issues feature eggs, spiders, and even the Taylor Ham versus pork roll debate. Yet, broadcasters remain largely ignored.
A closer inspection of the checklists for each of the broadcasters listed here quickly reveals that a large proportion of the most recent issues comprise rare, autographed cards or other limited releases for which photos are not even available.
The men and women who dedicate their lives to the craft—and provide the soundtrack for our collective summers—deserve more cardboard love. These amazing tributes by Mike Noren of Gummy Arts are a great start.
Mike Noren of Gummy Arts graciously allowed the SABR Baseball Cards Committee to include images of his cards in this article, including the Bob Uecker card, which has never been shown publicly before.
Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink for their typically brilliant guidance and support.
TCDB is mainly crowdsourced and there are numerous examples of cards not marked with the announcer label or otherwise improperly classified. The numbers cited herein are as accurate as possible based upon the available information. Moreover, several broadcasters cover multiple sports and may have cards that are more properly classified as a football, Olympic or multi-sport issue. Regardless of sporting classification, all cards were counted, except for those individuals who were players and had separate playing-days cards issued. Playing-days cards were not included.
Entrance to Yankee Stadium, New York, Haberman’s, New York, 1920s.
There is no bigger name in baseball than Babe Ruth, and during his time, there was no bigger stage in the sport than the playing field at East 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, the original Yankee Stadium, The House That Ruth Built.
Constructed in 11 months after Yankee owners Colonels Jacob Ruppert and the equally-ranked but more aristocratically-named Tillinghast (Til) L’Hommedieu Huston finally grew bone-tired of being second-class tenants at the New York Giants home at the Polo Grounds, the stadium opened on April 18, 1923. Costing $2.5 million, the park was the most expensive ball ground built to date. With three decks it was also the largest, and the first in the United States to carry the weighty designation of stadium. The opener drew more fans than had ever before seen a game, besting the headcount set at Braves Field in Game Five of the 1916 World Series by more than 20,000 fedoras.
Somewhere north of 62,000 devotees mobbed the new home of the Yankees, packing the aisles and corridors for 90 minutes during the pre-game festivities. It was like “a subway crush hour” one witness testified, mellowed only by the consumption of Volstead lager at 15 cents a stein by the Prohibition crowd.
The New York Evening Telegram noted the scents of “fresh paint, fresh plaster and fresh grass” in the air on a cloudy, windy spring day when the temperature struggled to reach 50.
Shortly after 3 pm, John Philip Sousa and the Seventh Regiment Band led a battalion of baseball barons and civic potentates into center field and played the national anthem to the raising of the Stars and Stripes. Witnessed by “pretty much everybody who was anybody” in the city, the American League pennant won by the Yankees in 1922 followed Old Glory up the pole. The pennant gathered the loudest cheer.
After a round of pre-game pleasantries, Umpire Tommy Connolly called “Play Ball” at 3:35.
The late afternoon start to the game didn’t sit well with one observer. “Some day New York will be convinced that 3 o’clock is the proper hour with the fans for a ball game to begin, but as yet owners persist in holding off for those half dozen fans from Wall Street who can’t make it so early.”
Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, running late to the ceremonies after choosing a proletarian train to the park, had to be plucked from the ticket lines and escorted into the stadium by the police.
Not everyone was lucky enough to get through one of the 40 turnstiles open for the event. The Fire Department ordered the gates closed with 25,000 hopeful patrons still outside the grounds. One latecomer, trying in vain to recover from a poorly-chosen subway connection, couldn’t get into the park for “money, marbles or chalk.”
Ruth hit two balls into the bleachers off Sam Jones during batting practice. The first landed harmlessly. The second splintered a wooden plank, scattering a group of young boys in one direction to escape the explosion, and then in another to capture the projectile.
In the third inning, he hit one that counted, smashing a slow, waist-high offering from opposing pitcher Howard Ehmke into the right field bleachers to drive in a pair of teammates and lead Yankees to a 4 to 1 win over his former team, the Boston Red Sox. A columnist for the New York Daily News depicted the scene:
From high noon on there had been a sound of revelry in the Bronx for Baseball’s Capital had gathered there its beauty and chivalry. But when the “Babe” tore into the ball the revelry became riot. The beauty and chivalry leaped to its feet and behaved unlike true beauty and chivalry should, tearing up programs, breaking canes, smashing neighboring hats and shrieking, shouting and howling. It was a notable ovation, or, as they say on some copy desks, demonstration.
A reporter described the homer, 325 feet or so into the right field bleachers, as one of Ruth’s best, a “terrific drive” that never rose more than 30 feet above the field. “And above all,” added the scribe, “it probably restored the old-time confidence of the ‘Babe.’ He hadn’t been going so good on the spring training trip. He was in great condition but he wasn’t smacking them.”
The Boston Globe wasn’t impressed. Ungenerously measuring the blow at 275 feet, the paper more accurately calculated the swing would have been nothing more than an out at Fenway Park.
It would have been a homer in the Sahara, retorted a Yankee partisan.
Ruth’s second wife Claire believed the round-tripper was her husband’s proudest moment. “He definitely talked about it more than any other homerun he ever hit,” she told one interviewer.
Ruth admitted he wanted to be the first to hit one into the stands in the new home of the Yankees. “I lost sight of the ball when the fans all jumped to their feet but I recognized the yell they let out,” Ruth explained. “I feel that I have been rewarded in part for all the hard work I put in preparing myself for the training season,” the New York outfielder concluded. “I guess there must be something in that old gag about virtue being its own reward.”
The Opening Day crowd couldn’t contain its admiration for the Babe. In the bottom of the ninth, fans hopped out of the bleachers and surrounded Ruth in right field until the game ended.
It all inspired New York Evening Telegram sportswriter Fred Lieb to name the park “The House That Ruth Built,”forever tying the man and the stadium together in the nation’s memory.
Entrance to Yankee Stadium, New York, Manhattan Post Card Publishing Co., New York, 1920s.An alternate view of the stadium’s entrance in the 1920s. Postcard manufacturers were not above retouching and colorizing a scene from the same stock black and white photograph.
It took years for the temple of baseball along the Harlem River to become formally known as Yankee Stadium. During all of the 1920s, the Associated Press attached an honorific article to the park’s name and lower-cased the Roman half of the sobriquet—“the Yankee stadium.” Other stylists upper-cased both halves of the title—“the Yankee Stadium.” The Great Depression leavened the label to simply “Yankee Stadium.”
Four particular collections of baseball cards connect Ruth to Yankee Stadium:
Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992 (165 cards)
Upper Deck, Inserts, The House That Ruth Built, 2008 (25 cards).
Megacards, 1992, The Babe Ruth Collection
Sharing a common origin, it is no surprise that the cards in The Babe Ruth Collection closely resemble The Sporting News Conlon issues of 1991—1994. Top, Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992, Card 105; Sultan of Swat; bottom, The Sporting News Conlon Collection, 1992, Card 663, promotional, Game of the Century.
Babe Ruth led an expensive, excessive and extravagant life that sometimes crossed the border into alcoholic debauchery.
Frank Lieb tells stories of a detective reporting Ruth having trysts with six women in one night, being run out of a hotel at gunpoint by an irate husband, and being chased through Pullman cars on a train one night by the knife-wielding bride of a Louisiana legislator. The press kept quiet. “If she had carved up the Babe, we would have had a hell of a story,” said one scribe who witnessed the race.
His salary demands were an annual source of amusement and debate among the sporting press.
Colonel Til Huston tried to rein in the Babe in 1922. “We know you’ve been drinking and whoring all hours of the night, and paying no attention to training rules. As we are giving you a quarter-million for the next five years, we want you to act with more responsibility. You can drink beer and enjoy cards and be in your room by eleven o’clock, the same as the other players. It still gives you a lot of time to have a good time.”
“Colonel, I’ll promise to go easier on drinking, and get to bed earlier,” Ruth promised. “But not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, will I give up women. They’re too much fun.”
The high life caught up with Ruth in the spring of 1925. An ulcer put the slugger into the hospital for five weeks. It didn’t slow him down much. In August, he was suspended and fined $5,000 for showing up late to batting practice after a night on the town.
That fall, Ruth admitted he had been “the sappiest of saps” in an interview with Joe Winkworth of Collier’s magazine.
“I am through with the pests and the good-time guys,” Ruth declared. “Between them and a few crooks I have thrown away more than a quarter million dollars.”
Ruth listed a partial toll. $125,000 on gambling, $100,000 on bad business investments, $25,000 in lawyer fees to fight blackmail. General high living cost another quarter million.
“But I don’t regret those things,” Ruth said. “I was the home run king, and I was just living up to the title.”
Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992.Card 103, Babe and his 54-ounce bat.
Four dozen bats waited for Ruth at the Yankees St. Petersburg training camp in 1928, some of the dark green “Betsy” color that powered many of Ruth’s 60 homers in 1927 and the rest the slugger’s favored gold. The bats averaged 48 ounces, 6 ounces less than Ruth had formerly swung.
“At last I’ve got some sense,” Ruth told sportswriter and cartoonist Robert Edgren that year. “I used to think Jack Dempsey was foolish to train all the time—but Jack never got fat, did he?
“So this winter I’ve been keeping up a mild course of training most of the time. I’ve done a lot of hunting and on top I spend my spare time playing handball, wrestling and boxing in Artie McGovern’s gym. But the diet is the big thing.”
“You can’t be a hog and an athlete at the same time,” McGovern admonished the Babe. “You eat enough to kill a horse.”
Ruth followed McGovern’s advice that spring, slashing his meat consumption and loading up on fruits and vegetables.
“More important,” said Edgren, “he still has a boy’s enthusiasm for baseball.”
McGovern’s watchful eye and the lighter lumber kept Ruth at the top of his game. So did his marriage to the ever-vigilant Claire Merritt Hodgson. Between 1928 and 1931, Ruth homered 195 times and drove in 612 runs.
Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992.Card 121, Claire Hodgson.
The well-curated and comprehensive 1992 Megacards set traces Babe Ruth’s career in 165 cards. The set is divided into specific sections, among them year-by-year summaries of his baseball career, the records he established, his career highlights and anecdotes and remembrances by family members and teammates.
Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992. Clockwise from upper left: Card 9, Ruth pitches Red Sox to 24 wins in 1917; Card 16, wins batting title in 1924 with a .378 average; Card 22, knocks nine home runs in a week during 1930, including the longest ever hit at Shibe Park; Card 25, drives in 100 or more runs his 13th and last time in 1933.
Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992. Top to bottom: Card 108, Ruth was the first player to hit 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 home runs in a season; Card 92, in 1934, Ruth led a group of American League players on a 17-game exhibition tour of Japan. A half-a-million or more fans watched the players parade through the Ginza on the second day of the expedition; Card 94, inducted into the hall of fame, 1939.
Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992. The home runs.Clockwise from upper left: Card 72, First Home Run; Card 77, First Home Run in Yankee Stadium;Card 81, Babe and Lou combine for 107 homers; Card 93, Last Major League Homers.
Megacards, 1995, Babe Ruth 100th Anniversary
Megacards followed up its biography of Ruth with a 25-card set in 1995 to mark the 100th anniversary of the legend’s birth.
Megacards, Babe Ruth 100th Anniversary, 1995. Top to bottom: Card 5, 177 Runs Scored in 1921, Card 5; Card 12, Fishing with Lou Gehrig in Sheepshead Bay, 1927 ; Card 3, .847 Slugging Average in 1920. The Babe is pictured here with fellow sluggers Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Al Simmons in 1929.
Megacards, Babe Ruth 100th Anniversary, 1995. Card 11, the Red Sox pitching prospect threw nine shutouts in 1916.
Upper Deck, 2008, Yankee Stadium Legacy
In 2008 and 2009, Upper Deck marked the last season of the original Yankee Stadium by issuing an enormous 6,742 insert set, one card for every game played at the park or other historic sporting event that occurred on the grounds. Ruth is featured on many of the cards, either as a representative player for the day or because of a game highlight. The final card in the set documents Andy Pettitte’s win over the Baltimore Orioles on September 21, 2008.
Upper Deck, Yankee Stadium Legacy, 2008. Card 6742, Andy Pettitte.
The company also issued a more accessible 100-card boxed stadium legacy set. During his time with the Yankees, Ruth overshadowed all his teammates. Only Lou Gehrig pulled some of the spotlight away from the home run king. Still, it was a big shadow. “There was plenty of room to spread out,” said the Yankee first baseman.
Upper Deck, Yankee Stadium Box Set, 2008. Some of the Babe’s teammates.
Clockwise from upper left: Card 10, George Pipgrass; Card 5, Waite Hoyt; Card 9, Urban Shocker; Card 8, Earle Combs. Pipgrass led the American League with 24 wins in 1928. Hoyt won 23. Shocker won 49 games for the Yankees between 1925 and 1927. The speedy Combs scored 143 runs in 1932, one of eight straight seasons the centerfielder scored 100 or more runs. Most of the cards in the boxed set picture later members of the Yankee fraternity.
Upper Deck, 2008, Inserts, The House That Ruth Built
Upper Deck also distributed a separate insert set of 25 cards in 2008 under the title The House That Ruth Built. The first three cards highlight the 1923 season.
Later in the set, an eight-card sequence including numbers 8, 10 and 13, below, chronicles Ruth’s 60-home run 1927 season.
In a time of cellphone cameras and Instagram, it’s hard to remember that postcards were once the quick and inexpensive way to connect with friends and family.
Yankee Stadium’s early decades coincided with the postcard industry’s Linen Age. The cards were not actually cloth—a manufacturing process increased the amount of cotton fiber in the paper stock and created a canvas texture during printing. The ridges gave a soft focus to the cards and the higher rag count allowed deeper saturation of inks. Bright and vivid scenes with a wide palette of colors resulted. Yankee Stadium was a natural draw for the postcard manufacturers of the era.
Yankee Stadium, New York City. The Union News Co., 1937.Babe Ruth’s Opening Day home run would have landed in the lower left-center of this view.
Unattributed.Early view of outfield at Yankee Stadium in 1920s with flagpole in play.
“The Yankee Stadium is indeed the last word in ball parks,” wrote F.C. Lane of Baseball Magazine. “But not the least of its merits is its advantage of position. From the plain of the Harlem River it looms up like the great Pyramid of Cheops from the sands of Egypt.
“There is nothing behind it but blue sky,” Lane continued. “Stores and dwellings and the rolling hills of the Bronx are too far removed to interfere with this perspective…The Yankee Stadium stands out in bold relief and the measuring eye gives it full credit for every ounce of cement and every foot of structural steel that went into its huge frame. As an anonymous spectator remarked, viewing the new park from the bridge that spans the Harlem, ‘As big as it is, it looks even bigger.’”
Manhattan Post Card Publishing Co., New York City, Yankee Stadium, New York City, 1942.
The 1923 Yankee opener outdrew the rest of the American League openers, combined. More than one million fans passed through the turnstiles in the Bronx during the year. The count led the major leagues, but by a lesser margin than might be expected—the Detroit Tigers drew 911,000.
Acacia Card Company, New York, New York. Lights were installed in 1946.
The Yankees were one of the last teams in the American League to light their field. Only Boston and Detroit waited longer. “It’s not really baseball,” Lou Gehrig said of the nocturnal version of the game. “Real baseball should be played in the daytime, in the sunshine.”
Alfred Mainzer, New York City. A flag bedecked and sold-out stadium, 1951.
Upper Deck, The House That Ruth Built, 2008. The Last Appearances at Yankee Stadium.Top: HRB-24, Babe Ruth Day; bottom: HRB-25, Jersey Retired.
On April 27, 1947, Major League Baseball celebrated Babe Ruth Day at each of the seven games played that day (Detroit at Cleveland was postponed). 58,000 fans attended the event at Yankee Stadium. The other parks drew a total of 190,000 and the ceremonies were broadcast on radio around the world. Francis Cardinal Spellman delivered the invocation, describing Ruth as a sports hero and a champion of fair play. On the secular plane, Ford Motor Company gave the Babe a $5,00 Lincoln Continental.
The presidents of the National and American League presented Ruth a medal on which was inscribed the message “To Babe Ruth, whose tremendous batting average over the years is exceeded only by the size of his heart.”
Suffering from throat cancer, Ruth was able to muster a short farewell speech barely audible into the microphone. “There’s been so many lovely things said about me,” Ruth concluded. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to thank everybody.”
The New York Times said the ovation for the slugger was the greatest in the history of the national pastime.
Almost as an anti-climax, the Yankees retired Babe Ruth’s number 14 months later on June 13, 1948. But the cheers were still there. “He never received a finer reception,” wrote Oscar Fraley of the United Press. “It was a roar that sounded as if the 50,000 fans were trying to tear down The House That Ruth Built.”
The Sultan of Swat died an old man at the young age of 53 on August 16, 1948. His body lay in state for two days after his death at the main entrance of Yankee Stadium. Tens of thousands of fans paid their last respects to the slugger.
Megacards, The Babe Ruth Collection, 1992.Card 163, Game Called.
Author’s Note: This is the fourth, and final, installment in a multi-part series that explores the legal backstories that have shaped (and continue to shape) the baseball card industry.
Worth a Gamble?
In 1996, a group of plaintiffs filed lawsuits against card manufacturers in federal courts across the country claiming that including insert cards in their wax packs constituted illegal gambling activity under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) and that they were entitled to damages for not having received one of the rare autographed cards in the packs purchased. “RICO, in pertinent part, defines ‘racketeering activity,’ as ‘any act or threat involving … gambling. which is chargeable under state law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.’ 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(A).” Plaintiffs claimed all elements of gambling were met, which required (1) consideration [price of the pack], (2) chance [chase cards were inserted randomly] and (3) a prize [chase cards had significant value on the secondary market].
The first of these cases to be decided was the lawsuit filed against Pinnacle Brands in Texas. On April 2, 1997, the court dismissed the case because the purchasers of the packs of cards “got exactly what they paid for,” namely “six to twenty cards in a pack with a chance that one of the cards may be of Ken Griffey Jr.” Accordingly, the plaintiffs “had not suffered any injury to their business or property.” Without a tangible financial loss, plaintiffs had no standing to pursue a RICO action. This decision was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Appellate Court on April 22, 1998.
While the Pinnacle case was ongoing, a RICO action was pending in California against Upper Deck. That court, however found that because plaintiffs alleged that “a portion of the purchase price” was paid as consideration for the chance of winning a chase card, they had adequately alleged a cause of action under civil RICO. Upper Deck’s motion to dismiss the case was denied.
The court held that the value of the chase cards were “readily ascertainable in Beckett’s monthly trading card magazine.” Further, “when someone enters a hobby shop or trading card shop and purchases a package of Upper Deck cards, that person can immediately sell any chase cards he receives to the shop owner for the value quoted in the price guides.” (Though the assumption a shop owner would pay full price for a card is a leap of logic.) This potential arrangement made the chase cards “almost as good as cash,” tantamount to a winning scratch-off lottery ticket.
The court also made an astute observation that seemingly persists to this day—pack buyers “do not care whose face is on the card; they only care about its value in the secondary market.” In the footnotes, however, the court warned that if the odds on the packages were set correctly, there would be no net gambling losses, though the record did not divulge whether the odds stated correctly reflected the value of the chase cards on the secondary market.
Eight of these similar baseball card-RICO cases were eventually consolidated in California where the court was asked to decide whether the random inclusion of limited-edition cards in packages of otherwise randomly assorted cards constituted unlawful gambling in violation of RICO. The district court ultimately dismissed all of the lawsuits trading card purchasers “were not injured in their business or property” as required by the RICO statute. The district court’s opinion was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit on August 20, 2002, which held that “disappointment upon not finding an insert card” was not an injury to property and did not give the plaintiffs standing to sue for civil damages under RICO. Likewise, the plaintiffs could not recover for having developed a “habit” of buying cards to find the chase cards.
Upper Deck and Ken Griffey Jr. take on Topps
Although the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) had negotiated a licensing agreement with Upper Deck for use of players’ names and likenesses, that agreement did not control game-used items obtained directly from the player. Several stars including Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, and Alex Rodriguez executed “highlight agreements” with Upper Deck that purported to give Upper Deck the exclusive right to sell cards that incorporated game-used equipment and memorabilia.
When Upper Deck learned that Topps was advertising certain cards in its 2001 Topps Gold Label issue would include tiny sections of game-used jerseys and bats, Upper Deck and Ken Griffey Jr., individually, sued to stop Topps from releasing cards of those players with whom they had contracted. They alleged that Topps did not have a license or permission from the players or the MLBPA to produce cards containing game-used equipment.
Topps countered that it had a licensing agreement with Ken Griffey Jr. that was valid through 2003 and dated originally to 1987, “before Upper Deck even existed.” This agreement gave Topps the non-exclusive right to use Griffey’s name and likeness, “the very right that Upper Deck purports to have obtained exclusively through a later agreement.” Topps argued that it legally obtained the Griffey jersey on the secondary market “at a relatively modest cost and at no injury to Griffey.” Topps even mentioned that Upper Deck had already litigated and lost the same issue when they tried to stop Score Board, Inc. from selling autographed Mickey Mantle memorabilia (as covered in Part III).
Upper Deck’s motion for temporary restraining order was denied on March 6, 2001. The case was dismissed voluntarily without prejudice on June 12, which gave Upper Deck the right to refile if they had so chosen. Regardless, Topps issued its special edition 2001 Gold Label award winner cards, including cards honoring Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1997 MVP season that incorporated bat and jersey relics.
Squeeze Play: Topps and Upper Deck Survive
Production of distinct baseball card products peaked in 2003 as card companies inundated the market with 91 separate major issues packaged under brand names including Bazooka, Bowman, Donruss, Finest, Flair, Fleer, Leaf, Playoff, SP, Stadium Club, Topps, Ultra, and Upper Deck. Another 87 major issues followed in 2004 and 90 in 2005. (You may recall that the MLBPA had admitted to a “glut” in the trading card market a decade earlier in the Cardtoons litigation.)
On July 21, 2005 the MLBPA made a major announcement—it was scaling back its baseball card licenses to just two manufacturers: Topps and Upper Deck. The MLBPA’s Director of Trading Cards and Collectibles, Evan Kaplan, explained “the presence of fewer products in the marketplace will reduce consumer confusion and clutter on retail shelves” with a goal to have no more than 40 MLBPA-endorsed baseball products. The MLBPA also mandated that a rookie card logo would be required to appear on cards of players who had made their MLB debuts and that “rookie cards will no longer be issued before they reach the Majors.”
Venerable manufacturer Fleer had closed its doors in May 2005, unable to service $30 million in debt. Fleer filed an assignment for the benefit of creditors action in Burlington County, New Jersey (a state court process akin to a federal Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing) and was appointed a lawyer to manage the repayment of its debts. As part of the liquidation, Upper Deck purchased Fleer’s intellectual property and diecast toy car business for $6.1 million in July—a fraction of the $25 million Upper Deck had reportedly offered Fleer just a year prior. On September 9, an auction was held in which Fleer’s remaining office furniture, equipment, sports cards, and a memorabilia stockpile was sold off.
Major issues in 2006 plummeted to just 38 sets, all manufactured by Topps and Upper Deck. Still viable, Donruss was left out in the cold, but this was not the last time we would hear from the company.
Cool Papa Bell and the Cards that Shouldn’t Have Been
Connie Brooks was James “Cool Papa” Bell’s daughter and executrix of his estate following his death on March 7, 1991. Brooks granted licenses to Upper Deck to issue Bell cards in 1994 and 2001, along with other licenses for clothing, throw blankets, and Wheaties boxes in 1996.
In late 2004 Topps called Brooks to negotiate a license to issue Bell cards in 2005. At the time of this call Brooks did not know—and the Topps representative did not mention—that Topps had already issued seven different Cool Papa Bell cards in 2001 and 2004. Following the call, Topps sent Brooks a licensing proposal dated December 17, 2004 that offered $5000 in exchange for the right to use Bell’s name and image for 2005. The cover letter sent with the blank agreement stated that Brooks had agreed to the arrangement during the call, though she denied having done so. Brooks did not sign or return the proposal.
Not long thereafter Brooks learned that Topps, in 2004, had already produceda Cool Papa Bell card without her knowledge or permission. She contacted Topps and was provided a copy of the 2004 eTopps card and 2004 “Tribute Hall of Fame” card featuring Bell, along with a promise the company was “still looking for other cards Topps may have published depicting Bell.”
Later in 2005 Brooks learned that Topps had also issued Bell cards in 2001. She took exception to the narrative on the back of the 2001 card, which stated, “Cool Papa, who once stole more than 175 bases in a 200-game season, earned his nickname after falling asleep right before a game.” Brooks asserted the description was false and derogatory. William (Bobby) Robinson’s daughter Patricia Hawkins wrote to Judge Cote imploring that Bell “was a credit to his family, his race, his teammates and history as set by examples of his life and lifestyle, both impeccable.” Brooks added that Bell “never indulged in alcohol, smoked cigarettes, or used drugs. He was not a clown, drunkard, or nodding buffoon.” Without any pension provided by the Negro League, Bell worked 22 years as a custodian and night watchman at the St. Louis City Hall until his retirement.
Brooks complained that “Topps’ false statement [regarding the origin of the ‘Cool Papa’ nickname] will be read by many children and may be their only glimpse into the world of Negro League baseball and my father’s career.” Topps responded with an offer of $35,000 in exchange for Brooks executing a settlement agreement and release of liability. She refused and demanded a listing of all Bell cards Topps had produced.
By letter dated January 31, 2006, Topps provided Brooks with a list of “all cards of Cool Papa Bell produced by Topps from 2001-2005.” Brooks responded by filing a lawsuit against Topps on March 27, 2006 claiming Topps had used Bell’s “name, likeness, signature, intellectual property rights, and publicity rights” without authorization and had published defamatory information about Bell. Brooks asserted formally that Bell earned the nickname “Cool” for remaining calm under pressure and his manager Bill Gatewood added “Papa” to the end.
Topps countered that Bell’s right of publicity died with him and the company was free to use his image on baseball cards without needing permission from Brooks. Alternatively, Topps claimed it had been granted permission by Major League Baseball to use Bell’s likeness on the cards it issued (though Topps never produced any evidence to support this doubtful contention). Further, Topps responded that it had taken the information regarding the source of Bell’s nickname from the book Players of Cooperstown: Baseball’s Hall of Fame, published in 1997.
On December 21, 2007 Judge Denise Cote issued her decision granting Topps’ motion for summary judgment. Unfortunately, Brooks had not filed the right of publicity case within the one-year statute of limitations afforded by the underlying state law. The court found that the most recent Bell card was published on November 1, 2004 and refused consider Brooks’ argument that the card really had not been truly “published” on that date because it was distributed in sealed packages. Moreover, Topps had not made affirmative misrepresentations regarding the prior publication of Bell cards to Brooks within the year that those most recent cards were marketed. Brooks’ claims of false endorsement, false advertising and unfair competition also failed; Judge Cote found in Topps’ favor. In other words, Topps was free to have issued over 87,000 individual cards depicting Cool Papa Bell without permission.
Brooks filed an appeal, which was dismissed on November 3, 2008, presumably because the parties had reached a voluntary settlement.
Major League Baseball v. Donruss
Major League Baseball (MLB) reported revenues from baseball card licensing in excess of $75 million for the decade preceding 2009. However, a shift in demand had decreased the total market for all trading cards from approximately $1 billion at its height to $200 million. Further, the baseball card segment within the trading card market (including non-sport cards) had decreased from 75%-80% in the mid-1980s to just 15%-20%. In light of the prevailing market conditions in the mid-2000s, MLB had chosen to pare down its list of companies licensed to manufacture baseball cards to help stem further diminution of trading card licensing value.
When its licensing agreement with Donruss expired on December 31, 2005, MLB chose not to renew. That expired license agreement provided explicitly that Donruss would not use any MLB trademarks “in any capacity” without prior written consent, to include “primary colors of the MLB clubs in combination with baseball indicia or the MLB Clubs’ geographic designation.” Donruss eased its way back into the baseball card market in 2007 with its Elite Extra Edition set of 143 cards, which showed draft picks in their college uniforms or business suits and referenced the drafting team only by city name and an “AL” or “NL” league designation.
The Donruss Threads issue in 2008, however, caught MLB’s eye because the set included “numerous cards depicting former Major League Baseball players in the MLB Uniform Trade Dress and featuring various other MLB Marks.” MLB acknowledged that Donruss attempted to obscure or alter team logos, but the uniforms remained readily identifiable. (MLB also objected to the use of Minor League Baseball trademarks in the set pursuant to an agency agreement by which the names and likenesses of MiLB ballplayers were controlled by the respective parent MLB club.)
The matter was settled for a confidential dollar amount. A consent judgment was entered on August 14, 2009 in which Donruss was permanently enjoined from using any MLB marks and went as far as to prohibit Donruss from using an image featuring “a component of a Major League Baseball uniform that is airbrushed, intentionally blocks or covers, or otherwise alters, any of the MLB marks.” All offending product that had not been previously sold was to be destroyed. Finally, Donruss was precluded from opposing, cancelling, or interfering with the use or registration of MLB trademarks.
Panini bought Donruss in March 2009 and the newly christened “Panini America” issued Donruss Elite Extra Edition sets in 2009 and 2010 featuring draftees in their college uniforms and listing their drafting club only by city name. The 2011 Donruss Elite Extra Edition was a 25-card set that featured current MLB players, but Donruss cleverly had each player pose in generic pants and a plain t-shirt (and probably with a company lawyer in attendance).
Exclusive Details: MLB Cuts Ties with Upper Deck
In August 2009, Major League Baseball Properties (MLB) announced that it had awarded Topps a multiyear deal effective January 1, 2010 to become its exclusive trading card partner, with the hope that by dropping Upper Deck, Topps could “invigorate card collecting, especially with young fans.” Former Walt Disney Company CEO, Michael Eisner, who had acquired Topps in 2007, declared “it’s been difficult to promote cards as unique and original.”
In the wake of the news, Upper Deck voiced its intention to continue manufacturing cards and that they were going to analyze whether they could really be banned from depicting MLB logos and jerseys as MLB claimed. Perhaps not surprisingly, Upper Deck continued to market cards, often showing MLB logos and would have to engage in a separate fight with Topps of the alleged appropriation of trademarked Topps card designs from the 1960s and 1970s.
The major card set offerings in 2010 (21) would be the leanest since 1991 (25).
Topps v. Upper Deck
Canadian bubblegum manufacturer O-Pee-Chee (whose mark was based on a robin named “Opechee” in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha”) had a licensing agreement with Topps from the late 1950s through 1992 under which O-Pee-Chee produced trading cards using O-Pee-Chee trademarks for sale in Canada. During this time, Topps and O-Pee-Chee produced nearly identical baseball card sets but for card stock differences, branding, occasional photo variations, and the O-Pee-Chee versions including bilingual wording on baseball cards (required as of 1970 after the Canadian Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act in 1969, which gave English and French official status).
Throughout their longstanding relationship, however, none of Topps’ card design copyrights were transferred to O-Pee-Chee—theirs was strictly a licensing arrangement. In 1992, O-Pee-Chee severed ties with Topps and independently issued sets of baseball cards in 1993 and 1994 featuring original card designs.
In 2001, Upper Deck issued its first “Vintage” set comprised of cards—both front and back—that strongly resembled the 1963 Topps set. Similar Upper Deck Vintage sets followed in 2002 and 2003, each of which strongly resembled the 1971 and 1965 Topps sets, respectively. [Presumably Topps was not flattered by the imitation, but the author has not uncovered any litigation pertaining to Upper Deck’s production of these cards.] The final Vintage offering in 2004 sort of resembled 1954 Red Heart card fronts but featured completely different backs.
In 2007, Upper Deck announced it had acquired rights to relaunch the O-Pee-Chee brand name. Upper Deck produced hockey sets under the O-Pee-Chee banner immediately and in 2009 announced it would issue a 600-card baseball set under the O-Pee-Chee name. Available insert cards included separate series that resembled Topps’ 1975 baseball issue and Topps’ 1979-1980 hockey issue.
Upper Deck’s early promotional materials for the 2009 baseball set included mockup cards for Ichiro and Albert Pujols that were dead ringers for the 1971 Topps set design, with an additional insert set that resembled the 1977 Topps baseball card fronts. Ultimately, however, the 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee issue utilized a unique card design that did not appear to resemble any prior Topps products.
Topps took issue with the perceived design misappropriation and sued Upper Deck in federal court claiming that Upper Deck had not acquired any Topps’ copyrights when it made the deal with O-Pee-Chee. Topps also objected to Upper Deck’s use of autographed Topps cards having been incorporated into SP Legendary Cuts insert cards. Topps sought damages and an injunction to prevent Upper Deck from selling the cards that allegedly infringed on their copyrights.
Ultimately, Upper Deck’s attempted end around to use Topps designs by acquiring O-Pee-Chee rights was unsuccessful. Upper Deck settled for an undisclosed amount at a mediation held on November 2, 2009. No further O-Pee-Chee baseball sets were issued after 2009.
Upper Deck Thumbs its Nose at Major League Baseball
Despite its licensing agreement with MLB having expired on October 31, 2009, Upper Deck issued its 2009 Signature Stars and 2009 Ultimate Collection sets in January 2010. Upper Deck was also about to issue its full-blown 2010 flagship baseball card set (“Series I”) totaling 600 cards and complimented by a multitude of separate insert sets. The cards in each one of these sets, however, included photographs depicting MLB logos and marks that Upper Deck was no longer authorized to use.
While the cards were licensed by the MLBPA, Major League Baseball sued Upper Deck in February 2010 to stop the sale of the cards and prevent the distribution of additional planned issues including a planned second series for the 2010 flagship set (cards 601-650). In its complaint, MLB alleged Upper Deck displayed “a pattern of utter disrespect for the contractual and intellectual property rights of those from whom it licenses valuable trademarks.” MLB otherwise claimed Upper Deck had defaulted on payments totaling over $2.4 million across a number of licensing agreements.
The parties reached a settlement in which Upper Deck agreed to pay $3,065,824.92 to Major League Baseball and on March 17, 2010, entered a consent judgment in which Upper Deck acknowledged it had used MLB’s marks without permission in its 2009 Ultimate Collection, 2009 Signature Stars, and 2010 Series I issues. Upper Deck was permitted to sell any remaining cards that had been manufactured on or before February 1, 2010.
As part of the agreement, Upper Deck was permanently enjoined from using MLB’s marks: “in whole or in part of current or former players, coaches or managers wearing any item resembling a Major League Baseball uniform,” including “jerseys, pants, jackets, caps, helmets, and catchers’ equipment.” The judgment also prohibited Upper Deck from using an image featuring “a component of a Major League Baseball uniform that is airbrushed, intentionally blocks or covers, or otherwise alters, any of the MLB marks.”
On February 29, 2012, Major League Baseball had to file a subsequent lawsuit against Upper Deck in an effort to collect the remaining $265,000, plus interest, that Upper Deck had failed to pay under the settlement agreement reached in 2010.
How to Catch a Buzz
Topps issued an “American Heritage: American Heroes Edition” set in 2009 that featured cards of famous athletes, politicians, scientists, and other historic figures and events on cards using designs from Topps’ past. Several of these cards honored NASA space missions and depicted patches, rockets, and the Space Shuttle.
After being unable to negotiate a licensing fee with Topps, Dr. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin took exception to several cards in the set Topps issued anyways that featured his name and likeness. He was also upset the product box used the famous “Visor Shot” photo of Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 moon landing—along with Mickey Mantle and Abraham Lincoln. (Aldrin objected even though his face is not visible, and he can be identified only if one were to focus in on his name badge.) The card for the Gemini XII mission, in particular, included this historical description on the reverse:
“Astronauts had operated outside the spacecraft before, but astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s smooth, multi-tasking 140-minute space walk outside of Gemini XII was what finally confirmed NASA’s highest hopes for extravehicular astronaut activity. Gemini XII’s flawless, computer-guided re-entry marked the end of Project Gemini; America was ready to shoot for the moon.”
On December 27, 2010, Aldrin filed a lawsuit against Topps in California claiming his name, image, and likeness were used improperly. Topps countered that it was permitted to use the photos and descriptions of Aldrin and his historic accomplishments because they were matters of free speech and an issue of public interest. Ultimately, the court found that Topps had a First Amendment right to use Aldrin’s name and likeness without need for permission or payment. The cards simply used “Aldrin’s name in the course of conveying information about his historically significant achievements” and were not advertisements for some other, unrelated product. Further, the photo used on the box was deemed a “mere adjunct” to the cards themselves and was also protected.
A Case of Mistaken Identity?
Fausto Carmona went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA for the 2007 Cleveland Indians, a season in which he finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting and garnered MVP votes. Carmona was an All-Star in 2010, and the Indians’ Opening Day starter in 2011. On January 19, 2012, Carmona was arrested in his native Dominican Republic for allegedly using a false identity. It was revealed that Carmona’s real name was Roberto Hernandez Heredia, and he was 31, three years older than he had claimed.
Ohio educator Aaron Cookson had invested heavily in his Fausto Carmona personal collection consisting of “323 rookie cards of Carmona/Hernandez, mostly autographed cards with a lot of high-end and high-grade examples.” Cookson estimated he had spent in excess of $5,000 for the cards and he felt betrayed by the false identity revelation.
On August 1, 2012 Cookson filed a small claims lawsuit against Roberto Hernandez in Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court seeking $3000 in damages (the statutory maximum). Cookson protested, “as you know, the age of an athlete plays an important factor in his/her on-field performance and how collectable investors/collectors view their cards or memorabilia. I spent a lot of time and money collecting and investing in a guy that I thought was three years younger than he really was. I believe I was defrauded.”
According to Cookson, who remains an avid card collector, the parties reached a confidential settlement subject to a non-disclosure agreement and the case was dismissed. Pitching under his actual name, Hernandez was ineffective in three starts for Cleveland in 2012 and was released after the season. He bounced around for another four more years but was never able to recapture the magic of his 2007 campaign.
The Mastro Auctions Scandal
As of February 2009, Mastro Auctions had reportedly auctioned off more than 100,000 lots and sold in excess of $300 million worth of collectibles, including high-end baseball cards and memorabilia. Principle, Bill Mastro, was indicted in 2012 on federal mail fraud charges for his role in artificially inflating auction lot prices through shill bidding practices (i.e., bogus bids used to create illusion of demand and boost final auction prices) and for his role in altered sports memorabilia items.
On October 10, 2013, Mastro entered a guilty plea in which he admitted to the shill bidding scheme and specifically to having personally trimmed a T-206 Honus Wagner before selling the card in 1987. He failed to disclose his alteration of the card during his involvement with an auction of the card in 1991 by Sotheby’s (when the card was famously purchased by Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall for $451,000), when the card was submitted to PSA for grading in 1992 (famously the first card ever submitted to PSA for grading), and at a subsequent online Robert Edwards auction in 2000 for $1.1 million plus commission (famously the most ever paid for a single baseball card at the time). Mastro also admitted to having known that laboratory test results on the “1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Trophy Ball” sold by Mastro for $62,000 revealed that it contained paint manufactured after World War II.
Based on his guilty plea to the felony charges, Mastro was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison and assessed a fine of $250,000.
When famed collector and New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper announced he would be auctioning off his sizeable collection in 1999, it caused quite a stir. The collection was so renowned the catalog became a collectible in its own right and auction house Sotheby’s produced a set of baseball cards to commemorate and promote some of the most important pieces up for auction. The Halper Collection auction was wildly successful and reportedly accounted for $21.8 million in sales.
The 16-card set produced by Sotheby’s featured photos on the front of famous events combined with select items up for sale. The set contained several Babe Ruth cards, a Pete Rose card with the Expos jersey worn when he smacked his 4000th hit (signed of course), a Black Sox card, Jackie Robinson card, and a Lou Gehrig card promoting the auction of his “final glove,” among others. The back side of each card bore an uncanny resemblance the 1953 Topps issue, complete with a cartoon.
A Willie Mays card featured a photo of “The Catch” on the front and a 1950s Willie Mays Giants travel bag and signed hat up for auction. The reverse side offered auction estimates for a 1951 Willie Mays New York Giants signed rookie road jersey ($25,000-$35,000), travel bag ($1000-$1500), and signed hat ($100-$200).
Pennsylvania collector Michael Jacobs was the high bidder on two items at the September 1999 sale, having paid $63,000 for the rookie Mays jersey and $8625 for the bag. In July 2012, Jacobs had the jersey appraised by Leland’s of New York for insurance purposes. It appraised for $400,000.
About June 2013, Leland’s brokered a deal to buy the jersey from Jacobs for $675,000 in order to sell it immediately to a third-party buyer. Unfortunately, a subsequent examination deemed the jersey inauthentic—apparently, the name and number had been added sometime after the fact to a standard 1951 New York Giants jersey. Also, it was discovered that the stenciling on the travel bag was inconsistent with the style used at the time.
Jacobs sued the Halper estate, Sotheby’s, and Grey Flannel Collectibles, Inc., the company that had authenticated the jerseys according to the auction catalogue, which stated “Grey Flannel Collectibles, Inc. is honored to have had the opportunity to evaluate and authenticate this wonderful collection of uniforms and jerseys belonging to Barry Halper.” Grey Flannel undertook a basic authentication (e.g., comparing the jerseys to photos or genuine exemplars) and removed approximately 100 jerseys from the auction it could not confirm as authentic.
The auction catalogue also included a five-year authenticity guarantee that would serve to rescind the purchase of an inauthentic item and refund of the purchase price. Jacobs was well beyond the five-year timeframe when he learned of the issue but argued that defendants could not hide behind the guarantee when they fraudulently misrepresented that Grey Flannel had authenticated the jersey.
Ultimately, the court found that Jacobs could not show “Sotheby’s displayed an extreme departure from the standards of ordinary care applicable to auction houses in selecting and relying upon third-party authenticators for sports memorabilia.” The case was dismissed on July 26, 2016, a true example of “may the buyer beware.”
The Jacobs lawsuit was just another in a long line of cases in which the parties sparred over what appeared on a baseball card—and somewhat fittingly, a card (back) that resembled one of those early 1950s Topps issues where this all began.
Fanatics bought Topps for about $500 million in early 2022. As of 2026, Fanatics will have the exclusive right to design, manufacture, and distribute baseball cards per licensing agreements with both the MLBPA and MLB. Will this put an end to baseball card-related litigation? Not likely.
In October 2022, a Michigan man was sentenced to 30 months in prison for selling packs of vintage baseball cards that were opened, had the valuable cards removed, and resealed to look like unopened packs. Bryan Kennert had reportedly engaged in schemes to sell counterfeit sports cards and searched packs for at least 30 years. In fact, federal agents found bogus sports cards at his home that would have been worth $7.3 million if authentic.
Elsewhere, lawsuits roll on dealing with Topps redemption cards, Upper Deck logos on counterfeit cards, and a man in New York who has sued his mother to seek the return of valuable baseball cards she has refused to return to him.
More things change, the more they stay the same.
A sincere thank you to anyone who has enjoyed this series in light of its length and often tedious legal discussions. There are dozens of other cases that could have been included and may be given separate treatment down the road. If you know of a particular baseball card-related matter you think would make for an interesting article, please let me know.
Also, a hearty thank you is necessary for Jason Schwartz for his generous time with review and in making suggested edits along the way.
www.tcdb.com “Major Issues” comes straight from the Trading Card Database website. The author was unable to find a defined methodology for what constituted a “Major Issue,” but it seems like the sets listed were typically sold nationally (U.S. and/or Canada) in individual packs.
Price v. Pinnacle Brands, Inc., 96CV2150 (N.D. Tex. 1997).
Schwartz v. The Upper Deck Co., 956 F.Supp. 1552 (S.D. Cal. 1997).
Dumas v. Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., 104 F.Supp.2d 1220 (S.D. Cal. 2000).
Dumas v. Fleer/Skybox International, LP, 99CV1793-B (AJB) (S.D. Cal. 6/21/2000) (S.D. Cal. 2000). Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Price, 105 F.Supp.2d 46 (E.D. N.Y. 2000).
The Upper Deck Company and Ken Griffey Jr. v. The Topps Company, Inc., 01CV00329 (S.D. Cal. 2001). The reason why Upper Deck gave up on the case is not clear but if a settlement had been reached, the dismissal would have been with prejudice.
Chaset v. Fleer/Skybox Intern., LP, 300 F.3d 1083 (9th Cir. 2002). Eight similar cases were consolidated against the ever-expanding list of defendants to include not only trading card manufacturers but the Major League Baseball Players Association, Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., NBA Properties, Inc., NFL Properties, Inc., National Football League Players Association, National Hockey League Enterprises, NHL Players Association, Walt Disney Company, Nintendo of America, Inc., Wizards of the Coast, Inc., and others. Judgments were entered dismissing the RICO claims without leave to amend and dismissing the supplemental state law claims without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).
The Upper Deck Co., LLC v. Federal Ins. Co., 358 F.3d 608 (9th Cir. 2004). Upper Deck submitted the RICO claims to its insurance carrier, Federal Insurance Company, claiming that the alleged acts were covered under its policy. Federal refused to cover the claims on the grounds that there was “no accident or occurrence” as required under the policy. Despite having prevailed in the RICO cases, Upper Deck filed suit against its insurance company seeking to recoup the money it spent defending the case. The court found in favor of the insurance company, agreeing with the Federal there was no “occurrence” to have triggered the policy and, accordingly, there was no duty on the part of Federal to pay for Upper Deck’s attorneys.
Miller v. Collectors Universe, Inc., 65 Cal.Rptr.3d 351, 154 Cal.App.4th 1047 (Cal. App. 2007).
Brooks ex rel. Estate of Bell v. The Topps Co., Inc., 2007 WL 4547585 (S.D. N.Y. 2007).
Card / Release Date / Total Number of Cards in Series / Total Number of Bell Cards in Series
(1.) 2001 Topps Series II Baseball (base card) / April 16, 2001 / 51,800,000 / 34,800
(3.) 2001 Topps Chrome (refractor parallel card) / May 21, 2001 / Same series as (2) above / 5000
(4.) 2004 Topps Tribute Hall of Fame (base card) / November 1, 2004 / 217,000 / 2170
(5.) 2004 Topps Tribute Hall of Fame (gold parallel card) / November 1, 2004 / Same series as (4) above / 74
(6.) 2004 Topps Tribute Hall of Fame (Cooperstown Cut Signature Card) (“2004 Signature Card”) / November 1, 2004 / Same series as (4) above / 1
(7.) 2004 eTopps Classic (base card) / August 2, 2004 to August 9, 2004 / N/A / 938
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Donruss Playoff, L.P. and Donruss, LLC, 09CV00593 (S.D. N.Y. 2009).
The Topps Company, Inc. v. The Upper Deck Company, Inc., 09CV3780 (S.D. N.Y. 2009). The first O-Pee-Chee baseball card set was produced in 1965.
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. The Upper Deck Company, LLC, 10CV00732 (S.D. N.Y. 2010).
Aldrin v. Topps Co., CV1009939 (C.D. Cal. 2011). After the ruling in their favor, Topps filed a motion to recover attorneys’ fees. Aldrin filed an appeal. The motion for attorney’s fees was denied and on May 2, 2012, the appeal was voluntarily dismissed, presumably because the parties were able to reach some type of confidential agreement.
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. The Upper Deck Company, LLC, 12CV01512 (S.D. N.Y. 2012).
Cookson v. Hernandez, Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court, Case No. 2012 CVI 029028.
United States of America v. William Mastro, 12CR00567 (2012). The Mastro-trimmed T-206 Wagner was the first card ever submitted to PSA and received an 8/10 grade, but would not have been eligible for a number grade if the alteration had been disclosed or independently discovered by PSA.
Jacobs v. Halper, 14CV06515 (E.D. Pa. 2014); 116 F. Supp. 3d 469 (E.D. Pa. 2015). Note: The checklist for the “1999 Sotheby’s Barry Halper Collection of Baseball Memorabilia” set found on www.tcdb.com is inaccurate. Here is the actual checklist: 1. Sotheby’s header card, 2. The Babe’s Last Bat, 3. Lou Gehrig Day, 4. Joe D’s Rookie Year, 5. The Black Sox Series, 6. The M&M Boys, 7. Willie’s Catch, 8. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, 9. King of Competition (Ty Cobb), 10. Pine Tar Rhubarb, 11. A Whole New Ballgame (Internet Auction), 12. Pete Rose’s 4000th Hit, 13. Babe Ruth Shows Kids How It’s Done, 14. Babe Ruth, Newspaperman, 15. The Barnstormers (Bob Feller and Satchel Paige), and 16. Jackie’s Promise.
Upper Deck v. Miguel Flores, 21CV01182 (S.D. Cal. 2021).
Wheeler v. The Topps Company, 22CV02264 (S.D. N.Y. 2022).
Alan Walker, “Hey! Wow! Lookithat! Look at all that bubble gum!,” Calgary Herald, May 8, 1971: 77, 79, 81.
Daryl Slade, “Company is bringing back rookies,” Calgary Herald, September 13, 1992: 57.
Rod Hirsch, “Wagner card is heavy hitter for collectors,” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), June 29, 2000: 91.
“Wagner card sells for $1.265M,” The Daily Times (Salisbury, Maryland), July 19, 2000: 21.
Bill Wagner, “Topps, Upper Deck still in baseball as competitors axed,” Record Searchlight (Redding, California), July 24, 2005: 21.
Erik Schwartz, “Outta here: Bidders get Fleer assets,” Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey), September 10, 2005: 9.
“’Cool Papa’ was no buffoon, sez lawsuit,” Daily News (New York, New York), November 23, 2007: 8.
Author’s Note: This is the third in a multi-part series that explores the legal backstories that have shaped (and continue to shape) the baseball card industry.
You may recall that Fleer and Donruss entered the baseball card market in 1981 after a Pennsylvania district court found that Topps and the Major League Baseball Players Association (“MLBPA”) had illegally restrained trade in the baseball card market. The court voided Topps’ player contract exclusivity clause and the MLBPA was ordered to enter into at least one additional licensing agreement “to market a pocket-size baseball card product, to be sold alone or in combination with a low-cost premium.” This freewheeling baseball card market was short-lived, however, once the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the Pennsylvania district court’s order on August 25, 1981 and held the exclusive rights in Topps’ player contracts were legal and enforceable.
Ultimately victorious, Topps filed separate matters in Delaware (seeking to disgorge Fleer of its 1981 profits) and New York (seeking to recover Fleer’s profits for 1982/1983 claiming that Fleer’s team logo sticker was a “sham product”). Both cases were settled on confidential terms, though with a provision that allowed Fleer to continue selling baseball cards with team logo stickers.
The MLBPA Turns the Screws on Topps
Despite settlement between Topps and Fleer in the Delaware and New York matters, the case continued as to the counterclaim by the MLBPA against Topps, which the court astutely observed had likely been filed “in order to exert some pressure on Topps to abandon or at least modify the breadth of its interpretation of its player contracts.” Specifically, the MLBPA sought declaration that the word “alone” in Topps’ contracts did not include “low-cost non-confectionary items like Fleer’s team logo sticker.”
Marvin Miller, however, had admitted under oath in the prior Pennsylvania matter that Topps’ rights would be infringed by the sale of cards with a “completely valueless item” and that the MLBPA would have denied any proposal for baseball cards to be sold with a “trivial product.” Additionally, the court took issue with the absence of evidence regarding how much it cost to produce the stickers or “the extent, if any, to which the sticker motivates purchases” of Fleer wax packs. Topps argued the only way for Fleer to avoid an infringement claim would be to “make sure that the production cost of the [logo sticker] at least equal[ed] the production cost of the cards in the package.”
However, the settlement of the underlying case between Topps and Fleer had altered the nature of the contract issue that the MLBPA wished to litigate. Although the precise terms were confidential, the settlement agreement required Fleer to increase the production cost of the logo sticker compared to the cost of the cards in each pack and specified that the logo sticker needed to be featured prominently on packaging and advertisement for the product.
Because Topps was satisfied that Fleer’s logo stickers no longer infringed on their rights to market cards alone, the court held that the MLBPA was seeking remedy for a package of cards (containing a “sham” sticker) that was no longer being marketed and that the MLBPA’s claim was nonjusticiable—it simply did not present an active controversy over which the court could preside. Accordingly, the matter was dismissed on August 25, 1986.
Turnabout is Fair Play
Separate litigation continued between Topps and MLBPA in New York. There, Topps alleged that the MLBPA had instigated a group player boycott; had attempted to monopolize Major League Baseball players’ publicity rights in violation of the Sherman Act; and had tortiously interfered with Topps contractual relationships with the players.
The compensation Topps offered for player contracts had remained unchanged since 1975—players received $5 upon signing the initial contract and received a $250 advance against his pro rata share of a royalty pool for every season he was a member of a major league club (and Topps used his picture on a card). All-Star pitcher Jim Kern described the deal with Topps rather pithily, “you get $250 from Topps, hell or high water, if your face is on a card.”
Marvin Miller had repeatedly attempted to negotiate better terms, but Topps ignored all demands—mainly because Topps’ individual contracting system left the MLBPA with little bargaining power. In fact, Topps had offered a lower royalty rate for exclusive rights than Fleer and Donruss had for non-exclusive rights prior to the 1982 season.
In an effort to increase their bargaining power, the board recommended that no player enter into or renew an agreement with Topps. Executive board member Buck Martinez acknowledged the MLBPA “simply wanted to negotiate a new contract with Topps.” The matter came to a head in January 1986, when Miller and Don Fehr distributed a memo that declared “the Executive Board has determined that it cannot, and will not recommend that any player enter into a new agreement with Topps, or renew or extend any existing agreement with Topps, pending the outcome of the discussions between the association and Topps.” Accordingly, few players signed renewals with Topps. The MLBPA thereafter presented Topps with a licensing offer of “commercially reasonable terms.”
Topps’ player contracts were set to expire with approximately 100 individual Major League players (a group that included most of the players deemed “superstars”) on December 31, 1986. Topps complained that it would be unable to produce a complete set of cards for 1987 if those contracts were allowed to expire.
In its opinion issued on August 1, 1986, the court found questions of fact regarding whether the MLBPA intended to obtain monopoly power. However, denial of Topps’ request for a preliminary injunction was a monumental win for the MLBPA, “Topps can easily avoid the irreparable harm it claims it will suffer by accepting the offer the MLBPA has made.” In other words, Topps could simply pay for the rights to renew those 100 players with expiring contracts, however unpalatable it was to Topps. Forced into the corner, a deal was struck that allowed Topps to market a full set in 1987 and beyond.
Though card manufacturers like Topps generally kept production numbers private, “one trade magazine estimated the tally at 81 billion trading cards per year in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, or more than 300 cards for every American annually.”
In Re: Nolan Ryan Rookie Card
In April 1990, a 12-year-old collector walked out of the Ball-Mart card shop in Addison, Illinois with a beautiful 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan card. The owner of the shop, Joe Irmen, had been in the baseball card business for just a few weeks and had marked the card “1200” without a dollar sign, comma, or decimal point ($1200 was essentially top dollar for the card at the time). During a blitz of customers at the card shop, Irmen asked a clerk from his next-door jewelry store to help out. Unfortunately, that clerk had no knowledge about the value of the card and mistakenly sold it for $12.
After being inundated with requests for cheap Ryan rookie cards, Irmen discovered the $1200 card in his case had been sold at a steep discount—the receipt on file clearly showed the $12 purchase price.
Irmen initiated a manhunt and posted a sign in his store offering a $100 reward for information about the person who had purchased the card. Once the buyer (a minor) was identified, Irmen went to the child’s house, but no one answered the door. Thereafter unable to negotiate its return, Irmen filed a lawsuit in an effort to recover the card. The family, who felt the card was purchased fairly, filed a $60,000 counterclaim for defamation.
The matter was set for trial on March 5, 1991 in front of DuPage County Judge Ann Jorgensen. Before the proceedings began, it was revealed that a trade had been made the night before in which the 1968 Ryan card had been exchanged for a 1965 Joe Namath rookie and 1967 Tom Seaver rookie. The bombshell revelation resulted in a shouting match between the attorneys. Bailiffs had to clear the courtroom.
Once order was restored, the case was continued and eventually settled by way of the parties agreeing to have the card auctioned off for charity. On June 21, 1991 the card was sold for $5000, and the proceeds split between the parties to be donated to charities of their choice.
Cutting Cards: A Cautionary Tale
In what may qualify as the original “cart art,” Dad’s Kid Corporation produced a set of “Tri Cards” in 1992 that were assembled using three identical baseball cards issued by Donruss, Fleer, Score, or Upper Deck. The top two cards were die-cut such that only the body of player remained. Those two pieces were then stacked and glued atop an uncut card to create a neat 3-D effect. Each card was encased in a plastic box and sold individually or in a two-pack, packaged such that each card was visible to potential buyers.
The owner of Dad’s Kid Corporation, Christopher Kamar, had struck deals with Toys R Us, F.A.O. Schwartz, Spencer Gifts, and other retailers to sell his Tri Cards. Almost immediately, the Tri Cards were so popular that Dad’s Kid had to run three shifts of 100 assemblers per shift just to meet demand. In fact, its initial shipment to Toys R Us was so successful, Dad’s Kid had a reorder on the table worth upwards of $20 million when Upper Deck, Score, Leaf, and the MLBPA filed coordinated lawsuits in New York and California seeking to stop Dad’s Kid from selling its Tri Card products. The respective lawsuits alleged that any modification of existing baseball cards, without prior written permission, violated trademark and copyright law.
For its part, Dad’s Kid had undertaken a thorough legal analysis before it began the manufacturing process and was operating under a good-faith belief it was not infringing on any rights; it was simply using cards purchased legally on the secondary market. Moreover, the company posted an explicit disclaimer on each box alerting consumers it was not claiming any rights with respect to the cards and was otherwise not affiliated with any of the card manufacturers, MLB, or the MLBPA.
In the New York case, the MLBPA moved for an injunction asking the court to stop Dad’s Kid from selling Tri Card products. The district court refused, citing the “first-sale doctrine” in a ruling issued on November 12, 1992:
“The fact that an enormous secondary market exists for baseball cards and baseball card derivative works leads me to conclude on this record that baseball players have little if any continuing publicity rights with respect to the use and reuse of their pictures on cards by subsequent purchasers and sellers of duly licensed baseball cards following a perfectly proper first sale into commerce for which the players get a royalty.” Effectively, the players did not have the right to control what was done with the cards after the initial sale and had no claim for any additional compensation. On the heels of this victory, Dad’s Kid announced its Tri Cards would be back in 1993.
The lawsuits rolled on, however, and in April 1993 the New York case was consolidated with the California matters to continue there. Unfortunately for Dad’s Kid, the California district court did not agree with (and was not bound by) the New York first-sale ruling and instead issued a permanent injunction on August 12, 1994 that prohibited Dad’s Kid from producing any further Tri Cards. The court further ordered that Dad’s Kid reimburse the plaintiff card manufacturers and MLBPA over $1 million collectively in attorneys’ fees and costs.
Dad’s Kid appealed and the case was eventually dismissed on March 8, 1996, pursuant to a confidential settlement.
Johnny Bench Hit by his Own Pitch
Sports cards and memorabilia sales continued to soar in the 1990s and quickly became a fixture on shop-at-home television stations. This format often preyed on those unfamiliar with the actual value of items and otherwise created an environment where even sophisticated collectors might get caught up in the frenzied sales tactics.
Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench appeared on the Home Shopping Network on August 5, 1993 to hawk baseballs he had signed. In typical shop-at home fashion, viewers were initially told the autographed balls were worth $129. They claimed the baseballs would sell out at $99.95. Finally, the Bench-signed baseballs were dropped to the low, low price of $49.95.
Unfortunately for the Home Shopping Network and Bench, however, the New York Department of Consumer Affairs had started to monitor the values claimed for sports card and memorabilia. With the help of a trusted price guide, they determined that an autographed Johnny Bench baseball was worth $35, only 70% of its final “sensational” sales price.
The first celebrity endorser to face such charges in New York, Bench was personally cited for misrepresenting the value of his own signature on a ball. Bench was hit with a $5000 fine in December and Home Shopping Network was ordered to pay $30,000.
Poking the Bear
Seeking to “put the fun back in baseball card collecting,” Cardtoons readied a 1993 release of parody baseball cards intended to poke fun at the egos and greed in the game (and the world) with an issue that was equal parts Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, and traditional trading cards. The set of 130 cards lampooned current players, retired legends, Michael Jordan (the baseball player) and political figures like Bill Clinton.
Cardtoons tapped free agent sportswriter Mike Sowell to create the players’ alter egos and write the card backs. Caricatures by Dayne Dudley and Dave Simpson were deftly rendered so that each individual was recognizable without including team logos that might run afoul of MLB’s rights. In fact, even the team names were changed to cheeky monikers (e.g., Orioles/Bore-Ioles and Cubs/Scrubs). The glossy cards were distributed in foil packs along with chase cards, foil versions, insert sets, puzzles, and redemption cards intended to skewer the baseball card industry, itself. Cardtoons’ initial run called for some 13 million cards to be printed.
Cardtoons first advertised their cards in the May 14, 1993 issue of Sports Collector Digest. This caught the attention of the MLBPA (who had not issued a license to Cardtoons to use the likenesses of the players depicted). The MLBPA sent Cardtoons a letter on June 18 asserting that its product violated the “valuable property rights of MLBPA and the players” and threatened legal action if any cards of active baseball players were sold. A similar letter was sent to the printing company, who immediately halted production.
Just days after receipt of the cease-and-desist letter, Cardtoons filed a lawsuit against MLBPA seeking a declaration that it could sell parody baseball cards without license from the MLBPA pursuant to First Amendment protection. At a subsequent evidentiary hearing, Cardtoons revealed it was sitting on nearly 4000 cases of product ready to ship. The MLBPA claimed it would never have licensed a parody set that poked fun at individual players (and also admitted to a “glut” in the market for baseball cards!).
The district court considered that parodies (such as political cartoons) were generally protected by the First Amendment and “deserving of substantial freedom—both as entertainment and as a form of social and literary criticism.” The issue the court wrangled with, however, was whether “one can sell a parody” and ultimately decided that Cardtoons could not profit from the players’ likenesses and fame. An order was entered that prohibited Cardtoons from selling cards containing the likenesses of active Major League ballplayers (101 of the 130 cards in the set). Damages were denied because none of the cards had actually been sold at the time the decision was rendered on November 23, 1993.
The Cardtoons set eventually saw the light of day, however, because raunchy rap group 2 Live Crew sampled a Roy Orbison song without permission. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, 2 Live Crew prevailed in a ruling handed down on March 7, 1994 in which it was held that a commercial (i.e., made specifically for sale) parody song could constitute fair use.
Cardtoons sought reconsideration in light of the 2 Live Crew ruling and on October 25, 1994, the district court reversed its prior decision, this time finding it reasonable that Cardtoons would seek compensation for its efforts and recognized that “parodists will seldom get permission from those whose works are parodied. Self-esteem is seldom strong enough to permit the granting of permission even in exchange for a reasonable fee.” The court ultimately ruled that that right of publicity did not “confer a shield to ward off caricature, parody and satire” and that the Cardtoons cards were protected by the First Amendment, regardless of their commercial nature.
Finally clear to distribute their cards, Cardtoons released the set in 1995—the product’s overarching message elegantly punctuated by intervening strike and cancellation of the 1994 World Series. While the original version of cards was set to be “90 percent positive in the way they portrayed players,” Sowell’s opinion soured as the court battle raged. He decided there was “no need to be nice” and satirized the players as he saw fit.
The appeal filed by MLBPA was denied in 1996, the Tenth Circuit ruling succinctly that “the last thing we need, the last thing the First Amendment will tolerate, is a law that lets public figures keep people from mocking them.” But for the protracted lawsuit, Cardtoons had plans to issue card sets for other sports.
Mickey Mantle v. Upper Deck
On February 1, 1993 Mickey Mantle entered a three-year contract that gave Upper Deck “exclusive worldwide rights to use and reuse. . .Mantle’s name (as well as any nicknames), image, likeness, artists’ portrayal of image or likeness, visual representation, signature (or facsimile thereof), photograph, voice, biography, statistics and endorsements” for baseball cards and associated promotional materials. Upper Deck’s 1993 Mantle issues were relatively modest, including several “All-Time Heroes” multiplayer cards and a “Then and Now” card featuring a young Mantle aside a holographic image an older Mantle wearing an Upper Deck jersey.
In 1994, Upper Deck produced a slew of Mantle cards, including one that was personally signed by both Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr. That year, Topps also issued a Mantle card as part of its Archive set, styled as a 1954 Topps card and clearly indicating on the reverse that it had rights to issue the card per an agreement with Upper Deck. (Mantle was signed with Bowman exclusively in 1954 and 1955 and Topps had not issued Mantle cards those seasons.)
Despite Upper Deck wholeheartedly issuing a multitude of Mantle cards in 1994, the company reportedly soured on the deal after Mantle publicly admitted he had undergone alcohol rehabilitation. Mantle filed a lawsuit late in the year claiming that Upper Deck had threatened to rescind the contract unless he agreed to take a pay cut. Upper Deck admitted, “discussions regarding restructuring Mr. Mantle’s contract were the product of his disability and other performance-related concerns.” Upper Deck claimed Mantle had “failed to live up to his commitments as effective spokesperson for the company.”
In February 1995 the parties agreed to participate in arbitration (an alternative dispute resolution process in which three arbitrators—not a jury or judge—decide the case and amount of damages, if any). Despite the ongoing dispute, Upper Deck went ahead and issued a set of metallic Mickey Mantle baseball cards in 1995.
Somewhat ironically, Upper Deck sued several parties in a separate action on February 14, 1995 claiming that those companies could not sell items autographed by Mantle during the term of Upper Deck’s exclusive contract with Mantle. One of those companies, Score Board, prevailed because its contract with Mantle specifically provided it could sell off remaining merchandise after that contract expired on January 31, 1993. At the same time, Score Board had separately sued Upper Deck in New Jersey claiming that Upper Deck was improperly selling autographed Ken Griffey Jr. signatures that Score Board had exclusive right to sell.
On May 28, 1995, Mantle was hospitalized and underwent a liver transplant on June 8. After Mantle passed away on August 13, 1995, collectors scrambled to acquire Mantle items and Upper Deck, alone, sold more than $500,000 worth of Mantle memorabilia on the heels of his death. Mantle’s (estranged) widow Merlyn and personal attorney Roy True continued to prosecute the Upper Deck case on behalf of Mantle’s estate.
On May 22, 1996 the arbitration panel awarded the estate nearly $5 million (approximately $9.7 million in today’s dollars), which included actual damages for having sold Mantle merchandise without a license to do so, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Upper Deck sought to have the award vacated, but their efforts failed, and the lawsuit was closed in April 1997.
Orel Hershiser Adds Another Shutout
Orel Hershiser is probably best known for his amazing 1988 pitching performance in which he tossed 59 consecutive shutout innings. A decade later, Hershiser sued Vintage Sports Plaques (“Vintage”) for infringement of licensing and publicity rights after learning that Vintage was selling Hershiser’s baseball cards affixed to wooden plaques and labeled with his name. (Deluxe plaques included a “clock with a sports motif.”) The Hershiser cards used by Vintage were purchased from licensed manufacturers and framed without alteration. Vintage, itself, had no licensing agreements with any parties.
Vintage argued that the “first-sale doctrine” was a complete defense to the publicity claims. The first-sale doctrine provides that “once the holder of an intellectual property right consents to the sale of particular copies. . .of his work, he may not thereafter exercise the distribution right with respect to such copies.” The court rightly recognized that its failure to apply the first-sale doctrine in the Hershiser case would “render tortious the resale of sports trading cards and memorabilia” and would have a chilling effect on the secondary market for trading cards. In fact, refusing to apply the first-sale doctrine here would essentially make it impossible for a child to sell a baseball card to a friend.
Ultimately, the court found that Vintage was merely reselling cards that it had lawfully obtained. “This is more appropriately classified as a case of an entrepreneur repackaging or displaying the trading cards in a more attractive way to consumers rather than a case of an opportunist using Plaintiffs’ names and likenesses to sell frames and clocks.” The appellate court affirmed and the plaintiff’s declined to pursue any further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hershiser was shutout.
An Ocean of Cards
Although the MLBPA had long been involved in baseball card-related disputes and litigation, the owners of the ballclubs had not been quite so active, perhaps because collecting money for the use of their trademarked logos and uniforms, while very lucrative, was not the lifeblood that licensing revenue represented for the MLBPA.
This changed in 1998, however, when Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. (“MLB”) learned that Pacific Trading Cards was in the process of manufacturing and distributing cards that depicted players in their MLB uniforms, despite MLB having refused to grant a license to Pacific for the current set. (MLB had authorized previous Pacific issues).
Pacific was fully licensed by the MLBPA and went forward with manufacture “either believing mistakenly that it would receive a license from MLB or not caring whether it would.” The MLB sued to stop Pacific from distributing their cards. The MLB’s request for a preliminary injunction was denied, inter alia, because the court felt that the inclusion of the logos or trademarks were only incidental to the depiction of the player and did not imply any sponsorship by MLB for the card.
An appeal followed by MLB and Pacific implored the court for permission to ship their cards immediately or the results would be financially ruinous. Ultimately, MLB and Pacific were able to reach a settlement and Pacific continued to issue sets of baseball cards through 2001.
Throughout the 1990s, card companies, like Pacific, continued to churn out nearly innumerable piles of cards. An exclusive license for Topps was on the horizon, but the fighting would continue in nearly every corner of the hobby.
To be continued…
Fleer Corp. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., 501 F.Supp. 485 (E.D. Pa. 1980). The only trading card product ever to outsell baseball cards was Wacky Packages in 1973-74. The court noted that the slab of gum weighed “4.30 grams” in 1978. Fleer had a net operating loss in 1978 and its net income (loss) was as follows: 1977—$346,621; 1976—$502,257; 1975—$720,274; 1974—($309,261); 1973—$382,354; 1972—$268,926; 1971—$148,494; 1970—($200,016). Roughly two thirds of baseball cards purchased are purchased by “heavy” buyers (i.e., those who purchase more than 200 cards per year.)
Fleer Corp. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., 658 F.2d 139, 658 F.2d 139 (3rd Cir. 1981). The number of players included in each licensing agreement varied. Some contracts, like those with Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s covered all the players, while others included “not less than 72, and not more than 300.”
Fleer Corp. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1019 (1982).
Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. v. Fleer Corp., 547 F.Supp. 102 (D. Del. 1982).
Tetley, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., 556 F.Supp. 785 (E.D.N.Y. 1983). Tetley Tea manufacturer sued Topps for including “Petley Flea Bags” in its Wacky Packages release. Approximately 200,000 of the sticker was issued between 1975 and 1977 and Topps had produced approximately 400,000 more of the sticker for its 1982 release. Topps agreed to discontinue distribution of the offending sticker once the printed run was fully depleted.
Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Players Association, 641 F.Supp. 1179 (S.D. N.Y. 1986) Topps paid royalties to the MLBPA computed at 8% of Topps’ first $4 million in net sales and 10% of Topps’ net sales in excess of $4 million.
Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. v. Fleer Corp., 799 F.2d 851 (2nd Cir. 1986). The MLBPA was granted intervention as a defendant in Topps case against Fleer; Topps had not sued the MLBPA directly in this action. The matter was remanded to the district court to be dismissed without prejudice, which would have allowed the MLBPA to have filed a new lawsuit against Topps, if they desired. No such suit was filed.
Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., 642 F.Supp. 1031 (N.D. Ga. 1986). The makers of Cabbage Patch Kids sued Topps for copyright and trademark infringement caused by the sale of its Garbage Pail Kids stickers. Between May 1985 and August 1986, Topps had sold more than 800 million stickers. Before issuing the Garbage Pail Kids product, Topps had unsuccessfully tried to obtain a license for Cabbage Patch Kids. Topps eventually agreed to a confidential cash settlement and design changes to the cards. “Cabbage Patch Dolls are Victorious Over Garbage Pail Kids.” The Columbus (Georgia) Ledger, February 4, 1987: 8.
Fleer Corp. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 539 A.2d 1060 (Del., 1988). “Restitution serves to ‘deprive the defendant of benefits that in equity and good conscience he ought not to keep, even though he may have received those benefits honestly in the first instance, and even though the plaintiff may have suffered no demonstrable losses.’”
Cardtoons v. Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 838 F. Supp. 1501 (N.D. Okla. 1993). The six companies with MLBPA licenses to sell baseball cards at the time were producing an estimated $1.3 billion in annual sales. Caricature was defined as “the deliberate distorted picturing or imitating of a person, literary style, etc. by exaggerating features or mannerisms for satirical effect.”
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994). The District Court had granted summary judgment for 2 Live Crew, holding that its song “Pretty Woman” was a parody that made fair use of the original Roy Orbison song “Oh, Pretty Woman.” The appellate court reversed because they felt 2 Live Crew had “taken too much” of the original for their own use and that the song constituted a commercial use. The Supreme Court subsequently reversed and remanded holding that 2 Live Crew’s commercial parody might qualify as fair use.
Cardtoons v. Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 868 F. Supp. 1266 (N.D. Okla. 1994).
Cardtoons, L.C. v. Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 95 F.3d 959, 39 USPQ2d 1865 (10th Cir. 1996). “Because Cardtoons’ First Amendment right to free expression outweighs MLBPA’s proprietary right of publicity, we affirm.” The court noted that royalties from baseball cards generated over 70 percent of the MLBPA’s licensing revenue.
Mantle v. Upper Deck Co., 956 F.Supp. 719 (N.D. Texas, 1997). Mantle sued The Upper Deck Company and Upper Deck Authenticated, Ltd. These related companies are referred to collectively as “Upper Deck” for the reader’s benefit. Judgment confirmed for Estate of Mickey Mantle against defendants in the principal amount of $2,725,258.00, exemplary damages in the amount of $1,000,000.00, attorney’s fees in amount of $1,241,628.00, prejudgment interest at 10% per year from the date of the award until the date of judgment, and post-judgment interest at 5.81% per year.
Upper Deck Authenticated, Ltd. v. CPG Direct, 971 F.Supp. 1337 (S.D. Cal. 1997). Defendants included Shop at Home, Inc., CPG Direct, B&J Collectibles, William Rodman, Kenneth Goldin, Classic Games, Inc., Catch a Star Collectibles, Inc., The Score Board, Inc., Score Board Retail Corporation, The Score Board Holding Corporation.
The Score Board, Inc. v. Upper Deck Co., 959 F.Supp. 234 (D. N.J. 1997).
Allison v. Vintage Sports Plaques, 136 F.3d 1443 (11th Cir. 1998). Hershiser had otherwise earned $230,000 from licensing and endorsement deals from 1993 through 1996. Stockcar driver Cliff Allison’s widow Elisa was also a plaintiff in the case.
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Pacific Trading Cards, Inc., 1998 WL 241904 (S.D. N.Y. 1998).
Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Pacific Trading Cards, Inc., No. 98-7700 (2nd Cir. 1998).
Cardtoons v. Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 182 F.3d 1132 (10th Cir. 1999); Cardtoons v. Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 208 F.3d 885 (10th Cir. 2000); Cardtoons v. Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 335 F.3d 1161 (10th Cir. 2003). Cardtoons tried, and failed, to collect monetary damages from the MLBPA.
Paul Lomartire, “Baseball Cards and the Snaps of Spring,” The Tampa Tribune, April 4, 1982: 133.
John Leptich, “Boy sued over baseball card,” Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1990: 1.
“Nolan Ryan rookie card snafu headed to court,” The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), March 6, 1991: 12.
John Leptich, “Baseball card returns, trial goes on,” Chicago Tribune, March 8, 1991: 49.
John Leptich, “Charity delivers winning pitch in baseball card suit,” Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1991: 47.
John Leptich, “Ryan card brings $5000 and another flap,” Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1991: 41.
“Upper Deck Sues Rival Card Firm; Claims Trademark Infringement,” North County Times (Oceanside, California), August 2, 1992: 31.
Anne Michaud, “Small Baseball Card Firm Takes Hit from Big Leagues,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1992: 265.
“For the Record,” Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1992: 195. Dad’s Kid filed a counterclaim for $955 million.
Jim Bullard, “More than kids’ stuff,” Tampa Bay Times, January 1, 1993: 96.
Owen Canfield, “ML Players Association not amused by ‘Cardtoons,’” Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey), July 9, 1993: 24.
“Bench’s ink pitch draws ire,” Herald and Review (Decatur, Illinois), October 8, 1993: 30.
“Mantle files lawsuit against Upper Deck on contract balk,” Logansport (Indiana) Pharos-Tribune, November 4, 1994: 12.
Jay D. Preble, “Leagues fighting unlicensed cards,” Tampa Tribune, November 12, 1994: 24.
Gene Collier, “How do you spell egomaniacal?,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 12, 1995: 25.
John Mabry, “Satire cards aren’t a hit with big-league players, Kansas City Star, April 16, 1995: 44.
Christopher Kamar, telephone interview with author, October 21, 2022.
Michael Sowell, telephone interview with author, November 5, 2022.
Special thanks to Jason Schwartz for reviewing this article and offering helpful suggestions.
Tri Cards Checklist (Cards are not identified with a Tri Cards set number or date of issue by Dad’s Kid Corp. Cards are individually numbered to 50,000. Production was halted before 50,000 of any card was manufactured and no records remain regarding the actual number produced of each Tri Card. Additionally, no checklist of Tri Cards manufactured exists, so the following list may be incomplete.)
There are many mascot races in the major and minor leagues these days, but it all began at Milwaukee County Stadium on June 27, 1993, when a modest scoreboard animation suddenly burst into live action on the playing field.
That Sunday afternoon, the original Klement’s Famous Sausages—the Bratwurst, the Polish and the Italian—surged out from behind the left field fence and began running haphazardly toward home plate, weaving uncertainly back and forth in their seven-feet from head to knee lederhosen, red-and-blue striped koszulka, and tall chef’s hat.
Brainchild of Milwaukee graphic designer Michael Dillon of McDill Design, the racers were an instant hit with the 45,580 Brewer fans in attendance. At first, the races were only held on dates when a big crowd was expected. Later, the races occurred every Sunday. Finally, they became a ritual between the sixth and seventh innings at every game. In the mid-1990s, a Hot Dog was added to the County Stadium line-up. A fifth sausage, the Chorizo, later broke into the regular line-up.
The races continued after the Brewers moved to the then-named Miller Park. On July 9, 2003, Pittsburgh first baseman Randall Simon took a playful tap of the bat at the back of the Italian Sausage as the runners passed the third-base visitor’s dugout. The poke knocked the mascot to the ground, and the hot dog tripped over the fallen racer. Young women were playing the role of each racer. Both suffered cuts and bruises.
Sheriffs at the ballpark took a dim view of Simon’s interference and launched a criminal investigation. Judicial proceedings ended with a $342 fine levied against the Pirate for disorderly conduct. Major League Baseball elbowed into the act and suspended Simon for three days.
Despite the Simon incident, a friendly rivalry evolved between the Sausages and the Pierogies of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the two mascot teams now face off with each other in an annual home and away relay race.
But don’t expect anything similar with the Racing Presidents of the Washington Nationals. There’s some bad blood between the mascots, with the Presidential team mocking the Milwaukee originals as cardboard “Un-talian sausage,” “No-lish Sausage,” “Not-Dog,” “Not-Wurst,” and “Choriz-No.”
No matter. The Racing Presidents baseball card is the ugliest baseball card produced so far in the 21st century.
My time with SABR Baseball Cards has seen me evolve (or devolve if you like) from someone with zero interest in modern cards to someone who just completed the 2022 Topps Series One set from packs and trades, has more than 700 different Dwight Gooden cards, and now occupies 72nd 64th place among Clayton Kershaw collectors in Trading Card Database. (View my collection.)
The first question I’ll address is how I got here, or, if you like, who to blame. As with much in life, I’d say there was no single cause but rather a succession of nudges that brought me into my present circumstance.
A few years back, my friend and Hobby legend Anson Whaley, the collector behind the fantastic Pre-War Cards website and Twitter account, uncharacteristically announced his own plunge into Gooden super-collecting, and I found myself unexpectedly envious. Had he done similar with Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson, or just about any other junk wax superstar, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye, but Dr. K was a different story. His cards and box scores were absolute obsessions of mine in 1985, and the nostalgia was too much to resist. Once Anson agreed to sell off his 500+ doubles, I was off to the races.
Shortly after, I found myself at a card shop in Portland with SABR president Mark Armour. While my prize purchase was a 1971 Topps Dick Allen card, we each spent the $6 or so on a single pack of the year’s current Topps cards. While the cards inside were rather pedestrian, the experience of opening a pack brought back all kinds of fun memories.
Around that time some of my SABR Chicago buddies and I started holding Junk Wax nights, which reinforced the pleasure of packs with friends, whether or not anything pulled would ever represent a significant addition to my collection in any way other than volume.
During the 2020 postseason, I somehow became possessed by the notion that I needed to buy Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts rookie cards in order for the Dodgers to win the title. (Judge me if you like, but it worked!) This same year I had also enjoyed many of the cards and artists of Topps Project 2020 and subsequently (if you count it) bought the Topps Now card of Mike Pence with the fly on his forehead.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the vintage cards I’d been after for so many years had seemingly tripled in price during this stretch, limiting my options as a collector to buying modern or buying nothing at all. With rookie card in hand then, why not collect my favorite player’s entire career? Well, actually there were…11,682 reasons?!
Yes, this is Clayton’s 15th year in the league, but 11,000-plus cards to collect? That’s insane! On the other hand, the notion of a virtually unattainable set is only limiting when regarded as something to complete. Another way to look at it is that there are literally thousands of different cards of Clayton Kershaw to choose from, and the good news is that most are extremely affordable.
In a recent lot I purchased, the average price per Kersh was a mere 31 cents.
Still, my collector DNA doesn’t allow me to stockpile cheap Clayton Kershaw cards with no plan or checklist to the hunt. Therefore, I’ve begun to develop some goals around the collection.
Clayton’s flagship Topps card each year
This is probably the minimum any modern player collector goes after. I still have some I need (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016), but none will be pricey or difficult to find.
At least one “pre-rookie” card for each team Clayton was on
As many of us enjoy the notion of our player collections telling the story of a career, why not have cards of Clayton pitching for the Junior National Team, the Scots (Highland Park High School), and the Great Lakes Loons (Midwest League)?
Cards that look super cool (but are still cheap)
Here are five of my favorite Clayton Kershaw cards. Total spent was about $3, with three of the cards coming my way for free thru the NGT Collectibles Sunday Giveaway thread or my SABR Chicago collecting cadre.
Do I think this sort of thing is for everybody? Not necessarily. All I can say is that for me the burgeoning Kershaw collection has been a rewarding and inexpensive way to remain an active collector, find cards I want/need at card shows, and even occasionally pull something from a pack that goes into my binder. Plus, I really do like his cards, and that has to count for something!
Just promise me, readers, you’ll stage an intervention the day I start adding cards of cartoon Clayton playing hallway hockey with Matthew Stafford to my once proud collection of Aaron, Campy, Jackie, and the like.
One of the elements of Topps Heritage that routinely catches my eyes are the Heritage News Flashbacks. For a small insert set which is purportedly about the heritage year’s news highlights, I’ve found it to be an interesting window into what kind of things Topps considers mass-market newsworthy.
Given Topps’s coverage of the 1950s–1970s we have a lot of civil rights firsts,* a lot of space exploration, and a lot of Vietnam War related events. All things which are conceivably politically neutral. In many years though Topps also commemorates legislation and other political achievements. These were clearly highly political at the time but also frequently remain political even today. When I look through the insert checklists it’s these cards that catch my eye in the way that they have one foot in both “this is something worth commemorating” territory and “this is what people say we shouldn’t talk about in the hobby” territory.
*The number of “first black” or “first woman” events Topps chose to celebrate is both refreshing to see and an indictment of who has been traditionally allowed to succeed in our society.
Not only do these legislative inserts catch my eye but they frequently have an interesting context outside of the just the card. This 2009 card commemorating the 1960 Civil Rights Act for example came out the same year that Barrack Obama became the first Black President and the year that Congress authorized the Civil Rights History project to collect oral histories from people who were active in the struggle during the 1950s and 1960s.
The thing with these news flashbacks cards though is that they also tend to frame history as a series of accomplishments rather than a continuing struggle and discussion. Looking at this card gives the impression that we’ve achieved equality at the polls and that no further work needs to be done to maintain things let alone improve on them further.
In 2010 we have acknowledgment of how Washingon DC residents were disenfranchised through the 1960 election with a card the commemorates the ratification of the 23rd Amendment. It’s definitely a good thing that their presidential votes count now but the struggle for DC statehood and representation continued after this amendment.
In terms of the context of this 2010 card it’s important to mention DC’s statehood has been endorsed by multiple Presidents now and that there was a referendum in 2016 in which 86% of DC voters expressed a desire for statehood.
In 2013 we pick up where 2009 left off with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As with the 2009 card this states plainly that segregation is outlawed as well as discrimination against ethnic, racial, and religious minorities plus women. This card doesn’t note how the Civil Right Act of 1964 is what prompted Southern Democrats to switch parties and drastically rearrange the political geography of the United States.
Coming out in 2013 is kind of some amazing immediate context too. Between the Trayvon Martin murder which spawned the Black Lives Matter movement and the Fisher v U of Texas case that threatened to roll back Affirmative Action the discussion about how relevant the Civil Rights Act of 1964 still was and whether its protections were still needed make this card anything but politically neutral.
The 2014 card which commemorates the Voting Rights act of 1965 is the card which prompted this post. For Topps to publish this the year after Shelby v Holder feels almost like an intentional political comment. With a headline about securing voting equality despite the mechanisms for actually keeping voting equality having just been ripped out of the act this card reads almost as a eulogy for what was rather than a milestone that was reached.
The ensuing decade has confirmed my sense of it being a eulogy as we’ve seen increased attacks on voting access nationwide.
We’ll skip a few more years and land in 2017 with yet another Civil Rights Act, in this case 1968’s, which was in the news a bit that year. This act contains within it the Fair Housing Act which prohibits discrimination in both renting and sales. The list of protected categories started off as including just race, religion, and national origin but has expanded to include sex, disabilities, and children. In 2017 sexual orientation and gender identity were added to this list via the judicial system (but never got anywhere in Congress).
This act also included some anti-riot language which made it a crime to travel between states in order to participate in a riot. It was notably used on the Chicago Seven and came up again in the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in 2017 in which the courts ruled that its language was over-broad.
While this isn’t a legislative card I’ve included the 2018 card of the 1969 Stonewall Riots because of how much of a lighting rod it would be in today’s political landscape. This is history—both from a Gay Rights point of view and the fact that Marsha P. Johnson was a black transgender woman—which is currently being actively legislated against in multiple states nationwide and Topps just had it as a card only four years ago.
This card also came out in the aftermath of the 2015 Obergefell decision which legalized gay marriage and resulted in years of stories of workers and businesses who refused to acknowledge those rights and insisted that their rights to discriminate were more important.
After having maybe one political card per year, Topps went a bit nuts in 2019 and released four of cards of things the government did in 1970. Some of these like expanding voting access to 18 year olds don’t require much comment. Others like the PBS card are noteworthy in the timing of how free educational television was moving to streaming services with shows like Sesame Street only releasing new episodes through HBO Max.
The Earth Day and creation of the EPA cards though are fascinating to see in an age of runaway climate change, the complete abdication by the US Government to do anything about it, and the shortsighted focus on immediate profits over a sustainable world.
Back to only one card in 2021 but it’s a doozy for a year which was threatening to roll back many of the protections that women fought for in the 1970s as Covid had a greater impact on women’s jobs and abortion is getting outlawed nationwide.
In any case it’s pretty clear at this point that the biggest habitat threat is climate change and while the explicit protections and goals of the Endangered Species Act are laudable a larger, more-global, solution will be required moving forward.
And that’s the list. When looked at together it’s easy to reach a conclusion that Topps thinks that discrimination based on race, nationality, and gender is bad, that protecting the environment is good, and that voting should be accessible to all citizens. But it’s also easy to reach a conclusion that Topps considers that all of that has been accomplished already and something we can look back upon and celebrate much in the same way the Major League Baseball commemorates Jackie Robinson as a way of ignoring its current track record on racial equity.