Thursday, August 6, 2009

Awesome night card, pt. 45 (is this goodbye, Upper Deck?)

This morning's news, that Topps will become the exclusive trading card of Major League Baseball, means only one thing to me: I can finally stop buying Upper Deck cards.

I have always bought Upper Deck cards with a bit of reluctance. With the exception of 1993 UD and some other sets here and there, my interest in UD rarely hovered above the curiosity stage. I bought Upper Deck to see what they offered, often didn't like it, then only bought it for Dodgers I could pull.

Upper Deck and I just didn't see things the same way. I like cards with design. Upper Deck often went with as minimal a design as possible. I like well-thought-out, well-researched card backs. Upper Deck went the pictures-and-stilted-text route with its card backs.

For a long time, Upper Deck's strong point were its photos. They were different, creative, sharp. But after awhile everything got to be the same. And, this year especially, I got the impression that Upper Deck was mailing it in.

Maybe they were mailing it in because they knew this was coming -- that Topps had administered the final knock-out blow and would become MLB's exclusive card maker.

Upper Deck says it's still in the game, that it will continue to manufacture baseball cards of today's players, just without MLB logos and trademarks. I believe UD thinks that will still fly with collectors because the player is more important than a "logo." Well, I am more about the team and tradition and history than the player, and that means I have little interest in buying packs of cards in which logos are airbrushed off of caps and jerseys.

Being able to focus on only one company's cards certainly sounds attractive.

But I know this may lead to issues that I haven't thought through at this early stage. I do know that lack of competition is never good. Collectors have immediately expressed concern that Topps will grow lazy and stale. Speaking as someone who collected during part of Topps' monopoly from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, I never thought things were as stark as collectors make it seem. But I eye Topps' exclusivity warily.

I will miss a few things about Upper Deck: the pictures on the back, its willingness to include overlooked relievers and other fringe players in its sets.

And, I'll miss another thing: UD was the first to regularly put "night cards" in its set. Look at the sets from 1989, 90 and 91. Many more night photos in those sets than anyone elses.

But, unless something changes, I'm finished with Upper Deck. Does that make me happy? I don't know. It's more like a feeling of relief, combined with concern, wariness and curiosity.

So, maybe I was a bit abrupt at the beginning of this post. News of Topps' exclusivity could mean more than one thing to me. And who knows? Maybe in 2010, I'll be buying Upper Deck again. But on Aug. 6, 2009, I don't see that happening.


  1. Competition is always a good thing if you ask me. I love Topps cards but this is disheartening...

  2. It sounds like you and I have similar thoughts on the matter. I bought Upper Deck because of some nice team sets I could get for the Tigers, but I never felt connected to it. There was very little innovation from a design standpoint year-to-year--although consistently excellent photography kept me coming back. Still, I never bought much of the stuff and while I will feel its loss, I wouldn't be surprised to see the industry healthier for it. The key is to keeping Topps on their toes and finding out what will motivate them to do so (bi-annual exclusivity renewal, perhaps?)

  3. It won't hurt my feelings any. When I started collecting back in the early '70s Topps was the only card you could buy. Collecting was still easy when Donruss and Fleer were producing cards. You only had three sets to worry about completing. These days it can be a little frustrating to put together team sets.

    When I got back into the hobby not too long ago I was amazed at the multitude of different cards that were on the market. Too much of a good thing is not always good.

  4. I liked Fleer a lot.

    Maybe it's not the product, but the people behind it. Perhaps Topps could get some fresh ideas into the place.

    P.S. - I left you a comment on my blog with a great idea!

  5. I loved Fleer.

    You're right. Because Topps has an exclusive license, if they want to hang on to it, maybe they'll actually work to find something innovative and make sure they don't grow fat and lazy. I kind of doubt that will happen, but it's possible.