We Must Not Do Our Enemies’ Work for Them

Looking back now, the year 2000 seems like the Wild West. It was a time before social media and smart phones. There were only 360 million people on Earth with internet access, a number that seems high until you compare it with 2018’s, 4.25 billion. Collectors were now spending their money on eBay more and more frequently, causing the slow and painful death of the local card shop. Meanwhile, the trading card industry was also going through changes. In 1998, Pinnacle Brands, a company that was so successful that it purchased two of its rivals (Donruss & Leaf), shockingly filed for bankruptcy. In death, not only did Pinnacle bury its own brands (flagship, Zenith, Score) but it inadvertently took down all of Donruss’ and Leaf’s products as well. This gave the overcrowded baseball card market some much needed breathing room.

By 2000, Topps Company was the top dog in baseball cards with Upper Deck now stuck firmly in 2nd place. Fleer/Skybox, a company that helped break the Topps monopoly in the early-80s, was struggling after a stellar run in the late-90s. As had been the case since landing a Major League Baseball license in 1993, Pacific Trading Cards was busy marching to the beat of their own drum. Their products boasted unique designs with unbelievably fun and often times gaudy parallels. Despite their excellent efforts, Pacific was never really able to break out of the pack even with inserts like ‘Cramer’s Choice’ owning the secondary market. By the time 2000 Pacific Invincible hit shelves, their time in #TheHobby was quickly running out. It wasn’t lousy sales that took them under or even the persistent rumors of buying and using fake game-used jerseys to save money but the release of 2000 Invincible and one of the most controversial and shocking baseball cards to ever hit the market.

In early 2000, Manny Ramirez was a baseball superstar just weeks away from signing a lucrative contract to join the Boston Red Sox. During his time with the Indians, he was a soft spoken, MVP-caliber slugger year after year. Recently, a former Pacific Trading Cards executive confirmed they received two corked bats that belonged to Ramirez. One of them went into the grinder and helped create 200 “game-used” memorabilia cards. Unfortunately for Pacific, despite efforts to remove them before assembling the product, some made it into packs of Invincible. No one knows exactly how many but in 2012 one of these cards hit eBay with an astounding $5,000 asking price. The other bat was saved and x-rays ultimately revealed the cork forever tucked away inside Manny’s tainted bat. This was years before Manny became “Manny” and spoiled his guaranteed entrance into the Hall of Fame with multiple PED violations.

We will never know the truth about Pacific’s introduction of the game-used cork. A year after the embarrassing card hit the market, the company had their MLB license revoked and not long after filed for bankruptcy. Mike Cramer, the man behind Pacific, has become a recluse and has done zero interviews or made any public appearances since the scandal shook the world of sports cards nineteen years ago. In 2018, I attempted to track down Mr. Cramer and somehow got as far as his son, who spoke with Mike for me. Mike thanked us for the interest but declined to be interviewed for a much-needed update. Publicity stunt or accident, Pacific Trading Cards was an excellent company that became a casualty of the Baseball Card War despite unique and memorable products year after year.

See also: Chasing Mike Cramer, Mike Cramer is Alive and Well

Upper Deck on the other hand, is a different story. By 2007, the company that made arguably the greatest entrance into the market in 1989, was a shell of its former self. Years of bad management and customer service had taken its toll on their reputation and the products being produced at the time lacked personality and pizzazz. With the rivalry with Topps on full display, Upper Deck did the unthinkable and created a card that insulted the newly-crowned Home Run King, Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball, and Topps Company. The Asterisk card, as it was dubbed, was found in tins of 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot, a product that sold for nearly $200 a piece. At first, collectors were livid for pulling a card without their guaranteed autograph but truth be told this asterisk card was rare and sales of it soared on the secondary market.

The message was both clear, Bonds was a cheating fraud, and noble. I don’t know if Upper Deck created this card to stir up controversy or to defend the title of Home Run King that once belonged to Hank Aaron but this was one step too far. Upper Deck stared deeply into the abyss and fell straight into it. By 2010, Topps Company was granted exclusive rights to product Major League Baseball cards and they have never looked back since. Today, Upper Deck’s historic run, which included the first pack-inserted autographs and game-used relics in baseball cards, has been all but forgotten by many collectors. With Topps and MLB re-upping their exclusive contract in 2018, we may never see Upper Deck produce licensed baseball cards again and that is truly a shame.

It’s hard to believe that 21 years ago, we had six companies producing licensed baseball cards. From 1993 through 1999, I witnessed some of the most amazing and innovative designs and technology I’ve ever seen in my 30 years of collecting. Perhaps six companies was too many but one company, Topps, is not enough. It’s clear that we need at the very least one serious competitor to help make baseball cards great again. With every year that passes, I lose a little more hope that we will ever see a competitive baseball card market again and with nearly 40 baseball products released by Topps in 2019, that should be something every collector young and old should be concerned about.

6 thoughts on “We Must Not Do Our Enemies’ Work for Them

  1. As silly as that Asterisk card is… I’ve always wanted one for my collection. And that Manny corked bat card is pretty awesome too! I’m the total sucker who falls for these cardboard shenanigans.

  2. Pingback: Chasing Mike Cramer: UPDATE – The Baseball Card Blog

  3. Pingback: Historia de una revolución pacífica | Béisbol101

  4. Pingback: A Flashback to the End of Topps Football, Upper Deck Baseball | The Baseball Card Blog

  5. Pingback: CM Punk (and Pacific’s) Triumphant Return | The Baseball Card Blog

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