Dang, it’s the most intriguing story line our hobby had dealt with in years, and there’s precious little hard information about what it’s going to mean. I am speaking, of course, about the decision by Major League Baseball to grant Topps an exclusive license to produce baseball cards next year, leaving Upper Deck in an odd, precarious position of having the rights to make cards from the players themselves (MLBPA) but unable to portray them with the logos and MLB insignias that would seem to be so vital to the presentation.
When the New York Times broke the story late last week, it came virtually without comment from Upper Deck, other than to note that the Carlsbad, Calif.-based card maker had signed a licensing agreement with the MLBPA only weeks before. That reference was presumably intended to make it clear that Upper Deck would be producing baseball cards next year, but it didn’t shed any light on what they might look like.
So, in the absence of clear indications from the Upper Deck folks, I’ve taken it upon myself to offer the next best thing: wild speculation. I see four possibilities of wildly varying attractiveness, though I am hardly so naive to think there can’t be others.
I know it must aggravate the heck out of lawyers when the great unwashed weigh in on their area of expertise, which only impels me to go ahead with even more fervor. My favored theory is that Upper Deck, which boasts a battalion of legal hounds nearly as ferocious as, say, Walt Disney’s, will get an injunction that at least stalls the question of Topps exclusivity, asking that Upper Deck be allowed to continue producing baseball cards with all the various logos and indicia as it had previously until the matter is resolved.
While I am well aware that there’s often a huge difference between what is morally right and what the law would engineer, I would suppose Upper Deck could make a fairly impressive pitch that they had proffered tens of millions of dollars to MLB over the last 20 years, you know, kind of showing a good-fatith commitment to the category, as it were.
It may not be good, solid legalese, but I’ll betcha I could make a pretty good case that telling somebody they have the rights to picture MLB players but just not in the uniforms that they wear to work every day is not unlike Ashley Judd’s publicity agent being confined to picturing her only in that outfit worn by the Phillie Phanatic or maybe the colorful costuming of the various sausages at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
The final phase of this particular theory is that Upper Deck ties up the whole thing in court long enough to eventually wear everybody out and then wrangle some kind of a settlement out of MLB.
My remaining three theories will follow in future blogs.