Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Future of Upper Deck???

The wife is off work today, but she had doctor’s appointments and important genius college school stuff to do, so I am left home alone with the dog and the computer. The past two days I have mailed out over a dozen trades, but today I am finally caught up with nothing to do but watch Sportscenter for the 18th time (hey, did you guys hear about Brett Favre?) and read the only post from today’s blog roll, which comes courtesy of Mr. dayf, the Cardboard Junkie. Although dayf is an awesome blogger, a great trader and a generally awesome internet buddy, I am bitter because he pulled more Allen & Ginter relics (any takers for Magglio?) in one blaster than I did in 154 packs.
He is the enemy. I thought, since we are no longer friends, I could begin our feud by stealing his posting ideas.
Today’s blog (by dayf) is titled “How Upper Deck Can Thrive In 2010” (without MLB licensing). He posted some awful pics from various Studio sets. Posed portraits of guys without their hats on, occasionally rocking a mullet helmet instead while pretending to play the drums. These were awful sets, but I do actually have one of these cards in my collection, too. A well-intentioned trader, who thought (mistakenly) that I was a Jose Canseco fan, sent me a pile of cards from the 90’s of the roid-rager, including this one from the 1992 Studio (by Leaf/Donruss) set. I can’t throw away a card that someone paid to ship to me, but I am glad there is just one of these in my otherwise awesome collection. The unfortunate thing is that it isn’t the only posed card of a man without hat, or at least hat logo in the boxes in my “spare” bedroom. These other logo less cards aren’t made by Studio or Leaf or Donruss or even Upper Deck. I think its story time…
Rewind to the year 2000. The new millennium had arrived and we were all still here. I was still foolishly hanging on to the idea that I could get paid to swing a bat. I was in minor league spring training with the Baltimore Orioles at the Buck O’Neill Sports Complex in sunny Sarasota, Florida where I somehow had weaseled my way to a non-roster spring training invite. Former Milwaukee Brewers skipper (then the minor league coordinator for the O’s) Tom Treblehorn had called me over. The conversation (totally paraphrased) went something like this. Tom: “You looked pretty good out there today Tooser (his nickname for me)”.
Me: “I feel great! I had two hits today (infield singles) and I think I have my swing and my speed down. I didn’t think I could keep up with these kids”
Tom: “Yeah, most of them are a good 10 years younger than you; they are only going to get better”
I will end the conversation right there. Basically Tom was being super nice, but making the point that I was barely keeping up with Rookie Level minor leaguers who would improve, while I was the best I would ever be. He suggested that I clear out my locker. I asked him if I could stick around and work for the team. He looked scared, like he thought I wanted to be a coach or something. Basically, I lived one town away, I knew I wasn’t going to make a team at my age, but camp was too much fun to leave. He told me to ask Don Buford. I was scared to talk to Don; he was somewhat of a hero to me. A short, scrappy guy who could play second base like nobody’s business. This guy was an All Star, a World Champion, a Legend… That said, I didn’t want to go home, this was still a few years before I would meet the lovely Esther Gin N Juice and home was not a happy place for me. I introduced myself to Mr. Buford; he avoided my question, but introduced me to his son Daryl, who happened to be hanging around in camp that day. Daryl is one of three sons to Don. Some of you may remember Damon Buford who played outfield for a handful of Major League teams from 1993-2001. Daryl was not a ballplayer, he was a lawyer and a very successful one, he was also super nice and we hit it off right away. I told him that I didn’t want to go home; I wanted to find work with the club. He asked what I did (other than try and fool people into thinking I could play baseball) and I told him I was a machinist, a writer and a photographer. He thought for a few minutes and started explaining to me how he had just begun being a sports agent and that he was in camp to sign some players. I knew all of the guys and I introduced him to everyone and by the end of the day he had handshake agreements with a bunch of guys. An agents job (when the player is already under contract) is to get them exposure and endorsements. With about a dozen or so new clients, the young Mr. Buford got on the phone while I followed him around, just in case. After one call ended he turned to me and said “You said you take pictures, right? Do you have your camera with you?” Of course I did! This was pre-digital era for me, but I had my trusty Canon EOS 630 and a variety of lens and a bag full o film. “What am I shooting?” I asked. “I found a card company that will put the guys in their set if I can pictures of them by the end of the week. They will pay for each one and they need other people, too. They are going to fax over a list” “Awesome” I said, “What card company is it? Topps, Upper Deck, Fleer?” I asked. He paused and said, “I don’t think it’s one of those names, I think he said Royal Rookies, they are a brand new company and they are trying to sign as many prospects as they can”
I had never heard of Royal Rookies before, but a paying photography job was cool and it meant not having to go home or go back to factory work, so I was in! I shot beautiful action shots all day long, getting superb (if I do say so myself) pics of all of Daryl’s clients as well as some of the other stars in camp that day like Brian Roberts, Jayson Werth, Erik Bedard, Josh Towers, Larry Bigbie and Darnell McDonald. At the end of the day we shot portraits of everyone. He wanted standard poses, hat on, leaning on the bat. I can’t remember all of his clients, but I do remember Edward Rogers (who was a great friend of mine) shown here on a hand-numbered card 666/4950 that Esther Gin bought for me on eBay a few years back. He also had signed another guy who is actually still in the big leagues, with the Washington Nationals-Willie Harris. Well, by the end of that day, I had shot 20 rolls of film and I had a travel itinerary for the rest of the week. I ended up dealing with Royal Rookies direct (Daryl fronted me some money to develop the pics) and we worked out a great deal (for me). They would make the cards from 4X6 color photos (this was weird, I had always sent slides) and would pay $200 for a front picture and $75. for a back photo. This was better money than I had gotten from a lot of other more established card companies. They also agreed to sent me 100 (yes, one hundred) boxes of the product when it was printed. Somewhere (in my parents garage, maybe) I have all of the original photos I took that week; I need to dig them out and post them. The pics that Royal Rookies ended up selecting looked like they were shot with a disposable camera. They used the same pics on the front and the back and decided to skip all of the action shots entirely. They sent me a check (a deposit) for $800., which was nice money, but they used around 60 pictures that I took, so the check was around $11,200.00 short. They also didn’t tell me that they were not able to get licensing from MLB for things like logos or even team names. They did however get licensing from the Federal Reserve and used the five, ten, twenty, fifty and one hundred dollar bills on the card backs. I think that Willie Harris (whose card I don’t have) is the only player featured in the set to ever receive any of these bills to play ball. Aside from that, I never received a single pack of the product, never mind the 100 boxes they promised. A couple of years ago, while rooting around in the clearance box at Target, I found a pack of these crappy cards. I bought it, of course and ripped it immediately-saving the wrapper for an occasion such as this. The cards look awful. I am embarrassed to be associated with them. I still want my money. All that stuff aside, this is a message to Upper Deck. Royal Rookies had licensing from the Players Association (OPL) but did not have licensing from MLB. This is what happened. This could be you. Do something Upper Deck, before this is your FUTURE!!!!
Logo less nobodies smiling against a background of dollar bills. Do you want another young, can’t miss prospect like David McCarty to have to suffer through a disappointing career because he didn’t have a logo on his hat on his Upper Deck rookie? Do you want that blood on your hands? Do you?
I started collecting Upper Deck as soon as they busted onto the scene in 1989, why? Because it wasn’t the same old boring photography. They employed creative photographers (and some scrubs like me) and took risks. They produced the ridiculous along with the classic, but always brought us players with logos and team names over the years. In 2009 Topps was without a doubt the premiere manufacturer for baseball cards. Whatever order you choose, Topps Heritage, Topps Allen & Ginter and Topps flagship were the three best sets of the year, hands down. Upper Deck struck out with the ghost faced Goudey this year, other than the cool triple swatches-their regular set was lackluster. Aside from O Pee Chee, which was hit or miss, I don’t know anyone working on Upper Deck sets this year. Thanks to dayf for giving me an idea to steal and write a long winded story that no one will read. As an end note, the Ed Rogers auto may be the first card that I have posted that is NOT available for trade. MINE! In another end note... This is my 100th post. Woo Hoo! Go Troll! I love writing this blog, but I do wonder if anyone reads it, ever. Other than 2 people, I don't get many comments, unless I am giving something away. I'd like to do another contest, but I'd also like to know if people read this dribble otherwise. Let me know and there will be a HOF auto giveaway later this week, okay?
Go Rays! See y’all at the Trop! Don't forget, it is okay to post comments here...Troll out.


  1. Awesome post, especially the parts about your background with the O's. It sounds like you have had some good experiences.

  2. Fantastic story. I read all the way to the end (congats on #100).

    You're absolutely right about the Upper Deck quandary. The suggestions that I have read so far aren't going to make me lift a finger to buy UD in 2010. UD really needs to think of something we've never seen before if they're going to avoid just an awful 2010.

  3. Love the long winded posts. This is about the 10th time I have commented so I'm guessing I'm one of the 2.

    My confirmationg word was mulit.

  4. i so love your stories- they really paint a picture!! (i'm not just saying that because i am bound by contract! have i said that before on here? hmmmm. CRACKBABY! there. haven't said that yet...) i'm afraid i will have to wait for the pics in order to read the new post though, just scanning it made my eyes cross. xoxo
    p.s. i think we should do a bombers trading card photo shoot and have backgrounds of nickels and pennies. or better yet, past due utility bills. i think the big "final notice" stamp could really accentuate our uniforms.