A continuation of the baseball card industry...

After World War II ended, the baseball card trading industry began a rebound. in 1948 the Bowman Company made history in the business by signing players to actual contracts. The company issued its first annual set of cards that same year. That was followed in 1950 by the introduction of colorized baseball cards which soon made the hobby grow by leaps and bounds among kids. But with increase in productivity came competition. Sy Berger of the Topps Company absolutely loved baseball and he urged the company to get a piece of the action.

Berger got the green light from Topps and he began hanging around the locker-rooms of the New York Yankees, Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and began signing star players from all three teams to Topps contracts.In order to avoid trouble with the Bowman Company, Topps inserted pieces of taffy with each card. Bowman didn’t like the intrusion and tried to sue Topps but a New York judge tossed out the lawsuit.

By 1955, Topps was number one in the business and the following year Bowman conceded and sold out to them. From the 1950s until the 1970s Topps had a virtual stranglehold on the trading card business. A challenge from the Fleer Company in 1971, where they used cookies instead of gum in their cards, failed when a judge ruled against them in a lawsuit brought by Topps.

At its peak, Topps was selling 250-million cards a year and making a fortune but the players had signed contracts for only a five-year $125 deal plus $5 as a steak money bonus. Of course in the 1960s major league baseball players only made $19,000 a year so they were glad to be paid anything extra.

But the baseball trading card industry would soon change for two big reasons. First, a Major League Baseball’s players’ union was formed and soon got involved itself in contract negotiations for it players with Topps. Second, in 1980 the Fleer Company finally won an anti-trust lawsuit against Topps and the judge opened the baseball trading card industry to anyone. By 1988 seven companies had entered the competition, which led to fancier and more expensive cards.

In 1985, baseball cards passed stamps and coins as the most popular collecting hobby in the world and in 1988 card companies sold five billion a year. By 1992 card companies were making over $1-billion in annual sales with Upper Deck the industry leader with card and sports collectibles netting $250-million a year. Upper Deck would later make news in the sports world when it signed Yankees icon Mickey Mantle to a $2.5-million contract for only making 26 promotional appearances at their conventions.

Unfortunately in 1995 the MLB strike, combined with a glut of baseball cards and companies, slowed the business down and it never hit its peak again.

 

CARD FACTS:

Did you know that the first company to list players’ statistics on the back of trading cards was Mecca Cigarettes in 1918? 

Topps made a major mistake in 1969 on Anaheim Angels Aurelio Rodriguez’s trading card. They put one of the Angels’ bat boys on a card with Aurelio’s name below him.

In 1989 Cal Ripken’s little brother Billy’s card slipped by the proof-readers of the Fleer Company. Ripken was holding a bat with the bottom of the bat knob showing and written across it was a major profanity.  Fleer printed the card and definitely heard from the public.

Bill Hemrich owned a sports card and memorabilia shop near the Anaheim Angels’ park. In 1987 he paid $4,000 for a stack of Don Mattingly rookie cards. To his dismay he found out they were counterfeit. A friend of his, Paul Sumner, was a printing executive and when he heard about Hemrich’s misfortune approached him and sketched out a trading card idea using hologram technology. He convinced Hemrich that the hologram design would be impossible to counterfeit and set the cards apart from the rest. He explained that the cards would also have a hip, high tech look to them which customers would love.  Hemrich agreed with his friend and together they formed Upper Deck Cards and made history in addition to a fortune.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

My best friend The Crusher from beautiful and historic Monument, Colorado use to be an avid baseball card fan. When he read my columns, he said, “I have three original Cracker Jack baseball cards. They are also tiny compared to Topps or Upper Deck cards that came with bubble gum later on. I have a “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, “Bullet” Bob Bush and Connie Mack and all from 1915.”

Friends, check your attic or basement and go through those old trunks. Visit a yard sale or church rummage sale. Maybe, just maybe you’ll find your own Honus Wagner, or something else of great value.

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