Grand Cards: The Grand Scheme Isn't Game Used

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Grand Scheme Isn't Game Used

No, You’re Kidding. I’m not going to lie to you—2009 was the year of Topps releasing more Ty Cobb relic cards then I’ve ever seen and I started to wonder, “Geez, have they just had these lying around? How is there so much Ty Cobb stuff all of a sudden?” I’m not going to say that I thought there was any sort of nefarious activity, but I made a mental note.

Topps has confirmed that the following 5 memorabilia relic cards from the recently released 2009 Topps Tribute Baseball Set include pieces of stadium seats rather then actual game used memorabilia belonging to a particular player:

Babe Ruth Dual Relic Bat / Old Yankee Stadium Seat
Babe Ruth Triple Relic Old Yankee Stadium Seat / Uniform / Old Yankees Stadium Seat
Ty Cobb Dual Relic Bat / Tiger Stadium Seat
Jackie Robinson Triple Relic Ebbets Field Seat / Bat / Ebbets Field Seat
Mickey Mantle Triple Relic Old Yankee Stadium Seat / Uniform / Old Yankees Stadium Seat

Yes kids, our faithful sole-licensee pulled the old bait and switch. They showed us this:
2009 Topps Tribute #41 Ty Cobb Dual Relic

Without letting us know that it was half-this:
2004 Topps #SSSR-AK Al Kaline

Now, I'm not one who complains about Tiger Stadium seat-relics. In fact, I think they're awesome. I love the Al Kaline card above for this very reason. But if you're going to shell out a good chunk of change for a Dual Cobb relic, I think that it needs to be crystal clear that one of those little bits of wood is from a stadium seat.

Now that Topps has officially clarified the "situation" here, and has offered to replace the offending cards for unsatisfied customers, I'd like to give credit to Stale Gum for bringing this to my attention over a week ago. In his review of Topps Tribute, he quotes the response from Topps that was sent in by one of his readers who questioned the authenticity of these "bat pieces.":
Thank you for the inquiry, please note on the back of the card it says memorabilia. We apologize for any confusion but memorabilia can include a wide array of items and is not limited to just a bat piece. Again we apologize and thank you for your continued support of Topps."
Is this for real? This is an actual response from the company?? I am now infinitely more suspicious of every vaguely worded memorabilia/relic card that I have. If anybody has one of these cards and can find exactly what it says on the back and let me know, that would be great. Granted, Topps has admitted the problem and offered a refund/replacement, but that's probably only so they won't get the pants sued off them because of how dishonest this practice was. A stadium seat is not memorabilia of Ty Cobb--and nobody is paying hundreds for pieces of stadium seats.

Pants on the ground That is to say, Topps pulled shenanigans, begged for forgiveness and still has their pants. Meanwhile, Upper Deck nearly lost their pants entirely:
Konami sued Upper Deck last year, accusing it of illegally printing more than 600,000 Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards, which are based on an animated show in Japan.

The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company had a distribution deal with Konami dating back to 2002, but allegedly began making and selling fake Yu-Gi-Oh! products on the side.

The settlement amount is confidential, but Konami had been seeking between $50 million and $150 million in damages.

Upper Deck executives, including Chief Executive Richard McWilliams, took the Fifth in court, refusing to answer questions about their involvement in the fraud. But as part of the settlement, the company admitted that it willfully counterfeited the cards.
A settlement in this case means that Upper Deck has to pay out a hefty sum but is otherwise doin' fine. Which is shocking considering the allegations implicating CEO Richard "Squeaky Clean" McWilliams:
In criminal cases, the court is not allowed to draw any inference from a defendant's refusal to speak. But in civil suits, that's not the case.

Speaking of McWilliams, for instance, a court order in November noted: "In the face of allegations that he shredded cards in a meeting, instructed an employee or a third party to forget where the counterfeit cards came from, and made plans for future counterfeiting, he has said nothing. The court infers from McWilliams' silence that those allegations are true."
How has a criminal case against McWilliams not been filed at some point. This guy is Sleazy McSleazybag. Not just because of Yu-Gi-Oh stuff, but remember all those Razor Shenanigans?

By and large, I consistently enjoy the card that Upper Deck produces. They tend to include nice photography, crisp designs and high-end autographs. But Jesus, this guy is just so...awful that I don't even know what to think. I'm kind of glad that they lost their MLB license just so that he can shove it.

But wait, there's more And you thought I had already summarized the ethically dubious Upper Deck dealings of late. Fools. Seems as though Upper Deck, which lost its right to produced Licensed MLB cards for 2010, has released two separate sets of cards that appear to make no attempt to hide team logos--which they're not allowed to use.

Exhibit A: 2009 Ultimate Collection (released Jan. 2010)
2009 Ultimate Collection #110 Rick Porcello Auto (#/135)
Please to note: A big, honking, unobscured Old English D on his cap. The same goes for the rest of the release, as well as cards released in 2009 UD Signature Stars, which also came out in January.

This, understandably, has raised the eyebrows of collectors, like Trader Crack's and A Cardboard Problem both of whom seem to think that this is Upper Deck giving the longest finger to Topps and the MLB. And they are, kind of.

It's kind of strange, actually. I'm about 90% sure that 2008 Ultimate Collection was released in January of 2009--aka in the exact same situation as the releases this year--and although some people might have said "hmm, that's weird" it was generally dismissed as not a big deal and just the release of a set that wraps up 2008. In one sense, Upper Deck is doing the same thing here. Cards sets take months of advanced planning etc., and it is likely that since their set was wholly designed and sent to production in 2009 that they can get off without raising the ire of Topps or MLB.

But if that's the case, why did they get all shady about things?  For one, look at the Porcello card again. What the hell is this?

If you're going to argue that this is a legit set because of pre-production time or what have you, then why would you invent a fake rookie card logo that differs from every other rookie card logo you put on your 2009 cards? Additionally, all the teams are referenced by their city name only and the cards, by and large, seem to avoid logos/defining marks on team uniforms. These all seem to be signs of a company that is sticking to the rules of not being a licensed producer of cards. Yet at the same time, logos plaster the hats/helmets of all the players, and they occasionally make use of teams names on inserts etc. It appears as though they're not avoiding team marks at all.

So what gives? Honestly, I'm not sure what Upper Deck was thinking. My best guess is that UD has a legitimate claim to calling these 2009 cards and that neither Topps or MLB is going to huff and puff too much about it. Knowing this, the company is using the opportunity to wean collectors onto their unlicensed offerings. New RC logo (which I abhor, in both design and principle. The point of this was to make things less confusing for people. These are a disaster), gradual lessening of logos, elimination of team nicknames, by and large. This is a market test. They think that if people are compelled to buy these cards because of the content--spectacular autos and patches and the like--then they can keep their foot in the door with collectors. That's true, to an extent. But watch out. I've got the feeling that they've invited more scrutiny from Topps and MLB than they might guess and that this isn't going to fly with whatever their next release is. Remember, MLB already sued Donruss--and later settled after the company was sold off--over the same basic thing. They alleged, among other things:
1. Donruss' cards depict certain Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball players in their team's proprietary uniforms. The trademarks featured on the uniforms (as well as the overall trade dress of the uniforms) remain visible and identifiable to consumers, despite Donruss' calculated attempts on some cards to have such marks modified or partially obscured.
So, good luck with that one, Upper Deck. May NFL v. American Needle Co. treat you right OR, stop pulling these antics and accept the fact that you are license-less. This is supposed to be a creative industry, so get those juices flowing.

Counting Down Spring training is almost here and I'm starting to get ready for it. Apparently, the Tigers might be looking at adding an "insurance infielder" in the form of Adam Kennedy and there's still talk that a cheap Johnny Damon might be a good pick up. Believe it or not, I agree on both fronts. Damon is a valuable player and if he can be had for $4-5M then he will make the team much better. Yes, I'd rather have Curtis Granderson for that exact same amount, but you know...bygones. Personally, I think that the fact that this team will rely, to some degree, on Rookies Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore (coming off injury, no less) is worrisome.

If I had my druthers, we'd have Sizemore starting at second, but with a serviceable backup in place (Yes, Ramon Santiago will do the trick) and have Austin Jackson start the year in AAA. Honestly, why start him in the Majors. Barring a breakout in spring training, I just don't see the point of bumping a hollow .300 hitter up to the bigs. Let him work on his hitting with a hitting coach who is apparently so much better than Lloyd McClendon that some Tigers were DRIVING DOWN TO TOLEDO to meet with him during the season last year. Is there any risk here, honestly? You let the player develop in a low-pressue situation--he has already acknowledged that he's been told that he has "big shoes to fill" with Granderson's departure. Let him show off in AAA and bump him up when he's ready. There's no reason for him to try and fix his swing in the Majors. That's what the minor leagues are for.

For that matter, put Alex Avila down in AAA too. Despite his power surge when he was called up last year, he needs some more seasoning too. Gerald Laird is the man behind the plate and I think that Avila will benefit more from playing every day in AAA than he will as a part-timer on the big club. I think the signing of career backup Robinson Diaz signals that the Tigers are thinking the same way. 

On a semi-related note, all I've heard about Ryan Streiby is that he can flat out hit, but doesn't have a place in the field. I know that the Tigers are trying to move him to left field, but why bother? They have a bunch of defensively able prospects that would fit better there. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see him flounder as they move him around, only to come into his own when they realize that the man is a hitter. He is Billy Butler, Tigers-style. The sooner the team embraces that fact, the sooner they can benefit from his production.

Again, things can change in spring training, and I'm sure there will be surprises and breakouts that change the composition of the roster, and that is all great. Barring that, though, let's make some sensible decisions about the future of this club, no?

Misc.  There is a fantastic new blog that is totally not related to cards but will give you all sorts of little fun quips and tidbits throughout your day. Stick it in your RSS feed and you won't regret it. Four of the Six members of the 2010 US Olympic team in Ice Dancing are current students at Michigan. I know what you're thinking: C'mon, it's ice dancing. Fine. You hate America, I understand. Speaking of ice, ever wanted to watch an outdoor hockey game with 110,000 other people? Here's your chance. Fellow Tiger Card blogger RobbyT pulled a Kaline commemorative patch from his 2010 Topps blaster, and Marie just pulled three throwback Tigers (in only two packs!) out of hers. What's with the Tiger love? Last year, when I bought three target blasters for my Topps Throwback break I only pulled SIX TIGERS TOTAL, and two of the same freaking Jimmie Foxx patches. I've had the Tiger-luck that these two had this week.