Thursday, August 18, 2011

Top 10 National Pick-Ups: #1, Ironic ain't just the name of an Alanis Morrisette song

#1: 2007 Sweet Spot Michael Buysner

Paid: $0.25

If you're a fan of unintentional irony (and I know you are), than this is the greatest baseball card ever made. It's an Upper Deck-issued gimmick card spoofing the former CEO of Disney and current co-owner of Topps, Michael Eisner. It's been four years since UD unleashed this 2 1/2" X 3 1/2" specimen of petty petulance and a lot has changed in The Hobby; but I've always wondered what might have been.

Four years ago, Topps was still publicly traded and facing a major shareholder revolt. Faced with mutiny from several members of their Board of Directors, the Shorin family agreed to sell the company to Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm that also owns parts of Univison, LA Fitness, and Yankee Candle, and The Tornante Company, a firm founded in 2005 by former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The sale was announced in March and the price was $9.75 share, or just over $385 million.

But two months later, around the time Topps stockholders were scheduled to vote on the MDP/Tornante offer, Upper Deck offered an unsolicited bid of $10.75/share or $425 million. Concerns over anti-trust (of all things) led UD to withdraw their offer and in September, 2007 Topps was sold to MDP/Tornante.

I always wondered what would have happened if Upper Deck was able to acquire Topps. So allow me for one minute to "war game" this out. Suppose Upper Deck is the only MLB/MLBPA licensee for 2008 and beyond; and under their 2006-2009 license, they're still limited to only 17 brands, plus one $0.99/pack "kiddie" brand. Let's assume that UD keeps both Topps' and UD's "flagship" brands (Topps, Finest, Heritage and Upper Deck, SP Authentic, and SPx) in-tact. The MLBPA has made no secret of their disdain for Bowman; therefore, Bowman under Upper Deck would have either been discontinued or turned into a prospect-exclusive set (without any current Major Leaguers) much like UD tried to do with Prospect Premieres ten year's ago.
  1. Topps Series 1

  2. Topps Series 2

  3. Topps Updates

  4. Upper Deck Series 1

  5. Upper Deck Series 2

  6. Topps Heritage

  7. Finest

  8. SP Authentic

  9. SPx

What other Topps brands would UD had filled out their schedule with? Allen & Ginter might have been the only other Topps brand that might have had a chance of crossing-over, but I doubt it. If UD wanted another "throwback" set, they'd probably choose their own Goudey set.

To fill out their "mid-range" lines, I'm guessing they might have chosen UD Masterpieces, Upper Deck Heroes, and Spectrum.

  1. Upper Deck Goudey

  2. UD Masterpieces

  3. Upper Deck Heroes

  4. Spectrum

The remaining four products, I think, would have come from UD's existing "high-end" lines.
  1. Exquisite

  2. Ultimate Collection

  3. Sweet Spot

  4. SP Game Used
You can then add First Edition/Opening Day as the $0.99/pack contractual obligation set, and Bowman as the unlicensed "Prospect" set.

Notice what's missing? From Topps: Allen & Ginter, Topps Chrome, Bowman Chrome, Topps Sterling, and Bowman Sterling; and from Upper Deck: Documentary, Timelines, and X. While I'm sure collectors would miss Allen & Ginter (which they could just as easily replace Spectrum or Goudey with), would The Hobby really shed a tear over Chrome, Sterling, Crock-U-Mentary, or Upper Deck X?

Of course, this being Upper Deck, they'd find a way to piss everyone at MLB Properties off. So much so, that by the end of 2008 MLBP would be seeking a second licensee for 2010. Since the only established trading card company left that would have the wherewithal to produce a baseball card set is the company now known as Panini (sorry Press Pass and Leaf), that's what The Hobby would probably look like today.

Upper Deck and Panini.


So I guess it's a good thing that the shareholders rejected UD's offer and went with MDP/Tornante. But it didn't stop Upper Deck from firing a scud in their direction with this un-announced gimmick card that was randomly inserted into tins of 2007 Sweet Spot Baseball.

For those that can't make out the picture above, it's a caricature of Michael Eisner wearing a backward's baseball cap and a "Bazonka" (get it? Bazonka/Bazooka?) t-shirt. The bitterness isn't just confined to the front of the card. Check out the copy on the back.

It reads: "Upper Deck welcomes this season's newest rookie, Michael Buysner. After humble origins as a page for a top TV network and stints that included crashing a hamboni (sic) machine at an Anaheim hockey arena, he is now the topp (sic) dog searching for a way to bring Bazonka Joe into the 21st century. As Big Cheese of his own cardboard kingdom, he is enthusiastically searching for the baseball cards his mom threw away and no one will be surprised to see a new big budget film titled, ‘Bazonka Joe and the Temple of Lost Trading Cards' in the very near future. Upper Deck wishes Buysner well – in the candy business."

Ummm... wow! And I thought I was the most sarcastic sonofabitch in The Hobby.

Of course, this wasn't the only gimmick card directed at Topps that Upper Deck released in 2007 Sweet Spot. There was also one of those autographed leather-like pieces that was marked with a giant black asterisk. The "player" listed on this card was "756," an obvious reference to Barry Bonds, who at the time was exclusive to Topps.

But wait, there's more! A few weeks later, when everyone in The Hobby was trying to figure out just what the heck these cards were, Upper Deck issued this incredibly cynical press release:

"It has come to our attention that 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Baseball contains cards that should not have been included in the product release. Accordingly, the Upper Deck Company has sent notices to its customers requiring them to return any and all 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Baseball product that they have received and/or that they may receive in the coming days."

Yeah, because a parody-gimmick card that was clearly marked with the Sweet Spot logo was never actually intended for release in Sweet Spot.


Of course, Upper Deck could never have known that a few years later "Mr. Buysner" would muscle them completely out of the baseball card business by negotiating an exclusive MLB-license; which, in retrospect, gives this card a completely different meaning.

Back in 2007, Beckett reported that a copy of the Michael Buysner card sold for $310 on eBay. I found this card for 1/1240th the price in the same quarter box that I got the '75 Dave Winfield.

Kind of makes you wonder about the long-run value of all those gimmick cards Topps keeps pumping out year-after-year.

#10: It's for "Members Only"
#9: The case of the mysterious rookie reprints
#8: 75 for 25
#7: A point is a point
#6: OH NOEZ!!!!!
#5: What do they know about partying? Or anything else?
#4: Epix Mo-Jo!!!
#3: Satisfyin' the ladies, one printin' plate at a time
#2: The Mother of all junk waxboxes
#1: Ironic ain't just the name of an Alanis Morrisette song


Retrofan said...

If anything you have to give Topps credit for hitting back with the cards your mother threw out in 2010 and the lost cards in 2011. I can't say it's a direct reference to this card's back copy, but it does have a little more than a coincedental feeling does it not?

Mad Guru said...

I miss Upper Deck X.