When Upper Deck announced O-Pee-Chee for 2009, I was thrilled. I have very fond memories of the Canadian brand. These memories include better card stock, updated player affiliations and exclusive cards of the Blue Jays and Expos, in a familiar Topps setting. In the nineties, O-Pee-Chee branched out from Topps shadow and produced a few baseball card sets of their own.
Upper Deck bought out O-Pee-Chee a few years ago. The purchase was intended to resurrect the O-Pee-Chee brand back into hockey. The NHL had revoked all card licensing renewals, except for Upper Deck. Since Topps had a long standing relationship with O-Pee-Chee, this must have been a slap in the face. Without a license, Topps couldn't do anything with the hockey card company anyway.
It was only a matter of time before someone at Upper Deck thought of the baseball side of things. Retro cards are big sellers and with the rights to O-Pee-Chee, why not find a way to incorporate older O-Pee-Chee designs into a new product? The only problem was that the old designs were actually Topps designs.
Upper Deck's lawyers must be a cunning bunch. One of them figured out that Upper Deck could move forward with a retro set using a Topps design because technically it was an O-Pee-Chee design. Full stealing of a Topps design would surely attract the attention of the sleeping giant, so Upper Deck tweaked the base card design to be reminiscent of a vintage seventies O-Pee-Chee design, but would save the full Topps robbery for the planned parallel base on the 1971 Topps set via the fully licensed O-Pee-Chee 1971 set.
Now, Topps (the sleeping giant) would be forced to take notice. Topps filed lawsuits and eventually prevailed through the court system, for the moment. Here's the thing though... since O-Pee-Chee had the proper licensing to use the Topps designs on their cards for any year in which they produced a set incorporating said design, wouldn't Upper Deck be able to use the designs from a company they rightfully purchased? My first instinct would be yes, but it would depend on how the contract between Topps and O-Pee-Chee was actually worded.
From an outsider perspective, I'm going to side with Upper Deck on this one. Licensing issues have long plagued the baseball card industry, even in the fifties. In 1994, Topps issued an archive set of their 1954 baseball card set. Included in the archive set, were players that were not issued a card in the original 1954 set, for whatever reason. During this time, Upper Deck had licensing rights to Ted Williams. The Splendid Splinter had two cards in the 1954 Topps set.
Upper Deck produced both Ted Williams cards and added them as inserts to their All-Time Heroes set in 1994. The backs of each Ted Williams card was numbered in accordance to their place in the original set. There was absolutely no reason for Upper Deck to do this. There was not much to gain from including a few Topps Archives cards in their product.
Upper Deck did one better. Due to licensing issues, Mickey Mantle could not be included in the 1954 Topps set. Mickey had an exclusive contract with Bowman at the time. Topps buying out Bowman solved that snafu back in the fifties, but in 1994, Mickey Mantle had an exclusive contract with... Upper Deck.
So Upper Deck also produced this card for the Topps Archives set, to be included in their All-Time Heroes packs as an insert. Again, Upper Deck had nothing to really gain from producing this original Mickey Mantle card to help Topps with their set. When I think about the 2009 O-Pee-Chee lawsuit, I will be reminded of this 1994 Mickey Mantle card. I will be reminded of the generosity of Upper Deck and the pettiness of Topps.
Can Topps and Upper Deck put aside their differences? If they don't, the hobby is likely going to suffer. Topps and Upper Deck may find themselves out of business, if they can't learn how to work together.
Might I offer a suggestion to each company that will prove beneficial to both parties? Between Topps and Upper Deck, there are numerous exclusive contracts. Why don't both companies come together on a joint product featuring retired players? Many of which will have exclusive contracts with one company or the other, so this could help revitalize the industry.
Each company could have an x amount of players with exclusive contracts. The number must be equal on both sides. The rest of the set would feature retired players without exclusive contracts. These would be divided equally between the two companies, using the best unique pictures from company archives. The cost and profits would be split evenly between both companies.
Stop the silly bickering and let's start to work together!