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MLB Topps Out On Longtime Card Maker

Collection of baseball cards in binders.
Baseball cards. Ryan Hyde via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you’re of a certain age, your first connection to baseball may have come not through playing the game or even going to a contest, but through a piece of paper.

For three generations, boys and a few girls learned the national pastime through collecting baseball trading cards.

You saved your allowance or the hard-earned money you received for doing chores, then purchased a package of cards.

When you opened the pack, there was an array of players with their photos on one side of the individual card and stats on the other.

Most of the players in the pack were run of the mill, but every so often, you’d strike gold with a Brooks Robinson or Willie Mays. Those were keepers.

The rest could be traded with fellow collectors for cards to improve your stash. If you had duplicates, they’d go into the spokes of your bicycle tires to make that awesome clicking sound.

Oh, and don’t forget the bubble gum. There was a supply of some of the blandest tasting chicle known to man in those packs, but, in the context, it was manna.

This wave of nostalgia comes amid news that Topps, which has produced cards on behalf of Major League Baseball and the players union for 70 years, is about to lose its partnership with the sport.

The contract will end after next season with the players and after the 2025 campaign with Major League Baseball. The players and management will take their respective business to Fanatics.

Change happens all the time in business and sports. No deal lasts forever, whether it be for beverages or equipment or travel partners. The Topps people had to know this was a possibility.

Except, as their executives tell it, they didn’t. Company chairman Andy Redman told the New York Times that he didn’t know that baseball was negotiating with anyone else, only finding out last Thursday about the new deal when it was already done.

And, Redman added, Topps had negotiated with the players union a month ago during the All-Star Break, but wasn’t told that a deal with Fanatics was basically done at that time.

After news of baseball’s deal with Fanatics was announced, Topps announced that a prospective merger that would have taken the new company public collapsed.

This news does not portray Major League Baseball as the most savory of partners but appears in keeping with a new direction for the grand old game.

To wit, baseball officials are said to be in talks for rights to air games with Barstool Sports, a sports media company that traffics in conduct that, in many cases, would have to improve to be scummy.

Under the leadership of founder Dave Portnoy, Barstool has been particularly offensive to women, specifically targeting female athletes and journalists.

Eleven years ago, Portnoy said that some women deserve to be raped. Asked about that social media post, Portnoy said "Correct. I stand by that. I think it’s a funny joke."

Clearly, times have changed since the days of trading cards in bike tire spokes. But class and honor never go out of style. Baseball officials and the players union would do well to remember that.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.