Major League Baseball and Fanatics announced that they reached an exclusive deal to create baseball cards starting in 2023 with the MLBPA. Topps, who have been a staple since 1952 in their baseball trading cards, are now stuck in limbo. Their current deal with the MLB expires in 2025. Starting in 2026, Fanatics will pick up the exclusivity rights to create baseball cards with player and team likenesses. Will this spell the end of Topps? Will they join the list of baseball card manufacturers of the past? Let's take a look at companies that have been gobbled up by the Topps machine.
Brief History: Upper Deck was founded in 1988 to produce trading cards. Shortly into their inception, Major League Baseball granted them rights to produce cards. It only took Upper Deck two months to complete the production process and put their cards on the shelves of hobby stores across the nation. They had consistent sales, even with the big name of Topps doing well. In 1997, Upper Deck was the first to introduce game used relic cards, starting in their basketball sets in 1997. Business was so great, that in 2007, they actually offered to buy Topps, but fell short. In August of 2009, Topps struck a deal with Major League Baseball to give themselves exclusive rights to produce MLB trading cards. Upper Deck didn't listen and continued to produce cards until February 2010 where they were sued by Major League Baseball for copyright infringement. They eventually settled that March, and Upper Deck stopped producing MLB cards altogether.
Brief History: Fleer started out as a bubble gum company back in 1885. It wasn't until 1960 that they approached baseball cards. They were able to sign recently-retired Ted Williams after Topps scooped up practically all of the best players at the time. Fleer released an 80 card set commemorating Williams' career, and used his likeness as well as some other retired greats in 1963 to create a 67 card set. Fleer wasn't successful until the boom of cards in 1989. Thanks to Bill Ripken's "f**k face" bat handle, collectors were searching for this hilarious card. 2004 was the last season that Fleer produced baseball cards. Fleer fizzled out and was purchased by Marvel (yes, that Marvel) in 1992. Marvel hit a rough patch in 1996, and put Fleer up for sell. It wasn't until 1999 that it was bought by a group of investors. In 2005, Upper Deck purchased the Fleer name and used that likeness until 2007.
Brief History:O-Pee-Chee was founded in 1911 as a bubble gum company. They created their first card set in 1937, with cards that were slightly larger than the normal size cards at the time. This featured some of the greats of the time like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller. It wasn't until 1958 that O-Pee-Chee hopped back into the trading card market, striking a deal with Topps to promote Topps baseball, NHL and the Canadian Football league cards in the Canadian market. Essentially, they would use the Topps design, and create cards under the O-Pee-Chee name. 1965 was the first set that O-Pee-Chee stamped their names on for baseball. Other than being sold in Canada, O-Pee-Chee differed from the Topps set by including French text on the backs of some of their cards (this was due to Canadian legislation in 1970). Essentially, O-Pee-Chee cards were the short print versions of the Topps set, thanks to that French text. This is still relevant today, especially in the Topps Heritage sets. 1994 saw the last set of O-Pee-Chee branded baseball cards.