Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Look Ahead: Hall of Fame Class of 2013

The Class of 2013 should be stellar, albeit overshadowed by two of the biggest victims of the Steroids Era. First, there are two no-brainers for enshrinement. Craig Biggio was one of the most versatile players of the 1990s, playing C, 2B, and OF in his career, which was entirely spent with the Astros. He was a top performer at 2B for the majority of his career, and his 3060 career hits warrant automatic admission. His most notable rookie card is his 1988 Score Rookie/Traded.

The other "automatic" candidate is Mike Piazza, who obliterated the HR record for catchers and was the most influential catcher in the NL since Johnny Bench. Piazza was a 12-time All Star and a 10-time Silver Slugger winner. The only possible knocks on Piazza is that he was not a top notch defensive catcher, and that his presence in the postseason seemed lacking. His key rookie cards include 1992 Bowman and 1992 Fleer Update.

An interesting borderline candidate is Curt Schilling. First, Schilling is not officially retired and has hinted at returning during the 2009 season, so this debate may be premature. While he only won 216 career games, he was a dynamic postseason performer with three World Series championships. His "bloody sock" is Boston lore, and his vote totals will be interesting to watch. His most notable rookie card is a most unflattering 1989 Donruss.

While Biggio, Piazza, and Schilling were star players and had Hall-worthy careers, three of the most influencial, and most controversial, players of the last twenty years will also appear on the ballot in 2013. The careers of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa are invariably tied to the Steroids/HGH scandals of the past ten years. Each, to a varying degree, has been linked to the use of illegal substances. And each, undoubtedly, has the statistical resume to warrant automatic enshrinement.

The saddest part, at least for Bonds and Clemens, is that their Hall tickets were punched well before they allegedly began use of banned substances. Given the plight of Mark McGwire in Hall voting thus far, none of these three stand a strong case of immediate admission to the Hall. However, by 2013, more information may be available that could influence voting.

What isn't debatable, though, is that these three players
have been three of the most widely collected players of the past twenty years. Roger Clemens' 1984 Fleer Update remains a gold standard in rookie card collecting.

Similarly, whatever one thinks of Barry Bonds, his 762 home runs and 7 MVP awards, one has to respect his ability and skill. Of his major issued rookie cards, his 1986 Topps Traded is probably the most widely collected.

The final player to consider is Sammy Sosa. As a die-hard Cubs fan, I certainly respected and enjoyed every minute of his home run feats, particularly his 1998 HR battle with Mark McGwire. There has never been any evidence of his use of performance-enhancing substances, but his performance on Capital Hall, next to Rafael Palmeiro and McGwire, did him no favors.

Always controversal, and always "Sammy", one of the most enduring images of Sammy (other than blowing kisses in the camera or his chest bump to the bleacher fans) was his corked bat incident. That event tarnished his image with Cubs fans, who still sour at the end of Sosa's 2004 season.
Sammy is apparently attempting a comeback again, so he could be off of the 2014 ballot. But unless he distances himself from Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, and Palmeiro, he is likely doomed to their same fate.

While Sosa had several rookie cards, my favorite is his 1990 Leaf. Why is it my favorite? This was probably the only time I ever saw Sosa attempt a bunt.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MLB Properties v. Donruss: MLBP should prevail

As a trademark attorney and avid baseball card collector, I could not resist a post regarding the recent complaint filed by MLB Properties against Donruss. A full account of the lawsuit can be found at the Beckett blog,

Essentially Donruss, which no longer has a license to create officially-licensed MLB baseball cards (and thus no longer has the right to use MLB trademarks, trade dress, and the like), has been distributing and selling baseball cards featuring current and past ballplayers, featured in their MLB uniforms albeit with logos obscured or blurred in most cases. As an example, here is a 2008 Alan Trammell Donruss Threads:

As is obvious, Donruss made efforts to avoid use of the Tiger's logo and name. However, the card still undoubtedly features MLB "trade dress" via the color scheme of the Detroit Tigers, which is protectable under federal trademark law. MLBP seeks injunctive relief, to prevent Donruss from further use of the trade dress and trademarks. To succeed, MLBP must show that Donruss is using a similar mark or dress, on related goods, that could cause consumer confusion about the sponsorship of the Donruss products.

MLB Properties has a strong case here, as there is no denying that Donruss is using official trademarks and dress on baseball cards and memorabilia cards, which are licensed by MLB exclusively to Topps and Upper Deck. Furthermore, MLB Properties can show trademark "injury", simply based on the popularity of the Donruss cards that have (at least arguably) diverted sales away from similar products from Topps and Upper Deck. My take is that MLBP will likely prevail on the trademark infringement claims, and perhaps on its dilution count as well.

A more interesting claim is MLBP's right of publicity claim, which states that Donruss has infringed the players' right of publicity by using their likeness. Courts have generally been hesitant to recognize these types of claims. Recently, a court upheld a website owner's use of MLB player statistics for a fantasy baseball league. There is, of course, a substantial legal difference between using one's name and statistics versus a picture of the person. Thus it remains to be seen how far the court will reach.

One can debate whether the absence of Donruss has been good or bad for the industry. But what is not debatable is that Donruss attempted to skirt the exclusive licensing rules, and they are likely going to pay the consequence.

Finally, as a reminder of more innocent times, here is one of the first major Donruss must-have cards, Cal Ripken's 1982 rookie card.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Iconic Cards, Part I: 1968 Nolan Ryan

For most of us collectors, there are some special cards that come to mind as representing the best of baseball card collecting. Nolan Ryan's 1968 Topps rookie card, shared with Jerry Koosman, is undoubtedly one of the most coveted cards of the Topps era. The book value for this card varies by source, but according to the 2009 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, edited by Don Fluckinger, a near mint card is worth $375.

Much has already been written about Nolan Ryan, so I will not repeat his stellar statistical career. I will, however, share a personal story. My wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Nolan Ryan Center in Alvin, Texas a couple years ago. Ryan's museum is one of the very best centers dedicated to a major league ballplayer in the country. I would strongly suggest a visit, if you happen to be in the Houston/Galveston area. For more information, please visit

Finally, like many other Hall of Famers, Topps has produced reprinted versions of this card. In 1999, Topps issued a complete set of 27 reprints, representing Ryan's 27 base cards from 1968 through 1994. Also, Topps issued a modified version of a 1968 reprint with its 2006 Topps "Rookie of the Week" series.

Monday, January 19, 2009

HOF Debate: Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker

This is the first installment of a regular series, analyzing the Hall of Fame case for players that have escaped the attention of the baseball writers. This article focuses on two teammates, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, who played their careers in relative obscurity (aka Detroit), thus at least in part explaining their lack of HOF support.

It is almost impossible to think about one player without the other--the double play combo played together for 19 seasons, including a World Series championship in 1984 (where Trammell was the series MVP). Both players spent their entire careers with Detroit, a feat almost unheard of today.

First, the easier case to make is for Trammell. Trammell was a six-time All Star SS (playing SS the same time as Cal Ripken), a four-time Gold Glove winner, and a three-time Silver Slugger winner. According to, the most comparable player to Trammell is Barry Larkin, who most likely will be inducted in the Hall of Fame within the next few years. But he played in Ripken's shadow for most of his career, and the powerful shortstops of the 1990s diminished the view of Trammell's more traditional SS performance. Trammell remains on the writer's ballot, but he failed to garner even 20% of the votes this year. Trammell's best bet for induction will be after he leaves the writer's ballot, as he stands a fairly good chance with a Veteran's Committee.

Trammell also possesses one of the best rookie cards of all time, sharing the 1978 Topps card with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.

Trammell's teammate, Lou Whitaker, faces an even more onerous challenge in making it to the Hall. The "original" Sweet Lou, Whitaker was the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year, a five-time All Star, and three-time Gold Glove winner. He was arguably the best second baseman in the American League in the 1980s. states that the most comparable player is Ryne Sandberg, who certainly benefited from the brighter lights of Chicago versus Lou's anonymity. Whitaker failed to receive 5% in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, thus he is ineligible for the writer's ballot. Again, he deserves a close look by the Veteran's Committee, as he was instrumental in the success of the Tigers teams of the 1980s.

Ironically, both Trammell and Whitaker debuted in the same 1978 Topps set.

In this author's opinion, both players deserve Hall of Fame consideration, along with their former teammate Jack Morris (but that's a story for another day). Like many of their 1980s contemporaries, particularly as midden infielders, they have not gotten their proper recognition based on the inflated offensive statistics of the steroid era.

Finally, a bit of trivia. Not only were Trammell and Whitaker teammates on the field, but they both guest starred in a 1983 episode of Magnum P.I.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cubs Trade Felix Pie to Orioles for Garrett Olson and a Prospect

No, the Cubs didn't acquire Brian Roberts from Baltimore. However, the move of Pie to the Orioles could reopen the Cubs' talks with the Padres for Jake Peavy, as there was talk that San Diego may be interested in Olson. While Felix never met his potential in Chicago, he was never really given the chance to show what he could do on a regular basis. With Baltimore, he'll likely play some left field, ironically along with former Cub Luis Montanez.

Like many Cubs fans, I was excited to acquire this 2003 Topps Traded rookie card. Oh well.

The Cubs did acquire an interesting lefty in Garrett Olson. Olson was rushed to the bigs a bit early (sound familiar, Felix?), and he went 9-10 with a 6.65 ERA in 2008. If he isn't traded in a Peavy deal, I hope he pushes Marshall for the fith starter/long reliever role.

Below is Olson's 2005 Bowman Chrome Draft Pick rookie card.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Welcome to the Hall of Fame Cards blog! My hope for this blog is share my humble opinion on many things baseball card-related. My personal philosophy on collecting is to focus on traditional Topps sets and rookie cards for Hall of Fame caliber players.

Like many of you, I grew up with these sets and I feel that today's insert sets, special subsets and memorabilia cards are beyond the scope (and interest) of the traditional collector.
I will provide information on the key rookie cards for some of the most popular current Hall of Fame players, particularly those that have played in the last thirty years. I will also post my thoughts on potential future Hall of Fame players, as I've found that conversations on this topic are sparse.

As a die hard Cubs fan, I will also indulge in some Cubs related facts and fun along the way. I of course welcome all comments and hope to spark some interesting conversations on these and other issues. Please enjoy the blog and share your comments.

To start with, I've included an image of the card that really jump started my collection as a kid. Ryno was my favorite player growing up, and this is Sandberg's 1983 Topps rookie card.


Congratulations to the 2009 Hall of Fame inductees

Congratulations to Jim Rice, who was finally inducted on his fifteenth and final ballot. Seriously, aren't his stats the same today as they were fifteen years ago? As someone smarter than me noted though, only now are the stars of the 70s and 80s getting their due. Rice has steadily increased his vote total over the years, even though he initially garnered less than 30% of the vote in his first year. At least this increasing appreciation is one good thing to come out of the steroids era.

Also, Rice's election no doubt pleases Red Sox Nation. However, our equally impassioned base of Cubs fans should be encouraged, not discouraged, by Andre Dawson's near miss. Given the relatively unimpressive candidates coming onto the ballots in 2010 and 2011, Dawson should be elected within the next two years. Dawson was undoubtedly one of the most feared sluggers of the 1980s, and his prowess was overlooked for much of his career until he left Montreal in 1987.

Congratulations are also in order for Rickey Henderson. Won't that be an interesting acceptance speech? Here's a good drinking game--take a shot each time he refers to himself in the third person. While he was certainly no student of the game, there is no player who revolutionized the game more in the 1980s. Although isn't it interesting how lead off hitters with his skill set have all but disappeared today? Stolen bases been deemphasized throughout MLB, and the days of power/speed combos at the top of the lineup card are mostly gone.

Finally, here's my prediction for next year's HOF results: the inductees will be Dawson and Roberto Alomar. But here's hoping that Barry Larkin isn't overlooked...