Card Sharks: How Upper Deck Turned a Child's Hobby into a High-Stakes, Billion-Dollar Business

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9780026290616: Card Sharks: How Upper Deck Turned a Child's Hobby into a High-Stakes, Billion-Dollar Business

Taking the reader from the birth of sports cards in the 1880s to the present, Williams investigates the success in the shady world of baseball cards. At the center of the industry is Upper Deck, the largest manufacturer, with sales of over $260 million each year. Williams exposes how the power brokers in the game of baseball have changed this once-innocent hobby forever.

Published in 1995 when Williams was a writer and columnist for USA Today Baseball Weekly, Card Sharks has been frequently cited by other authors and remains the definitive investigative look into the trading card business.

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From the Inside Flap:

Sports cards were invented in the 1880s when tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke thought of putting a piece of cardboard in cigarette packs to prevent them from getting crushed in shipping. The cards served as free advertising space and premiums to boost sales.

Things have changed in 110 years. No longer a premium for another product, sports cards are the product. And a hot one at that. More than 10 million Americans collect sports cards, hoping one day to reap their "investment" benefits. How has the sports card industry, specifically the baseball card market, become a billion-dollar business in the past five years?

Pete Williams, who has covered major league baseball and sports memorabilia for USA Today Baseball Weekly since 1991, has the perfect vantage point on what's caused this explosive success in the shaky and shady world of sports cards. His gripping narrative takes us from the birth of trading cards to the present, when the buying and selling of cards has become everyman's stock market. At the center of the industry is the Upper Deck Company. Once a one-man shop in Anaheim, California, it has grown into the largest manufacturer of sports cards, with sales of 1 billion since 1990. Along the way, Upper Deck has revolutionized the trading card business by introducing a stunning array of wildly designed cards with incredible action photos, ultraviolet coating, and holograms to prevent counterfeiting. Williams's account is the first solid investigative look at what goes on at Upper Deck and he reveals the tactics its owners use to dominate the trading card market.

This book is a fascinating investigation of yet another facet of sports that has lost its innocence at the hands of greedy power brokers. But it's not just a story about sports; it's an absorbing tale about business, the costs of always going for the quick buck, and the way commercialism has seeped into every part of our society. Card Sharks will have you marveling at what this once-simple child's hobby has become.

From the Back Cover:

A white limousine drove up Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House. Upper Deck president Richard McWilliam leaned over his female companion and pointed at the Oval Office. It was there, he told her, that he and Reggie Jackson had met George Bush...Reggie had put in a call to the White House, and just like that, they were in the Oval Office. Reggie and Bush talked politics. Then he and Reggie gave the ex-president-to-be some Upper Deck baseball cards. Bush said he would share the cards with his grandchildren. "It was way cool," McWilliam told his companion.

McWilliam had invested $2.4 million in cash and letters of credit in the startup of the Upper Deck Company. He wasn't involved at the very beginning, but by 1993 it was all his show. In five years, he had made over $50 million in salary, dividends, and bonuses from Upper Deck. His 27 percent stake in the company was probably worth $70 million. Most important, he was in control. Bill Hemrick, whose Upper Deck card shop had been the inspiration for the company, was gone, although he retained 4.2 percent of company stock. Paul Sumner, who had come up with the idea of making a better baseball card, owned 14.6 percent of the company, but he had limited involvement in Upper Deck. Very limited. McWilliam, a thirty-nine-year-old accountant-turned-entrepreneur was single and had Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson as his best friend. McWilliam's company produced the most popular sports cards in the world and was worth, by his estimate, $250 million. He had even appeared on The Sporting News' annual list of the 100 most powerful people in sports. Funny how life had worked out for a guy who was never much of a sports fan.

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