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Card Sharks: How Upper Deck Turned a Child's Hobby into a High-Stakes, Billion-Dollar Business Hardcover – May, 1995
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"Card Sharks is the full-length expose we'd been waiting for. It will make you sick. But a good kinda sick; sicker but wiser. Williams provides 270 pages of details on perhaps the sports industry's ultimate insult to modern America."
- Phil Mushnick, The New York Post
"A disturbing tale"
- The Bergen (NJ) Record
"A well-researched, well-written look at the cardboard industry, from both historical and ethical standpoints - and Williams certainly does dig up the dirt."
- New York Newsday
"A dim look into Upper Deck and some of its business practices"
- The Orange County (Calif.) Register
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.
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Top customer reviews
1. A quick history of baseball cards and baseball card litigation
2. The idea and upstart of the Upper Deck corporation
3. The eventual take over of Upper Deck by Richard McWilliam and ensuing (questionable) business practices
The first part of the book is really fun for those who might have grown up collecting baseball cards. The next couple parts have a fun baseball card part to them, since anyone who collected in the early 90s remembers how awesome Upper Deck was when it came on the seen, but they also have some fun stories about business. Its interesting to see how the inner workings of a really small company are/were handled (albeit from second hand information).
I think that people who were active in baseball card collecting in the early 90s and have a little interest in business could find this a really interesting read.
Author Pete Williams shows an angry and bitter Mantle after a 1993 appearance on a national home shopping program that was in conjunction with the MLB All-Star Game festivities put on by Upper Deck - railing about the the host's questions, which may not have helped in pushing his autographed merchandise - and attempting to negotiate the following weekend's appearances for the company into being considered as two events, which will make the Yankee legend closer to accumulating enough dates in the year for his nearly $3 million salary to sign autographs on "exclusive" memorabilia.
From the days when baseball cards were used as inserts to secure the packaging of tobacco products to the bubble-gum wars waged by Topps on other companies and a landmark judicial decision in 1980 that opened the doors wide open for a competitive marketplace in baseball card sets, Williams ambitiously covers the bases as he delves into the creation of Upper Deck, an idea from a frustrated card dealer who was tired of buying bogus memorabilia and an inventor who could add a unique identification tag to thwart counterfeiters.
While the story is initially driven by an entrepreneurial spirit born in the 1980s, neither of the founders are in the picture a few years later as the company profits explode as it becomes the high-end retailer in sports cards and collectibles through aggressive marketing and the securing of legends with exclusive and lucrative promotional contracts, along with the baggage from any number of controversies and allegations of unsavory business practices and fraud.
This is an incredible tale on how a kid's summer pastime became an industry monster that seemed so solid on the outside, but could pop at any time like a bubble blown too large from one small stick of gum. With the shrewd marketing of pop culture and the creation of a unique sports boutique based on its alleged rarity, Williams forges a classic story driven by the dreams of youth....and greed of adults.