February 4, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Retired baseball player Pete Rose sits in attendance during UFC 143 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Topps Not 'Erasing' Rose

In my youth, one of the joys of spring wasn’t only looking forward to spring training and the return of baseball, but it also included collecting baseball cards. You anticipated going up to the counter of your local convenience store, handing the clerk your quarter and running outside in excitement to see which players were in your pack.

Oh yeah, there was the gum, too.

I would be particularly excited if I pulled a Red such as Bench or Morgan or Geronimo or Rose.

Ironic that the biggest baseball card ever is of Prince Fielder. (Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports)

I’ve haven’t purchased a pack of baseball cards in at least four years, maybe five. I had grown a little weary of it. Maybe that’s why when I observe Twitter chatter surrounding the subject of baseball cards, I turn away. I’ll admit that every once in a great while I have yearned to purchase a pack or two simply to re-live the thrill of those days as a young lad, but never gave in to it.

In re-scrolling my Twitter timeline, I discovered something.

Topps was not including the mention of Pete Rose in its 2013 series?

Now, at that time, I was under the impression that Topps made this “plain and simple” decision, according to Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi, on their own accord. That quote is provided in a piece by Rob Harris of Chicago Side Sports as he informs us of the decision he attributed to Topps.

Like Harris, when I was young, I used these cards to gain knowledge about the players. I recall my aunt bragging to some of her friends how my brother and I could rattle off player stats. It was because of baseball cards and the intensity of which we studied them. We quizzed each other about stats. We even created our own game. And when I was growing up, the only baseball cards we could buy were Topps.

Back to Harris.

So he bought a few packs of 2013 Topps Series 1 cards and noticed that on this year’s series, there was a “Career Chase” on the back. Not only were the players stats on there, a little blurb provided some insight how close a player was to achieving a certain milestone. Harris on his discovery:

For Paul Konerko, the Career Chase line indicates that his 422 career home runs are 340 shy of Barry Bonds’ career record of 762. Konerko — who is knocking on the door of 37 years of age — has an outside chance at 500 career home runs, but he certainly won’t approach Barry Bonds’ record. The Career Chase line isn’t meant to suggest he’s closing in, but it helps put his accomplishments in perspective.

Another example, courtesy of Topps: John Danks has 57 career wins, which puts him 454 behind career leader Cy Young.

OK, I get it.

But then I flip the card Starlin Castro, whose solid start as the shortstop for the Cubs has him sitting at 529 hits, which is—as Career Chase points out—a mere 3,727 away from the all-time record of 4,256 held by…. Wait a second. Topps doesn’t say who holds the record. Every other record has a name attached, but not where the hits record is concerned.

I thought maybe it was an accident. I checked another a card. On A.J. Pierzynski’s card, I learn that he’s 2,611 hits away from the all time leader. Again, there’s no name listed.

Harris even provides an image of the back of Pierzynski’s card.

After reading Harris’ article – twice – I took a minute to collect my thoughts, then began a little internet search. I had no clue where this would all lead me.  I’m glad I did as I received an education on a matter that should not have escalated to the level in which it landed.

Well, my Googling saw this headline which caught my eye from Fox News:

“Baseball card maker Topps strips Pete Rose of all-time hit record”

Spare me the political stuff, please. I’ll not engage in that here.

That headline irked me for one simple reason: Topps cannot strip Rose of the record. That’s absurd. Nice work, Fox. Will you be pushing for Bill O’Reilly to do some color commentary for a Mets game?

Criticism of Topps for what would some deemed to be a poor decision got a little ugly. Matters not as there will be those that will still purchase their product. Due to the furor, some may now decide not to buy Topps even after reading this or any others I link within this. Even saw a tweet where one person claimed ripping up every Topps card he owned because of the Rose “omission”. Institute your boycott of Topps cards and that will not change the overriding issue here which is…

Pete Rose cannot be included in Topps baseball cards, and Topps has no control of that.

I feel you raising your eyebrow.  Here me out, and for the record, this isn’t something that just occurred. It’s old news. Like 1989 old. There has been an odd occurrence or two.

I opted for a different route after that Fox headline.  I decided to check out the Topps Twitter account – after all, that’s where we check for everything these days – to see if there was any mention of this purported “erasing” of Rose. Not shocked that there were more than a few. I thought they would all be from Reds fans, but they weren’t. Here was Topps’ general statement on Twitter:

Not our call, we have an MLB license and they are our partner, unable to put Pete in product

Key words here: “not our call”. So, it would seem on the surface that Topps is “deferring” the issue to MLB, right?

Actually, no.  Scrolling down, I observed a Topps re-tweet which led me to a brief article authored by Chris Olds of Beckett Baseball. Well, at that time it was brief. From that article, I gathered this:

“Since Pete Rose is banned from baseball,” said Matt Bourne, the MLB Vice President of Business Public Relations, on Wednesday, “he is not included in MLB-licensed products.”

Talk about plain and simple.

Within that same piece, Olds referenced how Yahoo!’s Big League Stew picked up on a story he had written for the Tuscaloosa News in 2003. I wanted to read that now. Again…

His [Rose's] rookie card, 1963 Topps No. 537, sells for about $800, up from a $600 price tag at the time of the ban, but collectors won’t find him on any officially licensed baseball cards made after 1989, a direct result of the agreement.

“Any player who is on the permanently ineligible list is prohibited from inclusion on any product officially licensed by Major League Baseball,” said Kathleen Fineout, Major League Baseball’s manager of properties. “Any player has the right to enter into licensing deals for products bearing his name or likeness as long as no trademarks of Major League Baseball are included on those products.”

Think about it. Rose hasn’t had an MLB licensed card since his ban went into effect. How many mentions of Rose have been on baseball cards since the year he was placed on the ineligible list? The Yahoo! post I noted earlier displays one example. On that day, maybe the person in charge of checking was a Rose fan.

The first part of Fineout’s statement is crystal clear; however, the second part was something a little less familiar, although I eventually would recall seeing Post Cereals produce baseball cards, but team logos were obscured. Denny’s did the same.

Then I saw this question: Why can I go to MLB.com’s shop and purchase products that display Rose’s likeness and even his autograph?

Again, players can enter into their own deals as long as no the MLB trademark does not appear. It doesn’t matter if they are on the ineligible list. Rose has an agreement with other parties to license those items. View the images of those items closely. No MLB logo, is there?

Also, items bearing the MLB logo autographed by Rose were produced prior to his ban. Similarly, when the 2012 Topps Heritage card of Rose’s ’63 card “appeared”, some were wondering.  The card included a foil stamp to commemorate Topps’ 50th anniversary of its buy back program, a program Topps institutes for all of its cards. Therefore, this was not a new likeness of Pete.

Of note, there is one item on MLB.com’s shop “associated” with Rose which does carry the MLB logo: a “mini-mega ticket” from the night Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hit record. No mention or likeness of Rose on the product or its packaging.

After following the bread crumbs (which were easily followed), taking some time to fully digest what I had read, taking time to reflect on and gather my thoughts, this matter was cut and dried. It has to do with the license that Topps has with MLB and the stipulation that Rose cannot be included due to his ban. Doesn’t mean I have to like.

MLB grants Topps certain rights within that license. Topps must adhere to those rights. If Topps doesn’t, MLB can pull the license. Topps holds exclusive rights, but that doesn’t mean they have free rein.

You may now fling your rotten fruit and veggies at Bud.

Please do not confuse or compare this with the PED issue. (If you’re wondering, Barry Bonds is mentioned by name.) Those are, for now anyway, two separate matters. If baseball should ever ban those busted for PED use, only then could they be deemed as one issue, but only because Rose and the PED users would be on the ineligible list. Of course, MLB will make sure they have proof before arriving at that decision, if it ever occurs, and I’m sure the players union will have a say on that.

Regardless if Pete’s ever mentioned on the back of a Topps baseball card again, he will always be known as The Hit King. In Cincinnati, Rose is as relevant now as when he wore a Reds uniform as both a player and a manager. Maybe even more. He could never be erased from our minds. Not mine anyway.

And that is also plain and simple.

UPDATE: Pete Rose sent a statement to USA TODAY and Jon Saraceno has some details on that statement. Within that statement, Rose said the following:

“I am not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me. I am asking only that Topps/MLB not compound my punishment by deleting the truth of what I achieved.”

Tags: Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose Topps Baseball Cards

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