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The Perfect Game/Fanatics Deal Stinks to High...

Updated: Jun 26

The Perfect Game/Fanatics Deal Stinks to High Hell.

Last month, The Athletic broke a story that, I feel, hasn’t gotten enough attention from The Hobby: “Why the Perfect Game, Fanatics deal has agents raising concerns about amateur player rights.”  The more I read about this deal, the more I’m outraged and you should be too.

For the uninitiated, Perfect Game is a scouting service that (for a fee) connects young, aspiring baseball players with MLB scouts and college coaches.  They are a major cog in the machine that is The Youth Sports Industrial Complex.  They are the largest such scouting service and brag that over 2000 MLB players and 14,000 MLB draft picks have passed through the Perfect Game system.

Collectors might be familiar with Perfect Game’s annual All-American Classic (formerly known as the AFLAC game) which invites over 50 of the best high school players.  For years Topps produced a trading card set that was given away to attendees of the game and had players sign some of their cards.  These autographs would then be held by Topps until they turned pro, then randomly inserted into packs of Bowman.  Topps lost the license to Leaf in 2014 but continued the concept with the Under Armour All-Star Game – a similar game run by Baseball Factory, a competing scouting service.

Under the Perfect Game/Fanatics deal the All-American Classic’s trading card rights will revert back to Topps/Fanatics – so look for Perfect Game autographs to return to Bowman products in the not-to-distant future.  But that’s not all, as the deal also gives Fanatics the right to produce not just cards but other collectibles of ALL Perfect Game players (not just of the All-Stars).  That’s because a couple of year’s ago Perfect Game updated their wavier release form that now gives them, according to The Athletic, “ ’The absolute and irrevocable right’ to use their name, signature, likeness, image, voice and/or appearance in any photos, videos, audio, digital images or cards on behalf of any Perfect Game or its affiliates, at any present and future events related to Perfect Game.”

In other words, if you want your kid (and it’s the kid’s parents/legal guardians who sign this) to be seen at a Perfect Game showcase, tournament, or all-star game, all you have to do is sign away your kid’s name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights to Perfect Game forever and for no compensation.  

What this means for The Hobby?  Again, from The Athletic

“That means that Perfect Game and Fanatics would not just be able to sell hundreds of autographed cards and memorabilia while a player is an amateur; the company — according to emails obtained by The Athletic — is also operating under the belief that they can continue to sell and profit off memorabilia and cards for players who later play in college and the big leagues.”

Let’s suppose you’re a seventeen-year-old baseball player who aspires to play Division I college baseball, and maybe even get drafted by an MLB team.  Your mom and dad sign you up for a Perfect Game showcase, where a Division I, Power Five (or is it Power Four now?) college coach discovers you and offers you a scholarship.  You play well for your school, your school makes it to the College World Series, and you’re projected to be drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft as soon as you conclude your junior year.

But thanks to this deal, you’ve just been included, whether you like it or not, in Fanatics’ new Bowman Perfect Game Baseball set.  And you remember all those thousands of autographed stickers you had to sign as a condition for participating in that Perfect Game showcase?  Guess who has them now?

Congratulations!  You’re first Bowman autograph has now been issued – for which you’ve received exactly zero dollars and zero cents.

If all this sounds exploitative, it’s because it is.  Even the famed player agent Scott Boras agrees, as he’s been advising high school age players to avoid dealing with Perfect Game if possible. Again, quoting Boras from The Athletic:

“There are many other facets of illustrating your skills where you don’t need Perfect Game, and to give away rights that potentially could be of substantial value to you going forward,” (Boras) said. “That is not the original intent of what this was, which was a fee-for-service. Now it’s a fee-for-service, plus a loss of monumental rights for no remuneration to the player.”

In the grand scheme of things, most players passing through the Perfect Game system will never play an inning of MLB baseball.  And even those who do make it to the big leagues, most will never be “Hobby relevant.”  No, I bring this up because this is just another example of just how much Fanatics wants their tentacles into every aspect, no matter how minute, of The Hobby.  Having the exclusive MLB (along with NBA, NFL, and MLS) license just isn’t enough for these people and it stinks to high hell that they can get away with this.  

I get a lot of questions on 90s and 2000s baseball, specifically 90s and 2000s baseball inserts.  A question I always get asked is: “What are the toughest 90s inserts to collect?”  Well, based on my experience, I’ve come up with a list of five 1990s baseball insert sets.

First some guidelines.  I am not including parallels.  Because, yeah, the 1997 Flair Showcase Masterpieces are tough to collect.  Duh!  Also, I’m not including game-used cards, which were relatively new, and haven’t been as commodified as they are now.  Yes, the 1997 Upper Deck Game Jerseys are tough to collect.  Next!

With that said, let’s get to the countdown of The Five Toughest 1990s Baseball Inserts:

  1. 1992 Donruss Update.  I can already hear your snickering.  Other than Elites, there’s nothing particularly “rare” about 1992 Donruss Baseball, and these Update cards shouldn’t be too tough to find.  Right?  

Wrong!  These are tough to find, not because they’re scarce, it’s because they were exclusive to retail factory sets, and the checklist is wanting.  There are 22 cards in the set, and you got four in each retail (red box) factory set.  (Hobby sets, which came in a blue box, had their own exclusive insert: the 26-card 1992 Leaf Previews.) And who wants to put in the time and effort to open up Junk Wax Era factory sets?  

The checklist hasn’t exactly aged well.  The first six cards make up a Rated Rookie subset with the most notable being Kenny Lofton – who already appeared in the regular Donruss base set – albeit as an Astro. (He was traded to Cleveland before the season.)  The next three cards are Highlights, and there is a Mark McGwire – probably the best card in the set.  The final thirteen cards are traded players with Dave Winfield, Gary Sheffield, and Gary Carter being the best.

What’s worse is the Update cards have the same design as the base set.  Other than the “U” prefix on each card number, there’s virtually no difference between these and the base set.  And I don’t know about you, but going through a random pile of 1992 Donruss commons looking for anything with a U prefix is not my idea of a good time.  Which is why the only way you can possibly collect this set, if you’re dumb enough like me to collect it, is to open factory sets (especially if you can get them for cheap), start ripping, and hope you get lucky.

  1. 1994 Score Boys of Summer.  There had to be a set from the Last Great Year on this list, right?  Well, there’s nothing really all that special about the 1994 Score Boys of Summer.  It’s 60 cards (30 in each series) featuring all the rookies and young stars of the era.  

The thing is, these were exclusive to 22-card jumbo packs and seeded at the rate of 1:4.  Pinnacle Brands must not have made as many jumbos that year, because there aren’t a whole lot of these cards out there.

  1. 1996 Pinnacle Skylines.  They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.  The 96 Pinnacle Skylines are some of the most beautiful cards ever made.  They’re also some of the toughest cards of the era.  This 18-card acetate set featured a city skyline with a player’s portrait in the background – almost Godzilla-like – with etched holographic foil accents.  I mean, these cards are just, muh, chef’s kiss.

The problem was how these were distributed: 1:29 Series Two SuperPacks.  What is a SuperPack you ask? (Other than a regular old pack with an “S” on its chest.)  Well, SuperPacks were exclusive to retail outlets and contained seven cards and were pre-priced at $2.99.  By comparison, a standard retail pack had ten cards and sold for $2.49.  That’s three fewer cards for fifty cents more.  What a deal, huh?

Nevertheless, these SuperPacks collected a lot of dust on store shelves.  However, and Pinnacle didn’t do a good job explaining this, all the base cards inserted into SuperPacks were printed on foilboard – as opposed to regular card stock.  So, think of SuperPacks as a Topps Chrome-style parallel brand.  Unfortunately, most collectors saw the $2.99 price tag and took a pass.

(This wasn’t the only product where Pinnacle brought the SuperPack concept.  That year’s Summit baseball had them, with its own tough to find insert: Positions, which are serial-numbered to 1500 copies.)

If you ever run across some 1996 Pinnacle Series Two packs with a $2.99 price tag printed on the wrapper, you might want to take a shot. You have a 1:29 chance of getting a really nice, really scarce card.

  1. 1998 E-X 2001 Destination Cooperstown.  1998 E-X 2001 Baseball just screams “1990s.”  Yes kids, we used to have an all acetate BASE SETS with holographic matrix foil accents.  But the Destination Cooperstown inserts might just be the scarcest insert of the era.  

This fifteen-card set features all the usual subjects Fleer thought were heading for the Hall of Fame – although Jose Cruz, Jr. was a bit of a stretch.  Each card is die-cut and designed to look like a luggage tag, complete with hole and string.

How tough are these?  How about 1:720/packs!  That’s a one in FIVE CASES hit.  In the twenty-six years since this product’s release, I’ve never seen a Destination Cooperstown in the wild with my own eyes.  Not even at The National have I seen one.

  1. 1998 Upper Deck Clearly Dominant.  This 30-card set was inserted into 1998 Upper Deck Series Two packs, with each serial-numbered to 250 copies.  Yeah, that’s pretty scarce.  But 1998 was the same year as the Donruss Crusades, which were also serial-numbered to 250 copies, and I see Crusades all the time at card shows.  However, in twenty-six years, I’ve only seen one Clearly Dominant.  About 20 years or so ago, I saw the Ken Caminiti for sale at a card show and bought it.  I’ve yet to see another.

Well, that’s it for this month.  I tell you; I got a lot of positive feedback on last month’s article on Topps Heritage.  I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who wishes Topps would stop half-assing it with this product.  Follow me on whatever Elon is calling what used to be called Twitter.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world.


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