MLB beats the hell out of Upper Deck

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Major League Baseball sued the Upper Deck baseball card company about a month ago for releasing baseball cards with team logos and stuff without having a license to do so. The case settled yesterday.  All that’s missing from the settlement terms is a provision which requires Upper Deck’s CEO to be Bud Selig’s butler for the next ten years:

  • Upper Deck pays MLB more than $2.4
    million it owed on back debts.  The suit was for $2.4 million. If you’re settling for the requested amount a month after the complaint was filed you have been pwned.
  • Upper Deck pays MLB “a substantial
    sum of monies” for the unlicensed cards it sold in 2010.  The amount is confidential, but based on the other terms, it was probably a lot.
  • Upper Deck agrees not to make any new sets of cards using “MLB logos, uniforms, trade dress, or Club color combinations.”  Color combinations? I’ve got very little intellectual property law experience, but if someone has the rights to use his photo and everything, can they really get sued for putting out a card of, say, Nick Swisher with a simple navy and white border?  If so, is MLB going to go after every blog, magazine, sports bar, advertisement and everything else that uses a team’s colors? Seems a bit much.
  • Upper Deck agrees it will not airbrush, alter or block MLB marks in future products.  Which is really sad, because I kinda miss cards like this one. And this one, on which people always miss the airbrushing for some strange reason. The last place were we get that kind of craftsmanship is when ESPN or Yahoo! change the players’ hats and jerseys in their little player-page headshots after they’re traded.
  • Upper Deck must receive approval from MLB for the use of baseball
    jerseys, pants, jackets, caps, helmets or catcher’s equipment in future
    products featuring players. This too is harsh. So much so that I get the feeling MLB just put this one in the demand letter to see if Upper Deck would agree to it. They’re probably laughing now. If I was Upper Deck, however, I’d use this term to my advantage. Next year: baseball’s first all-nude card set.  Now that Antonio Alfonseca is retired it’s probably safe enough to dip a toe into those waters.

Oh, and one last thing.  The statement released by MLB:

“Our settlement in the case against Upper Deck is a clear and decisive
victory for Major League Baseball. Upper Deck will be unable to release baseball trading cards that
incorporate Major League Baseball’s intellectual property in the
future.  The real winners today are the millions of fans who collect
baseball cards.  They will be able to clearly identify official Major
League Baseball trading cards without any confusion.”

Last rule of a settlement: if you can’t get the other guy to agree to some sort of neutral joint statement that doesn’t have someone declaring victory, it is less a settlement than it is a total reaming.  Come to think of it, Upper Deck should have just offered the butler thing and taken their chances with a jury if it didn’t work out.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.