On the Death of Upper Deck President Richard McWilliam

Today, Upper Deck announced the passing of Richard McWilliam, the co-founder and president of Upper Deck. McWilliam had been in failing health over the last few years, but it still comes as a bit of a shock that the man responsible for the signature on the back of every Upper Deck card is now gone. You are going to hear a lot of positive stuff about him today, as he was the head of a company that many people have come to identify their youth and adulthood with. That I understand, the man should not be burdened with his shortcomings so soon after his death. However, he was one of the most controversial members of the card community ever. That is not debatable, it is fact.

There will be a question, eventually, of whether or not McWilliam deserves this kind of obituary in any form, and the answer is yes. Regardless of whether or not he was the Lex Luthor of Baseball Cards, he did head a company that blazed the trail for what the hobby is today. Al Davis and George Steinbrenner have similar reputations in their own right, and like them, Upper Deck’s successes were many, and their failures are very public.

If I make a list of the most iconic modern sports cards of this generation, Upper Deck occupies a good portion of the top spots:

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr RC

2003-04 Exquisite LeBron James Rookie Patch Auto

2001 Upper Deck SP Authentic Tiger Woods Auto RC

1999 Piece of History Babe Ruth 500 Home Run Bat Relic

I have gotten a WIDE range of comments on posts I have done about the state of Upper Deck, with many people going as far as saying that pro licensing would not be possible with McWilliam’s name on the building. All of that aside, without McWilliam, the hobby may not have gotten to the point it was at during the early part of the 2000s, and similarly the beginning of 2009 and beyond without his visionary leadership. Upper Deck revolutionized everything about sports cards in general, whether it was the first premium trading card set in 1989, the first jersey card in 1996-97, and the first high end product in 2003-04. They were the worlds first company to approach cards as a means to get closer to the players and the game, and it showed in their products.

He may not have been the person who came up with everything, but he gave it a name in the industry. This name will more likely outlive any negative legacy he leaves behind, as there is not a hobbyist today who’s collection he hasnt impacted in some way. Upper Deck will continue to produce cards with the new president at the helm, and it could be a better situation for them in the long run. That doesnt belittle the fact that the people responsible for my favorite cards may not be there to see it rise again.

I am a fan of Upper Deck, first and foremost, and I often said I didnt really let the bad stuff get to me all that much. It was just too tough to ignore that from 2005-2009 there was not a better brand of football cards out there. In Basketball, the gap was even more apparent, especially now that Panini has come on board and found the market to be very bitter with their takeover. McWilliam was at the helm of some awful decisions, including a few that may have directly contributed to the eventual irrelevance Upper Deck could experience. Either way, without him, there wouldnt have been an Upper Deck in the first place.

Someone has to play the villain, and McWilliam looks to have embraced that in the name of profit and progress. Lets just hope his passing does nothing to limit the eventual success his positive contributions can eventually have. His legacy will contain a laundry list of things not to do in sports cards, but it has a list of similar lengths that describes the best possible things as well.

2 thoughts on “On the Death of Upper Deck President Richard McWilliam

  1. You are right about Richards legacy in the sports card business. He will also leave a legacy by having a tough exterior to a lot of friends and business associates.
    I know… as I worked at UD for over 18 years.
    It is a tough business as the scores always have to be correct, the right names given for the right plays, customers to please when a card does not look right, and the high fees to the players to grace the front of the latest box of fantastic cards.
    He worked all of us hard as we could not afford errors on any of the product.
    His tough exterior helped shape the card industry. It was forever a challenge. Complexed personalities are easier to remember… and that was Richard.
    The economy really took a hit on the sportcard company, as kids could not afford the luxury of owning baseball cards as their parents were losing their jobs and the high prices we continued to pay for the atheletes services. We experienced many losses including contracts when the recession hit us in 2008.
    Richard always treated us with respect and I will personally miss him. He was my boss, a friend and an enemy to many who knew him. He was also a really good father.
    I hope he finds peace in the Field of Dreams where all our Atheletes arrive for their final hour.

  2. While I agree that Richard deserves some minor accolades, in thuth from a 15-year sports card hobby fraud investigator: Richard did more bad for this hobby than good.
    Funny how this “employee” fails to mention how most (if not all) of the innovative product ideas came directly from Upper Deck employees, not Richard or the literal flood of righteous lawsuits against Richard (no need to mention frivilous ones), or the TWO (minimum) Federal Fraud charges by our government over the years against Richard. He buried one by volunteering as an autograph expert for the FBI in Operation Bullpen. BTW- since when has Richard been an autograph expert??? A Forensic Document Examiner is an autograph expert and that is only one of my many hobby qualifications. I’ve also been a Senior Manager for one of the big card companies just to bust them for years & years of fraud that hurt everyone who ever bought their products.
    Upper Deck had at all times at least one paralegal working full time on staff because legal issues popped-up on a nearly daily basis due to the corruption started by Richard.
    It would be nice for our hobby to have just one publication that tells: the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth. But then the “hobby elite” that Richard belonged to wouldn’t be able to get filthy rich from our hard earned dollars anymore…
    My eyes didn’t shed a tear as we lost nothing.

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