Monday, April 13, 2009

1968 Atlantic Oil Baseball AL #5, Frank Robinson

The Atlantic Oil set is an enigmatic trifecta of promotional contest, baseball superstar, and marketing oddity. Clad in a Baltimore-ish cap and generic uniform shirt, Frank Robinson encourages you to pair him up with a nameless friend (which I think was Tommy Davis) and win $100. Just like McDonald’s Monopoly’s rare properties, they printed the other card in significantly smaller quantities to avoid giving away too much money. Oil companies do know something about hanging onto the green stuff.


The lack of distinctive logos, team insignia, and player numbers reflects the changing nature of 50s and 60s product licensing. Major league players, through the MLBPA, used their emerging market clout and union strength to make two big steps. First, they negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the team owners in 1968, a move that later dovetailed into full-scale free agency. Second, they signed a burst of licensing deals that paraded recognizable players across an ever-blander list of “collectibles.” One could argue the league and the players both diluted their brands with MLB’s 1969 expansion to 24 teams and oddities like MLBPA PhotoStamps, pins, and superballs.


The Fleer Sticker Project profiled a related licensing snafu, Topps’ on-again, off-again use of the Houston Astros name and logo in the late 60s. For even more quality history, check out The Team That Topps Forgot over at The Topps Archives. Both give a good sense of the cranks and characters trying to stay on top in a changing business and how that played out on the cards themselves.

I say, the heck with tying baseball (and cards) to a family dram-edy like "Diminished Capacity." Someone should script and shoot the backroom shenanigans and financial hijinks that colored the national pastime during the Vietnam years. Cast Willam H. Macy in the role of backstop warrior Andy Etchebarren, blocking the plate just to put food on the table. Wrap the fiscal hooligans up in an Oliver Stone conspiracy bow and release it just before the next political season. That'd smell like hot dogs, apple pie, and Oscar buzz.

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