Sunday, December 9, 2012

Preferred Products sued Braves players over cards

This pair of Preferred Products Braves collectibles appeared in
a recent Huggins & Scott auction.
Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

 In 1955 Preferred Products Co., of Milwaukee sued 10 Braves players for a total of $68,000, contending the players had violated an agreement giving the firm exclusive rights to their autographed pictures.

Preferred Products contended that the players' deals to allow Spic & Span (a Wisconsin dry cleaners chain), Tops (sic) Gum Co. and Johnston Cookie Co. to produce baseball cards violated the earlier contracts they had signed.

The genesis of the suit was the signing of contracts in the Braves' clubhouse in April, 1954, between the named players and Scott Douglas, Inc., of Milwaukee. The contracts were for the use of player pictures and autographs. No dollar amount was ever mentioned in news accounts of the subsequent legal proceedings.

In June, 1955, Preferred Products, to whom Douglas assigned the contracts, filed suit in Milwaukee circuit court seeking $10,000 damages from Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews, and $6,000 each from Joe Adcock, Bob Buhl, Lew Burdette, Del Crandall, Ernie Johnson, Dave Jolly, Johnny Logan, Chet Nichols and Andy Pafko. 

Spahn and Mathews were subject to the higher amount because Preferred said they enjoyed greater popularity.

As the case crawled through the courts for the next two years, Jolly, Johnson and Nichols were dropped from the suit, and Billy Bruton added. None of the three pitchers are known to have actually appeared on a Preferred product.

In the sportscard and memorabilia field, three principal types of Milwaukee Braves collectible are known. 

There is a set of 8" x 10" sepia artwork portraits that was sold in 1954 in an envelope marked "Braves Team Autographed Portraits." The 12 portraits that comprise the set are Adcock, Bruton, Buhl, Burdette, Crandall, Logan, Mathews, O'Connell, Pafko, Jim Pendleton, Spahn and Bobby Thomson. 

Also issued in 1954 was a set of 4-7/8" round heavy felt patches with player portraits and facsimile autographs. Currently, only 10 players are known in that issue, being the same players as in the 12-picture portrait set, with the exception of Pendleton and Thomson, who may yet be reported someday.

In a hearing held before a court commissioner in May, 1956, it was brought out that the players' contracts with Douglas had the phrase "these items . . . will be exclusive with us" inked out. Preferred claimed the obliteration of the key phrase was done after the contracts were signed. The players said it was done before the signings.

Eddie Mathews testified, "We knew we had outstanding contracts and couldn't give exclusive rights."

The players attorney, Harry Zaidins, said the contracts only covered cloth items. he said the players understood their photos and facsimile signatures were to be used on t-shirts and babushkas (scarves).

The players further contended that Scott Douglas Inc.'s assignment of the contracts to Preferred Products was not valid. Warren Spahn argued that the players shouldn't be required to do business with a party that they had never met and about whom they knew nothing. 

Assignment of the contracts, according to the players' lawyer, required written consent by the players. The attorney for Preferred Products argued that the players had verbally consented; the players denied having done so.

In late January, 1957, Circuit Judge William L. O’Neill ruled that the type of contract involved required written ratification by the players.

Since there was none, the judge granted a motion for summary judgment dismissing the $10,000 suit against Warren Spahn and $6,000 suit again Del Crandall.

Attorney Zaidins said the cases against the eight other Braves would fail as a result of the ruling. That appears to have been the end result.

Though Preferred Products’ attorney Earl J. Kuehl said he would appeal the Spahn-Crandall decision to the Supreme Court, no record was found of further action.

Indeed, a third Preferred Products Braves issue of another set of player portrait photographic pictures (without facsimile autographs) issued between 1957-1960 indicates that the 1955 lawsuit didn't irreparably damage relations between the parties. Among the 12 players known in that set, Adcock, Bruton, Buhl, Burdette and Logan are included. 

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