A Curious Case For Kirby

Posted: June 26, 2012 by Crackin' Wax in Minnesota Twins, Talkin' Twins
Tags: , , ,
When was the last time you saw a new Kirby Puckett baseball card?

You can make a great case that it would be a rare sight to see a brand new baseball card of a man that has not only been retired from the game but who has also been deceased for six years. You could make another great case that it would be a typical sight to see a brand new baseball card of a man that was one of the biggest contributors to baseball in the late 80s and early 90s, was a two-time World Champion, has made ten All-Star appearances, has won six gold gloves, has won six silver sluggers, has won a batting title, has had his number retired, and was a first ballot Hall of Famer. Topps features former players of this caliber throughout nearly every single one of their products, so it would not at all be uncalled for or strange to see Kirby cardboard each year.

But when was the last time you saw a brand new Kirby Puckett baseball card?

I can remember the first time I saw a brand new Kirby Puckett baseball card. In fact, in 1986, his was the very first baseball card that I ever pulled out of a pack. That is a memory I hope I never forget.

The very first card I ever pulled–1986 Topps Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett “Hair-itage” T-Shirt by Nike

The moment the schedule came out for the Minnesota Twins’ 2011 season, it seemed like pure destiny. The Twins would be playing the Brewers at Miller Park on my 34th birthday. What a great opportunity to finally find and sport the number of my all-time favorite baseball player! The hunt was on for any licensed Puckett shirts or jerseys. There were plenty of old, used and beaten mesh tops and replica jerseys from the early 00s floating around the ‘bay. What I found strange, however, was how very little the official online Twins shop carried in the way of Puckett memorabilia and clothing. In fact, the only licensed item they carried was a Hair-itage t-shirt produced by Nike. Further delving revealed that Nike had produced a small line of Puckett clothing–the Hairitage t-shirt and two designer jersey shirts complete with Puckett and 34 on the back of each. What didn’t seem so odd to me at the time was the fact that these numbered shirts were virtually out of stock with every online retailer that I could find. Why should it seem strange that his shirts were so popular? Little did I know, popularity had nothing at all to do with it.

I was shut out of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but not for lack of trying on both mine and my wife’s parts (…who just heard Beavis and Butt-head laughing?). On a side note, the Twins got absolutely throttled that day, losing 11-1. It was the first and only game I’ve ever left early. That game was not making for a very happy birthday.

Fast forward one full year to yesterday for my 35th birthday. I had gone the entire year without being able to procure a Puckett jersey, t-shirt, hoodie, sweatshirt… not even so much as a pair of Puckett boxer shorts. The same held true for my dear wife, The Over-thinker. But, yesterday, before she came home, she decided to try, try again. She made her way to one of the three official Minnesota Twins Pro Shops to seek out that seemingly impossible-to-find Puckett item. The Pro Shops carry just about every variation of just about every article of clothing bearing the name and number of just about every relevant Twins player ever, so the odds that they would not have one thread of anything Puckett seemed slim.

Not exactly Vegas odds.

One year to the day, we again came up empty handed.

Ever the investigator, she found it very strange that a player like Kirby would not have an entire section of items to himself in a Twins official Pro Shop. She asked the store manager why we haven’t been able to find any Puckett materials, even in officially licensed stores. The answer, it seems, is highly unfortunate. Evidently, when Puck passed away, so too did all of his licensing rights. Sadly, and perhaps expounded by his sudden death, Kirby’s likeness rights were assigned solely to him and were never willed or passed onto his family or estate–according to the Pro Shop store manager, at least. He explained to my wife that the reason we are able to find only a couple of Kirby Puckett items by Nike is because they were either produced before his death and are nearly sold out, or they were produced afterwards and were pulled.

Kirby Puckett “34” Mesh BP Jersey

What may be even more interesting is that there IS in fact a NEW licensed Kirby Puckett shirt now being sold at Target Field and on the Twins online shop. The catch? They don’t use his name, only his number. They can do this because Kirby has no licensing on the number 34. If only that shirt had been available last year!

That got me thinking. When was the last time I saw a new Kirby Puckett baseball card? I certainly haven’t pulled one out of a pack since the 90s. So, I dug around and did a little research. A quick query on TwinsCards.com yielded a very intriguing answer. In 2007, Upper Deck completed a set of cards to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Twins’ first World Championship which they won by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in seven epic games in 1987. That means that this card, produced by Upper Deck, who have recently lost their MLB license, was made the year after Kirby Puckett passed away.

2007 Upper Deck 1987 Minnesota Twins World Championship Reunion – Kirby Puckett

Also, according to the site, Topps hasn’t produced a Puckett card since 2004. If this truly is the case, and it certainly seems to be, then we may never see another officially licensed baseball card of Kirby Puckett ever again, be it produced by Topps, Upper Deck, or anyone else for that matter.

As a card collector and fan of one of the greatest players to step into the batter’s box during my childhood, it’s crushing to even acknowledge the idea that I’ll never again be able to pull a piece of cardboard featuring the incomparable Kirby Puckett and his glowing smile.

  1. Nick says:

    So how many different Puckett cards exist?

  2. A while back I was thinking about how weird it was that Kirby never shows up in any of the Topps releases that feature retired players. I thought maybe the fact that they can’t offer any autographs from him would be a factor, but I guess that doesn’t stop them from producing Mantle or Ruth cards. Like you, I’m quite bummed to hear we’ll never see him on any new cards. He was one of my favorites as a kid as well.

  3. sdsyvie says:

    Forgot to mention this a few days back, but I loved this article. As a die-hard Twins fan, I had wondered this myself and the information was great.

    I’m a bit unclear though, he maintains his rights to the grave. Or why again are the unable to not make anymore cards of him?

    • topher says:

      Well, unless Topps steps in and clarifies, I am under the impression that his licensing rights died with him. I’m not entirely sure if there is some sort of statute of limitations or a certain period of time that would have to go by before his likeness can be used and sold again.

  4. donahue2011 says:

    You would think his family could still give rights?

  5. JasonP says:

    I guess I’m missing something obvious. If the licensing rights “died with him” and no one actual controls his likeness, why isn’t anyone just making Puckett merchandise anyway? It doesn’t sound like there would be anyone in a position to sue over licensing violations….

    So what am I missing here?

    • topher says:

      There is a possibility, I suppose, that if his likeness rights are tied up in a legal document that was never willed onto family or next-of-kin that some other governing body (the law firm that drew up the document, the state, someone with power of attorney, etc.) would then be obligated to continue to protect his likeness. You do bring up a very good and valid point, and it would be nice to have a clear cut answer. There has to be a very good reason why 2007 was the last year anyone produced a commercial trading card of Puckett, though. I do wonder if there are any other former players who have passed on that are in a similar situation?

  6. Scott says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I have been collecting Kirby memorabilia for years and the recent drought of new items had me stumped as well but your contention that this is a licensing issue makes perfect, and tragic, sense. What a shame that those of us who love “Puck” will not have the chance to see his likeness grace modern memorabilia. Here’s hoping that your article may spur someone in a position to act on this to do so!

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