Upper Deck co-founder Richard McWilliam dies at 59


By Chris Olds | Beckett Baseball Editor

Upper Deck co-founder and CEO Richard P. McWilliam died Saturday of unknown causes at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., the company announced on Monday.

The company has named Jason Masherah as president. He had been running the day-to-day operations of the company for the past year or so following McWilliam’s health issues battling heart disease and having open heart surgery in 2008. He was 59.

“Our entire company is heartbroken and grieving his death today,” said Masherah, who focused on the Upper Deck legacy in one of his statements.

“Richard was a thought leader and visionary in the trading card industry,” Masherah said. “It grew from a hobby for some baseball fans into a multi-billion dollar industry because of the multiple innovations that Upper Deck introduced under his leadership. He built a company that has weathered difficult times for the entire industry and is well positioned for future success.”

Upper Deck arrived on the baseball scene in 1989 with a higher-end approach to card-making with tamper-proof packaging, randomly sequenced packs and holograms that prevented counterfeiting of the cards.  It added NHL, NBA and NFL licenses in the following years and helped usher in some of the hobby’s innovations such as certified autographs and game-used memorabilia cards on a widespread basis, though the company was not the first in some instances.

Masherah said he is prepared to build upon that legacy.

“However, he built a company with a strong management team, a focus on quality, and an expanding array of successful products. Upper Deck is well positioned to continue its growth and success, and I am honored to have been chosen to lead the company,” he said. “We have strong business partners, an outstanding group of professional athletes who serve as exclusive spokesmen for Upper Deck, and a proven ability to innovate and change to meet new and different market environments.”

While McWilliam was an aggressive businessman whose dealings early on were documented in the book Card Sharks, many of those he worked with in the industry were surprised and saddened by the news.

Adam Martin of Dave & Adam’s Card World credited McWilliam’s belief in his company as an online seller — rather than a traditional candy wholesaler or card distributor — for some of his success in the industry.

“If it were not for Richard McWilliam, we probably wouldn’t be the company that we are today,” Martin said. “He took us into the fold and was the first card company to sell us larger volumes of product. I’ll never forget that.

“There’s no question that he was one of the greatest thinkers and innovators in trading cards.”

Evan Kaplan, the Director of Licensing and Business Development for the Major League Baseball Players Association, hailed McWilliam’s innovation from the very beginning.

“Richard McWilliam set out to revolutionize the baseball card industry. He accomplished this with his inaugural release,” Kaplan said. “While his presence will be missed, Richard’s impact on the hobby will never be forgotten. My condolences to his family, friends and everyone at Upper Deck.”

Thomas Fish, owner of Blowout Cards, echoed the sentiments about changing the sports card field.

“It is a sad day. Richard McWilliam was a visionary,” Fish said. “His leadership of Upper Deck in the late 1980s and during the 1990s  has forever changed our industry. Our condolences to his family friends and employees.”

Topps tweeted the following: “RIP Richard McWilliam @UpperDeckSports, never like to see anyone leave us early and while a fierce competitor had lasting impact on the hobby.”

Leaf Trading Cards tweeted that it was a “very sad day for the hobby” adding that “our condolences go out to the family, friends and faithful employees of Richard McWilliam and Upper Deck. The hobby lost a pioneer.

Reed Kasaoka of Baseball Card Exchange has several  years in the industry and remembered meeting McWilliam at times while he worked for Dave & Adam’s Card World.

“Damn, this is sad news,” he said. “I met Richard a couple of times when I was with DACW, while socializing at the Hawaii Trade Conference, and I was just a sidekick to Adam [Martin].  Even though my job didn’t entail having any direct dealings with Richard, he was very pleasant to talk to and showed great interest in what I did for a living.

“Upper Deck made card collecting better, because they forced every other manufacturer to challenge themselves to make better products,” Kasaoka said. “I still vividly remember the day in 1989 when I laid my eyes on 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards for the first time at my local card shop.  Moments like this are the reason why I became a baseball card dealer.”

McWilliam is survived by his wife and three children.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball magazine. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.


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  1. rick 7 January, 2013 at 12:09

    Thank You for 1989 Upper Deck Baseball Cards! One of my favorite sets of all time and some of the best memories searching, collecting those cards and packs! Thank You!

  2. Albert Legaspi 7 January, 2013 at 13:18

    This is sad news. I had a couple of opportunities to meet with Mr. McWilliams at the Hawaii Trade Conference. He was always friendly and enjoyable to visit. My condolences to his family and employees of UpperDeck.

  3. Chris 7 January, 2013 at 13:27

    Wonder how many secrets about the infamous “UD back door” will go to the grave with him…

  4. nic 7 January, 2013 at 14:43

    Unfortunately Upper Deck may not be far behind them.There Product has been garbage for years and there customer service is the worst.RIP

  5. wr 7 January, 2013 at 17:20

    Nic, I think this is a time for peace and thanks for somone who changed an industry….not for criticism…

  6. ts 7 January, 2013 at 17:53

    So sorry to hear the news. I have his autograph on the back of an old football card series. I’ll cherish it.

  7. Suzy 7 January, 2013 at 18:08

    Upper Deck changed baseball card collecting forever in 1989. I collected Upper Deck from 1989 through 2010 (mostly baseball but a little hockey and football, too) – I always thought it was an excellent product. RIP, Mr. McWilliam.

  8. Tim 7 January, 2013 at 18:55

    Every company probably has the back door dealing as well as all kinds of unethical dealing in products that are supposed to be limited. 1989 Upper Deck for instance was a great card with great ideas but when the product sold so well, more was printed and they sold as much as possible and that is why the 1989 cards are not worth anything. I have been collecting cards for over 40 years and over doing so many things that were great has killed so much of what made them great. Jersey cards were worth a lot when they first came out but try selling them now. No matter what, I am saddened to hear about Richard. My condolences to his family.

  9. Robert Nevarez 8 January, 2013 at 01:35

    As a former employee of Upper Deck I am saddened by Mr. McWilliam’s death. No matter what you feel about him he has left behind a wife and young children. I mourn for them and send my best wishes.

  10. Kory Kasler 8 January, 2013 at 10:25

    RIP. Thanks for the ’89 Upper Deck set. I still need to get a Griffey RC into my collection.

  11. Matt Maldre 8 January, 2013 at 11:18

    I second Kory. I give thanks for the 1989 Upper Deck set. (funny, how people don’t give thanks for any of the Upper Deck sets of later years). I also need to get a Griffey RC in my collection.

  12. Don B. 8 January, 2013 at 12:50

    I have known Richard for over 45 years. We attended high school and college together. Though we grew apart in later years, I always considered him a friend. I am sure he had his negatives, but he did revolutionize the industry and he was a good husband and father. RIP.

  13. Jay McCracken 8 January, 2013 at 13:24

    Yes it is sad news and I feel for those he left behind. On the other hand I cannot believe the incorrect information that has been published surrounding Richard’s passing. The company was not founded in 1989 – it was 1988. I was hird as VP of sales 9/15/88. To my way of thinking there were three founders of UD Bill Hemrick, Paul Sumner and Dwayne Buice. Richard came in a bit later and was the financial guy , did provide a bunch of early money and was a tremendous leader when were were floundering with the early production. He raelly had nothing to do with the creative process – that was all Sumner and Hemrick. Buice helped secure the MLB license through his agent.

  14. Steve 8 January, 2013 at 16:00

    RIP, RIchard. Your company’s products helped elevate the quality of cards throughout the entire industry.

    Jay, the article doesn;t say UD was “founded” in 1989–it says it “arrived on the scene” that year. I think the writer is talking about the first card set–before 1989, essentially no one but you and a few others even knew what an Upper Deck was.

  15. Jay McCracken 8 January, 2013 at 23:25

    Steve – Yes the Beckett article was correct but my comment referred to the many incorrect statements of “fact” appearing on the many websites and newpaper reports over the last few days. In that UD was founded 24 years ago and the turnover in the hobby has been so great that few people remember what happened back then. Enough said for now,

  16. Ben 9 January, 2013 at 19:50

    Upper Deck hockey is my favorite hockey card company and the majority of my cards is UD

    RIP Richard

  17. steve-o 10 January, 2013 at 14:23

    RIP Richard. I second the “thoughts” that his customer service skills were terrible, personal experience via e-mail in 2009. For someone who “learned a lot about sports and key figures” in the companys early days…..he sure put his name on a lot

  18. stan 12 January, 2013 at 16:40

    rip but upper deck is garbage now. overproducing cards especially michael jordan. the guy has been retired for 10 years and they still make stupid cards of him.. fleer retro is garbage– they don’t even look like the original cards and who wants cards of their stars in college uniform???

  19. don doiron 28 April, 2013 at 09:46

    Hi, my name is Don. Many years ago I wrote and ask mr. Mcwilliam, for an autograghed Roger Clemen card. He sent me this card and I’ve cherished it ever since. As much as I like Ken Griffey jr. , and his very expensive cardboard, which I cannot afford, Mr. Mcwilliam, sent me what I asked for. For those of you who had the good fortune to know and love Mr. Mcwilliam, and as you hold him close to your heart, always remember this, his physical presence may be absent, but the mark he left in Carlsbad, and more importantly, the everlasting mark he left in your hearts will live on forever, with you. So, please take comfort in knowing, your pain is also Gods pain, Richard is now HOME!

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