Upper Deck Chairman Richard McWilliam has died.
The company announced Monday that it had named Jason Masherah as its new President following “the sudden and unexpected death” of the company’s co-founder and chairman.
According to Upper Deck, McWilliam died at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, CA on Saturday of undetermined causes, although his medical history included heart disease and open heart surgery in 2008. He was 59.
McWilliam is credited with transforming the sports trading card business by creating Upper Deck, a company that earned an MLB license in time to produce its groundbreaking debut set in 1989 featuring the first Ken Griffey Junior rookie card. Upper Deck soon earned NFL, NBA and NHL licenses, the latter of which it has retained. In recent years, the company has faced an ongoing series of legal battles.
“We are shocked and saddened by Richard’s passing,” said Masherah. “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.”
McWilliam co-founded Upper Deck in 1989 and served until his death as its Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board.
“With an awareness of the lack of creativity and quality in the sports trading card and memorabilia industry, he began developing sports products that raised collectibles standards overnight,” stated a company news release.
Upper Deck’s innovations during McWilliam’s tenure included significant improvements in the graphic quality and statistical information about the sports stars featured on trading cards, autographed inserts in trading cards, game jersey cards, the hugely popular “Piece of History” bat card with a piece of a bat swung in a game by Babe Ruth, digital trading cards, holographic certification of authenticity of autographs, cards with pieces of players’ jerseys embedded in them, games based on trading cards, expansion of content to players in virtually every major sport, extension into entertainment and other celebrity areas.
“Richard was a thought leader and visionary in the trading card industry. 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,” Masherah said. “He built a company that has weathered difficult times for the entire industry and is well positioned for future success. 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,” he added.
Arrangements for private funeral services are pending. McWilliam is survived by his wife Vivianne and their three children.