by Rich Klein
As I was reading a recent edition of the Editor’s Blog here on Sports Collectors Daily, I saw a link to what appears to be a scam that was perpetuated on users of one of the hobby's message boards. The ironic thing was that I had already planned to offer an “historic tour” of some publicized people who ended up owing other collectors, dealers or publishers (or all of the above) and gained some notoriety for their misdeeds. Obviously, these are not the only such episodes, just those I remember those which were publicized in one way or another. Please note I'm not using last names only because there has been enough grief for all involved.
The first stop on our tour goes back to the late 1970's and early 1980's and involves a couple named Rex and Beth. They were involved in the hobby and worked out of New York City. What turned out to be interesting about them is that an issue of the old hobby publication "The Trader Speaks" mentioned them one month as owing money (yes, the editor of the publication wasn’t shy about outing those who reneged on various transactions). Years later, at one of the standard hobby dinners I used to go to with other dealers, someone told me that the way they worked the deals was if Rex was short of money or needed a way to finish a transaction, Beth would use her…um assets…to…well.. “seal the deal” with the other party.
The second stop on our tour involves an owner named Allen and a store/mail order company out of Vermont circa 1987. The owner began by putting all sorts of hokey tidbits in SCD magazine as part of his ad campaign including mentioning all his employees and what they were doing.
They were also taking multiple tables at almost every show they could large and small. I know some of the smaller shows they set up at included the Albany shows as well as shows in Nanuet, NY (I set up at Nanuet for many years and never really had a good show there. I swear the customers who attended that show, had more lint then money in their wallets).
So at one Albany show I set up at, I had a few boxes behind my table to go with the material I would put up. Out of the blue I hear Allen, the owner of the Vermont company tell someone to “take those boxes and put them behind my table”. I happened to be nearby and explained that those boxes were mine and I would like them back-- like right now. A couple of minutes later and with the assistance of the promoter, all my material was returned to me.
Now, I'm OK with honest mistakes and if I had heard even something to the effect of "I thought that might have been mine, I'm sorry" I would have been cool with what happened. No apology came, and I was still furious a couple of days later so I called Frank Barning at Baseball Hobby News and said "Frank, I've never asked you to do something like this before and I'll probably never ask again but please do not take any advertising money from this dealer. There is something wrong even if they are going full bore each week in SCD." I gave Frank the synopsis of what occurred and he agreed to wait about three months before taking their ads. Within that three month period, their business went down the tubes, whether by fraud or just bad business and many dealers. collectors and yes Krause publications, the parent company of SCD, ended up being owed a lot of money. Frank used to tell people that I saved him and his readers from being taken for a ride. All because I never heard the words: "I'm sorry".
The next place we visit is courtesy of SportsNet. For those who weren’t around back in the 1990s, SportsNet was an very early dealer to dealer computer system in which people who paid a monthly fee could use the network for information about what items were selling for, could buy and sell cards themselves or as we did at Beckett, use it as one of our tools for gathering information. In addition, every once in a while, we would find regional items to purchase from dealers. Our ID on the site was TX200 which meant Dr, Beckett was actually the first person from Texas to join.
Now to me, the best part of SportsNet was what was called the "talking baseball" section in which an interesting mix of news, hobby gossip and sometimes just bantering would take place on a nightly basis. I used to cut and paste any mention of Beckett and see what was being said about us. Sometimes it was good, many times not so good, but almost always interesting.
However, for most dealers, the primary purpose was to buy and sell cases of cards. Yes in the early 1990's, the primary reason for being on the system was to buy and sell boxes and cases of cards. When there was seemingly a store on every corner, the need for unopened material and price knowledge of what was going up and what was going down was mandatory.
The other interesting aspect of the early 1990's was in addition to the proliferation of stores, there was at the same time a real growth in the number of manufacturers, especially in the football card field. The other reason for the football card manufacturer growth was the unsettled labor situation which helped set up both the NFL and the NFLPA accepting many new football card producers. The litany of producers no longer with us is long and includes: Action Packed, AW, Pacific, and Wild Card (among others). Shoot, even the Pro Line brand began as an official arm of the NFL producing cards.
One memory I have is at the "media" party for Pro Line in 1991 during the Anaheim National, the players were all given cards to sign for us as we came and approached them to chat as well. And I remember and would swear to my dying day that one of the players that night was O.J. Simpson and when he saw me he said, "I'll bet you'll be back to see me more than once and I'll save you that problem" and he handed me three signed cards. I eventually traded those cards to Theo Chen, one of my co-workers and kept the memory of that night.
Wild Card was a fascinating idea for a company in which their "hits' were called striped cards and were supposedly worth anywhere from five times to 1000 times of the regular card. These cards were produced in lesser quantities then the regular card. Here's a link to an eBay auction of a Favre 1000 stripe card from his rookie year.
The way many dealers set up with Wild Card was they would give you packs or boxes for cards with stripes you opened up at their store and redeemed immediately. Wild Card began in 1991 and by the end of 1993 they had lost all their licenses. However, not only did Wild Card lose their business but every dealer on SportsNet who was involved with Wild Card also lost their business. The most infamous of these dealers was "Big Bob's" who was going to create a baseball card empire with franchised stores and provide them will all the merchandise needed. Needless to say everything failed and again many collectors, dealers and hobby publishers were left holding the bag. As far as I know, only one person who actively dealt in Wild Card and was active survived and he is actually still in the hobby today.
And this month, the cycle continues with a man who used the name "Haiku" on a message board and set up what looks to be a scam in which he first became a very trusted member of the board and then about six months later, and in time for the holidays, took off with a decent sum of money and is still on the loose as we write this. I don't know any of the particulars of this or the people involved but I will say that I hope anyone affected gets at least some restitution. And all of this shows, even in the baseball card world, there is very little that has not been attempted before.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]