The good news: Baseball cards are getting a LOT of publicity right now. The bad news: It’s all because of a…wait for it…Honus Wagner card bought for a song on eBay.
A man in Sparks, NV was convinced he’d purchased a real T206 Wagner card on eBay for $177.50 last week. Never mind that the card hadn’t been authenticated. Never mind that authentic Wagner cards, even in poor condition, sell for deep into six figures and never mind that the seller had other “famous” ungraded cards for sale like a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth and a 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan, all clearly labeled reprints. Somehow, a Reno TV station got ahold of the “story” and interviewed Jason Mars for a piece they aired Monday.
Local TV stations are always hunting for a great story and finding a local guy who uncovered a valuable baseball card for pennies on the dollar would be absolute gold.
If it were true.
In this case, the reporter did no due diligence before the story was put together and aired on the station’s newscast Monday night. There was no mention of the seller indicating the card was a reprint in the listing. There were no other sources asked to go on record verifying the card could be real, no phone interview with the seller (the general idea of the ‘story’ was that the seller must have been clueless), just a vague reference to three “local experts” who said the card was legitimate. No mention of the dozens of artificially aged Wagner cards that are sold on eBay every month. No investigation of printing tendencies that can reveal much about century old cards.
It was basically just an interview with a guy who seemed pretty confident he bought a real Wagner for next to nothing.
Of course the story got a major sell job with the reporter (who apparently has had his own share of issues in recent years) saying Mars had “hit the jackpot” and a reference to how he “landed the mother of all baseball cards”. The headline in the station’s web story blared “Sparks man wins online auction for rare collectible”. The station claimed there were “57” Wagner cards now in existence, which reminded me of the old Steve Martin joke about a couple of guys watching a line of showgirls in Vegas and…well…never mind.
The story made its way to online message boards, which naturally led to a lot of clicks to the station’s website and so Tuesday night, they were busy bragging on Facebook about how “popular” the story was and brought out the extended version of their exclusive interview with the buyer, who now claimed part of his authentication work involved taking it to a local Pawn Shop and lithograph company. In the new video, he also claimed to have bought it from “an old man who didn’t care about the money”; an old man who apparently did have some other graded cards he was selling on eBay—just not the Wagner, Ruth or Jordan. That seller, by the way, was so excited to get $177.50 for his fake Wagner card that he listed two more.
If the whole thing had just stayed in Reno, it would have quietly gone away but KRNV sent it to NBC Newschannel and by Tuesday afternoon, several stations in places like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis had picked up the story and put it on their websites and Facebook pages. That, of course, brought out the usual comments from viewers who were sure they had bought one at a flea market and were ready to sell and others who were glad to express their expert opinions on previous T206 Wagner sales like the one Wayne “Gretsky” bought “for $500,000”. Others thought the card, even if it wasn’t real, had to be worth at least $500.
The immediate result of this will likely be a new flood of fake or artificially aged “vintage” cards on eBay, more uneducated buyers wasting money and auction houses having to take more calls from people who know they’ve just found their retirement savings at the bottom of a box in a rummage sale.
So I guess if you find a Rembrandt on eBay and can find a couple of art ‘experts’ who believe you, it’s possible you could end up on television stations coast-to-coast.