Along with an increase in interest for baseball cards, the sports card show market exploded in the 1980s. Along with it came opportunities for autograph sessions with well-known former players, who started to earn significant amounts of money from those appearances.
A few would up catching the attention of the IRS.
Willie McCovey and Duke Snider were regular guests at big shows in the 1980s. Both later admitted to not reporting all of their sports memorabilia-related income and were hit with federal tax evasion charges. McCovey told investigators he was once paid $33,000 in cash at the “500 Home Run Club Show”, a large Atlantic City event attended by numerous other Hall of Famers. Snider also attended the show.
Both men were sentenced to probation and handed $5,000 fines on the same day several years later. On Tuesday, more than 18 years after their probation period ended, McCovey and Snider were granted pardons by President Obama.
It’s a largely ceremonial gesture and formal expression of the government’s forgiveness. The conviction isn’t erased from the record but a pardon does offer some relief from the long-term impact of a felony conviction through restoration of civil rights such as voting, jury service or obtaining licenses.
“I want to express my sincere gratitude to President Obama not only for this kind gesture on my behalf,” said McCovey, now 79. “But also for his tireless service to all Americans. He will be deeply missed and I wish him all the best in the future.”
Snider died in 2011.
McCovey failed to declare nearly $70,000 of the income he made on the show circuit between 1988 and 1990, telling a judge at the time “It’s one of those things that was overlooked at the time and I do accept responsibility for it.”
Snider, the popular former Brooklyn Dodger, admitted to not reporting over $100,000 in income between 1984 and 1993. Snider said at the time that he needed the income because bad business decisions had left him with little savings. He was forced to pay nearly $30,000 in back taxes.
“I made the wrong choice,” Snider stated outside the courtroom that day. “I was knowledgeable. I was aware of the crime I was involved in. And I made the wrong choice. I hope the effects of it won’t hurt baseball that badly.”