As part of our continuing series of brief chats with leading hobby personalities, we recently sent Joe Orlando of PSA some questions which he was gracious to answer. Orlando is the president of PSA and PSA/DNA, having joined the company after law school. He’s got his hands in virtually every aspect of the business, from writing articles for the Sportscard Market Report price guide magazine to meeting with collectors at major shows and developing new holders for trading cards. We try to ask slightly different questions in an effort to help collectors get to know industry leaders a little better and find out how they got into the hobby on a professional level.
RK: You were a very good catcher for Westmont College in California in the mid-1990’s. Is there any video from your college days available and do you remember in high school or college if you ever played against any future major leaguers?
About a year ago, my former college baseball coach put together a disk with some television highlights, which aired on the local Santa Barbara news station (KEYT) back in the 1990s. He was kind enough to send the disk to several of the players who played during that time period. It was fun to watch it but, truth be told, I wish I had more footage to revisit. I really enjoyed playing college baseball.
Over the years, I had the chance to play against and with numerous guys who made it to the big leagues. I think living in Southern California had a lot to do with it since the area is certainly one of the country’s hotbeds for baseball. In fact, as far back as high school, Matt Franco and Mike Lieberthal both played during my time at Westlake High. Franco was a little older and Lieberthal was a little younger, but they were both there at the time. The year I graduated, I was a pitcher and Lieberthal was a shortstop, and a good one at that. Later on, we both became catchers. I wasn’t a standout high school player. Let’s just say I was a late bloomer, both mentally and physically, but Franco and Lieberthal were really tremendous players.
As I got older and played against better talent, I ended up competing against numerous players who ended up making it to the show, whether it was in college, during summer/fall leagues or in Independent ball after college. Even my last manager, Ellis Valentine, had a pretty good MLB career before he got into coaching.
RK: How did you get involved with PSA?
Back in the early 1990’s, around the time PSA first started, I came across a small table at a baseball card show. There was one representative with a tiny stack of brochures and a few sample cards. I ended up talking with him for a long time and the concept, while it was a little foreign at the time, really clicked with me. So, in turn, I became one of their first customers, albeit a small one.
As the years went by and I progressed with school, I kept in contact with the company. During my second year of law school, I received a call out of the blue. The company wanted to know if I would join the team. I was flattered but I really wanted to finish school, so I decided to decline the offer. A year later, right after I graduated, I received another call from PSA. They offered me an opportunity again. This time, I decided to accept and, as they say, the rest is history. I never planned on working in the hobby even though I was an avid collector, but I figured if I was going to do it, this was the right opportunity and something I believed in.
RK: What are some of the most interesting items you have seen or heard about PSA or PSA/DNA authenticating during your time there?
I get asked this question quite a bit and let me say that I am very fortunate to work at PSA because I get to see some of the most interesting collectibles the hobby has to offer. It really is a privilege for someone who appreciates the items. That said, for me, I would say that the most interesting item we have handled here remains the bat that Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium history in 1923. The bat is not only preserved in beautiful condition, but the story and its historical importance are just incredible.
The bat was given as part of a program, designed in part by Ruth’s agent Christy Walsh. For a period of time, Ruth would sign the bat he used to hit the first home run of the season and that bat would be given to the winner of a high school home run hitting contest as part of a deal with The Los Angeles Evening Herald newspaper. Fittingly, Ruth’s 3-run homer on Opening Day in the new stadium helped beat the rival Boston Red Sox 4-1.
In a sense, this bat is the catalyst that launched the phrase – “The House that Ruth Built.” There is so much more to the story, including the provenance, how it was found, etc., but this is still the most interesting item I have ever seen in the hobby. The bat sold in 2004 for $1.265 million and it remains the highest price ever paid for a professional model bat. It is obviously worth a lot more in today’s market.
RK: What is the best advice you can give a card collector?
If I had to narrow it to one piece of advice for this interview, I would stress how important it is to deal with reputable sellers. The concept of third-party grading has certainly changed the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean buyers should ignore who the seller is.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard horror stories from those who seemingly leave common sense on the shelf. Time and time again, there are those who will chase bargains or deal with people who have no reputation, no credible references to speak of. The result can be devastating, but this is the type of thing buyers can control. They choose who they deal with or buy from. It would surprise a lot of seasoned hobbyists just how many people allow themselves to be preyed upon.
The fact pattern repeats itself over or over. It goes something like this…
“I was contacted by a seller via email or I found this item on Craigslist. The seller has a bunch of nice items at really attractive prices. I have never heard of him before but I couldn’t resist. He asked that I meet him with cash, or that I wire him the money”.
I am sure most of the readers know where this story is going. The buyer eventually finds out that the items are not what they were purported to be and is left with no recourse. Often times, the buyer was given a fake name, no physical address or some combination of things that make it impossible to get their money back.
It pays to deal with reputable sellers. In this day and age, the information age, there are rarely steals to be had as a buyer. If you want something of quality, you are going to have to pay for it. As collectors, we try not to overpay when possible, but the market has matured and more and more people know what their stuff is worth, especially good stuff. A solid seller is a valuable commodity.
RK: What is the best advice you can give an autograph collector?
There are a lot of people who have obtained autographs in person, and there is a percentage of people from that same group who think they don’t have to get any of those autographs certified because they saw it with their own eyes. The problem is that is very short term thinking. It may not be today or tomorrow but, at some point, those autographs will change hands. They will either be sold, traded or handed down to a family member. In order to either get the best possible price for the items at the time of liquidation or to protect those who are about to receive the items, it is best to have those autographs certified now because you never know what tomorrow may bring. A lot of people wait until it’s too late or assume it doesn’t matter, but it does. The market has matured and buyers want more than just the word of the seller. People are apt to spend more money if they are more confident in the product. Life has a way of throwing curve balls at us and it is better to be prepared. So, my advice would be to plan for your collection’s future, no matter where you think its final destination will be.
One aspect of third party grading I frequently mention on message boards is having graded items is an easy way of establishing value for all parties. Anytime an item is encapsulated, it immediately becomes easier to handle for all concerned and in all situations.
RK: Tell me about some of the fun or interesting people you have dealt with and what makes them special.
I am not sure if I would single out any one particular person out but one thing I have enjoyed is meeting people, with a variety of backgrounds and personalities, who share the same passion. They might not all collect the same types of things or have the same spending power, but there is something about the hobby that brings a lot of different people together. When you meet other people who share that passion, who appreciate the items and the hunt the way you do, a connection is established. It can connect the young and old, the rich and not so rich, if that collector gene exists within two people.
RK: I know you’re a boxing fan and try to work out to stay in shape when you’re not busy. How about your hobbies or interesting tidbits about yourself you’d like to share?
I mentioned earlier that I was one of PSA’s first customers back in the early days of the company. So, some people wonder if I still collect today. Around the time I started at the company, I got rid of all my graded cards. I didn’t have a large collection to begin with, but I thought it was the right thing to do from a perception standpoint. No one at Collectors Universe, Inc. (PSA’s parent company) told me I had to; I just wanted to do it.
I ended up taking the passion I had for baseball cards and began getting more into memorabilia, such as game-used equipment, display pieces and the like. My collection is pretty limited in number, but the items have special meaning to me. Most of the items I have are related to the best catchers in baseball history since playing the position had such a huge impact on my life.
One thing that surprised me in my early days at PSA was that so many of the hobby executives I met from other companies had no real experience as collectors. It was shocking to me at the time. I want people to know that I am a collector and have been since I was a little kid. I believe that experience, and passion, helps me do a better job. If you understand how collectors think and love what you do then I think you can perform better, no matter where you work in this industry. Whether I remain working in the hobby for the rest of my life or not, I will always be a collector. I have the collecting gene.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]