There has been a lot of discussion lately about doctored sports cards; the practice of altering to change a valuable card’s appearance. It’s generally done to enhance the likelihood that a grading company will miss the alteration and give the card a better grade.
Some collectors who see the evidence of repaired corners and trimming are outraged, but it reminds me of the steroid era in baseball. Players looked bigger and stronger. They rarely got tired. They hit the ball a mile. The records fell.
We knew better, but we didn’t want to admit it or tried to convince ourselves that it really was a new, better player stepping into the batters box as we edged closer to the 21st century. The problem was, there was no real way to prove it was happening. There were no teeth in baseball’s drug testing program at the time. No real legal way wipe the books clean and say it was because the big sluggers were cheating. We trusted the game and the system too much.
It’s the same with the baseball card hobby. Vintage sports cards increased in value. Grading came along. High-grade cards sold for more money.
Could there really be THAT many mint pre-War baseball cards still out there or were the numbers artificially inflated by what was going on behind the scenes? The temptation was certainly there in the form of dollar signs. The technology and know-how exist and those who desperately want the money to cheat the system will find their way to it.
The sports card grading companies try to detect alterations made by card doctors but it’s hard. It’s hard when you’re grading thousands of cards per day. It’s hard because the card doctors have become so damn good. They’re not using scissors from the kitchen drawer. They’re using machines. They’re using chemicals. They’re working within the margins of the size requirements issued by the grading companies. They’re using professional restoration companies on valuable cards. There is no requirement anywhere to slap a "restored" label on anything.
Inspecting every card long enough isn’t practical when you need to make money to stay in business. They do what they can under the current business model but in the end, the grading is done by human beings. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. Having authentication and grading in today’s hobby is better than not having it.
More collectors who own high-grade old baseball cards may have to start finally accepting what we all did after the Congressional hearings on performance enhancers in baseball.
Sometimes the images are just too good to be true.