My Thoughts On The Recent Jersey Relic Scandal

Recently, a memorabilia dealer was arrested for mail fraud charges associated with the sales altered sports jerseys.  Apparently, this dealer was buying regular consumer-market jerseys and altering them to make them look “game-used.”  He then, according to his own confession after arrest, sold those fake “game-used” jerseys to all three major card companies of the time [Topps, Upper Deck and Donruss (later purchased by Panini)] from 2005-2009.  Not only that, but he was selling them at a price so low (say, 1/3 bulk wholesale market value) that the card companies HAD to know they were fake.  This was while he was under the employment of supposedly legitimate companies Authentic Sports, Inc. and Historic Auctions, LLC.

This obviously puts the jersey relic as we know it under additional question and scrutiny.  There’s been quite a chatter and uproar about the topic recently, so I figured I’d throw my two cents into the “game-used” hat.  Ready?

<takes deep breath>

I don’t care.

<exhales>

From what I’m seeing there are two camps expressing outrage.  The cardboard purists that demand a path to or immediate 100% transparency & authenticity or the cardboard investors that believe the legitimacy will equal a better investment and/or sales.

Let’s go over the monetary argument first since that’s easier to dismiss.  For the most part.

But first let me add the disclaimer that what follows is all assuming that this person who is alleged to have committed criminal acts and would be acting in his best interest in order to avoid conviction, reduce his sentence, or obtain a plea deal, is telling the truth.  Nothing has been proven in a court of law.  Something to keep in mind.  For what it’s worth, I think he’s probably telling the truth.  Moving on.

Several people have it in their head that having more transparency in the form of databases, record keeping, and pictures of the uncut item on the back would make their jersey relic cards more valuable because the end user would KNOW that that little piece of jersey was authentic.

I’m not sure where this theory comes from.  We already thought the jerseys were authentic, and their already relegated to the dollar bin, if they can even sell for that.  The only ones that are worth more than that are star players or the hottest players on the market at any given moment.

People respond to the player associated with the jersey paired with the perceived scarcity and general popularity of the card.  Can you honestly tell me that someone isn’t buying a jersey card because it doesn’t have a picture on the back of the shirt the tiny square came from?  Do you honestly believe that having that information available online or on the card itself would raise the price to a significant level?

I’m sorry, but it won’t happen.

I’m not going to all of a sudden pay $3-5 for a Ryan Dempster A&G relic when they’d still most likely be produced to a level that brings the market down to $1.  People aren’t paying for authentication; they’re paying for their collections in the form of teams, players, or sets.

Even if it did happen in 2013, you’d still see Allen & Ginter relics going for more money.  But that’s because there are diehards that want to build the relic sets, not because of what the disclaimer said.  You’d still see Mike Trout patches outselling other players.  All that work spent on making sure we have our authenticity ducks in a row will do is add additional information while maintaining the status quo.

The only way the price might be affected is if the jerseys purchased going forward are bought for a significantly higher price and/or they become harder to obtain.  If the card companies were buying fakes at a third of the normal bulk wholesale price and now they have to pay even normal bulk wholesale price, we should in theory see less jersey cards in total.

BUT.

That’s also assuming the second and third tier players command any sort of premium and couldn’t still be had on the cheap.  What we’re likely to see is a bunch of lower-run jersey cards and fewer and fewer star and superstar jersey cards, because those would be the ones priced out of range.  It’s not like the card companies are going to stop loading boxes with hits.  That’s what the collecting community has become and there would be a bigger revolt if you couldn’t get a guarantee in each box.

Hell, that could be what we’re seeing now.

So that brings us to the second point.  The people who want the transparency and legitimacy for the sake of the hobby.  For this argument, I’m going to completely disregard the rampant after-market manipulation and counterfeiting that goes on.

Let me ask the obvious question:  Even with all the called for record keeping and photographic proof, how would you know that jersey was authentic?

Consider the option of going back to the days where the full jersey picture was put on the back of the card.  I’m not saying I don’t enjoy seeing that.  I do.  But what does that picture prove?  Unfortunately not a damn thing.  And it never did.

Since most of these counterfeit jerseys were bought around the time that card companies actually took the time to explain and show visual aids of the source, we already know that a picture isn’t enough.  In fact, nothing would be enough.

From what I’ve heard and understand is that even getting the jerseys directly from MLB won’t really help give people all the clarity they want.  There are several clamoring for jerseys to be labeled on the cards with the date of the game that it was worn.  Apparently, MLB’s authentication department doesn’t do that kind of thing.  Most items sent to them are warehoused and cataloged at a later date.  That means they can only label the item as game-used.  Of course, sometimes they can’t even figure that out with any certainty, so it becomes “game-issued.”

Would that really matter to most consumers?  My guess is no.  You have NFL rookies wearing 30 plus jerseys for five seconds at an event that get cut up and put into packs throughout the season and people don’t seem to mind that too much even though the backs even say “event-worn.”  Again, it’s about the player, the perceived scarcity and the popularity of the specific card or product, and not about the labeling.

Okay.  but at least the items would be coming from the MLB directly.  Sure.  I’ll concede that.  But we’ll never know it.  Those disclaimers on the back don’t say a thing about the source, only that the company guarantees it.  That’s because the card companies will not release their memorabilia sources for various business and competitive reasons.

And then there’s still the trouble of validating relics that aren’t from current MLB players.  Any retired player or legend won’t be subject to the current MLB authentication rules, so there’s your crap shoot all over again.

So where does that really leave us?  The problem is very unlikely to be fixed, so the way I see it, there’s two choices.  Go the way of Night Owl and say relics have no part in your collection because there’s really no way to ever trust they are what they say they are.  That makes perfect sense.  Or you could be like me and say “I don’t care.”

We all know the wording on the back has grown increasingly vague.  Read the wording carefully these days and you’ll see it says “not from any specific game, event, or season.”  You know what it also doesn’t explicitly say anymore?  “Any specific player.”  Seriously.

I’ve been of the mindset for a while that the piece of cloth that is embedded in my cards could be from anyone.  White swatch is white swatch.  Perhaps I’m cynical, or maybe I’m being realistic, but I haven’t trusted those cards for a while.  Still, it hasn’t affected my collecting goals.

To me, it’s about the player on the card only.  I collect cards with the picture of the player, not the piece of cloth next to the picture.  So if the jersey isn’t real, I don’t care.

4 comments to My Thoughts On The Recent Jersey Relic Scandal

  • Personally, I would be shocked if Topps really took the ump-teen bats it would need for a set like Allen & Ginter and carefully cut each one up and ensure that the correct bat chip ended up in the correct player’s framed relic. Topps has a hard enough time packing cards without dinging them up or having collectors miss a hit (or a mini card). That said, I would still like to think that the relic piece is authentic, even if my BJ Upton bat card actually has a bat chip off of Ryan Ludwick’s bat.

  • Unfortunately, the vast majority of relic cards aren’t about the picture of the player on the card at all — in the way that they are presented. That’s why I’m not collecting relic cards anymore. They shun the player photo to glorify the relic, which isn’t real. Bye bye relic cards.

  • I’m with you, what does it matter. I’m not doing this to make money. It is a hobby and costs me money not the other way around. Having a card that may or may not be worth something because it is a genuine relic is just part of the cool factor of card collecting now for me. too each their own I guess.

  • Dan

    I’m leaning towards Night Time Owl’s point of view.

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