New York Times Drops Article on Altered Cards Scandal … Let’s Take a Closer Look

The scandal hit the national news in a big way on Thursday

Up to this point, the altered cards scandal had sort of been kept in the dark. Not among collectors, obviously. But the story wasn’t really a big one outside of the collecting community.

Well-known sports business guy Darren Rovell chimed in through a series of tweets and even did some reporting on the matter. But even his reach on something like this is somewhat limited.

Joe DiMaggio 1941 Play BallOn Thursday, though, the scandal was put under a much larger microscope in the New York Times. The Times and the Washington Post are generally the heaviest hitters in terms of newspaper journalism. And if a story makes it there, regardless of your political persuasion, it’s going to be seen by a gaggle of readers.

The Times article, if you haven’t seen it, isn’t a bad one at all. It gets a lot right and covers a lot of ground in short order, including why collectors are outraged, how alterations are viewed in cards, and hits on PSA, PWCC, and Gary Moser. But, as you would expect by an outlet not specializing in cards, it also falls short in areas, too.

For example, it doesn’t go into any detail about how the alterations have been discovered — basically by comparing scans of the alleged altered cards against ones prior to any alterations existing. That’s a pretty important point.

The article also failed to assign any credit to Blowout, the site where collectors really did all of the work. In fact, they even went a step further, really downplaying the ability of message board collectors to do anything about the problem.

Yet most of these disputes were confined to message boards, which are not often populated by the richest collectors.

While I will certainly concede that many collectors with deep pockets might not be actively participating in message boards, the idea that boards are homes only to the beater-collecting among us is categorically wrong. Collectors spending big money time and again have been proven to be active on boards and a significantly larger contingent surely reads them. Even celebrities get caught up in message boards and you’ll never convince me that big-spending collectors avoid them entirely.

Some other things in the article, of course, are entirely false — such as a point that grading a card is a prerequisite for selling on eBay. Sure, the most expensive cards sold are generally graded ones. But the majority of cards bought and sold there are probably ungraded.

Still, overall, I think the article was perfectly fine and at least hit the summary points.

Those gripes aside, the most important work done by the Times was getting comments from Gary Moser. Moser, if you’re unaware, is the primary guy alleged on the Blowout forums to have altered the cards. If you’re just getting up to speed on the debacle, essentially, those threads claim that Moser was buying lower-grade cards, having alterations done, having them graded (many through PSA), then selling the upgraded cards through PWCC. Other versions of that tale exist, too, but that’s the main idea being pushed. Of the three parties, he has generally been the one suffering the largest public hit as both PSA and, to a lesser degree, PWCC, seem to have some support from customers.

While PSA and PWCC had both issued statements (in PWCC’s case, two of them), I hadn’t seen any such commentary from Moser. But in Times the article, he spoke:

Mr. Moser, who lives on Long Island, said he had nothing to hide. In an interview, he denied that he had trimmed or altered cards.

He said he had always tried to buy cards for less than they were worth and sell them for a higher price. He added that he looked for mistakes in the grading process. If a card had what he believed was a low grade, he would ask for a re-evaluation, which often produced a higher grade.

“It’s all what the public believes,” he said.

He faulted grading companies like Professional Sports Authenticator, which is part of Collectors Universe, a publicly traded company in Santa Ana, Calif., that offers authentication services for sports memorabilia and trading cards.

P.S.A. charges up to $5,000 to grade a card. Mr. Moser said that its graders were not as knowledgeable as they purported to be and that they were overwhelmed by the volume of submissions and rushed the process. The grade you get, he said, depends as much on the grader as on the card.

Moser’s primary argument is that he resubmitted cards but did not alter them — and if you’ve seen the before/after pictures of cards that appear to be the same ones, that seems like it will be a tough sell. The other interesting thing about his statement is that he basically places the blame on PSA.

Now, if you’re paying attention, we’ve got a pretty big gap in terms of information here. Moser is accused of altering the cards but he says he did not. However, if you look at the before/after images of many cards on the Blowout forums, it seems difficult to show they did not undergo any work by, well, someone.

Ogden Story of Sand Golf CardMoser accuses PSA in the article but only in general, sweeping terms. He doesn’t talk about the altered cards, really. Instead, he is basically just quoted as saying the graders aren’t as knowledgeable as they claim and that they are performing rush jobs.

I don’t necessarily dispute that (though I do think graders are often undersold, given the number of issues they have to be familiar with) and collectors have been making those claims well before this scandal dropped. But the relevant thing here is that those two things are entirely unrelated to the quotes attributed to Moser in the article. Moser is claiming the cards are not altered and is instead saying that the graders’ inabilities are causing the different grades. But that still doesn’t explain the apparent alterations that these cards suffered.

I’ve interviewed subjects and have been interviewed myself. I know that articles generally leave quite a bit out for any number of reasons — brevity being a big one. Maybe Moser did indeed talk about the alterations. But that’s the big link the Times article doesn’t really make. If they did follow up with Moser on specific alterations and his thoughts on what happened to the cards from Point A (the point of sale) to Point B (PSA or the grading company), it isn’t mentioned. And that’s what collectors want to know about if they are to believe his assertion that he did not do the altering.

Finally, I think the blame game is one that will ultimately be played out. Many will attribute Moser as the one taking the first shot with his comments about PSA but that’s not really true. PWCC mostly did that in their first statement about cards that were submitted by Moser, claiming they were banning him from their auctions. So if you’re keeping score, we’ve got PWCC pointing the finger at Moser and Moser doing likewise to PSA.

And my guess is that won’t be the end of it.

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