Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New York Times sinks to a new low...

...and it has nothing to do with their typically first-rate reporting.

The New York Times "store" is selling "game-used dirt" from all 30 Major League ball parks for $249. It comes with a letter of authenticity. Hmmm. Game used? How could it not be game used? Oh, I get it. Dirt that the groundskeeper would use to fill in infield divots after the season ends would not be game used? Gee. The Times has really sunk to a disgusting level here. Shame on the Good Gray Lady. Anybody who buys this item thinking it's an "investment" must be incredibly dense, desperate for a holiday gift idea, filthy rich, or a combination of the three. Trust me, $249 for this is not dirt cheap (pardon the creaky metaphor).

The Times, of course, is doing nothing illegal but it is certainly near the bottom of the morality trough. Defenders of this practice will say that the newspaper company is merely trying to extend its brand and make some money because its core business is going down the tubes. But selling futures in a piece of "memorabilia" like this is akin to a Wall Street firm pushing a penny stock on pure faith.

In 1991 I co-authored a book on baseball cards and collectibles, and one of the first things I learned was that a "manufactured antique" was not just an oxymoron, but something of a legal scam. And the letters of authenticity are just another part of the con. If you can fake a signature (hundreds of Joe DiMaggio autographed balls were thought to be sold by a ghost-signer while I was researching the book), you can certainly fake a letter of authenticity. In fact, it's much easier to do.

For years Mickey Mantle had Pete Sheehy, the Yankees clubhouse attendant, sign boxes of baseballs when he was too hung over to do it himself. Later, when Mantle's signature became a real commodity (meaning he was actively selling them at sports memorabilia shows), he signed the balls legitimately, but he also autographed so many that he effectively devalued his John Hancock. If everyone who had a Mantle-signed ball decided to put them up for auction tomorrow on eBay, the market value would drop to less than it costs to buy a clean white official ball at a sporting goods store.

Just think, in a hundred years, who's going to care whether you own dirt from every single ball park in the Major Leagues? Maybe only the person who dreamed up such a low-class idea.

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