God bless the Internet. Before the days of eBay, message boards, and to an extent, card blogs … we were all at risk of being scammed, sooner or later, by trading card companies. We’ve all heard stories of 1989 Upper Deck card #1 being printed over and over again to make a killing on the secondary market, as well stories of highly sought-after cards leaving card company warehouses through the back door. This one, however, is new to me.
When 1996 Finest Baseball was advertised by Topps in their sell sheet sent to distributors, it promised collectors and investors alike that there would only be 150 Gold Refractors of each player produced. While there was serial numbering in ’96, it still was not a common practice and was kind of a hobby rarity or at least it would be for another year before numbering became a normal sight in high-end products and is now everywhere. This story may be the reason for it.
Unfortunately for Topps, as it relates to ’96 Finest, they didn’t count on Dr.Joseph Sentef’s deep pockets to expose something that seems to have been a common practice. By the time the Dr’s Finest shopping spree was over, he had somehow amassed 220, Finest Gold Refractors of Greg Maddux, a figure almost 50% more than what was advertised in the sell sheet. When confronted, a spokesman for Topps blamed a theft at their warehouse. Later, the story changed to missing cards from their vault. It wasn’t long after that exchange that a lawsuit was filed, which Topps ultimately ended up settling for an undisclosed amount.
In case you’re wondering, the card that started this PR nightmare almost two decades ago recently sold on eBay for a whopping $4.50. The real question is just how many more Greg Maddux ’96 Finest Gold Refractors are out there. If one collector alone has/had 220, just how many more are in other collections or in boxes of unopened product, which is still out there to be found. This incident for me really makes me question just how rare and valuable some of these 90s inserts really are.
I am currently working on another story about a collector who just recently picked up a “one of one” Manny Ramirez from 1998. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a problem at all, right? Except for one tiny, little, teeny issue. He already owns the same, exact card. So what do you do when you find yourself the owner of two “one of one” cards? Also, we are not talking about a worthless printing plate or some set filled with dozens of parallels. We are talking about a 1 of 1 of a star player with a huge hobby following from a set where pulling this card was the equivalent of winning the lottery. Unfortunately, this company is now out of business so there’s no one to ask why/how this could have happened.
So as collectors, who can we really trust out there?