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Reality TV: New Sports Experts Needed

Reality TV is all the rage, and among the leaders are shows that feature trying to sell stuff at pawn shops or picking through someone else's stuff in a barn. We recap some of them here, all under the sports memorabilia umbrella. One thing stands out - they need better experts when it comes to sports autographs and memorabilia.

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a ton of themed shows on cable now related to finding or selling stuff. From Pawn Stars and Hardcore Pawn to Storage Wars and Fox’s new Buried Treasure, it’s all about finding stuff that’s worth money, be it cards, autographs, cars, guns, artwork, etc.

I admit to watching many of them and, at times, getting a huge laugh when they screw up. Oh, and they screw up a lot. I assume that most of you know or think that many of the scenarios are set up before the cameras start rolling. After all, what producer wants to look stupid? But are the right people running these shows? Are they doing any fact-checking?

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My favorite is Pawn Stars, which is also the biggest hit of the group. While I enjoy watching the exploits of Rick, the Old Man, Corey and Chumlee, sometimes believability is tested in a big way. If you had the original Mona Lisa, would you bring it to a NYC art auction house or a pawn shop in Vegas? Hmm. Then why do so many allegedly rare items end up there? Sure, I know the gambling angle and how so many pawn or sell to get back into the blackjack game, but when they start showing rare boats, cars, guns and art, it makes me go, “Hmm . . .”

I remember one particular show that has bugged me since I saw it. A guy shows up with a Lou Gehrig signed jersey. Let me say that again slowly, a Lou Gehrig signed jersey! Perhaps the owner never heard of [enter your favorite major auction house here], SCD, the Internet, eBay or . . . you get the idea.

When you have what amounts to being one of the rarest pieces of signed sports memorabilia on the planet, of course you take it to the TV pawn shop, right?

OK, so this guy brings it in, and Rick wants to bring in an expert. OK, makes sense. When does James Spence or Steve Grad show up? Nah, it’s the dude with the magnifying glass! You know, I’ve been with Spence many times while he authenticates an item and I’ve never seen him bust out the magnifying glass. Oh sure, perhaps it’s used on a team ball to see better, but when it came to authenticating, it’s all about an amazing database filled with every exemplar you could imagine. I’m quite sure that Grad has the same stuff at PSA/DNA. They can see how Gehrig signed at various ages of his life and then take the item signed into consideration.

This was a jersey. The twill would have to be examined. The wool and markings, the kind of writing instrument, all of this would go into making a serious authentication. The so-called “expert” with the magnifying glass looked at the jersey and the signature for a few minutes and deemed it authentic. He told Rick what he thought it was worth, and Rick then negotiated a buy price of, I believe, $8,000.

Even though I knew the answers, I called a very well known major auction house executive and asked him if there had ever been one signed Lou Gehrig jersey in the hobby. To the best of his vast and experienced knowledge, he said no. I then asked him what one would be worth if it existed. He said $50,000-$100,000. For good measure, I asked him if an unsigned, but game-used Gehrig jersey ever came up, and he said yes with a worth in the ballpark of $250,000-$500,000. So to be clear, some guy with the most valuable one-of-a-kind signed jersey chose a Vegas pawn shop to sell it and accepted $8,000? Think it was real? Someone needs a new magnifying glass.

As Pawn Stars is the leader, one would think that when it comes to autographs, Rick would enlist JSA or PSA/DNA, knowing that sports is so well known compared to, say, guns or motorcycles. Oh sure, there are plenty of experts out there, but sports is by far the most mainstream.

When the older guy with the bad hat comes in to look at anything American history-related, I tend to believe him, as his knowledge comes through. The same goes for the gun expert and especially the car and bike guy. But the autograph guy with the magnifying glass?

And speaking of that, there recently was a show where someone brought in a bound Godfather script that had a notation signed by someone named Al. A different expert was brought in, one that all of us have heard of. In a few minutes, he deemed it signed by Al Pacino. There has been a host of challenging comments on the Internet about this with all agreeing that it was actually signed by Al Ruddy, the film’s producer and Best Picture Oscar recipient. This makes it worth a heck of a lot less and casts more shadows on Pawn Stars and their experts. Who is right? You decide. It’s all on the Internet. Bottom line is that if you’re not 100 percent sure, don’t air it!

I watched Hardcore Pawn a few times, but felt dirty as I did so. These poor souls were just selling whatever they could to get back to the casino. Guys carrying guns, security guards bigger that I’ve ever seen, violence in the shop, threats, crying and that was in one show. No sports stuff showed up, but hey, it’s set in Detroit where most of the local teams have no stars anyway. Pass.

Now Storage Wars is a different story. If you haven’t seen this beauty, groups of people bid on unclaimed and unpaid for storage units without knowing exactly what is inside. They all get a look at the overall boxes and stuff as it sits, but no opening of anything is allowed. Then they bid and bid. The winners start tearing into the unit looking for gold . . . literally. Most of them have some kind of secondhand store somewhere.

One show I saw had them coming up empty and just before they accepted the loss, there it was, the mother lode! A big box of baseball cards popped up. OK, now you’re in my world like Rick was.

You should have seen the faces of the buyers. They were jubilant! Of course, they hadn’t actually taken a look inside, but when they did, their excitement grew. But I also saw what they saw and it looked very much like the typical 1980s junk I’m offered every day in my joint. They hit a load all right, and they try to sell it to the viewer as if they scored. Give me a break!

The latest and first network show is Fox’s Buried Treasure, where two legitimate auction house guys go to people’s homes to look at the junk they’ve collected through the years. They evaluate what they find and tell them – very slowly – what it’s worth. I wonder how many homes they go through before they decide on which ones to air? While I didn’t care for the show, at least these are respected guys with actual knowledge. But as we all know, all reality shows – and I watch almost all of them – are set up and edited to show exactly what the producers want you to see.

So these two twin brothers tell a family that the painting grandma left them is real and worth a fortune or it’s worthless garage sale material. Of course, they don’t have buyers, just information. It’s sort of like Antique Roadshow. I didn’t hate it, but just like Antiques Roadshow, I wonder where the people go after they are told that a table is worth $10,000. I believe that the motivation is for the auction guys to get consignments for their well-known house, which would be a cut above the rest. We’ll see.

These shows are out there and will keep coming. They’re very popular. It’s just that when they step into our world, there is a heck of a lot more knowledgeable eyeballs watching them. They owe it to their viewers to be right – every time.

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