Hollywood is known to embellish or ignore certain facts, laws of physics, or simply make things up to suit their own needs and the story as they see fit. Card collecting and sports memorabilia are no exception. Making a sports movie or a character who loves sports without mentioning cards or memorabilia is a challenge. Some deceptions are very minor, such as in an episode of Prison Break where one inmate mentions he’s in prison for stealing a 1909-1911 T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, which is the most valuable card in existence with one recently selling for $3.12 million at an auction in 2016.
An episode of MacGyver from 1990 titled “Squeeze Play” has MacGyver teaming up with a fictional baseball superstar’s daughter to catch a ring of criminals who are making counterfeit cards and memorabilia. The episode also features Reggie Jackson, who plays himself, and the episode ends with MacGyver pitching one of Jackson’s home run balls from the 77 World Series to the fictional superstar who smashes it into the electronic scoreboard, knocking it over and onto the criminal’s getaway car.
Look, I know that’s far fetched even for MacGyver standards but beggars can’t be choosers. At least the hobby got an entire episode devoted to it. Additionally, some shows and movies do a better job of getting it right then others. Here’s a look at some notable sports cards in Hollywood and from pop culture.
Sports Cards in Hollywood: Cards on the Big Screen
One of my personal favorite movies (despite what the critics think) is Cop Out (2010). On paper this movie sounded great: Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as two NYPD detectives, director Kevin Smith, and supporting characters played by Rashida Jones, Jason Lee, Jim Norton, and Sean William Scott. The movie did not sit well with critics and features a 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In Smith’s defense, the film is the highest grossing film of his career and it was also the first film he directed without writing. The film centers around Willis wanting to sell his dad’s 1952 Topps Andy Pafko baseball card, which the film says is rare and worth around $80,000 because it is a “gem mint 10.” As Willis goes to sell the card in a baseball card shop, the shop is robbed and the card stolen. The detectives discover a crazed baseball card and memorabilia obsessed gangster was behind the robbery and he agrees to return the card if the detectives first, recover his stolen vehicle and second, Look the other way on the robbery (I’m just assuming this). After Willis and Morgan recover the vehicle it turns out there was a kidnapping victim in the trunk who has the key to an offshore bank account. Anyways you can figure out the dilemma here.
What the Film Got Right
When Willis explains to Morgan why the card is so valuable he states that his dad took good care of the card by putting it in a tin for safe keeping. He goes on to say that the Pafko was the first card in the 1952 set, card number one, and that the card is notoriously hard to locate in top condition because it is number one, in the set and in the old days kids wrapped rubber bands around their stacks, usually arranged in numerical order. The top card, number one, tended to suffer from bent corners and creases, as well as notches from the rubber band. Additionally kids would stick cards in their bicycle spokes to make noises and while Willis doesn’t mention this, Pafko isn’t exactly a household name when it comes to baseball. They also used an accurate reprint in the film whenever the card is shown on screen.
What the Film Got Wrong
The card cannot be a gem mint 10 because it is raw (card collector slang for ungraded). The only way the card could be considered a gem mint 10 is if it was graded and earned the grade of gem mint 10. Additionally, the valuation of $80,000 is a bit low. There is only one known gem mint 10 graded by PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator, arguably the most trusted authenticator in sports memorabilia) which was pulled after a man decided to open an unopened pack of 1952 Topps cards that he purchased. He sold the card for a little over $83,000 which happened a few years before the movie came out. If it were to sell today, it would be worth a lot more than the $80,000 Willis says it was. PSA’s website puts a valuation a NM-MT (near mint to mint) graded 8.5 at $105,000.
The 52 Pafko has been on my radar for a long time and I will buy one eventually. You can probably scoop up a raw or poor graded 1 card for $85-$120 online depending on where you look.
It’s hard to talk about pop culture references without bringing up The Simpsons. From their uncanny ability to predict the future to their satirical takes on just about everything, everyone can identify the yellow family from Springfield. There is a running baseball card in the show, one that has made appearances in at least three episodes, a Simpsons related book, and an entire Simpsons comic book issue will follows Milhouse and his quest to obtain the card.
The card is a 1973 Topps card of Carl Yastrzemski, or as Millhouse puts it, “The one with the mutton chops.” In its first appearance, Bart and Martin wish to buy the first issue of Radioactive Man, the comic book in the show. Millhouse walks in to buy the card for $30 but is convinced to put his $30 towards the comic book by Bart and Martin. The three friends soon fight over who gets to keep the comic book and Milhouse declares that he never wanted the comic book and regrets not buying the card of Yaz. In a later episode, Milhouse trades the card to Bart for Bart’s headless card of Omar Vizquel.
What the Show Got Right
The look and design of the card is almost identical to the real thing. From the images to the text layout and design, somebody who works for the show must collect as they put a lot of effort into replicating the card. Also they are some very impressive sideburns. I can see why Milhouse would want the card.
What the Show Got Wrong
Comic book guy is charging way too much for the card. Considering the card is ungraded, $30 is an absolute scam. I picked mine up off eBay for $5 with shipping. If the card was graded gem mint 10 it would probably be worth close to $100 but considering Milhouse is Milhouse I don’t think he wanted something that fancy.
Boldly Going Where No Show has Gone Before
Star Trek might not be your first thought when reading this article, but the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe managed to reference baseball cards, which is impressive because the show mentions the universe phased out sports for entertainment at the start of the 24th century.
In the year 2366 a character by the name of Kivas Fajo has an illegal collection of items from our time. One of these items is a 1962 Topps card of Roger Maris. The card is allegedly the only one in existence in the entire Star Trek universe. It also mentioned that the card still has the scent of bubble gum on it, from the gum that would have come with the card in the original pack. The card is also encased in a protective case. In Star Trek universe, all cards are considered extremely rare and valuable, more so if they come with the gum.
What the Show Got Right
The few times we do see the card, it is the actual card, a 1962 Topps Roger Maris, or at least a copy. They also got right that the card would have the scent of bubble gum as the gum did not come individually wrapped in packs. Topps got their start as T.C.G. or Topps Chewing Gum and started making baseball cards as a way to boost sales of gum.
What the Show Got Wrong
I mean the card is supposed to be 404 years old when it is shown in Fajo’s collection. There is absolutely no way the card would still have it’s gum scent to it. You can buy any packs from the late 80’s with the gum (I recommend you don’t eat it…although one time I offered the stick to my mom) and even if the card was the one touching the stick of gum you will find the scent will wear out. Additionally, Topps was awful at making gum. Once they realized people were buying the packs for the cards and throwing out the gum, they decided they should switch their efforts. Topps still makes gum to this day and you can find it stores under the name Bazooka Joe. As for being the only one in a universe like Star Trek, we may never know.
Like the Pafko, Maris was the number card in the 62 set. An ungraded one might set you back around $50 for an acceptable condition while a higher graded one could cost a couple of hundred dollars if not more.