July 11, 2008

Mr. Mint at the Movies

As a theme, baseball has lent itself well to the movies. Even when the movies themselves stink (Major League 2, Mr. Baseball, The Babe, et al), the baseball scenes are thrilling (or at least funny). But baseball cards? When was the last time cards factored greatly into the story line of a film? Before IFC's new Diminished Capacity... I'm not sure.

The storyline, in ten seconds or less: Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda team up to sell a rare baseball card, and a high-profile dealer at show tries to swindle them. The dealer character, an obvious caricature of Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen, is named The Mint-Mint Man (played by Bobby Cannavale, he of Snakes on a Plane fame). So here's why I bring it up at all: the real-life Mr. Mint isn't too happy about the portrayal.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it's a great big steaming heap of free publicity for Mr. Mint (especially if the film gets national distribution), even if it turns him into more of a caricature than he is now. Second, while withholding personal judgement on the film itself, the log line premise reinforces old stereotypes: we all have cards, and greed (whether our own or that of a corrupt dealer) will ultimately win if and when we try to cash out. And yet, can you picture a movie that paints the baseball card industry in a positive light? If you answered "yes" to that, where does the conflict in your script come from?

And yet there's humor: Try to read TS O'Connell's column on the situation with a straight face. All around the article are banner ads for Rosen's business. How can you take what he writes seriously? What's interesting about this whole thing is not how quickly O'Connell and Sports Collectors Digest jumped to Rosen's defense, but that they acknowledged the situation at all.

This all reminds me of the allegations against Bill Mastro and Mastro Auctions by Michael O'Keeffe and Teri Thompson in their book The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History's Most Desired Baseball Card. Nowhere in SCD or any of its sister publications has there ever been any mention of the book (not even in SCD's end-of-the-year two-part 'Best Books of the Year' compilation). In that instance, O'Keeffe and Thompson weren't just saying that Mastro was a bad guy, but that he trimmed the T206 Honus Wagner, that Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) knew it was trimmed when they graded it, and that the whole of their subsequent business was built on what basically amounted to a sham. Nor was their account meant to be fictitious.

The difference between these situations is that Mastro never made public his displeasure. If he had, one can only assume that SCD and TS O'Connell would've been at the forefront of the outcry (like Rosen, Mastro Auctions is a large, important advertiser for Sports Collectors Digest).

In comparison to the fraud allegation levied against Mastro–about as serious as you can get in this hobby or any business, for that matter–Mr. Mint's plight seems small-time. And it's not even really about him in the end: it's the hobby that's in the hard spot.

Further Reading
SCD.com Article
TS O'Connell's Take (SCD Infield Dirt)
Honus Wagner card sells for $2.8 million (NY Daily News, 9/6/07)

1 comment:

Jeb said...

What's also fun is that O'Connell has FINALLY referred to O'Keefe's book, albeit in a casual and misleading way:

“How dare they use my name! If that’s not an obvious ripoff, I don’t know what is,” he added. Only days before, he made his case to Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News, whom hobbyists will remember as the co-author, with Teri Thompson, of The Card, the book detailing the history of the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card, the one that sold for $2.8 million at auction a year ago."

I love how he casually refers to the book as one hobbyists are familiar with, as if SCD had anything to do with bringing that book into the forefront (instead of ignoring it for two years.

I also love how Rosen writes that The Card is "the book detailing the history of the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card"

Yeah, the book did that all right, but the book also detailed how the most valuable card in the hobby was likely altered and shouldn't be grade 8. His reference to the book as simply being historical is kind of like me saying "Huck Finn, the book that details a trip on the Mississippi." (i.e., O'Connell missed the point).

I actually cancelled my subscription to SCD when I realized that they'd never report on that book. That omission is tantamount to The Wall Street Journal ignoring a stock market crash.

One more thing, O'Connell also makes a huge point about disclosing his "conflict of interest" about Rosen. That's pretty curious since it appears to me that the same conflict of interest has prevented SCD from reporting on The Card.