Recently, I had the pleasure to read and review the book Collecting Sports Legends – The Ultimate Hobby Guide written by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) President Joe Orlando. It is a must read for any sports card or memorabilia collector. I was even more fortunate to converse with Joe Orlando and get an interview for Sports Card Forum. Below are my questions and Joe’s answers.

Interview with PSA’s Joe Orlando by Michael Silvia

Joe Orlando PSA President

1. Why is grading cards an important aspect of the sports card market?

Third party grading has helped both the buyer and seller. Prior to the advent of the service, the industry lacked structure and transactions were riddled with conflicts of interest since the person selling the item was often the same person who was authenticating and grading it. Credible third party grading services bring peace of mind to the buyer and provide a more liquid product to the seller, in addition to helping bring much more structure to the hobby by developing standards.

2. What player makes up the largest portion of your collection?

Well, since I have a fairly small collection in terms of volume, it doesn’t take much. The player that makes up the largest portion of my collection would be Johnny Bench, the guy that I and most other baseball fans consider to be the greatest catcher of all time. I have a few very special Bench items in my collection, all of which are game-used.

3. What is your favorite item in your collection?

Johnny Bench Jersey MittMy favorite piece would probably be a 1977 game-used Johnny Bench catcher’s mitt. I am extremely particular about everything in my collection and only want the best quality. This mitt is no exception. The mitt has terrific use, all the proper markings and, most importantly, it comes with a handwritten letter from Bench on Cincinnati Reds stationary. The mitt was acquired by a gentleman in the late-1970’s and it remained in his collection for over 25 years until I bought it. Bench donated this mitt and a pair of game-used cleats to a charity auction that year (1977). I didn’t end up buying the cleats (Bench refers to them in the letter) but I did get what I wanted most – the mitt. It is extremely rare to find vintage game-used equipment with letters from players that date to the period. This was also the last year that Bench won the Gold Glove award and it was, arguably, his last big season.

4. What was the hardest item to get into your collection? Story?

Well, when you look for the best examples you can find, it’s all hard but I am still searching for certain items that I may never own. The core of my collection is based on the greatest catchers in baseball history and some of the items I am looking for are extremely tough to find. For example, I collect game-used bats amongst other things and a few of the names on my list are very hard to locate. The bigger problem is, even when I do locate them, they are usually not of the quality I am looking for so I pass on them most of the time. It’s easy to get frustrated as a collector because you can go for long stretches without finding anything on your A-List but I am also grateful for the special pieces I have been able to acquire. To answer your question, all of my collectibles have been hard to find because of the quality I want to own but the hardest may be yet to come. That challenge can be daunting but it’s also part of what keeps me going as a collector.

5. How did you go from a starting catcher in college to the President of PSA?

What’s interesting is that I was one of PSA’s first customers in the early 1990s. I remember walking up to this tiny table that had a few PSA graded cards and some brochures on display at a sports collectibles convention in California. Even though there was a great deal of resistance from the hobby initially, the concept immediately clicked with me. I just loved the idea and felt the service could really enhance my collecting experience in a number of ways. I used to collect high-grade vintage cards, even before PSA was around. After I was introduced to the service, I decided to only collect PSA graded cards. There was just too much money at stake, especially for a student who didn’t have a ton to begin with. As the years went by, I continued to be a customer and even contributed a few articles to PSA while I was in school. During Law School, in my second year, I was offered a position at the company but I had to turn it down since I wanted to finish school first. After graduating in 1999, I received another call about joining the company. I never had any intention of working within the hobby but the timing was right and, as they say, the rest is history. I had a few different roles before becoming the president of the company in late-2002. It has been a lot of fun to work in this hobby and I really believe in what we do here.

6. Can you describe the PSA/DNA autograph database?

Our in-house experts have access to a massive autograph exemplar library. The library contains images that number in the tens of thousands, it is quite substantial and we are constantly adding to it. While the experts possess a ton of knowledge, this library can come in handy when they are evaluating things like vintage team signed baseballs and searching for possible “clubhouse” signatures or looking for patterns in a person’s signature during a certain period of their life.

7. What publications do you read monthly to keep you informed on sports cards?

Sports Market ReportThis is a really interesting question because there are very few hobby publications left and our magazine, Sports Market Report (SMR), is one of them. I do have subscriptions to most of the publications that remain but a great deal of hobby information is now being posted on the Internet, which is just a sign of the times and consistent with what’s happening in the world. I do firmly believe that there is a need for some printed publications but you can’t ignore the shift in how many people get their news and information these days. In order to keep up with the market, I make sure I follow all the major auctions and read-up as much as I can. The one thing I remind myself is that you can never know enough in this business. You can learn something new every single day. It doesn’t matter if you have been in the business for 5 years or 50 years, you can always improve your base of knowledge.

8. What separates PSA from other grading services? PSA DNA from other authentication services?

PSA 8 Honus WagnerI think all authentication and grading services can claim things like they have the best experts in the field or the best-looking holder, etc but we can go back and forth about issues like that all day long since there can be a lot of subjectivity in those instances. Even for PSA, these are the types of things that are hard to really prove. On the other hand, there are things that are clear, indisputable and separate our company from the rest. While there are many things I could list as advantages that we have over our competitors, in my opinion, there are two keys.

First, our brand is simply the most powerful in the business. This is our 18th year at the top and we continue to process, even in this economy, over 100,000 collectibles per month. There is no other service that comes remotely close to that number. Since we have built up our brand over such a long period of time, naturally, we have the largest following. As a result of that following, products certified by our company tend to sell for more than products certified by other companies the vast majority of the time. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule but our market share is dominant. It is important for hobbyists to understand that because, when it comes time to sell, they want to get the biggest bang for the buck and that’s where we have a distinct advantage.

Second, our company has a more diverse selection of services that any other and it’s not even close. We can authenticate and/or grade items such as trading cards, unopened packs, tickets, original photographs, game-used bats, autographs, trophies, awards and rings. We have competitors in some of those areas but, most of the time; they can only service one type of collectible. As a collector myself, I know how important uniformity is within a collection. One of our slogans is that we are the foundation of all great collections. We are the only service that can provide a true foundation since we can handle such a diverse selection of items. Our goal has been, and will continue to be, the ultimate one-stop-shop for collectors who seek third party authentication and grading so we are always looking to expand our services.

9. What are some future innovations that PSA and PSA DNA are working on to improve the hobby?

One thing that we have always been conscious of is that PSA, unlike some of its competitors, isn’t just an authentication or grading service. Yes, we are always looking to improve and add to our services but we consider our company much more than that. We want to enhance a hobbyist’s entire collecting experience, from start to finish. We can do that by providing guidance through things like articles, price guides, magazines, books and population reports. The more informed a collector is, the better his or her experience will be so we take that part of our job very seriously. For example, we have hundreds and hundreds of articles and guides on our site that can help educate collectors about a variety of subjects. We are also planning on releasing a series of short videos on our site this year, in hopes of accomplishing the same thing.

In addition, our Set Registry program has been extremely successful and collectors seem to really enjoy it. As of the time of this interview, we had over 43,000 registered sets on our site and it continues to grow. While it started with trading cards, our registry program has been expanded to include tickets, unopened packs and autographs. Being a part of the registry gives collectors a way to share and compete with others that share the same passion they do for the hobby. It has been amazing to watch this program grow over the past several years and become a vibrant community.
At PSA, we are going to make a concerted effort to enhance these areas of our company, not just in the area of authentication and grading.