Every so often you hear rumblings about jersey sourcing not being 100% accurate or coming from questionable sources. Indeed, there was this major story that came out last year:
Bradley Wells told agents that buyers from Panini America, Upper Deck and Topps knew they were purchasing phony game-used jerseys to insert in the premium cards, which means thousands of collectors who thought they were buying collectibles that linked them directly to their favorite athletes may have been deceived.
"Wells was asked if the card companies knew that what he was selling to them was not game used," said a summary of a 2009 FBI interview that was included in a motion submitted to a federal court in Rockford, Ill., by Wells' attorney, Rocco Cipparone, in June. “Wells said that the card companies were too smart to put their beliefs in writing, but they knew a lot of what they were buying from resellers like Wells was not game used.
“Wells recalled a conversation he had with (an Upper Deck buyer) at the Anaheim (Calif.) National Sports Collectors Convention approximately three years ago. During the conversation, (the buyer) told Wells that Upper Deck needed eight Derek Jeter jerseys and was willing to pay between $1,000 and $1,200 each," the document continued.
"Wells told (the buyer) that he was paying between $3,500 and from Steiner Sports and Steiner Sports obtained their Jeter jerseys directly from the New York Yankees. Wells told (the buyer) that by paying only $1,200 for Jeter jerseys, Upper Deck was inviting fraud. (The buyer) said that Upper Deck knew what they were getting, but the needed the Jeter jerseys at the minimum price.”
There are definitely occasions where things don't "look" right, or where people jump the gun and make an allegation that gets corrected before the torches & pitchforks brigade gets going, and then you read something like that article above.
This is one thing that I know for sure:
If there were ever to be a federal investigation into the practices of the card companies based off of cases like Bradley Wells, and it was determined that the card companies routinely, knowingly, and willfully used memorabilia in their cards that was unquestionably not game-used or authenticated, it would bring down the entire industry.
Even though we're at a point where even superstar player game jerseys can be obtained for less than 10 bucks, and those of common players fill dollar bins across the land, there is still on the whole a sense of trust and a belief that the jerseys are authentic. Such a gross violation of collectors' intelligence, manipulation of their trust, and so forth, that would be it. It'd be over. Because that leads to the next obvious question: if they're using phony memorabilia, does that mean the autographs are fake too?
I have cut back on the number of memorabilia cards I acquire in recent months. Not out of any principle or rebellion or distrust, but just because I've got so many. It's at the point where I can get Price jersey cards for $8 shipped on a good day. I'd rather pool that money for a nice hard-signed autograph, and even those I can get for $25. Or get something else entirely.
I still retain my confidence in In The Game, Panini, and Upper Deck, but I don't fault anybody out there that asks questions.