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Honus Wagner card gets new owner

NYDAILYNEWS.COM (By Michael O'Keeffe) (Sept. 6, 2008)

The rare 1909 T206 Honus Wagner once owned by NHL legend Wayne Gretzky is the most famous, expensive and controversial baseball card in the world, and in the past year it has also been the most mysterious.

When the card sold for a record $2.8 million in a private sale in September 2007, only handful of hobby insiders knew the identity of the collector who purchased the card - and they guarded that information like it was a national security secret.

Until now, that is: A sports collectibles industry source familiar with last year's transaction has told the Daily News that Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner E.G. "Ken" Kendrick, a veteran collector, is the latest owner of the Holy Grail of baseball cards. The card could wind up on display at a sports museum the Diamondbacks' brass hopes to open at Chase Field sometime in the next few years.

Kendrick would not confirm or deny ownership of the Gretzky T206 Wagner during a recent telephone interview. In fact, he would not discuss it at all. "I'm not going to comment on that," he said.

Kendrick's position is a break from previous owners of the Gretzky T206 Wagner, who spent mighty sums of money on the card because they wanted the publicity it generated.

Former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, who bought the card with Gretzky, acquired it to show it off to his friends in show business and sports. Wal-Mart used it as the basis of an advertising campaign. Chicago collector Michael Gidwitz bought the valuable T206 because he wanted to be known as the first collector to sell a card for more than $1 million. Las Vegas businessman Brian Seigel, who bought the card from Gidwitz for $1.265 million in 2000, planned to display it at ballparks around the country.

But the identity of the card's owner has been a secret ever since Seigel sold it in early 2007 to SCP Auctions and an anonymous Southern California collector for $2.35 million, just before the release of "The Card," a book by two Daily News reporters. The book examines persistent rumors that the the Gretzky T206 Wagner was cut from a sheet long after it left the factory - a major taboo in the world of vintage cards - and later trimmed to enhance its value.

The book quotes Bill Hughes, a member of the grading service team that issued the card's high grade - Professional Sports Authenticator gave it a PSA 8 on a scale of 1-10 - as admitting he knew the card had been cut from a sheet when he graded it.

"The card is so outstanding, it would have been sacrilegious to call that card trimmed and completely devalue it," Hughes explained.

In June 2007, moreover, the Daily News published photographs that experts say prove the card was trimmed to improve its condition.

But in the rarified air of high-end vintage cards, none of that seems to matter. The anonymous Southern California collector who purchased the card from Seigel sold it a year ago to Kendrick for $2.8 million, the top price for a trading card.

Kendrick told the Daily News he has been collecting baseball cards since the 1950s, when he was a boy growing up in West Virginia. "I had one of those great moms who saved my cards for me," Kendrick said.

The Diamondbacks are planning to open a museum at their ballpark, perhaps as early as the 2009 season that would display club memorabilia, and items borrowed from the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as cards from Kendrick's collection, he said.

The Gretzky T206 Wagner was "discovered" by veteran memorabilia dealer Bill Mastro, who bought it for $25,000 in from a Long Island collector named Alan Ray and a few years later sold it to sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland for $110,000. Mastro played a role almost every time the card was sold, either as a buyer, seller, auctioneer or consultant. He has repeatedly denied altering the card.

The Gretzky T206 Wagner gave Mastro the money and reknown to found Mastro Auctions, sports memorabilia's largest auction house. The company is now the target of an FBI investigation focusing on shill bidding, card doctoring and other allegations of fraud. Federal investigators crashed the hobby's nation convention in Chicago this summer and issued subpoenas to dealers and auction house executives.

An industry source, meanwhile, told the Daily News this week that a large number of Mastro employees, including key executive Brian Marren, the vice president of acquisitions, have recently left the company. Marren did not return a call for comment.


Periodical - New photo shows $2.35 million Wagner card has been altered
Periodical - The most expensive baseball card was once oversized and trimmed

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