December 19, 2016

The $125,000 Dispute for Guy Zinn’s Baseball Card

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Two men in opposite areas of the country are at war over a $125,000 baseball card of a player who hasn't appeared in the game for 100 years.

It’s been more than 100 years since Guy Zinn last appeared in a major-league game, but now, his baseball card is causing a major-league commotion between two collectors.

Zinn was, by all accounts over the course of his five-year professional career, a very average baseball player.

However, one unique distinction that perhaps made Zinn’s card more sought after could be his ethnicity — he was Jewish. Such players have an establish fan subculture, so much so that there exists a special category on eBay for the cards of Jewish ballplayers. Zinn is also one of 11 players to steal home twice in the same game, and appeared as the first batter in the history of Fenway Park.

Jeff Aeder, a Chicago real estate developer, is one of the most respected collectors in that subculture. The 1914 Zinn card owned by a Maryland man has become the card Aeder wants most — it is believed to be the only card of its type still in existence.

Aeder originally offered $125,000 for the card in 2014 and nearly became its new owner. The deal went south at the last minute, Aeder balked at the opportunity, he said, because of the card’s appraisal. The owner, Dan McKee of Baltimore County, refused to renegotiate.

“I blocked his email,” McKee said in an interview with the New York Times. He paid $2,500 for the card in 1995. “I don’t do business like that. If you make a deal, you make a deal.”

“If Zinn was not a Jewish player, this card is probably worth $10,000,” Aeder said. “If you talk to any dealer or collector, they’ll say McKee’s idea of value is the most overblown, crazy valuation of all time.”

The two are now in the heat of a bitter standoff that highlights just how passionate collectors of sports memorabilia can be.

“Zinn was not a significant player. The card, and the brouhaha surrounding it, is more interesting than the man,” said John Thorn, the official historian for Major League Baseball. “If anything, it illustrates something so interesting about the hobby, the inquisitiveness about the fan. There is this transfer of power by owning this thing.”

McKee is an established collector in his own right, he previously sold an 1894 Baltimore Orioles set — which was produced by the Alpha Photo Engraving Company — for six figures in 2006. McKee said that transaction helped pay for his current home, but wouldn’t reveal the actual sale price of the cards.

Aeder first spotted the Zinn card in 2014 on McKee’s eBay store, where it was originally listed in 2010 as one of McKee’s “show and tell” items — for $250,000.

“He wrote me and offered me $10,000,” McKee said. “He rubbed me wrong, right off the bat.”

At Aeder’s behest, McKee said he took a day off from work and drove four hours to New Jerseyto have the card appraised, or “slabbed,” by the Sportscard Guaranty Company. The card received a one out of 10 rating.

“It’s a beautiful-looking card,” McKee said. “But it’s technical grade — because of the blue all the way to the edge, it has some chipping, it has a crease, it has some paper loss on the back — they’re never going to give it more than a one or a 1.5.”

After the appraisal process, McKee alleges that Aeder began overstating the importance of the card’s condition. The two parted ways, and haven’t been in contact since.

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