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Drug Scandals in Sports World Being Felt on the Baseball Card Market, Too

March 16, 1986|DAVID BARRON | United Press International

DALLAS — The admission of drug use by Keith Hernandez, Dale Berra, Dave Parker, Lonnie Smith and other household baseball names has brought about a major crisis in the sport.

And it hasn't done their baseball cards any good, either.

From the 12-year-old beginner to the professional dealer, card hobbyists are turning away from Hernandez, Parker, Smith, Dale Berra, Joaquin Andujar, Steve Howe, Alan Wiggins and other players implicated in major league baseball's drug scandals.

"It's not the parents who are saying don't buy Steve Howe or Lonnie Smith or Joaquin Andujar," said Jim Beckett of Dallas, whose "Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide" is the hobby's standard. "It's the 12-year-old kids. . . . They don't want them (cards of players associated with drugs) in their bedroom closet or their dresser drawer or their shoe box, wherever they keep their cards."

"The kids, who are the main buyers of new cards, are really turned off by these players," said card dealer Donn Jennings of Huntsville, Ala. "They put them up on a pedestal and then they fall off, as opposed to a Dale Murphy who seems to earn their trust."

Beckett's guides indicate card values for such players as Howe, Willie Aikens, Wiggins and Vida Blue (all associated with drugs) have declined as much as one-half in the last three years. At the same time, prices for some complete sets from the 1950s, '60s and '70s are increasing by an average of $50 to $75 a year which makes the individual drops more noticeable.

Even though collectors will continue to seek the cards to complete sets, Beckett expects prices and demand for individual cards of Andujar, Hernandez and others to decline in the wake of punishment to drug offenders handed down by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

"It's just like when you're in grade school and you do something wrong," he said. "People think you might get away with it until finally the principal makes you wear a dunce cap for a year. It's public acknowledgement that you did wrong."

The hobby's aversion to players with drug problems dates to the early 1980s and the fines, suspensions or jail terms given such former favorites as the Dodgers' Howe, Willie Wilson and Blue of the Kansas City Royals and Ferguson Jenkins of the Texas Rangers.

"I couldn't sell a Willie Wilson poster for two years after he had his problems," said Mike Cramer, who owns Pacific Trading Cards in Edmonds, Wash. "I can't sell any Berras or Andujars or any of those guys. They're going down, and I expect the same thing to happen to Keith Hernandez."

Beckett, however, said fan distrust can turn to support in a manner of weeks.

"The suspensions may have a kind of reverse impact," he said. "Society likes a repentant person, so if these players get in the public eye by doing good things, and if their play improves because they're clean of drugs, their value will increase. But collectors will be wary."

But for every Howe, Wilson or Hernandez who has fallen out of favor with collectors, there's a Dwight Gooden of the Mets, Don Mattingly of the Yankees, Boston's Wade Boggs or Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen to pick up the slack, Beckett said.

Gooden, in particular, is so popular that his 1986 cards already are listed in Beckett's price guide at $1.50 each.

"Right now, I'm selling the 1985 Topps card of Gooden at $7 each, and I'm selling a lot of them," said dealer Larry Fritsch of Stevens Point, Wis. "I've been in the hobby for 40 years, and I find it inconceivable that anyone would come in here and buy 10 or 15 of the same card at seven bucks each, but it's happening."

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