ANAHEIM — Right there, next to the rare Ty Cobb felt baseball card and the Babe Ruth photograph, lay the latest O.J. Simpson trading card.
Although the display was at a sports memorabilia show here Sunday, this card did not show Simpson wearing his Buffalo Bills uniform. Instead, it was the mug shot police took when they arrested Simpson last month on suspicion of killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Next to that lay other cards showing a dejected Simpson in court, him and Nicole in happier times, her driver's license and Goldman's modeling poses. All with a logo reading "In Pursuit of Justice."
The set of 10 cards was unveiled Sunday at displays throughout the Anaheim Convention Center show that drew hundreds of collectors. The price varied.
"I think it's really sleazy, but if I don't sell it someone else will," said Lowell Katz, a Long Beach sports card dealer. "I might as well make money while I can."
Some customers certainly agreed, at least with the first part of his statement.
"Shame, shame," said a woman, shaking her head as she passed an array of the cards.
David Guisande of D&K Distributors ordered 8,000 packs of the cards from a Phoenix firm producing the set, identified on the cards as Interlink News Services. They arrived at 10 p.m. Saturday. By 2 p.m. Sunday he had sold 3,000 packs, most to other distributors, who expect to sell them.
"That's all people want, O.J. cards," said Rick Hamiliton, a Minneapolis-based dealer at the show. "I've only got 200 sets, so I imagine they'll go pretty quickly."
Hamilton has tried selling Simpson's rookie football cards, but added, "That's $125. They can buy this set for anywhere from $5 to $15."
Since Simpson's arrest in connection with the double slayings in Brentwood, dealers have reported receiving top dollar for his old cards, signed footballs and other collectibles. In addition, a Fleetville, Pa., trading card company said it is moving ahead with plans to have Simpson sign 1,000 cards--under a contract signed June 3--that will be sold later this summer.
But the cards featuring players in the Simpson legal case are new. And the 10-pack is only the beginning--Guisande said Interlink News Service is planning to produce a 50-card set, complete with portraits of Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, defense lawyer Robert Shapiro and the bloodstained sidewalk outside Nicole Simpson's townhouse.
The card collecting industry has ventured into current events and popular culture before, printing Desert Storm cards during the 1991 war, for instance.
But the Simpson story allows for an unusual convergence of sports, entertainment and scandal.
"What we're really doing is giving the public what they want," said Lee Minor, who was staffing the D&K Distributors booth.
But some customers Sunday were not impressed.
"It's just exploiting a tragedy," said another show attendee, who described himself as one of Simpson's neighbors. "Who knows if he's guilty or innocent."
For the entrepreneurs in the speculative world of sports cards, however, the importance of his guilt or innocence rested on its market impact.
"If someone is found guilty, the price goes up," one noted.
"Look what happened with Pete Rose," added Troy Deutscher, a Long Beach-based distributor. Rose's baseball cards climbed in value after his gambling scandal.
When L.A. Lakers star Magic Johnson announced he had tested positive for the AIDS virus, his cards sold well for at least a year, Deutscher said. "I'm assuming this is going to be hot for a year," he said.
Another card dealer, Derrick (D.J.) Johnson of Buena Park, said he wants to sell his Simpson memorabilia as quickly as he can. At Sunday's show at the Anaheim Convention Center, Johnson displayed a case full of cards from Simpson's Buffalo Bills days.
"If he gets convicted, those cards will drop like a rock," Johnson said. "The autographs will shoot up. If he's in jail, how are you going to get his autograph?"