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Outside the Lines:
The Tiger Card


Here's the transcript from Show 72 of weekly Outside The Lines - The Tiger Card

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: Lisa Salters, ESPN.
Guest: Joe Orlando, editor of Sports Market Report.

Announcer - August 12, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - As Tiger Woods begins his quest for a third straight PGA championship, his likeness on cardboard, mass produced in a national magazine five years ago, has exploded into a valuable collectible.

Unidentified Male - One just sold on eBay for $125,000 and because of that, they're kind of coming out of the woodwork.

Ley - Finding the card -- many are still believed to be out there -- could mean a potential windfall.

Drew Sulzer, 14-years-old - I looked at my closet where all my magazines are, and sure enough it was there at the bottom.

Ley - For this Ohio teen, his chance at that fortune is in the painstaking and exacting challenge of removing the card in perfect condition.

Craig Sulzer, Drew's father - Somebody referred to it as disarming a bomb.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines - his trip from discovery to having the card graded as a young collector plays the Tiger card.

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.

Joining us from ESPN Studios - Bob Ley.

Ley - Don't look for an abundance of logic at the heart of our topic this morning. After all, we do live in a world where in Phoenix recently, baseball fans waited online for 18-hours for a free Randy Johnson bobblehead doll. The best description of the field of collectibles, especially when it is fueled by hyper-celebrity is a phrase borrowed from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, "irrational exuberance."

Trading cards are worth what the next guy in line is going to pay for yours. And lately that next guy has not been there. Sales of cards have dropped by a reported 60 percent in the last decade. Enter Tiger Woods, his career Grand Slam and his global celebrity.

Now, a five year-old piece of cardboard, of which more than 1 million were printed in "Sports Illustrated for Kids," has become a Holy Grail of collectors. Chances are the mailman may have bent the cards as he delivered it, or mom threw it away, but if not, you may have a card that if in perfect condition will sell for more than a vintage Babe Ruth or even a Mickey Mantle Rookie. Logical, no; profitable, Lisa Salters shows exactly how much.

Lisa Salters, ESPN correspondent - Fifteen miles south of Columbus, Ohio in the quiet per mill town of Chillicothe lives 14-year-old Drew Sulzer. For the most part he is a typical teenager, who just happened to make a not-so-typical late night discovery this spring.

D. Sulzer - One Saturday night, my brother's friend was spending the night. We were up until, like, 4:00 in the morning watching TV. And I saw the Home Shopping Network, and the guys were on there selling these Tiger Woods, 1996 "SI for Kids" cards.

Announcer - ... memorabilia, there is no bigger card out in the market right now than the "Sports Illustrated Card." We've seen it sell -- the sky is the limit.

Sulzer - I used to get that magazine, so I thought maybe I still had the card. So that night I looked in my closet where all my magazines are, and sure enough it was there at the bottom, perfect condition.

Salters - One month earlier a Tiger Woods' Sports Illustrated for Kids Card sold for a staggering $125,000. Drew had found a potential gold mine. Not only was his December, 1996 issue of "SI for Kids" in good shape, but the insert of nine trading cards, including the center Tiger Woods card was intact, too.

What did Drew say to you when he told you about it?

C. Sulzer - He said, well dad, I saw this card on television. They had this article that this card could be worth $125,000 if it was in good condition.

Salters - Not just good condition. To truly hit the jackpot, the Tiger Woods card had to be in gem-mint, or perfect condition.

C. Sulzer - Once we found out the possibility of it being worth X amount of dollars, we immediately went down and took a safe deposit box and stuck it in there.

D. Sulzer - It's just real exciting for something like this to happen to us, because not much happens here.

Salters - In Mission Viejo, California, 16-year-old Cole Bartiromo learned about the soaring prices of the "SI for Kids" card last fall. With dollar signs dancing in his head, he began an all-out search for the magazine, and found more than a dozen issues with the insert included and the center Tiger Woods card still intact.

But for the card to realize its maximum value, it needed to be separated from the others, a delicate task. The tiniest rip or tear causes the value of the card to plummet.

Cole Bartiromo, 16-years-old - You could leave it in the magazine and sell it as a magazine and get $1,000 or $2,000. Or you can risk it and take it out. You might damage it, or you can get huge rewards, and it could be a mint or gem-mint. So I decided to risk it.

Salters - The risk paid off. Two of Cole's cards received perfect or near-perfect ratings from the country's top two trading card grading services. These two cards now had six-figure potential. To sell them, the Bartiromo family enlisted the help of an auction house. But prior to the start of the auction, they received a phone call.

John Bartiromo, Cole's father - I get a call that there is this gentlemen out there, a very rich guy, that wants this thing to end right now for this huge sum of money, you know, just to end it. And he wanted it as a private sale, you know, totally anonymous, and, you know, do you want to do it. And I'm like, once he told me the price, there was no question. Because, the best case scenario, I wouldn't have thought that they would have gone for that. You know, even in my wildest dreams.

Salters - As part of the sale agreement, the Bartiromo's are prevented from naming the buyer and the price for which the cards were sold.

I know you can't disclose the amount, but can you give me a ball park figure?

J. Bartiromo - It was mid-six figures. I mean that's probably as good as I can do without knowing the legal ratification -- and I don't want to -- I appreciate him coming forward and making the substantial offer sum, and so I'm going to honor what he wanted by not trying to get too close to it.

Salters - Back in Ohio, the mere mention of six figures for a trading card was too much for a temptation for the Sulzer's to resist. They decide to gamble and remove the card from the magazine.

Salters - Who's going to actually tear it out?

D. Sulzer - I think my dad.

Salters - Not you?

D. Sulzer - Yeah, because I don't want to mess it up.

Salters - What if he messes it up?

D. Sulzer - He's in trouble.

Salters - I mean, is it something that you're sweating about? You lie awake at night thinking about?

C. Sulzer - I've been a little nervous the last couple of days, because I don't want to rip his card to pieces.

Salters - What have you done to prepare, to get yourself...

C. Sulzer - We practice a little bit on several cards in other magazines, so -- somebody referred to it as disarming a bomb.

Salters - Is that the way you feel?

C. Sulzer - Just don't cut the blue wire.

Salters - With a financial bonanza hanging in the balance, Craig Sulzer begins the tedious removal process.

C. Sulzer - Well, we'll see what we can do here. We need some music or something.

Salters - A former jeweler, Craig works at a careful pace. The tools for this delicate operation - a ruler, a dictionary, and two pieces of paper.

One by one, the cards bordering the Tiger Woods card are removed. Now only one card is left. Fifteen excruciating minutes later, the Tiger Woods card is free.

G. Sulzer - Looks pretty good. I think the patient might live.

Salters - But in what condition is the card? The Sulzer's now must have it graded and wait to see if their card will grade out as a gem-mint. In the meantime, they are taking no chances. The card is returned to a safety deposit box.

Ley - Well, the card maybe safe, but its value is a total mystery until it is inspected down to the smallest detail to determine if, indeed, it is a six-figure bonanza.

Mike Baker, co-founder, PSA - It's actually a beautiful (unintelligible). When I first saw it, I was pretty impressed because you hear a lot of stories about how cards, you know, supposedly this, supposedly that, and then when I first picked it up, and there was no yellow around the border, I thought, wow, this card has a shot.

Ley - Tens of thousands of dollars on the line when the card receives its grade when we continue Outside The Lines.

Ley - The most expensive card sale ever reported, a Honus Wagner more than $1.25 million. Now, private sales make such rankings iffy, but a recent Tiger Woods' Sports Illustrated for Kids Card went for a confirmed 125,000, that's number 11 all time. More than Joe D. or Babe Ruth cards from decades ago.

Now remember that California family that privately sold two Tiger cards for a total mid-six figures. Well that could easily mean, possibly, a quarter of a million dollars for a Tiger Woods card, recalibrating the Tiger market. Those are the dollars at stake for young Drew Sulzer, and of course his Tiger Woods Card has been extracted by his father. It is resting in a safe deposit box. And now, as Lisa continues, the key to the card's value rests in a microscopic examination of this five-year-old piece of cardboard.

Salters - To grade their card, the Sulzer's, the family from Ohio, choose PSA, Professional Sports Authenticator, based in Newport Beach, California. PSA says it has graded 49 of the 50 most valuable trading cards of all time. PSA graders use a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest grade and the most valuable. But for a card to get a PSA 10, it has to be perfect from top to bottom.

Steve Rocchir, President & co-founder, PSA - First thing they're going to look at is the corners, if all four corners are sharp. Second thing they are going to look at is, look at the edges of the card, and make sure there is no chipping along the edges. Third thing they are going to look at the surface of the card. Is there any indentations on the card, any bubbles on the card, are there any wrinkles on the card, are there any print defects on the card.

Then they are going to look at the centering of the card. Is the picture 50/50 or is it 60/40, and then they are going to do the same thing on the back, and examine the card on the back. And after that, they're going to give it a grade based on a written definition of a standard of one to 10.

Salters - As of August 1, out of 640 Tiger Woods cards submitted to PSA for grading, only three have rated a gem-mint 10.

Baker - The chances that you find a card that looks 10 right away, and then be able to remove it and keep it in the same condition as you saw it when it was in the sheet is very difficult.

Salters - PSA says it grades 120,000 cards a month for a fee ranging from $8 to $35 dollars. Using previous submissions of the Tiger Woods Card, Mike Baker, who serves as PSA's Director of Grading, explains how the slightest tear or defect on the card can drop the value by thousands of dollars.

Baker - Basically two problems with the card, we have the upper left, which has a light little fold-up, and then we have the bottom right on the back which has a light little, almost like the card was dropped. And that's why the corner kind of folds up. And so this card, we would probably put in an eight.

Salters - Current market value?

Baker - Current market value, probably, approximately $400, $600, this card. When they appear like this, and you have this little bit of yellow, so right there I can tell you that it can go nine, not 10, but it can go to nine. When it gets into the nine and 10 grades, you definitely want to plot the loop, just to kind of verify what you are seeing with your naked eye. And this is what kind of reconfirms it.

Salters - Four-corner check?

Baker - Four-corner check, exactly.

Salters - Corners look good.

Baker - Corners look good, this card would be -- I'd grade this card at nine. Current approximate value, is $6,000-$8,000.

Salters - And the difference between these two is just one grade.

Baker - This is one grade. And, again, just, a light little corner touch on two of the corners, which keeps it in an eight.

Salters - Back in Ohio, rather than risk mailing their Tiger Woods card to PSA in California, the Sulzers decide to make the 175 mile drive from Chillicothe to Cleveland, to attend the 22nd National Card Show.

G. Sulzer - Man oh man, can you imagine all the stuff they've got in here?

Salters - Here PSA offers on-site grading, which will allow the Sulzers to find out in a matter of hours whether their card is worth $100,000, $100 or somewhere in between.

C. Sulzer - Hi.

Unidentified Female - How are you?

C. Sulzer - Fine. I'd like to get a card graded.

Salters - The grading process begins with the submission of the card.

G. Sulzer - OK, thank you.

Salters - Once the Sulzer's card is submitted, it is stripped of their information and given an identification number. That way, once it finally reaches the grading room, the graders can only be influenced by the condition of the card, not by who owns it.

A minimum of two graders will inspect the card. The two graders must agree on the grade. If their opinions differ, the card will be graded by a third expert, who will either break the tie or result in the three grades being averaged. Once the Sulzer's card is graded, a label is prepared with the ID number and grade. Then the card is sonically sealed in a plastic case to guarantee its grade and authenticity.

Unidentified Male - How you doing sir?

C. Sulzer - Pretty good.

Salters - Finally, the moment the Sulzer's have been waiting for has arrived.

C. Sulzer - All right.

Unidentified Male - Sir this is...

Salters - The grade...

C. Sulzer - Get out!

Salters - ... a nine.

C. Sulzer - All right, thanks a lot, sir, appreciate it. Pretty cool beans, huh.

Baker - One of the reasons why it didn't get 10 is this print spot right there, that happens in the print manufacturing process. And, it is not uncommon to the card, but the ones that don't have it get the benefit of the doubt in the 10, provided everything else is tight. And then, it has the lightest little perf right there. You can see, sort of like, pealed off the back part. And it didn't go up into the corner that much, but it went just enough where with the combination of that print defect and that little bit of a corner, it is a perfect card for a nine. And a very high-end nine at that.

Salters - Those tiny, tiny little things.

Baker - Those tiny little things is the difference between hitting it big time and hitting it pretty good. The value of this, probably, currently is between $3,000 and $5,000 on eBay.

Salters - When you open up the box and saw that it was a nine?

D. Sulzer - I was really excited, because there is not that many nine's around. It would have been good if it had been a 10, but I'm still happy with a nine.

Ley - And joining us to examine the phenomenon of the Tiger card, Joe Orlando. He is the Editor in Chief of Sports Market Report, which is owned by the same parent company which also owns the PSA grading service. He joins us from Anaheim.

Good morning, Joe.

Joe Orlando, Editor-in-Chief, Sports Market Report - Good morning.

Ley - I guess, as a civilian, I can intellectually understand Honus Wagner, 95-year-old card going for a million-plus. Or a Joe D. going for $300,000, or Mickey Mantle. But a 5-year old card, of which a million were produced, explain this to me?

Orlando - Well you know what, there are a lot of factors at work here. I think, number one, you have the superstar power of Tiger Woods himself. Number two, even though many of them were produced, many of them were handled, because they were in a magazine format. And, many of them were discarded. So, really what's more important is how many survived not how many were produced. And the bottom line with any collectible is, it is worth as much as somebody is willing to pay for it. People have a connection with Tiger Woods right now, he's a current player. A young person today watching ESPN, they never saw Babe Ruth play, but they can watch Tiger Woods grow as an athlete.

Ley - But does that number, $125,000 -- you're an expert in the field. I mean, I'm not asking if it is logical, but I'm asking if it surprises even you?

Orlando - It did, when I first heard about the sale, it did surprise me. But I tell you what, 10 years ago, Wayne Gretsky and Bruce McNall paid $451,000 for the Honus Wagner card that you mentioned, and then people thought they were crazy. A few years later, someone else bought it for $640,000. And then, last summer, it went for 1.265 million. So, really, it's hard to apply logic to a lot of these purchases.

Ley - Doing better than tech stocks, obviously. You heard the California family, the private sale, they said they had two 10's that went for a total of mid-six figures. I know there is a lot of slippage in this field, and a lot of private sales, it's tough to nail down numbers. But if that's accurate, we're talking 200,000, maybe 250,000 now, has the market been recalibrated?

Orlando - Well, you know, with Tiger Woods it is interesting, I think the standard for Tiger Woods, it is so high. People expect this guy to win every time he goes out onto the golf course. So obviously when you're dealing with a modern athlete, whether it is Tiger Woods, or Mark McGwire, the sports collectibles are very volatile. You know, right now, it's hard to say exactly what it would be worth. But absolutely, every time a huge sale comes down, it really does calibrate the market again.

Ley - Another thing that almost defies logic, but the grading process, a 9, something microscopic will turn a $100,000 card into a $5,000. What about the subjectivity of the grading?

Orlando - Well, you know what, grading effects just about every other collectible field there is, whether it is coins, whether it is diamonds. I mean, I remember when I was buying my engagement ring and a jeweler came out. And he laid out five diamonds in front of my face. And it was very difficult for me to tell the difference between the five diamonds, but just the slightest change in color or clarity between the diamonds could make a $5,000 diamond a $75,000 diamond. So really it is the principle that guides all other collectible fields. Now it is being applied to sports cards.

Ley - OK, Joe, we'll continue with Joe Orlando. We'll have more with him in just a second, as we continue. Plus some pointed reactions to last week's look at the heat-related deaths of young athletes, as we continue Outside The Lines.

Ley - There were approximately 1 million copies of the now-famous Tiger card printed. "Sports Illustrated for Kids" magazine is adamant, it never intended nor did it envision this feverish market in the card. It calls the card "editorial content."

Lisa Salters spoke with the magazine's managing editor.

Neil Cohen, Managing Editor, "Sports Illustrated for Kids" - You know it was the furthest thing from our minds that these things could possibly be collectibles. It was all about, you know, a way to get kids to read the magazine. It just, it just doesn't seem appropriate for what it is. It's all sort of kind of bizarre. They're perforated cards. You know, how could they -- they don't look like the real cards, because of the way they are in the magazine. They are on much thinner stock than that. It's a very different thing.

Salters - Is it true that Sports Illustrated has asked some of the grading services not to grade this card?

Cohen - Yes that is true, we sent out letters to the major grading services last year. And we wanted to discourage some of this activity.

Salters - Why?

Cohen - We wanted to be on record as being, you know, that we don't consider these cards to be collectibles. And that was the reason for that.

Ley - We recently asked the magazine how much of its position reflects the fact that were the card intended as a collectible, Tiger Woods would likely be owed a licensing fee. Neil Cohen was unavailable for comment. Back to Joe Orlando.

Joe, what's your take on this entire issue?

Orlando - Well there are a couple of factors here. Number one, there may or may not, like you mentioned, be a legal issue between Tiger and "Sports Illustrated." Number two, he made the comment that Sports Illustrated never intended it to be a collectible. Well really, it doesn't matter what Sports Illustrated intended or not intended, it matters what the collectors think. And if the collectors deem this an appropriate collectible, then it is a collectible. The card is perforated, PSA has always graded perforated cards. There were perforated cards made back in the '50s, baseball cards. So, I would ask that if the card -- why would the card be perforated if it wasn't intended to be a trading card. Because if it was an uncut sheet, PSA would not grade the card.

Ley - Joe, in 10 seconds, I'm sure a lot of attics are suddenly going to get cleaned today after they see this program. How many cards might still be out there?

Orlando - There could be thousands. It's really, it's an untapped market, search your closets.

Ley - OK, I'm sure folks will be doing that. Joe Orlando, thanks very much for joining us, thank you.

Last Sunday, in the wake of the deaths of Korey Stringer of the Vikings and Rashidi Wheeler of Northwestern, we examined similar heat-related tragedies in high school football in recent years.

And among the e-mails to our in-box, if you are from Foxboro, Massachusetts whose brother died under similar circumstances 22 years ago - "My brother was at a football training camp, one he had misgivings about attending, one he none the less felt compelled to attended due to the feelings put forth by many involved in the camp. That not attending would cost him his potential starting offensive tackle position. How many more deaths will it take before the macho BS attitude that pervades these football camps give way to common sense."

From Boca Raton - "I fear you may have missed an important component, that is the increasing use of performance enhancing over the counter supplements and herbs like, ephedra, ma huang, cola nut and many more. How many athletes are using these and not letting anyone know?"

And incidentally there are developments and allegations in the Rashidi Wheeler case along these lines. "SportsCenter" will have details coming up.

The interactive Outside The Lines is online at For more on today's topic and our library of video and transcripts, and our e-mail address, as always, we welcome your comments,

Ley - If you happened to join us along the way, and missed any portion of this program, we will be re-airing at our usual time, that is 1 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern over on ESPN2.

Tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern here on ESPN, we've got Ichiro and the Mariners up against the White Sox. Major League Baseball here on ESPN at 8 p.m. Eastern right after "Baseball Tonight."

Next up - Michael Vick and his development as an NFL Quarterback, a look at some preseason highlights. Also, the Yankees and Oakland; and an amazing look at a pitcher getting it done with his bat, Livon Hernandez.

Rece Davis and Chris McKendry are now set with "SportsCenter" for a complete update on everything happening in sports.

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 ESPN's Bob Ley documents the cardboard dreams of landing Tiger's perfect "10" trading card.
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