Auction House Scandel No Different Than Steroids In Baseball

There has been much discussion about fraud and more specifically shill bidding among auction houses in recent days and it reminded me of MLB and its 180-degree turnaround regarding steroids in recent years.

So what do the two have in common you say? Well, as I see it, MLB elected to look the other way for a decade or so while steroids became more and more prevalent and home runs became more and more a staple of the game. In turn, the league was able to regain the fanbase it lost from the two labor disputes that nearly ruined the game. While the fans and home runs came back in bunches, the game returned to prominence and despite the noticeable changes in many of the player’s phyisiques, Bud and the rest of baseball elected to look the other way and play dumb when any steroid chatter was initiated. The struggling game needed a shot in the arm, or in this case, a shot in the butt, and steroids were a quick solution to the problem.

Hit the rewind button and examine the hobby landscape a decade or so ago and you’ll see similar problems persisted. After enjoying huge success in the mid-to-late 80s, the hobby seemed destined for another downward spiral. The card market had been oversaturated to such a degree that values were plummeting quicker than the stock market in 1929 and something needed to be done. With the enormous success of eBay, came the auction house boom of last decade, where another one seemed to sprout up on a daily basis. Collectors found out that more money could be had by consigning their items to established auction companies and the hobby was up off the canvas.

While all this business was being done, it was inevitable that some unscroupulous people would emerge from the masses and try to take advantage of the surging marketplace and sure enough, that’s what happened. Whether it was auction company workers posing as legitimate bidders, bogus grades being issued by authentication companies or the doctoring of the memorabilia itself, insiders were getting creative in attempts to drive up the final prices of the items being “won” at the various auctions.

Much like in baseball where insiders knew about steroids but elected to look away and bit their toungues for the “betterment of the game,” those in the hobby did likewise when claims of shadiness were being whispered throughout the collectibles industry. People were collecting again, money was changing hands quicker than ever on some of the elite items the hobby had to offer and many people quickly adopted the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude in regards to the fraud and deception that was going on behind the scenes.

When recent news outlets published reports of subpeonas being handed out and investigations into some of today’s top auction house outlets became known, few were surprised at the allegations. When asked whether or not they believed auction houses were capable of collusion, deception and out and out fraud, many hobby insiders matter-of-factly shrugged off these practices as commonplace and stated it was only a matter of time before these types of longtime practices become common knowledge.

So, when MLB needed a boost and turned a blind eye on the rampant steroid use in the game because the crowds were filing through the turnstyles at record numbers and sometimes the dollars outweighed the sense, few cared. In much the same way, the hobby needed a boost and the fraudulent tactics being used by the auction houses were looked at with a blind eye, few cared. Business was booming again and whatever it took to make that a reality seemed to be a necessary evil most were willing to live with.

So, when the steroid issue was brought to the attention of the general public with the Mitchell Report findings, some acted if this was new news and others acted shocked and appalled. Many did likewise when the allegations were made public regarding the practices of some of the most-trusted names in the auction business but many more were well aware of these practices.

It just goes to show you that you can only look the other way and bury your head in the sand for so long before these type of practices come back to haunt you. Whether the skeletons in your closet are shooting needles or shilling bids, everyone needs to be held accountable.
  

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