Behind The Scenes

30 for 30 Short on Honus Wagner baseball card traces history of the ‘Holy Grail’ of collectibles

The T206 Honus Wagner baseball card. (credit?)
The T206 Honus Wagner baseball card. (ESPN Films)

The story behind the world’s most famous baseball card is showcased in today’s debut of the next 30 for 30 Short, Holy Grail: The T206 Honus Wagner on Grantland.

The story of the T206 Honus Wagner is told by directors Nick and Colin Barnicle through interviews with baseball card experts and enthusiasts, including former SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann. Front Row caught up with Colin Barnicle to see why this story caught their attention.

What made you think this story about the T206 Honus Wagner card would make a good 30 for 30 Short?
There was certainly the shock factor. Jeff Siegel, producer of the film, Nick and I were up in Cooperstown when Nick stumbled upon “The Card.” He had to point out this century old baseball relic that was no bigger than a credit card but cost about 3 million dollars and had Wayne Gretzky’s name attached to it. This just seemed like the perfect synthesis of culture and sports. What really got our production company, Prospect Productions, thinking about a 30 for 30 was when we heard the rumors this multi-million dollar cigarette card had seemingly appeared out of the ether and may have in fact been doctored to make it “Holy Grail of baseball cards.”

You and your co-director brother Nick grew up in Boston and the Red Sox are known for having a rabid fan base. Did you guys grow up in a culture of baseball card collectors?
Opening Day for the Red Sox is a national holiday in our household. No school. No work. Our dad [veteran journalist Mike Barnicle] always said he had a great collection before his mother tossed it out, which inside baseball is like saying your dog ate the homework. Everyone has that story. So we were crazy about everything and anything baseball-related and like many brothers, we did most things competitively. Thus, card collecting to us was a way to show the other one up. Rip a pack, zip through them and then show off that you got a Ken Griffey Jr. and he only got a Mark Lansing.

Did you learn anything from making this short that you didn’t already know about the sports collectible business?
We were shocked at how big it is. This is a multi-billion dollar industry and like any business where thousands, even millions, are exchanging hands, there will always be that element that tries to skew the interaction in their favor. Cards have lost their cache with kids over the years as video games and other distractions have become more interactive. As a result, card collecting has left the realm of “hobby” and become a major “business.”

Twenty-five years ago, the only way fans knew the players outside going to the park or watching the game was through baseball cards. These days, fans can interact with the game much more personally through video games, fantasy baseball and even Twitter.

On the other hand, vintage cards like the Honus T206 are being preserved so well because of the business side of collecting that even the casual observer of the game can look and touch something tangible from the history of not only the game, but of the United States itself, which is unlike any other sport in the world.

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