Seller Beware in Card Games
Easily the best baseball story of the spring is the courtroom case of 13-year-old Bryan Wrzesinski, the Macaulay Culkin of trading cards.
Like the boy from “Home Alone,” Bryan can take care of himself. He is a wheeler and a dealer. Adults don’t see him coming. He’s too smart for some of them.
In fact, he got sued by one he outsmarted.
Bryan was on the witness stand last week in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, never-a-dull-moment hometown of Billy Graham, Red Grange, Bob Woodward and John and Jim Belushi.
A collector, Bryan is one of those kids who knows the value of a rare card the way kids from bygone generations knew the value of a rare postage stamp or coin.
Bryan knows a good card when he sees one. He also knows a good deal when he sees one.
Or a sucker.
When the eighth grader from Addison, Ill., went browsing in Joe Ermin’s nearby Itasca card shop, he noticed a 1968 Topps card pairing “rookie stars” Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan of the New York Mets.
Some of us could come across this very same card in a store and not think it any more valuable than a 1978 Dave Kingman or a 1988 go-to-jail card from a game of Monopoly.
But Bryan knew. Or at least suspected.
The price was listed as $12.00.
Twelve bucks happened to be in Bryan’s pocket, so he bought it.
Well, the Koosman-Ryan card had a value of $12.00, all right.
Except the decimal point was in the wrong place.
At least this is what the guy later claimed when he sued Bryan Wrzesinski, saying that he had “misread” the actual worth of the card.
Which was $1,200.00.
The store owner had Bryan summoned into Du Page County Circuit Court, small claims division, Judge Ann Jorgensen presiding.
And a case commenced that was so entertaining, the attorneys should have been John Larroquette and Markie Post.
Ermin’s attorney, Karen Delveaux, told Her Honor that the plaintiff wanted his baseball card back.
Bryan’s attorney, Walter Maksym, told Her Honor that the defendant couldn’t give the guy his card back, even if he wanted to.
“Why is that?” asked the judge.
“Because he doesn’t have it any more,” said the lawyer.
Yes, Bryan already had traded away Exhibit A.
He got two nice rookie cards for it, a Tom Seaver baseball card and a Joe Namath football card.
Well, next thing anybody knew, the attorneys were screaming at one another and the judge was hauling both of them into her chambers and Bryan was sitting there in his Mark Grace model No. 17 warm-up jacket, wishing he could take a seventh-inning stretch.
The hearing lasted five hours the first day, with Bryan cross-examined by Delveaux for 35 minutes.
She demanded to know why he had “mysteriously traded” the evidence.
Delveaux said she distinctly remembered the judge saying last December that the card should not change hands. The boy’s attorney said he remembered no such thing.
Things got so heated, the judge cleared the courtroom. She even told Bryan he could leave. PG-13 was turning into R, restricted.
Two days later, the card in question was produced in court.
Then things really got complicated.
The new owner didn’t mind having it examined, but he wanted it back. Judge Jorgensen said no, counselor, the court would hang onto it. Bryan’s lawyer said no, your honor, he had promised to give it back, even with an official evidential Exhibit sticker on it.
“I cannot have your honor have that card!” Maksym protested. “You’re asking me to break my word!”
Somehow, an image of Judge Jorgensen, Attorney Delveaux and Attorney Maksym attending law school, listening to lectures from some professorial John Houseman type, preparing for big murder trials or embezzlement cases, leaps to mind.
Little did they know that one day they would be arguing the big Koosman-Ryan rookie card case.
The Chicago media camped out on the courthouse steps as though the Chicago Seven trial had been reconvened. Last Thursday’s developments were reported in the next day’s Chicago Sun-Times on Page 3.
Not Page 3 of the sports section. Page 3 of the paper.
A lot of interesting information surfaced as to the escalating worth of baseball cards--how a 1952 Mickey Mantle goes for $8,900, how a 1932 card of somebody named Fred Lindstrom has a value of $25,000, how a 1909 Honus Wagner is now worth 200 grand.
Bryan’s attorney, Maksym, did make one attempt at keep things in perspective.
He told the judge: “Your honor, this is not the Mona Lisa! This is a piece of cardboard you buy with . . . bubble gum!”
The judge just pounded her gavel. Case to be continued April 4.
Bryan Wrzesinski walks the streets tonight, a free boy. He is to be considered armed with knowledge about decimal points and dangerous. Be afraid. Be very afraid.