When we began working on the grading system, which was no small feat as it morphed into what it is today, one of the biggest dilemmas facing us dealt with the post 1987 jerseys. Everyone is aware that the issuance of large quantities of modern jerseys into the hobby after 1987 is a big issue. How could we address the grading of a pro model shirt, one that was not originally made or intended for the retail store trade, but yet use, sans any provenance, could not be verified or one that was often contrived to help the shirt along. What grade do you put on a game ready or pro stock shirt that was made identical to jerseys worn in the pro circuit but lacking any history or documented use/wear? How do you grade these jersey’s when you know that the factory is making multiples of the stars and these are being given away and many of them are made and tagged exactly like their big brother counterpart? Again, we are not talking about shirts that for some reason, do not warrant an A5 because of problems but of shirts made to exact player specification.
We could also see the writing on the wall. Lets suppose that Brian Gumball obtains a totally legit pro model shirt with no use directly from the team. He proceeds to wear it everyday for two weeks, to work, mowing his lawn, playing in the dirt with the kids, etc. etc. He then submits the jersey for a work up. Every tag, stitch and number matches exactly the pro models made for the major league. In fact, this shirt is made for the major leagues but is waylaid somewhere between the factory and the field. How can you verify the use on this modern jersey’s that come with no provenance and are manufactured in apparent large quantities? We use 1987 as the cut off as it is generally excepted that it is the post 1987 era in which production of pro shirts made to exact player specs and size, of the same material on the same machines by the same people at the same time by the same company only now, production increases to include shirts for sales reps, charities, big wigs, small wigs and maybe a few lunch box specials thrown in as well. A few get to the player but more than a few do not, yet there is technically no difference with regards to manufacture. It is the provenance or venue into the hobby that comes into play. In fact, only the post 87 shirts that match known game worn jerseys qualify for an A5. It is also the reason that you see so few post 1987 superstar jerseys in our report that grade any higher than an A5. Why? Simply because the majority of post 1987 pro model game ready not over the counter shirts we examine come with no direct history or team/player link and per our guide lines, any post 1987 star shirt that does not have a documented history cannot garner anything higher than an A5
When Dan Schmidt of Upper Deck contacted me about a shirt at auction with a MEARS A5 attached but with the term “Game Used/Worn” in the title, I was taken aback. “Do you think it is your (MEARS) responsibility to warn potential bidders on an item that carries a MEARS A5 grade given you cannot provide any provenance or verify the game wear or lack thereof?” My answer is yes and no. When brought to our attention, we placed notice on our website but we are not responsible for the P.T. Barnum of any company. We are responsible for our letters and back them with a money back guarantee. If you buy something with a MEARS letter and you feel the letter and write up do not jive, you need to take that up with the seller. I am not going to waste time or space re-writing the description of an A5 grade in this article as it is readily available on our website in its entirety. A synopsis and in no way complete, it simply states that every aspect of a pro model jersey must match those jersey’s actually documented to have been worn by a particular player. If they do not but are still pro model jerseys not made for mass production and retail sales, then even more points are deducted as a result of these anomalies. Store model shirts altered to look like a pro model will get no grade at all and will be found listed as “Not Gradable” If you see a post 1987 shirt that grades lower than an A5, read every word as there are issues where this jersey misses points at some juncture. Also, if you see a post 1987 shirt with a grade higher than an A5, read carefully as it is rare to find any post 87 shirt grading higher than an A5 unless obtained directly from a reliable and documented source. Remember, the source is only as good as its agent and reputation (sourcing) can go from picture perfect to worth less than the paper its printed on but that is fodder for yet another story.
So to answer Dans question, we are responsible, and that is why we worked so hard at creating the A5 grade on modern jerseys to explain to everyone exactly what it was that you were buying. We do not set pricing, clients do that. But when a client buys something from a dealer or auction, we feel he/she should know exactly what they are buying so that they may feel comfortable with the price. A collection of modern A5 jerseys of the modern stars is a great collection and one that is not only obtainable but is still somewhat affordable. Every piece has its place in the hobby if legit but all pieces are not created equal. Some collectors out there have written “ I would never buy an A5 modern jersey or a team index bat”. That criterion is fine for you but why should you be the judge of another person’s collection. Pricing usually follows grade and a downward sloping grade allows collectors who might never be able to compete with the financial wizards to form a collection at a price they determine. So I say again, everything authentic (not forged or faked) has a place in the hobby at some price for some person even if you feel it’s not up to your high standards. This was another reason for the A5 grade, to inform a buyer of what it is he/she is purchasing and finally setting a bench mark for what is a good example and what is a great example. You decide which you can afford to collect and then set the prices with your bidding or purchase. We at MEARS have done our job with the worksheet and letter, giving you every last detail so that you may make an informed decision.
Dan next asked about the term “minimal use” as it might lead someone astray into buying a shirt that may be advertised with light game use when all we wrote was that it exhibits minimal use with no pretext as to whether that use was a result of a major league game or not. Webster’s refers to the term/word as follows; Minimal adj, minimum, the smallest quantity possible. The lowest degree. Therefore, an A5 post 1987 game jersey ( we do not used the term game used or worn in our titles) that matches all known character traits of a documented jersey, with the minimal use box completely checked, is exactly that. And even if the box for wear/use was marked excessive, the grade might still only be an A5. Why? Because it had nothing linking the shirt to the player other than the manufacturer traits and therefore, the use, regardless of amount, is not verifiable and is not taken into consideration on the final grade of A5. That is unless the shirt has flaws in which case, more points may be taken away. There have been examples of post 1987 jerseys without provenance grading higher than an A5 but these are never stars. They must be commons showing good honest wear for which there would be no motive for deception and no added payoff for the jersey artist. And again, these are reserved for the best of the best absolute commons where all things known are perfect and the use appears legit in all cases.
To conclude, I think the A5 informs and protects the buyer and comes with a money back guarantee to grade as stated and conforms to known game jerseys. Furthermore, if every buyer were to carefully read both the description and the MEARS LOA, they would enter into the agreement with both eyes open saving many disappointments in the future. When your reading a sports item description, do just that , read very carefully, ask for copies of the worksheet and final letter. Get to know what you are buying, why and how much you wish to spend on the example of your choice. Don’t let others make you collecting decisions for you. MEARS has taken out the quess work on your part, you have only to pay the amount of money you feel comfortable in spending knowing full well that the jersey or bat in your collection was exactly as described by MEARS and that you will always know exactly the type of material in your collection. Once armed with these facts, you can make an educated decision as to which pieces best fit into your collection and at what price level you can afford. Nobody wants to pay A10 prices for an A5 example and that was the purpose for grading in the first place, to put everyone on a level playing field I hope this clears up this grade a bit for you. If you have any questions. Please feel free to contact me on our MEARS bulletin board.