Prospect Productions’ ESPN documentary, “Holy Grail: The T206 Honus Wagner”
by: Danny Laurel
The 1909 T206 Honus Wagner is, without a doubt, the most famous piece of sports memorabilia of all time. Its notoriety hasn’t been without controversy, though. For ESPN’s “30 For 30” segment, Prospect Productions created ‘Holy Grail: The T206 Honus Wagner’. The 14-minute video delves into the history of the card and the storylines created with each transaction over time.
Brothers Colin and Nick Barnicle are the founders of Prospect Productions. After realizing that they had enough of working for other people, together they set out to work on their own projects, but the decision to direct the short film on the T206 card was something that happened almost by accident.
They learned more about the controversy surrounding the Wagner card when they visited the MLB Hall of Fame two years ago for a film festival. “Nick pointed out the small card behind the bulletproof glass. We were so shocked at the price, Gretzky’s name attached to it- and obviously, the pristine condition it was in after a century of existence.” Colin also remembers, “When we started to really look into the T206 series, we found out that not everything was what it seemed and decided to take a closer look”.
There have been countless books written about the famous set; most notably, ‘The T206 Collection’, written by Tom and Ellen Zappala. There are also numerous websites dedicated to informing collectors about the checklists of the acclaimed set, and even ways to tell if you have acquired a counterfeit. On the surface the Honus Wagner T206 card is just a famous piece of history, but dig a little deeper and you start to discover the mystery behind why they are so rare and what makes this particular version so extraordinary.
The documentary hits on all of the key points of the history of this card with conversations from baseball historian, Keith Olbermann, Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News, and David Hall, founder of Professional Sports Authenticators, or PSA. Hall was called upon to grade the Wagner card, and ultimately graded it a score of Near Mint- Mint (8). During that time it was realized it was being purchased, in part, by Wayne Gretzky and Olberman mentions, “Suddenly it was the Gretzky card, suddenly it was the perfect Honus Wagner.”
When I asked Colin if there was anything about the card that they didn’t already know while making the piece on the Wagner card he replied, “Everything.”
“We both knew about the card. We’re baseball fans. It’s just something you know about from a young age like the 1919 Black Sox or Ruth’s called shot. It’s infamous. But, we didn’t know the backstory: how it was lost, found, doctored and sold.”
It was decided, after the card had been graded by PSA, that the Wagner card had been slightly trimmed; allegedly by its previous owner, memorabilia dealer, Bill Mastro. If it was known that the card had been trimmed it would have ultimately lowered the value of the card, but Hall states in the video, “It didn’t look trimmed to me.”
Colin says, “Frankly, we were shocked at the value, size, condition and controversy surrounding the card. In one way, it was sad to see these wonderful relics of history being sold like stocks and in another, very pragmatic way, we were enthused how the business of baseball cards has singlehandedly preserved tangible pieces of history.”
For the Prospect Productions group the untold stories are what they search out, or according to Colin, search them out. “A lot of projects come about by just walking around New York where we are based. For instance, we made a documentary that was shown at the Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival this past year that included Pete Hamill about the old New York Giants stadium and the Polo Grounds after we walked by the housing project that stands there now. After hearing an interesting story while sitting in a bar, we created another documentary about Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn where Muhammad Ali and Robert Duran once trained.”
The future is bright for this production company; with spots already done for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and a variety of topics on the table for them to cover, Prospect Productions definitely want to branch out and try other topics, but for now they enjoy exploring other sports-related stories. The Prospect Productions website is here and the ‘30 for 30: Holy Grail’ short is available on the ESPN website.
Directors Colin and Nick are also on Twitter.