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PLAYERS’ STRIKE DEALS A BLOW TO MEMORABILIA MERCHANTS

SHARE PLAYERS’ STRIKE DEALS A BLOW TO MEMORABILIA MERCHANTS

Wilson McMillion, a Fort Worth businessman who has spent years amassing a large collection of baseball-related memorabilia, doesn't expect or want to find anything new under his Christmas tree.

New, that is, in terms of balls, bats, or any other items celebrating the careers of current major leaguers."What I'm going to look for now are things from the older legends," McMillion said. "I don't want anything having to do with the prima donnas of today. I'd get something signed by Duke Snider (a star in the '50s), but not by (Seattle Mariners superstar) Ken Griffey Jr. From now on, that's exactly where I'm coming from."

And that widespread collector attitude of disgust with current ballplayers - thanks to the major league baseball strike that canceled much of the 1994 season and threatens 1995 - is what's keeping baseball memorabilia dealers from enjoying an especially Merry Christmas this year.

"Particularly at the lower price end of collecting, baseball cards and so forth, things aren't selling, and that's a direct result of reaction to the strike," said Mark Jordan, an Arlington, Texas-based dealer whose Mark Jordan Inc. offices at The Ballpark at Arlington house some of the rarest baseball memorabilia items in existence.

"A certain segment of the population is so disgruntled that it just won't buy anything."

The baseball strike, which began in August, had an immediate effect on memorabilia sales all over the country. Jordan said October 1994 was his worst month in several years. Smaller dealers, especially those who based their businesses on card sales, went out of business in droves.

But Jordan said collector backlash has hit "lower-end" items rather than more expensive memorabilia.

"People who spend $100 a month on baseball memorabilia like cards and balls autographed by modern players aren't spending that money right now," he said. "But the people interested in a Babe Ruth-signed baseball or a Ty Cobb game-used bat see baseball as long-term history. This strike isn't the first ever; it probably won't be the last. Serious collectors understand that, and they're still buying."

Still, Jordan has spent the Christmas season selling far fewer "low-end" items than has been his wont.

"That will change the way I order things," Jordan said. "I'll back away from offering as many things signed by current players."

There are exceptions.

"Deion Sanders has stayed really popular, because he plays both professional football and baseball," Jordan said. "And I'm still selling a lot of things signed by Ken Griffey Jr. The strike hasn't touched his reputation with collectors at all."

Except, perhaps, with Wilson McMillion.