ABC Goes Inside Sports With 'Ball Boys' (Exclusive Video)
Set at a collectible shop in Baltimore, the unscripted series offers a first-hand look at the sports memorabilia industry.
ABC is going inside sports with its latest unscripted endeavor, Ball Boys.
From the producers of Pawn Stars, the series set at a sports memorabilia store in Baltimore explores the billion-dollar industry from an insider's point of view. How much is a 1927 New York Yankees lineup card -- signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig -- worth? How much does NFL great Jim Brown think one of his autograph helmets should fetch?
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer David George (Cajun Pawn Stars) to discuss the 12-episode series -- which premieres Saturday at 3 p.m. -- and what makes the industry so compelling.
The Hollywood Reporter: What about the baseball card shop/collectible community makes it ripe for an unscripted series?
David George: Most unscripted shows come down to passion and opinion, and if there's one thing people are passionate about it's sports. What makes the sports memorabilia community so ripe is the personal attachment people have to the things they own. The items people bring into a shop don't just have monetary value, they have personal value … and it's hard for a sports fan to make a distinction between the two. Plus, everyone thinks they're an expert on sports and that is where the TV gold is.
Are you a collector?
I still have a big collection of cards my father bought me as kid in the 1980s during the big baseball card boom. I had big plans to retire off Bo Jackson '87 Topps cards but unfortunately a flooded card market forced me into television production. Gary Carter was my idol and anytime a new set would come out my father would either get me a box of cards or take me to the local card shops to find them. Those cards, even though they may not be worth as much as I hoped they would be, mean more to me than anything anyone would ever offer because they came from my dad. That is what this show is all about, that type of attachment.
How did you find Robbie's 1st Base, the shop featured in the series? Do you have plans to explore other baseball card shops going forward?
We blanketed the country looking for the right shop for the concept. We were looking for a family oriented, mom and pop sports shop not some staunch memorabilia firm and it wasn't the easiest to find. What drew us to Robbie's 1st Base was the blue collar camaraderie everyone has working there. It's like a barbershop for sports where everyone has an opinion and they aren't afraid to tell you when you're wrong. That kind of dynamic makes it perfect for a show. It's like all of the hardcore ESPN debate talk shows but in an organic environment where the item -- or athlete -- that walks through the door might set off the next debate.We'd love to explore other shops down the line but for now we're all in with Robbie's 1st Base.
How many more athletes will you feature on the show?
Pete Rose shows up a couple times, once to complain that they have a Johnny Bench jersey hanging front and center and not his. One of the best moments is when Jim Brown stops by to authenticate his own signature but stays by for the haggle and is unimpressed with the owners offer and lets the shop know about it. Warren Moon, Jalen Rose and Logan Morrison -- who also used to work in a sports memorabilia store -- also come through. Former Baltimore Orioles great Al Bumbry owns part of the shop and stopped in from time to time. There are a few others and you'll see athletes just about every week.
Will you also feature the shop actually selling inventory?
We favor the buying of items but do show some of the selling. Customers come in with requests for specific things and the guys try to hunt it down and then attempt to make the sale. A man came in with his 5-year-old niece who was the biggest Flyers fan I've ever seen and she absolutely schooled our guys at the shop on Flyers knowledge. The guys found an actual game-used Pelle Lindberg goalie stick for them out of a private collection.
Storefronts are finding it increasingly hard to make it with the competition that exists on the Internet. How much of the sad state of the baseball card industry will you tell?
Robbie's 1st Base is more of a sports memorabilia shop as opposed to a straight up baseball card shop. Baseball cards are only a piece of the equation, so we don't dive too much into that territory. But this goes back to why we went with Robbie's in the first place: these types of small business shops are disappearing daily from the American landscape. They are being gobbled up by the big auction houses and faceless Internet warehouses. It's like Walmart vs. your corner market, so as a TV viewer who are you going root for to succeed?
Ball Boys airs Saturdays on ABC. Check out an exclusive preview below.