Ball Grading Standards
GEM-MINT 10: Gem Mint. A PSA Gem Mint 10 ball is a virtually perfect ball. Attributes include bold stamping in the pre-printed area (if it exists) and strong color (baseballs must exhibit a strong white color - though a slightly off-white color may be acceptable) with the absence of scuffs or noticeable scratching along the surface. Shellacked baseballs cannot qualify under this grade, even if the shellacking is light. An extremely minute defect may be present but it must be one that in no way affects the overall presentation. For example, there may be a minute defect within the pre-printed area of the ball though the area must be entirely legible or a minor marking that may have been part of the manufacturing process. No excess writing, by someone other than the original signer, is acceptable here.
MINT 9: Mint. A PSA Mint 9 is a superb condition ball that exhibits only one or two condition flaws which includes but is not limited to the following: A very slight off-white or light cream (vintage) color that is even and does not hinder the eye-appeal, some minimal foxing or fading in the pre-printed area (if applicable) but the entire area must be legible with the naked eye, a minor scratch or scuff that is limited to a very small area and that area must not affect presentation or the ball may exhibit a minute discoloration that is not a major eye-appeal issue. Shellacked balls and balls that contain excess writing by someone other than the original signer, cannot qualify under this grade.
NM-MT 8: Near Mint to Mint. A PSA NM-MT 8 is a super high-end ball that may appear to qualify as a Mint 9 at first glance but upon closer inspection, the ball may exhibit one or more of the following: The ball may exhibit a slight advancement of defects in the pre-printed area of the ball (if applicable), if present, but the entire area must still be legible to the naked eye. The ball may exhibit a very small notation placed by someone other than the original signer if the writing does not detract in a major way from the eye-appeal of the ball. For example, writing that encroaches on the autograph itself or writing that is an eyesore due to the color of the ink may prevent a ball from reaching NM-MT status. A shellacked ball cannot qualify under this grade, no matter how light. Other defects, such as a slight discoloration, scuff or scratching may be allowable depending on severity.
NM 7: Near Mint. A PSA Near Mint 7 is a very strong ball that may suffer from one or more of the following defects: The ball may exhibit a very light shellacking but the tone of the ball must remain, at minimum, an even off-white or cream color (vintage). The ball may start to show minor wear to the pre-printed area (if applicable) but 90% of that area must still remain legible to the naked eye. Minimal spots of scuffing, scratching, discoloration or additional writing may be allowed under this grade as long as the eye-appeal remains strong. Keep in mind that any defects that are tolerable under this grade remain limited. For example, some minor toning or soiling sports may be acceptable only if the rest of the characteristics are strong and the placement of those spots do not hinder the autograph area.
EX-MT 6: Excellent-Mint. A PSA EX-MT 6 is a very presentable ball but the ball may now exhibit a cream color throughout in addition to some of the possible defects mentioned in the above categories. More noticeable problems, such as scuffing, may be acceptable and advanced here but the ball should remain free of any major eye-appeal issues. Approximately 75% of the pre-printed area (if applicable) must still be visible and more advanced foxing (focus issues) may be acceptable if the rest of the ball is strong for the grade.
EX 5: Excellent. With PSA EX 5 balls; some of the above-mentioned flaws are starting to intrude on the eye-appeal in a more significant way. Overall toning continues to advance, with a cream or yellow color allowable under this grade. Signs of age are becoming apparent in the possible form of increased areas of soiling or discoloration from handling or otherwise. Up to 50% or more of the pre-printed areas (if applicable) may be either faded away or damaged in some way but the information can still be deciphered to some degree. If the ball is shellacked, minor cracking may be present if the cracking does not encroach on the autograph itself.
VG-EX 4: Very Good to Excellent. A PSA VG-EX 4 is a ball that may be subject to advancement of the above-mentioned flaws, namely a noticeable change in overall color. Now, the ball may exhibit a medium to dark tone if the toning is relatively even. The ball may also exhibit more noticeable writing, by someone other than the original signer, on a somewhat significant portion of the ball. For example, an entire panel that reads something like, "The Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, New York Yankees, 1929" may be acceptable. Approximately 25% of the pre-printed area (if applicable) of the ball must still be intact so that an expert can still decipher the original content.
VG 3: Very Good. A PSA VG 3 is a ball that is noticeably weathered throughout. Advanced cracking has started to set in on shellacked balls but the coating must remain virtually intact. Scuffing may have started to affect the autograph as well as major portions of the ball at this point. Toning has now begun to approach the dark stage in some cases with general advancement of any of the above-mentioned defects.
GOOD 2: Good. A PSA Good 2 is a ball that exhibits significant flaws throughout. Up to 90% of the pre-printed area (if applicable), or more, may be missing at this stage with virtually no original surface left on the ball after major handling has worn it away. Panels may have begun to come undone and peel away, exposing the inner stitching of the ball. While this may be true, all original areas of the ball remain intact, though they may be severely worn at this stage. Major staining or toning may have rendered the ball into the "dark" zone. Portions of shellacked balls may actually be missing as a result of severe cracking but those portions must not affect large areas of the ball. Major advancement of virtually all areas of flaws, with the exception of actual pieces missing, may be present here.
PR-FR 1: Poor to Fair. A PSA PR-FR ball is one that exhibits extreme loss of eye-appeal via major condition flaws. Extreme cracking on a shellacked ball may be present, with noticeable portions of the coating actually removed from the surface. Extreme toning or discoloration may be present, so much so that the autograph may be difficult to decipher at all. The pre-printed area of the ball may be removed entirely as a result of major handling (scuffing, scratching, etc.). Writing, by someone other than the original signer, may cover the ball on the available surface area as long as the autograph can somehow be deciphered. Pieces of ball, beyond normal wear and tear, may actually be missing here. In fact, the laces may be become unraveled with portion of the panels peeling away or removed entirely. All in all, a ball that falls under this grade is one that suffers a variety of major flaws.
Determining the Overall Grade
While many overall grades will fall on an exact number, there are cases where the overall grade may fall into a half-grade. For example, if the autograph is a "10" and the ball is a "9" = the overall grade would then be Mint 9.5. Please refer to the Baseball Grading Guide for a detailed explanation.
There are also cases where the grade of an autographed ball will rise or decrease based on eye-appeal. The graders reserve the right to add or subtract up to a half point to or from the grade based on the strength of the eye-appeal. So, for example, you may have an autograph that grades out as a "8" but the ball is only a "3" due to a technical defect – resulting in an overall grade of "5.5" (after rounding has occurred). The grader may alter the grade up to a half point, up or down, if the overall grade does not accurately reflect the overall presentation quality in the grader's opinion.
Subjectivity in Grading and Eye-Appeal
While the grading standards are followed generally and as closely as possible, eye-appeal is the most significant and, ultimately, the controlling factor when it comes to grading autographed balls. Presentation quality is of the utmost importance regardless of the technical characteristics possessed by an item.
The Goal of PSA Ball Grading
As stated above, guaranteeing the grade of a particular autographed ball over time is a virtual impossibility. Many autographed balls can be preserved in tremendous condition with the proper precautions but not all of them are. That being said, the purpose of this service is to provide an accurate, third party opinion in regards to the quality of the autographed ball at the time of submission and, potentially, the sale. This way, the buyer can be assured that the ball has been analyzed by PSA, not just in terms of authenticity, but also in regards to quality prior to making that purchase.
Signed balls are, perhaps, the most popular type of autographed collectible in the marketplace with many examples selling for thousands upon thousands of dollars. With that in mind, we hope this service can help provide the piece of mind needed before a consumer decides to make a purchase. Buyer confidence has always been a focal point in our industry. As we have for literally millions of trading cards, PSA is here to provide that same unbiased, third party opinion on autographed balls.