Ballpark Figures by yre19594


									               BaseBall MeMoraBilia

                                                                                                                          Ha lper’s collection, a lthough
                                                                                                                   unusual in size and scope, exemplifies the
                                                                                                                   intensity with which fans pursue memo-
                                                                                                                   rabilia. “They want to be closer to the
                                                                                                                   game,” says Phil Wood, a Washington,
                                                                                                                   D.C., sportscaster and one of the foremost
                                                                                                                   experts on game-used baseball jerseys.
                                                                                                                   “What better way than by acquiring an
                                                                                                                   artifact from an actual event?”
                                                                                                                          Sports collectibles fall into three
                                                                                                                   main categories—trading cards, auto-
                                                                                                                   graphed merchandise and game-used
                                                                                                                   equipment—plus a few smaller niches, such
                                                                                                                   as figurines, advertising pieces, lithographs,
                                                                                                                   press pins and publications. Although auc-
                                                                                                                   tion houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s,
                                                                                                                   which recently discontinued its regular
                                                                                                                   sales of collectibles and memorabilia,
2                                                                                                                  have conducted sports-themed auctions,
                                                                                                                   the most prominent sales these days are
                                                                                                                   hosted by companies devoted to the trade:

                           Ballpark Figures
    In recent years, memorabilia tied to America’s pastime have
                                                                                                                   Hunt Auctions, of Exton, Pennsylvania;
                                                                                                                   Lelands, of New York; Robert Edward
                                                                                                                   Auctions, of Watchung, New Jersey; and
                                                                                                                   scp Auctions, of Mission Viejo, California,
       become nearly as popular as the game. By Pete Williams                                                      among others. Baseball, with its long his-
                                                                                                                   tory as the national pastime, commands
               not long after the late Mickey Mantle                 Halper sold the bulk of his 80,000-           far more interest from collectors than
               underwent a liver transplant in 1995,          item trove for $21.8 million at Sotheby’s            other recreational sports and holds many
               he half-jokingly asked Barry Halper, a         New York in 1999, not long after unload-             of the auction records.
               retired businessman, if he was interested      ing a portion to the Baseball Hall of                       Those who have made a fortune
               in acquiring the organ the doctors had         Fame for an undisclosed sum. Among                   from collecting—like Halper, who died in

                                                                                                                                                                        clockWise FroM top right: guernsey’s, neW york; tWo iMAges, WWW.lelAnds.coM
               removed. Halper was not, but given his         the auction highlights were a game-used              2005—began in the early 1970s, a decade
               vast collection of baseball memorabilia—       Mickey Mantle glove (est. $10–20,000),               before the market exploded, as baby-boom-
               which included thousands of uniforms,          pu rchased by the ac tor-comed ia n                  ers paid premiums to replace the baseball
               trading cards and autographs belonging to      Billy Crystal for $239,000; the Yankees              cards from the 1950s that their mothers
               the Hall of Famer and his peers alongside      hero Lou Gehrig’s glove from his final               tossed out while cleaning house. Today
               quirkier mementos, such as a pair of den-      game, on April 30, 1939 (est. $35–50,000),           1950s-era cards vary in price from a few
               tures worn by the outfielder Ty Cobb—it        which fetched $389,500; and an auto-                 to many thousands of dollars, depending
               was a reasonable question. For more            graphed Ty Cobb Philadelphia Athletics               on their condition and the player pictured.
               than 20 years, the basement of Halper’s        jersey from 1928 (est. $50–100,000), which           Of course, earlier examples can fetch even
               Livingston, New Jersey, house doubled as       earned an impressive $332,500.                       greater sums. Last fall, an anonymous col-
               a sports museum that regularly attracted
                                                              Clockwise from above: In its November 21 auction, Lelands auction house is selling a baseball signed by
               celebrity visitors such as Mantle and fellow   Babe Ruth in the 1930s (est. $35,000); Guernsey’s sold this glove, used by Mickey Mantle during his
               New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio.           1963 season, for $195,000 in 2003; also on offer in Lelands November 21 sale is this bat, which Roberto
                                                              Clemente hit with in his last All Star game, in 1972, and later signed—estimated at $30,000.

                                                                                                                 Art+Auction November 2008 | WWW.ArtinFo.coM
               BaseBall MeMoraBilia

               lector dropped $2.8                                                        sported by the play-       hard plastic and assigning them a rating
               million—an auction                                                       ers, who themselves          between 1 and 10.
               record for a baseball card—at                                      ordered extra ones to give                With all the talk of counterfeits
               scp Auctions for one featuring                                    to friends and family. As a         and grading scales, to say nothing of the
               Honus Wagner, the legendary                                      result, it’s difficult to distin-    sheer volume of merchandise, novice col-
               Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop,                                   guish between game-worn               lectors can find the sports-memorabilia
               that was in pristine condition                                 merchandise and replicas from          market intimidating. The investment
               and once owned by the hockey                                    this time forward.                    potential, moreover, has been oversold,
               star Wayne Gretzky. The 1909                                           That’s just one of many        at least with respect to products created
               card is considered the holy grail                              authenticity concerns that have        since 1980. No matter how carefully pre-
               of sports-card collecting. Less than 100            arisen in recent decades, as con artists have     served, these items appreciate far less than
               are believed to exist, because Wagner—              attempted to make a quick buck in a largely       vintage ones, because so many of them
               either from conviction or from a desire for         unregulated industry. Another worry is            were produced.
               further compensation—objected to having             the doctoring of trading cards by carefully              That said, modern-day pieces
               his image associated with tobacco, with             trimming their edges to improve their con-        linked to today’s biggest names in base-
               which cards were packaged at the time,              dition. But a particularly vulnerable aspect      ball have, in rare instances, achieved
               and his card was pulled after a small               of the market is that of player autographs.
               number were produced.                               Since these became a recognized com-
                      As the card market boomed from the           modity, in the early 1980s, forgeries have
               1980s on, collectors turned their attention         been rampant. In 1997 the fbi opened an
               to other athletic paraphernalia, especially         investigation known as Operation Bullpen
               game-used jerseys. In this year’s edition of        and over the next decade, working with
               its spring auction, held annually in May,           the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the irs, con-
               Robert Edward Auctions sold a 1936 flan-            victed 62 counterfeiters.
               nel jersey that had belonged to the Hall of                That investigation inspired Major
               Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, of the St. Louis           League Baseball to create its own memo-
4              Cardinals (est. $50–75,000), for $103,500           rabilia-authentication program. Signings

    The 1909 Honus Wagner card is considered the holy grail of sports-card collecting.
                               and a 1953 one worn by Stan         of official mlb merchandise are now wit-          jaw-dropping prices. At a Guernsey’s
                               Musial, another Cardinals           nessed by a person who places on each             sale at New York’s Madison Square
                               Hall of Famer (est. $10–            item a numbered tamper-proof hologram             Garden in 1999, for example, the comics
                               20,000), for $44,000. The           that is tracked in a database. This system,       and toy magnate Todd McFarlane paid
                               firm’s president, Robert            however, controls only the small percent-         $3.1 million for the ball that the St. Louis
                               Lifson, attributes the high         age of such products introduced by mlb            Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire
                               prices for such items to the        and does nothing to ensure the genuine-           hit that year for his 70th home run, then a
                               interaction of material and         ness of vintage material.                         single-season record.
                               history. “Flannel jerseys are              In cases where a hologram is not                  But apart from a handful of such
                               very rare because they were         present, dealers and auction houses typi-         big-ticket exceptions, contemporary
                               not manufactured for retail         cally use third-party authenticators. “You        collectibles are affordable, allowing fans
                               sale,” he says. Until the early     can’t guarantee that all authenticators are       with smaller budgets than McFarlane’s to

                                                                                                                                                                    clockWise FroM top: tWo iMAges, robert edWArds Auctions, WAtchung, neW
               1970s, when players switched to polyester           going to agree on the item in perpetuity,”        own a piece of the game. And while some

                                                                                                                                                                    jersey; scp Auctions, Mission viejo, cAliForniA; guernsey’s, neW york
               knits, they were issued just two uniforms           says Lifson. “But there are experts with a        may hope to follow in Halper’s footsteps
               for road games and two for home contests.           lot of experience in looking                                     by amassing multimillion-
               “If you find a jersey from a player from            for red flags, such as hand-                                     dollar troves with modest
               that era,” Lifson continues, “you can have          writing inconsistencies, and                                     investments, experts advise
               a high degree of confidence that he wore it,        it’s possible to have a high                                     heeding the old adage “Buy
               because there was only a universe of four           degree of comfort with an                                        what you love.”
               jerseys out there. Otherwise what did he            item’s authenticity.”                                                   The msnbc talk-show
               do—go out in his underwear?”                               The problem of                                            host Keith Olbermann, who
                      In the 1980s, with the blessing of           card doctoring was partly                                        is an avid collector and one
               Major League Baseball, memorabilia com-             addressed in the late 1990s                                      of the leading authorities
               panies began producing replica jerseys for          whe n c om pa n i e s s uc h                                     on the memorabilia industry,
               fans that were identical to those actually          a s P rofe s sion a l S p or t s                                 counsels, “Acquire nothing
               Clockwise from top: A 1953 flannel jersey worn by   Authenticator, of Newport                                        you would not be delighted
               Hall of Famer Stan Musial, which sold for $44,000
               in a May 2008 sale at Robert Edwards Auctions; a    Beach, California, started                                       to keep for the rest of your
               1938 cap belonging to Babe Ruth, which fetched      examining examples for                                           life or give away and never
               $70,500 in that same auction; a highly coveted
               1909 Honus Wagner card, which earned $2.8           integrity, encasing them in                                      make a profit from.”
               million at SCP Auctions in 2007; and the baseball
               that Mark McGwire hit for his record-setting home
               run on September 15,1998, which sold for $3.1
               million at Guernsey’s in January 1999.                                                               Art+Auction November 2008 | WWW.ArtinFo.coM

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