Tuesday, April 30, 2019

           There is some controversy over the first basketball card.  Some collectors believe strongly that it was an 1899 Enameling College colors card, but most collectors feel that the very first card was a Murad tobacco card in 1910, followed—distantly, it would appear—by basketball cards in the 1933 Sport Kings set.
            But the first established set of basketball cards appeared in 1948.  It was issued by Bowman and featured George Mikan, who was voted by the Associated Press as the greatest basketball player in the first half of the twentieth century.  He was a center for Chicago’s DePaul University, and was the most dominant player of his era.  Then he starred for the Lakers when they were based in Minneapolis.  Mikan’s Bowman card, #69, is worth upwards of $2,000, depending, naturally, on condition. 
            Most collectors, however, are more likely to own cards from the 1957-1958 Topps set, and the 1961-1962 Fleer set.  That’s because many of the baby boomer collectors are more familiar with the players who made up those sets.  For example, the most valuable card in the Topps 1957-1958 set is of the incomparable Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics.  That card, #77, generally costs between $1,000 and $2,000.  His renowned teammate, Bob Cousy, is also part of that set, as is the St. Louis Hawks’ power forward Bob Pettit.  Because the Topps set was the first one issued in many years, it contains the highly valued rookie cards of the superstars who had been dominating the game for several seasons. 
            The same claim can be made for the Fleer set of 1961-1962.  One unique characteristic of that set is that there were often two cards for many of the stars.  There would be the head shot and an action photo.  Personally, I prefer to see their faces clearly, but other collectors go for the action.  That’s not unusual.  Ask the same question to two collectors and you may well get two different answers. 
            Altogether, the Fleer set contains sixty-six cards, with twenty-two of those action photographs.  New stars appeared in the Fleer offering, including Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and Elgin Baylor.  But the biggest star—in every sense of the word—was Wilt Chamberlain.  In fact, when my mother handed over a bag full of that Fleer set that I had collected in childhood, I was hoping and praying that there would be a card with a shot of Chamberlain’s face.  Luckily, there was.  It was a bit off-center, but it was there, along with a Robertson and a Baylor card.  What a bonanza!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I really owe my mother for saving those cards.  That Chamberlain Fleer 1961-1962 rookie card, #8, can fetch up to $1,000.  The Jerry West, #43, and the Oscar Robertson, #36, are worth several hundred dollars apiece.
            But make no bones about it, the most collectible basketball card of all time is of the great Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls.  A pristine copy of Jordan’s 1986-1987 Fleer rookie card is the Holy Grail of hoops cards.  One of those rookie cards was submitted to Beckett Grading Services, which awarded it a grade 10.  Virtually perfect, in other words.  Now, are you ready for this.  That card, which a collector bought for $6,300, went on to sell for $100,000, easily breaking the previous sales record for a single basketball card by more than $20,000.
            Jordan’s Fleer rookie card has always been a treasure, but selling it for six figures certainly elevates it to legendary status, as befits the high-flying wonder from the University of North Carolina. 
            Now, let’s power down just a bit and look at basketball card sets at the local and regional levels, such as the ones from Essex Hot Dogs, Kahn’s Wieners, and Royal Dessert.  Those names may sound obscure to you, but to collectors they still mean plenty.  The Royal Dessert set was issued in 1950 and consisted of eight of the pioneers of the present day NBA.  The “Royal Stars of Basketball” were Fred Schaus, Dick McGuire, Jack Nichols, Frank Brian, Joe Fulks, George Mikan, Jim Pollard, and Harry E. Jeanette.  A hoops card collector knows that he or she will most likely need to buy single cards of that set, if and when they become available.  And they’ll be costly, with each card selling for upwards of several thousand dollars.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Sports Memorabilia Mysteries

         Through the years there have been a few pieces of sports memorabilia that have been in a class by themselves.  The Honus Wagner card, the Chamberlain rookie jersey, a Joe Jackson bat, and a few other items are real collector gems.
And there are always a couple of mysteries that have remained.  For one, what happened to the basketball that Chamberlain used to score his hundredth point on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks?   One story has it that in all the hoopla with the hundredth point, that a kid went on the court that night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and ran off with the ball.  A ball that purported to be the one Wilt the Stilt used went on that memorable occasion was about to be auctioned in 2004, but the auction house withdrew it when the ball’s provenance could not be verified.  By the way, in that memorable game, Wilt made 36 of 63 field goal attempts and believe it or not, 28 of 32 free throws.  The game was actually stopped with 46 seconds remaining, with Philadelphia beating New York 169 – 147, in front of 4,124 people.
Another mysterious item has been the baseball that Bobby Thomson hit for a homer as the New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1951 National League playoff.  This was the famous“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”.
No one knows with absolute certainty what happened to that ball, but for all these years a fan, Bill Moore, has claimed that he’s owned it.  Moore’s ball was auctioned off recently on Lelands.com, and fetched $47,824.  To date, that ball seems to have been the ball that was hit by Thomson.
As the story goes, two days after Thomson homered off Ralph Brancato to clinch the pennant for the Giants on October 3, 1951, Harold Moore, Bill’s father, found him playing with friends in their Queens neighborhood and handed him a ball.  The father said it was a gift from a co-worker who caught it at the game, and gave it to him because he did not have any kids and knew that Bill Moore loved baseball.
Recently, Lelands bought the ball from Moore, and promoted the ball as possibly being “The Ball.”  Bidding was slow until near the close of the auction, but then picked up.  If someone can prove that the auctioned ball is really “The Ball,” its stock would rise to probably around a million dollars.
            But until that time, the mysteries of the Bobby Thomson ball, as well as the Wilt Chamberlain basketball, linger.
Solve either one of those mysteries and you could make a small fortune, but you’d become an instant millionaire if you found some old T206 Honus Wagner cards in pristine condition.

Friday, April 12, 2019

          As the baseball season gets underway, many of us begin thinking of what sports valuables we may have hidden in a large box in the attic or in the basement. Possibly there is some valuable card in a file cabinet, or for sure, in an old shoebox. You just know that you have something stored away that you know will be the next major find. Whatever you have in that unopened box will make headlines across the country. Guess what? You probably won’t find anything, and if you do, those old baseball cards won’t be worth much.

       But you never know. No, you don’t. Your discovery just might be worth a little money, say a few hundred thousand dollars or even more. That’s right. There are a few sports items that have not yet been discovered that are worth a small fortune.

        But you need to know that you are looking for, so that when you come across one of these jewels in your basement, you will know what you have and you can tell your boss that you are quitting. And since this is baseball season, lets just focus on baseball goodies.

        Let's start with Jackie Robinson’s first bat, back in 1947. For those of you unfamiliar with Jackie Robinson, he was the first African American player to play in the Major Leagues. The General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, was looking for just the right player to break the color barrier, and he found that player in Robinson. Robinson, who lettered in four sports at UCLA, was a second baseman with enormous talent, and the temperament to endure the constant heckling. He played several seasons for the Dodgers, up until the time the Dodgers wanted to trade him to their hated enemy the New York Giants, in exchange for pitcher Dick Littlefield. Robinson retired at that point, and later became a champion in the Civil Rights movement. If you go to any Major League park, his number 42 will be displayed as a retired number of that home team. Every Major League team has retired his number.

        Not to be lost in all the hoopla that Robinson was the first African American player, is the fact that he was an exceptionally good baseball player, an All Star by anyone’s standards.

         So where is the bat that Jackie Robinson used in his debut on April 15, 1947? It is a pretty safe bet to say that no one on the field that day had any idea of the impact that Robinson’s playing would have on the game of baseball and on American society. Sure, players and fans alike knew that baseball would be changing, but not to the degree that it has.

         So again, I ask, where is the bat that Jackie Robinson first used in his opening game on April 15, 1947? Could it be the bat that you have lying around that your father gave you? But oh, by the way, don’t quit your day job yet.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Baseball’s Most Collectible Players

             A few years ago I had a radio caller on an open-line show who wanted to talk about baseball collectibles. But not just any baseball collectibles. He wanted to talk about Detroit Tigers memorabilia. There were a couple of minutes left before a commercial break, so I let him mention Norm Cash, Denny McLain, Jim Northup, Mickey Lolich, and even the Yankee killer, Frank Lary. He knew for sure that his 1960s team signed Tigers baseball, as well as a helmet signed by Cash, were worth a fortune. I told him he was wrong, much to his surprise and dismay. I asked him if he had any Ty Cobb items, because those would be valuable. He said that Cobb was before his time.

            And that is the problem with the most valuable collectible baseball players. With a few exceptions, they played before the baby boomer period. Granted, there are some exceptions, such as Mantle, Gibson, Koufax, and Derek Jeter to name a few. However, for the most part, the most collectible baseball players of all-time have taken their place in Cooperstown, or will be there shortly.

            My list of all-time collectible baseball players is inclusive for all their items, not for a select one or two. Sure, if I had the ball that Bobby Thomson hit to win the 1952 National League pennant for the Giants against the Dodgers, that is a treasure that will only continue to significantly appreciate in value. Presumably, that ball has not been positively identified, despite a compelling argument that a nun retrieved the ball and it was placed in a shoebox and dumped in a landfill.

However, here is my list of the dozen most collectible baseball players. These are not in any specific order, although the first two lead the way: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Honus Wagner, and Derek Jeter.

            Sure, I left out Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and even Cal Ripken, Jr. Well, I consider them just a noche below.

            Again, let me emphasize that I am only referring to the memorabilia of baseball players over a period of time that have appreciated in value. In no way am I discouraging anyone from collecting memorabilia of boyhood heroes such as Ed Kranepool, Vida Blue, or even Craig Lefferts (I had to throw in my long-time neighbor).

            I am simply including players from a purely dollars and cents point of view. In other words, an investment fantasy team of players.

            Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle would be the MVPs of my team. A few examples of each of these players will illustrate my point.
First, Babe Ruth. The player, credited with saving baseball in the 1920s, can also be credited with stuffing the pockets of some lucky people who are fortunate enough to own some Ruth items by being at the right place at the right time by design or by luck, or both. Of course, most sports collectors are aware that it was Ruth’s Yankees jersey of circa 1920 that fetched a cool $4.415 million in an SCP auction, making it to date the most valuable sports item in history, slightly above the $4.3 million that was gotten for James Naismiths’ 13 Original Rules of Basketball.

            Actually, one Ruth item that has never been found is the ball that he hit in the 1932 World Series off of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. That was the “called home run” when Ruth pointed to the outfield area where he would hit the next pitch, and he did just that.

            But for the Ruth items that have been found and sold, here are some examples as to why Ruth is a good business investment.

First, keep in mind that Ruth was a prolific signer, and lets assume that the items are genuine. Also, remember that auction results, and even private sales for that matter, are not scientific. Too many factors can, and do, play a part in determining the final price, including the number of bidders who choose to engage in an auction house’s best friend – a bidding war.

However, putting all that aside, merely a signed Ruth bat, not one that he used, has doubled in value in a few years. Likewise, with official America League baseballs that he signed. I have seen signed baseballs fetch nearly a hundred thousand dollars. Actually, baseballs signed by the 1927 Yankees, considered by many baseball experts to be the greatest team ever assembled, have appreciated tremendously in value over the past ten years as well. That 1927 team included the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Waite Hoyt, Miller Huggins, and others. In fact, just recently the 1927 signed team ball that was owned by Combs himself went for slightly over $149,000.

            It is true that most Ruth items will probably be out of the financial reach of most collectors. Besides his circa 1920 jersey that went for $4.415 million, his first Yankee contract sold for $1.2 million, his commemorative 1923 Yankees World Championship pocket watch sold for $717,000, and the uniform that he wore in the first All-Star game in 1933 went for $657,200 in 2006. It would be worth well over a million dollars now. What can a Ruth collector realistically get besides a baseball card? Even a card in good shape will cost a few hundred dollars. One that’s in near Mint condition will set you back thousands. An original Hartland Ruth statue from the set issued from 1959-1963 will only run you about two hundred dollars, if you are not asking for the box and tag.

            Babe Ruth’s fellow Yankee alum, Mickey Mantle, is a hot collectible commodity as well. His 1956 All-Star game used, and signed, home run bat went for $430,200 in a 2014 auction. His 1949 signing bonus check sold for $286,800, and his 1952 Topps rookie card has gone for as much as a quarter million dollars. A few years ago a radio guest of mine, Clay Lucharsi of Topps, told the story of some of the higher end numbers of the 1952 Topps card, including Mantle’s number 311, being dumped into the Atlantic Ocean because of a lack of sales earlier in the summer.

However, Mantle’s Hartland statue from the original set is far more valuable than Ruth’s. Hartland also made a Mantle lamp that is popular among collectors.

            Mantle’s popularity can be attributed to a couple of reasons. First, he was an extremely talented and charismatic athlete. He actually succeeded against all odds, having followed the likes of the legendary Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. In addition, he played his entire career in New York, a lion’s den for players who are always under the microscope. For those very reasons Mantle’s popularity soared. If you could make it in New York as a Yankee the media adored you. Baby boomers grew up with three star centerfielders in New York, namely Mantle, the Giants’ Willie Mays, and the Dodgers’ Duke Snider. Depending on which borough you lived, Mantle was usually regarded as the best of the trio. So it was easy to become a devout Mantle follower for life. As baby boomers aged they had disposable income to spend, and Mantle memorabilia was front and center.

            Buying and selling collectibles is a business for many. However, it’s the top items that appreciate the most. With baseball players, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle lead the way. Others, including, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Honus Wagner, and Derek Jeter follow their footsteps.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Full Metal Jousting

Have you ever been to a theme party?
            Well, they can be lots of fun if you have a party that has a Western, or Hawaiian, or maybe even a Medieval theme.
            Medieval, you say?
            That is exactly what Linda and I did a few years ago. People came dressed in royalty costumes, and the food was in big platters and buckets. And surprisingly enough, there was no silverware like we use today. No knives, forks, or spoons. You ate with your hands. It really wasn’t as bad as you might think.
            Of course, after everybody had had enough to eat it was time for the entertainment.
            Sure. Jousting. We modified the arrangements a little. There were two contestants, fully padded, who looked like Sumo wrestlers. However, they carried long plastic lances. They jousted, or battled, on an air mattresses. The contestant standing the longest won.
            Naturally, the “warfare” at our party did not resemble in the least Medieval jousting. It was fun, not deadly.
            So, how did jousting get started and evolve?
            The roots of jousting were from the Middle Ages, when the primary battlefield weapons were used by the cavalry. Knights were expected to fight for their king during war, and jousting provided the knights the opportunity to stay in shape and hone their skills. It was a way to train for combat. It also started being a form of entertainment.
            Jousting tournaments were held as early as 1066, and actually were formal events. Nobles needed to obtain permits as well as issue challenge to fellow landowners. The most skilled knights were the ones who fought. Sometimes a neutral jouster was selected to fight for the highest bidder. Those neutral jousters were known as “freelancers”, a term used today.
            Successful jousters became very popular and were promoted by heralds, similar to sports journalists nowadays.
            Rivalries were established among jousters, and jousters “circuits” were formed. The most successful jousters even received money, land, and even titles.
            By the 14th century, even members of the nobility, including kings, had taken up jousting to show their courage and talent. Sometimes there were dangerous consequences.
            For example, England’s King Henry VIII suffered a severe leg injury when a horse fell on him. His health declined from that point. The most famous royal jousting fatality was to King Henry II of France. While he was participating in a 1559 joust to celebrate the marriage of his daughter to the King of Spain, he received a fatal wound when a sliver of his opponent’s lance broke off and pierced him in the eye. Ouch!
            Jousting began to decline in the 16th century with the development of firearms and muskets. Jousting as a form of combat training diminished. Competitive jousting disappeared by the middle of the 17th century as well, and jousting became more of a court spectacle than anything else.
            Despite the fact that jousting has become a thing of the past (except for theme parties), collectors are still drawn to the sport.
            Jousting items do not appear often in auctions, but when they do, items are sold for high prices.
            For example, a copy of a jousting helmet was sold for $575 at a Heritage auction in 2012. However, an actual jousting helmet from the 16th century fetched $3200, while another one went for $7500. It had three riveted steel pieces, a high lace guard and holes for leather straps. The bidding started at $275 and ended at $7500.
            In 2014 a complete jousting set of armor was auctioned. The item consisted of 5 pieces, including a breast and backplate, neck guard, shield and helmet. The German suit was from the 1500s. There were only a few bids for the item, with the opening bid being $6000. It would end up selling for $8000. Naturally, the item is a great conversation piece.
            Maybe the high bidder for the suit of armor wanted to be invited to a Medieval theme party.
            No, I was not the high bidder.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Baseball Is Here

                “For its one, two, three strikes, you’re out, at the old ball game.”
                Every fan young and old knows the verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” written by Jack Norworth. 
                Come to Peoria, Arizona, and Padres fans can almost touch their local heroes at Spring Training.  Wait until April rolls around, and you can see those same athletes at Petco Park. 
                And for local sports followers, baseball at Petco is all they have left professionally.  The Chargers have become integrated in Los Angeles culture, leaving the Padres as the only major sports team in our beautiful San Diego. 
                Despite being cellar dwellers for many of the fifty years they have existed as a franchise, the Padres faithful should take some solace to know that championship teams are possible, as in 1984 and 1998.  It is too bad that the Friars played great opponents in the World Series.  First it was Detroit in 1984, and then the New York Yankees in 1998.  That Yankees team is always in the discussion of the greatest teams of all time.
                And the Padres have had their share of quality players through the years, led by Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman.  But there was also Dave Winfield, Randy Jones, and many others.  Remember Steve Garvey, Rollie Fingers, Nate Colbert, and Goose Gossage?  And who can forget Jon Kruk, Andy Hawkins, Garry Templeton, and even my former neighbor Craig Lefferts. 
                Of course, with Hall of Fame players comes valuable memorabilia.  So look to see if you might have some of the following items in your attic, den, or man cave. You might be in for a pleasant surprise or two.  But let me warn you first.  A Tony Gwynn signed baseball is not worth much.  It’s the old supply and demand concept.  Gwynn, bless his heart, signed too many to make a signed ball worth more than about thirty or forty dollars.  If you pay more than that at a charity event, you are basically donating to the charity. 
                However, a 1984 San Diego jersey of Steve Garvey went for nearly $3,000 at auction.  Garvey played for the Padres from 1983-1987, and hit probably the most famous home run in the club’s history, the homer in the 1984 playoff series against the Chicago Cubs. 
                A 1979 Padres road jersey of Ozzie Smith sold for nearly $6,000 at auction.  Smith played from 1978 – 1981 in San Diego, and was then traded to St. Louis for Garry Templeton.  Smith was known as “The Wizard of Oz” when he was with the Cardinals, and became a Hall of Famer.  I will always remember him for making the greatest fielding play I ever saw in a 1978 game against Atlanta. 
                A Randy Jones 1976 Padres signed jersey sold for nearly $2000 at auction. He was with San Diego from 1973-1980, with his two best years being 1975 and 1976.  You may have kept a 1976 Sports Illustrated with Jones on the cover.
                Of course, a Tony Gwynn game-used jersey is auctioned every so often. A 1998 Gwynn jersey was auctioned for nearly $700.  You might ask yourself why it would not sell for more. The answer is that he played his entire career from 1982-2001 with the Padres and he had plenty of jerseys. Supply and demand.  His Topps 1983 rookie card sells for around $80.
                Gwynn’s 1989 Silver Bat award went for nearly $20,000.  He won eight of them, as he led the National League in hitting eight times. 
                A 1996 Padres team signed ball sold for a few hundred dollars, while an original artwork from 2001 of Dave Winfield went for about $700.
                Now lets not forget the old San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) which had a team from 1936-1968.  There were baseball cards of players from that league as well.   An eleven card collection from 1950 of the Padres, distributed by Hage’s Dairy, went for more than $1,200. 
                A good time to get autographs is at Spring Training games.  But if you approach a player, please be courteous, and respectful, and say thanks. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bobbinghead dolls are very popular collectible these days. There are both sports and non-sports dolls, and both types have soared in popularity and value in the last forty years.

         One reason that these dolls, also called nodders, are so collectible is that they have beautiful color, are usually of a theme or character, and are relatively inexpensive. Bobbinghead dolls really came into their own from 1960-1971, but are still quite popular even today. It is quite common for a sports team to have a bobbinghead doll as a promotional giveaway.

          The dolls are quite fragile, and naturally, the value of any doll drops dramatically if it is damaged or has been restored. If, you have dolls, or are considering collecting them, keep in mind a few things as you inspect the dolls:

                     Look at the dolls’ neck and ankles. These are areas where there could be
                       damage, and possibly the doll was reglued.                                                                 
                     Inspect the paint around these areas to see if it is the original paint.          
                     Often times tissue will be wrapped around the neck to prevent snapping.
                     Check the rear of the doll. There is often damage there, as well as chips.
                     Look inside the head of the doll for cracks. Sometimes cracks will be
                      noticeable on the inside, but be repainted on the outside.
                     A cracked doll will only be worth about ten percent of a non-cracked doll.

            The first baseball set of bobbinghead dolls was the 1960-1961 Square color base set. The rarest doll in this set was the Washington Senators doll with a dark blue base. Other sets in the 1960’s included the 1961-1962 white base miniatures, the 1961-1963 white base set, the 1963-1965 black players set, the 1963-1965 green base set, and the 1966-1971 gold base set.

             Football and hockey sets also were introduced in the early 1960’s, with the 1960-1961 National Football League Square wood base set, and the 1961-1963 National Hockey League Square base set.

             The most valuable sports doll is the Houston Colt.45s black player on a green base (included in the 1963-1965 black players set). There are believed to be only two or three of this doll in mint condition. As for actual player dolls, the most valuable is of Roberto Clemente.

              Of course, there are non-sports dolls as well. Regarding political dolls, the Jack/Jackie Kennedy kissing pair dolls are extremely rare, and valuable. They were distributed in 1963, shortly before Kennedy’s assassination. Upon JFK’s death, the dolls were no longer manufactured.

              Other valuable non-sports dolls include Dick Tracy, Batman, Robin, the Bob’s Big Boy, Werewolf, Frankenstein, and the Phantom.

                A set of the four Beatles bobbinghead dolls, made by Car Mascots, are quite rare and a real collector’s item Make sure you have the box and the cellophane.

                Because they are colorful, bobbinghead dolls display quite well. You do have to be careful when handling and moving them. A few of the bigger companies in the bobbinghead doll field are Alexander Global Productions, Team Beans, and Bensussen Deutsch and Associates (BD&A).

                As prices often fluctuate with this collectible, you need to look through a recent price guide to learn the current values.

           There is some controversy over the first basketball card.   Some collectors believe strongly that it was an 1899 Enameling Coll...