a little levity
Finding those rare cardboard treasures
By STEVE LANG
“I knew when my career was over. In 1965 my baseball card came out with no picture.” – Bob Uecker
“President Bush left for Canada today to attend a trade summit. Reportedly, the trade summit got off to an awkward start when the President pulled out his baseball cards.” – Conan O’Brien
I have previously remarked that the net worth of my baseball cards dropped because my mother saved my collection.
Card collecting as an adult, just as it was in my youth, was a learning experience. As a youth, the pinch of wisdom did not smart as much through the mere swapping of faces. As an adult, it included some currency exchange and I felt sharper twinges.
As the cardboard hero business was approaching its zenith in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I made some initial tactical errors, including selling a Harmon Killebrew rookie for a mere 20 bucks. Although I later purchased another Killebrew for $110, inflation did not cover the price difference.
I also traded a Mickey Mantle for a newer Willie Mays and cash. Still later, I swapped an older Mays for a newer Mantle even up. While these exchanges do not rival the one-sidedness of the real-life Frank Robinson-for-Milt Pappas swap between Cincinnati and Baltimore, price guides may indicate I came out second-best.
Along the way I found some bargains, but through the years, thanks to saving root stock, I note that I probably spent at least a year’s salary of my salad days on acquisitions. For every Hall of Famer, I also possess a host of lesser-knowns like Harry Chiti, Hal Smith, Lee Walls, Wally Moon, Ike Delock, Mike Fornieles, Frank Zupo, George Zuverink and Pepe Frias (who I once ordered in a Puerto Vallarta restaurant when I meant “papas fritas.”)
Of course, without the contrasting statistics of Sammy White, Steve Korchek, Dave Jolly, Whammy Douglas and Vito Valentinetti, Ted Williams and Warren Spahn may not have reached the Great Hall. Hank Aaron hit 14 of his 755 home runs off Claude Osteen, 12 off Bob Friend, and 10 each from the slants of guys like Roger Craig, Don Cardwell and Larry Jackson. For the record, he also tagged a few HOF’ers like Don Drysdale (17 times); Robin Roberts (9); Bob Gibson (8); Juan Marichal (8); and Sandy Koufax (7) fairly often as well.
Reading and memorizing statistics and trivia on the card backs have alternately served me well or led to the accumulation of the Bob Dylan-termed “useless and pointless knowledge.” In these days of uncertain investments and negligible interest earnings, I must admit that handling a 1958 Mickey Mantle or 1957 Koufax certainly is more appealing than tracing the rocky paths of assorted mutual funds.
For the record, the highest-priced card in history is the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, issued at the time in cigarette packages. Since Wagner either wanted to discourage children from smoking or sought more money, his card was eventually pulled, and by the late 1900s, few remained in existence. In 1985, that Wagner image sold for $25,000; by 2007, the tag rose to $2.8 million. Another Wagner sold for $1.2 million a few months ago
With the exception of that occasional bargain buy, my over-50-year involvement with baseball cards has not struck any gold. I did read about a colossal find of a cardboard mother lode a few days ago, though.
A man pawing through his late grandfather’s attic unearthed hundreds of obscure circa-1910 baseball cards. The cards, believed to have been issued with candy as promotional items, had been owned by a Defiance, Ohio butcher who died in the 1940s. It is believed he gave some of the cards away in his shop, kept the rest and stored them in the attic, where they lingered in pristine condition for about 100 years.
His grandchildren, doing an inventory of the estate, found the cards, had them appraised and learned the stash of 700 may fetch up to $3 million at auction. The 30-card series includes 15 Hall of Famers, such as Connie Mack, Cy Young, John McGraw and Christy Mathewson.
The cream of this crop – 37 cards, including Ty Cobbs, Wagners and others – could be sold for as much as $500,000 at next month’s auction during the National Sports Collectors convention in Baltimore.
Also on that auction venue will be game-used bats once belonging to Babe Ruth, Mantle, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, with expected sale ranges of $40,000-$75,000; Ruth’s 1932 baseball cap ($300,000) and one of the best single-autographed Ruth baseballs found to date, also expected to sell for up to 300 grand.
Oh, yeah, one could also bid on the trunks Muhammad Ali wore in his 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” bout with Joe Frazier.
In contrast, memorabilia from another entertainment field does not hold the same financial value. Although politics are better known for campaign buttons rather than picture cards, the highest known sale price is $150,000 for the 1924 Democratic Presidential candidate team of John Davis and Charles Bryan.
I’m not sure if they were a devastating double-play combination, hit well with runners in scoring position or hung onto Walter Johnson’s coattails as the Washington Senators won their only World Series championship.
Steve Lang will not trade a Bob Hazle, Roman Semproch or Danny Kravitz for two Mitt Romneys, Barack Obamas or Rick Santorums.
Steve is a transplanted Minnesotan who is often lost in time and stuck in space. He serves as director of News and Publications at Sul Ross State University. He is a native of Erdahl, MN, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and received a Master’s degree from Sul Ross. He has spent most of the last 45 years in various journalistic endeavors, including community newspapers in Minnesota and South Dakota and news bureaus at four universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Texas. He came to Sul Ross in 1998 and lives in Alpine with his wife, Clarissa Kaiser, four cats and two dogs. Contact him a firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog