Value is in the eye of the collector

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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If I only had a crystal ball.

On more than one occasion as an adult, I’ve kicked myself on my narrow backside for not saving all those baseball cards I had during my childhood.

Looking back at that carefree time of my life, I perhaps held the rookie cards of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, and Frank Robinson….just to name a few of the best players of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In mint condition, some of those cards can fetch upwards to $300 or more. If only I would have known back then what I know now, I would have placed more emphasis on preserving those cards.

Sports memorabilia is a multi-billion dollar industry. Collectors of such items come from all walks of life: the rich and the poor, but no matter the size of their wallets, they are all very proud of their prized collections.

And there are some items that make me scratch my head in disbelief regarding their popularity and value. Case in point is an article I read last week on Joe DeMartino, an ESPN Editor, told the story of a Major League Baseball game played on Sept. 24, 1985 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. On that particular day there was a film crew at Wrigley shooting a scene for what would later become a wildly popular film – “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Apparently, a baseball fan had saved his or her ticket stub from that game. Heritage Auctions acquired that ticket and eventually sold it for $1,050.

Tickets to past, high-profile sporting events have sold for quite a bit of money. Heritage auctioned off a ticket from Jackie Robinson’s MLB debut for $480,000 in February.

That game vs. the Milwaukee Braves was played on April 15, 1947. Admission that day to the Upper Stand of the ballpark was $1.75.

If you would like to hold that piece of baseball history in your hands, the current owner of the ticket will gladly sell it. The asking price is $720,000.

If you think that collectable is a bit pricy, you perhaps missed last week’s news that the jersey worn by Diego Maradona when he scored perhaps the two most famous goals in World Cup history sold for an all-time record $9,284,536.

Maradona was a celebrated player from Argentina. His team trailed arch rival England, 1-0, in the semifinals of the 1986 World Cup. He then scored two goals to defeat the Brits and Argentina went on from that point to win the World Cup.

According to Sotheby’s Auction House, the purchase record for any sports memorabilia item prior to the sale of Maradona’s jersey was the original Olympic Manifesto from 1892, which sold for $8.8 million in December 2019. The previous record for a game worn jersey was $5.64 million for a Babe Ruth jersey, also sold in 2019 via Hunt Auctions.

Honus Wagner baseball cards are among the prized possessions of sports memorabilia collectors. Wagner was Major League Baseball’s most dominating player over the first decade of the 20th century. He won the National League batting title an astonishing eight times.

Wagner cards are rare, which makes them highly valuable. Some have sold for as much as $3 million each. Even some of his less popular cards can easily fetch $100,000 to a half-million dollars.

There are also other highly valued sports collectables.

In 2010, the rare James Naismith’s founding rules of basketball were sold to David Booth in New York for $4.3 million.

The gloves worn by Muhammad Ali in his second heavyweight championship fight, held in 1965 in Las Vegas against Floyd Patterson, were sold to Lorenzo Fertitta in 2012 for $1.1 million.

Other expensive items of sports memorabilia, according to are:

Babe Ruth’s 1919 contract with the New York Yankees was sold for $996,000. Ruth switched from pitcher to outfielder and played with the Yankees for 15 seasons. In his first season as a Yankee, Ruth broke the record for the number of home runs hit in a month, and then beat his own record the following month.

To add to the Ruth mystic, the bat he used to hit his first home run in Yankee Stadium sold at auction for $1,265,000. However, the bat he used to swat his then record 60th homerun during the 1927 season only fetched $660,000 at auction.

The bat of the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson sold at auction for $610,000.

Home run balls are also highly collectable, especially the one that Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals smacked over the fence in 1998 to account for his record-shattering 70th homer of that season. That ball sold at auction for $3 million.

Legendary hockey player Paul Henderson’s 1972 jersey sold for $1,275,000. That year, Henderson represented the Toronto Maple Leafs in the highly anticipated Summit Series vs. the Soviet Union. Henderson scored the winning goal with only 34 seconds left in the game to clinch the series. He became an instant national hero.

I would have thought that the rookie card of legendary National Hockey League Hall of Fame member Wayne Gretzky would be worth more than its auction price of $470,000.

Ditto for the Julius Erving’s ABA Championship ring which sold for $460,000.

Other prized collectables include Tim Brown’s 1987 Heisman Trophy ($440,000), and Tom Brady’s NFL Rookie Card ($400,000).

While I can’t go back in time and restore all my baseball cards that were trashed, I can hold onto a current treasure. On my phone is a video of my grandson, at age 5, scoring his first-ever run as a T-Ball player. When Brody Ray Harrell becomes a professional athlete, that video should be worth millions of dollars. Sadly, I’ll be too old to spend it.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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