RECORD: A Game-Worn 1920 Babe Ruth Jersey Hits a Grand Slam at SCP Auctions in 2012

Babe Ruth Jersey

What you see: A road gray, game-worn New York Yankees jersey that was worn by Babe Ruth. SCP Auctions sold it for $4.4 million in May 2012, setting a record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

How rare are game-worn Babe Ruth baseball uniforms? “If you count them all, it’s ten. If you’re talking Yankees, it’s less than half a dozen,” says SCP Vice President Dan Imler, adding that SCP has handled five of the ten.

Ruth was recognized as a superstar in his time. Why weren’t more game-worn Babe Ruth uniforms saved, even as mementoes? “In his era, even the Yankees were fairly frugal,” he says. “It was typical to issue only two home uniforms and two road uniforms for the entire season, and they were considered to be disposable. [Once the season was over,] they would send them to the minor leagues as a cost-saving measure. That’s how a lot of [pre-1970 game-worn baseball uniforms] come to market–a player in the minors is issued a major-league jersey and doesn’t go on to a career, but he keeps his jersey.”

I understand that SCP Auctions uncovered some information that made the jersey even more valuable? “There was an undiscovered element to the jersey,” Imler says. “Before it came to us, we knew it was a Babe Ruth Yankees road uniform in all-original condition, but it was not dated until it reached us. We were able to date it to 1920, which elevated it quite a bit.”

How did you pinpoint the jersey’s date to 1920? “Through photo-matching. Also, it has cut sleeves [shorter sleeves than standard issue]. We were able to find images of Ruth with cut sleeves from that period,” he says.

Your colleague, SCP President David Kohler, called the Ruth road jersey “The finest sports artifact we’ve handled in our 30-year history.” Do you agree? “I absolutely agree with that. It’s arguably the finest piece of baseball memorabilia to surface anywhere,” Imler says. “You have to start with Ruth. Ruth is on a level all his own. When it comes to baseball memorabilia, he is the king. There’s nothing more coveted than a jersey or a uniform he work on his back in the most critical period of baseball history. Any Ruth uniform would be paramount, but he wore it in the earliest part of his career, when he transformed and resurrected the game. It checks all the boxes. It has everything you could ask for.”

Well, maybe not everything. Would it have sold for even more if it was a home jersey–if it had the famous Yankees pinstripes? “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone looked at it as if it was lacking anything,” he says. “I don’t think anyone was wanting more from it.”

SCP estimated the jersey at $2 million and up. Was it difficult to arrive at that estimate?  “Any sports object in seven figures is very uncommon. Multiple seven figures is very rare territory,” he says. “It was a lofty estimate at the time, but the market spoke and it sold for more than double that estimate. It validated the quality we believed it possessed.”

What factors drove the record price? “It was the best of the best in every category,” Imler says. “It was Babe Ruth. The quality was off the charts. It was completely original. It was from the most pivotal point in his career. And the fact that so few Ruth-worn jerseys come up–it was a huge call to action for high-end clients. When an item like this presents itself, you never know when you’re going to get another shot.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “Certainly this same jersey, if it was ever offered again, would surpass the previous sale price. I could see the record being topped in the next five years if something comparable surfaced,” Imler says, adding that he is not aware of another item, aside from the jersey itself, that could beat the auction record.

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Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.

 

SOLD! A 1967 Hockey Card Featuring Number 4, Bobby Orr, Scored $6,600 at Heritage

1967 Topps Bobby Orr #92 PSA Mint 9

Update: The 1967 Topps Bobby Orr hockey card sold for $6,600.

What you see: A 1967 Topps Bobby Orr hockey card with a PSA Mint 9 grade. Only three other 1967 Topps Orr cards have a higher PSA grade. Heritage Auctions has (coincidentally) estimated it at $4,000 and up.

Who is Bobby Orr? Also known as “Number 4,” he is considered one of the best hockey players ever. Born in Canada, Orr spent his professional career as a defenseman for the Boston Bruins. An iconic shot of him leaping, full-bodied, into the air after scoring the sudden death overtime goal that won his team the 1970 Stanley Cup is immortalized in bronze at the TD Garden, where the Bruins play. Orr turned 69 in March.

Let’s back up a step. When did hockey cards become a thing? “They go back to the early 20th century, the 1909-1911 era, when baseball cards exploded,” says Heritage sports card expert Peter Calderon, explaining that Topps entered the hockey card market in 1954.

How popular are hockey cards? “They’re pretty popular. They’ve been popular in Canada for a long time and their popularity is growing in the states,” he says. “What really drives it is rookie cards of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.” He adds that the top four names in the hockey card realm are Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr, and Gordie Howe.

Are 1960s hockey cards more rare than 1960s baseball cards? Yes. “No other sport matches baseball [for collectibility], but it’s very hard to find high-grade hockey cards,” he says. “The availability is not there, not to the same extent as baseball cards.”

This card is from 1967–Orr’s second year in the pros. Does that make it desirable? In addition to its high grade–PSA gave it a 9 on a scale that goes to 10–it represents a sweet bargain of sorts. “Rookie cards are like rookie Mickey Mantle cards–outside the budget of most collectors,” Calderon says. “This is really early in his career, but it’s a little more affordable to most people.” He notes that Heritage sold another 1967 Topps Orr card that had a PSA Gem Mint 10 grade for $9,560 in May 2014.

It’s a nice-looking card, too. “The production values are just as high and just as well-done as baseball cards,” he says.

But it’s only partially photographic–the background is illustrated and colored pink, presumably because it contrasts nicely with the black and gold of Orr’s uniform. Why would Topps design it that way? “To make it a more interesting card, I imagine,” he says. “The atmosphere you see hockey players in…the walls are white, the ice is white. There’s nothing exciting about that.”

How to bid: The 1967 Bobby Orr Topps card is lot #80694 in Heritage Auctions’ Premium Sportscard Catalog Auction on June 29 in Dallas.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

LAST CALL: Nothing But Net: Grant Zahajko Could Sell a 1936 Olympic Basketball Gold Medal for $150,000

HIghRes_Olym_golda

What you see: The Olympic gold medal awarded to John Haskell “Tex” Gibbons for his role in propelling the United States basketball team to victory in 1936. Gibbons was 28 at the time. The medal is double-sided and gold-plated and measures just over two inches in diameter. It comes with a letter of authenticity from his family and ephemera that he gathered on his Berlin adventure. Grant Zahajko estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

Who was John Haskell “Tex” Gibbons? He was a 6’1″ inch guard who played professional basketball years before the NBA arrived. He was on the team at Southwestern College, in Winfield, Kan., and moved on to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), playing for the McPherson Globe Oilers. He earned his nickname from the state where he was raised. He died in 1984 at the age of 76.

Why was the 1936 US Olympic basketball team important? “1936 was the first time basketball was an Olympic event,” Zahajko says, adding that more than 20 countries fielded teams and James Naismith, creator of the game, then 74, crowned the winning team with laurels.

What did the Americans have to do to win? “Hitler was not aware of basketball and didn’t give it much recognition. He built gyms, but he didn’t build one for basketball. They played on lawn tennis courts,” he says. “They played [the Olympic final] in a downpour. They couldn’t dribble. They could only pass.  It was a low-scoring game.” The U.S. squelched its way to the gold, defeating Canada 19-8.

Are Olympic medals from 1936 more valuable than those from other years? “1936 medals are very sought-after, even gold medals with no attribution,” he says, referring to those that come to market without related material that proves who earned them. “It’s because of the importance of that Olympics, and how tense and charged it was. Hitler promised not to push his [regime-glorifying] campaign, but he did not hold to that.”

How many other 1936 Olympic gold medals for basketball have you handled? “Only three from the 14-man team have ever surfaced, and I’ve had the privilege of touching all three,” he says, alluding to having appraised them. One went to auction at another venue in 2015. It commanded $67,000 despite suffering heavy wear that included having a hole drilled at the top so it could be worn as a necklace. The Gibbons medal is in far better condition. “It’s no longer in its original box, but it’s been well-cared for,” Zahajko says.

How to bid: The gold medal is lot 110a in the Sports Cards and Memorabilia, Autographs, Entertainment, Transportation & More! sale offered by Grant Zahajko Auctions on June 24 in Spokane, Wash.

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Image is courtesy of Grant Zahajko Auctions.

SOLD! Baseball Legend Willie Stargell’s Golden Tickets (OK, Bronze Passes) Get $4,555 at SCP Auctions

Stargell Passes

What you see: The Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum lifetime passes that belonged to Willie Stargell. SCP Auctions estimates the group, which includes a personalized leather carrying case, at $3,000 to $5,000.

Who was Willie Stargell? Wilver Dornell “Willie” Stargell was a legendary left fielder and first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He appeared on two World Series-winning Pirates teams, in 1971 and 1979. He holds the distinction of being the only baseball player to win the Major League Baseball  Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, the League Championship Series MVP award, and the World Series MVP award in the same year, and he did it at the age of 39. He was 25 home runs shy of the magical threshold of 500 when he retired from baseball in 1982. He died in 2001, at 61, two days before the Pirates unveiled a statue of him at PNC Park.

When did Stargell receive these passes? It’s not clear, but he might have received the MLB lifetime pass on or around his retirement, and he probably earned the Cooperstown pass in 1988, after he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Are those passes made of gold? Nope, they’re bronze. “They’re solid metal, but both are about as thick as a credit card,” says Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.

Did Stargell have the personalized leather case made to hold them both? “The case was issued with the Hall of Fame pass,” says Imler. “It does accommodate two passes. He obviously got them separately. They happen to fit perfectly in this particular case.”

Did Stargell actually carry the passes on his person and use them? “It’s interesting,” Imler says. “We know he got the case with the Hall of Fame pass. The pass itself shows less wear than the MLB pass. There’s minor general wear on the case itself. It definitely has the appearance of having used the passes, but it’s hard to know how frequently.”

How often do you see elite baseball passes kept together as a pair, as these have been? “I can’t recall ever receiving them together in a case,” Imler says. “They could be sold independently, but we feel like Willie Stargell viewed them as mates, and they were viewed as mates by the family. We want to keep the presentation as it was kept by him.”

How to bid: The Stargell passes are lot 145 in SCP Auctions’s Spring Premier Auction, which opens on May 24 and ends on June 10.

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Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.

SOLD: Heritage Sold the 1907 Ty Cobb Baseball Postcard That Cobb Used and Mailed for $84,000–Seven Times Its Estimate

Ty Cobb rookie postcard 1

UPDATE: The 1907 Ty Cobb baseball postcard, which Cobb used and mailed just before playing his first World Series game, commanded $84,000–seven times its estimate.

What you see: A 1907 Seamless Steel Tubes postcard picturing Ty Cobb in his rookie year. Cobb wrote a message on it and mailed it from Chicago on October 7, 1907, the day before he played in the World Series against the Cubs, who ultimately won in four games. Heritage Auctions estimates the postcard at $10,000 plus.

What Cobb wrote on the postcard: “Well, we have won the pennant and here for world series. I led in hitting, stolen bases 60, assists, and second 100 runs, hit 355 unofficially – hope you lots of luck, will be glad to hear at any time. Royston GA., have an offer to go with all-Americans out to California. Excuse this advertising card.”

So, just how rare is this? “The card itself, without writing, is $3,500 to $5,000 because a handful of them are known,” says Heritage sports card expert Peter Calderon. “A note on a vintage card is extremely hard to find, and a message from a player is very, very rare.”

This 1907 baseball postcard was commissioned by a Detroit factory that made exhaust systems for steam locomotives–not a tobacco company or a gum manufacturer. Why would a company like that want to offer something like this? “It was based out of Detroit, and using players was common,” says Calderon. “Considering how rare the card is, it probably wasn’t produced in large numbers. It may have been just a giveaway [in Detroit] by the company.”

Who did Cobb send this to? Tom Bird, who was a teammate of his when he was playing in the minor leagues with the Augusta Tourists. The postcard has descended in Bird’s family and comes directly to Heritage from them. “He probably had it sitting around and wanted to send a note. That’s one of the neat things about it,” says Calderon. “Cobb had a reputation of being a dirty player, but he signs it ‘Tyrus,’ like he’s signing a Christmas card, and he says, ‘Excuse this advertising card.’ It shows the humbler and humane side of him, which he is not known for.”

The Cobb postcard has an estimate of $10,000 and up, but as of April 24, the high bid was $28,000–$33,600 with buyer’s premium. Where do you think it is headed? “It could go to $40,000, $50,000–who knows?” says Calderon. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a used postcard like this. It’s one of a kind. On every level, it has everything. It’s Ty Cobb. It’s a full message. It’s about baseball. It’s everything a collector could want.”

How to bid: The Ty Cobb rookie postcard is lot #80708 in the May 11-13 Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction at Heritage.

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Images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.