STRONG DEMAND FOR LEGENDS PUSHES TOP END OF SPORTS-COLLECTIBLES MARKET TO NEW HEIGHTS
By Steve Lansdale
Quick: What do Pete Myers, Charlie Hayes and Greg Hill have in common?
Each had the misfortune of following a sports legend. Myers, now an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls, was the shooting guard who replaced Michael Jordan. Hayes hit 141 home runs over 14 Major League Baseball seasons, but as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies was tasked with filling the void left by Mike Schmidt. Hill followed Hall of Famer Barry Sanders at running back for the Detroit Lions.
Only rarely is a legend replaced by someone who doesn’t pale by comparison. Among that elite group is Mickey Mantle. His rookie season with the New York Yankees — 1951 — also was the final season of Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio. With the retirement of the Yankees’ center fielder, Mantle was thrust into the spotlight as the team’s new star. Today, Mantle is ranked among the greatest players ever.
Not surprisingly, Mantle collectibles are a staple for serious collectors. In 2016, his legendary 1952 Topps card sold for $1.135 million — the most ever paid for a card produced after World War II. It’s the highest price realized for a sports collectible auctioned by Heritage in the 12 months ending February 2017.
“The top end of the sports collectibles market continues to expand its range with every Heritage auction, and we’ve seen the greatest statistical advances from market norms in that six- and seven-figure arena,” says Heritage Sports Auctions Director Chris Ivy. “Most, if not all, of the best-performing lots of the year would have commanded less than half of the posted prices realized had they been sold more than five years ago, and there’s no sign of this stampeding bull market slowing down.”
Here are top sports collectibles sold by Heritage Auctions in the 12-month period ending Feb. 28, 2017.
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311
Graded PSA NM-MT+ 8.5, this nearly pristine sample sold for $1,135,250 at a November 2016 Heritage auction.
1963 Topps Rookie Stars #537, Pete Rose
Combine athletic supremacy with unmatched quality and the value of any collectible will soar. Such is the case with this 1963 Topps Rookie Stars card, graded PSA Gem Mint 10. It was evident Pete Rose had a chance to be a successful player when he started his career with 170 hits in his rookie season as a second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, but nobody could have guessed he would end up collecting more hits than any player in baseball history. This card is the highest-graded example, realizing $717,000 at an August 2016 Heritage auction.
1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner
If there is a card considered the Holy Grail of baseball collectibles, most collectors will contend that card belongs to Honus Wagner. Just about anything depicting the shortstop is coveted by the most serious of collectors. That held true in November 2016 when an example of Wagner’s legendary 1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal card, graded PSA Good 2, sold for $776,750.
1916 M101-5 Blank Back Sporting News Babe Ruth Rookie #151
To many fans, Babe Ruth is known as a New York Yankee and a powerful slugger – on the short list of the greatest who ever played. But at the start of his career, Ruth was neither, launching his professional days as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. His 1916 rookie card, graded PSA NM 7, sold in August 2016 for $717,000.
1968 Topps Mets Rookie Stars #177, Nolan Ryan
The biggest trend of the past 12 months has been the surging demand for elite rookie cards. This 1968 Mets Rookie Stars card, graded PSA Gem Mint 10, sold in August 2016 for some collector’s lucky bid of $612,359.83. The card depicts the flamethrower who, over 26 Major League seasons with four franchises, struck out more hitters (5,714) than anyone in the history of the sport.
1969 Topps Lew Alcindor #25
Many consider it the most important coin flip in the history of the NBA. Sports executive Jerry Colangelo was saddled with the burden of calling the coin that would determine whether his Phoenix Suns or the Milwaukee Bucks would get the first pick of the 1969 NBA Draft, thereby earning the chance to select three-time NCAA Player of the Year Lew Alcindor. The Suns lost the flip, and Alcindor headed to Milwaukee, where he launched a legendary career during which he (and Oscar Robinson) helped the Bucks win the only NBA championship in team history and, later (after changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), ended up as the greatest scorer in NBA history. His Topps rookie card, graded PSA Gem Mint 10, realized $501,900 at an August 2016 Heritage auction.
1947 Jackie Robinson Game-Used Bat
Few, if any, athletes have had the impact of Jackie Robinson, who entrenched himself in American history books forever when he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Robinson’s name always will be associated – and rightly so – with forever changing racial relations in the United States, but his social impact is so massive that some fail to realize what a stellar player he was. Robinson used this bat in the first season of a career, in which he hit .311 and helped his team win six National League championships over 10 years. It sold for $478,000 in an August 2016 Heritage auction.
1956 Mickey Mantle Gray Back #135
Mickey Mantle’s stature as a collectibles icon mirrors his position as one of the game’s all-time greats. While his Topps 1952 card remains the benchmark for cards produced after World War II, his 1956 Topps card remains popular with fans, as it commemorates a season that remains one of the greatest in the sport’s history. Mantle hit .353, belted 52 home runs and drove in 130 runs en route to winning the first of three Most Valuable Player awards he would pick up during his career. This sample, graded PSA Gem Mint 10, sold for $382,400 in August 2016.
1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown
Few athletes ever dominated their sports like former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest combination of power and speed in football history. Still, the No. 10 rusher in NFL history despite playing just nine seasons, Brown is credited with almost singlehandedly carrying the Browns to the city’s last championship in any sport until LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the NBA championship in 2016. This 1958 Topps card, graded PSA MINT 9, sold for $358,500 in November 2016 as collectors vied for this memento of the man Sporting News called the greatest player in NFL history.
1968 Mickey Mantle Game-Worn New York Yankees Jersey
Athletes often acknowledge another’s greatness, but it’s not often that the spirit of unabashed admiration extends as far as it did on Sept. 19, 1968. Denny McLain was the ace pitcher for the Detroit Tigers when the team, which already had clinched the American League pennant, faced the New York Yankees. With a comfortable five-run lead, McLain offered a nod to legendary Yankee outfielder Mickey Mantle by serving up three fastballs down the middle to the future Hall of Famer. After taking the first pitch and fouling off the second, Mantle launched the third into the upper deck of Tiger Stadium for the 535th – and next-to-last – home run of his storied career. The road gray flannel jersey he wore that day, which came to be known in some baseball circles as “The Gift,” realized $486,000 at a February 2017 auction.
1930-31 Babe Ruth-Signed New York Yankees Player’s Contract
Most quotes by athletes and entertainers are forgotten almost as soon as they are uttered. Others, however, stand the test of time. One such quote belongs to Babe Ruth, whose 1930-31 contract with the New York Yankees made him the first athlete whose salary – $80,000 – surpassed that of then-U.S. President Herbert Hoover. When asked about making more than the commander-in-chief, the Sultan of Swat didn’t bat an eye before responding, “Why not? I had a better year than he did.” The contract that prompted that exchange, considered one of the most significant in sports history, sold for $384,000 at a February 2017 auction.
1970s Muhammad Ali WBC Heavyweight Championship Belt
Earned in Victory over George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle.”
Muhammad Ali is one of the most iconic athletes in history, revered as the greatest boxer who ever lived. But Ali was more than that, a social activist whose faith precluded him from fighting in the Vietnam War, even though it meant losing his claim to the world championship and being banished from the sport for three years. After he returned, Ali regained the world championship with a one-for-the-ages win over then-champion George Forman. The bout, in Kinshasa, Zaire, more than lived up to the hype as the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Bidders fought for this WBC Heavyweight Championship belt until it realized $358,500 at a September 2016 Heritage auction.
1886 St. Louis Browns World Championship Award Presented to Pitcher Dave Foutz
This unique baseball relic was in such high demand among collectors that it soared to more than four times its pre-auction estimate, ultimately gleaning $132,000 at a February 2017 auction. In the best pitching year of his career, Dave Foutz led all pitchers in victories (41), winning percentage (.719) and earned run average (2.11) while helping his team claim the American Association Championship. Foutz split two decisions in the American Association Championship against the Chicago White Sox to earn this 14-karat gold and silver pin with a diamond-studded crown.
Early 1940s Babe Ruth-Signed Baseball
While he was an exceptional pitcher at the start of his career, Babe Ruth is best known as one of the greatest hitters of all time. The Hall of Famer compiled a lifetime batting average of .342 and clubbed 714 home runs – a total that stood for 39 years as the most in the sport’s history. This ball reflects the high demand for Ruth-signed memorabilia, as bidders in February 2017 drove the final price to $180,000 – more than double its pre-auction estimate. Signed in the early 1940s, it is considered one of the finest Ruth-signed balls in the hobby.
1954 Topps Hank Aaron #128
This 1954 Hank Aaron card, graded PSA Mint 9, commemorates the man who would break what many considered Major League Baseball’s unbreakable record. In 1973, at the age of 39, Aaron clubbed 40 home runs, including one into the Atlanta Braves’ bullpen beyond the fence in left field. That shot was the 715th of Aaron’s career, moving him past baseball immortal Babe Ruth and his 714 homers. Aaron’s career total of 755 home runs stood as the benchmark for more than 31 years. This card realized $358,500 at an August 2016 Heritage auction.
1947 Ted Williams Triple Crown Season
Game-Used Vault-Marked Bat
In perhaps the biggest sports trade that never happened, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees briefly agreed in April 1947 to swap star outfielders Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, until Boston owner Tom Yawkey demanded that New York include catcher Yogi Berra in the deal. With the trade scrapped, Williams went on to post some of the most impressive numbers in the history of baseball, earning a reputation as the finest overall hitter. This vault-marked bat, graded PSA/DNA GU 10, was used by Williams while winning the Triple Crown that year, leading the American League in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. It sold for $180,000 at a February 2017 auction.