The baseball stars are aligned in Chicago and dealers at the National Sports Collectors Convention are enjoying the ride.
by Tony Gordon
With a 2008 baseball season already filled with Chicago highlights, July 31 has to have been the pivotal point in the year for both the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.
Tied for first place less than a week ago, the Cubs finished a four-game sweep of the second place Brewers in Milwaukee while the Sox acquired future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. for a pair of second-rate players. The move stoked pennant dreams on the south side, offering Ozzie Guillen’s team some desperately needed left-handed power and , of course, a jolt of star power too.
Cubs shirts and hats are everywhere at the National Sports Collectors Convention as fans shuttle between show business and keeping an eye on their favorite team’s pursuit of its first World Series title in 100 years. Sox fans are anxious for another World Series run for a franchise that won it all just three years ago.
No one follows the fortunes of the two Chicago teams closer than sports memorabilia dealers in and around the city. They live and die with their teams but also live and die with the buying habits of their customers. Tableholders at the 29th National Sports Collectors Convention in Rosemont say the first-place teams are helping fuel a strong summer sales period, but the Cubs remain a clear-cut favorite.
"Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot are probably the hottest selling players right now," Chicago dealer Don Krubsack told Sports Collectors Daily. "I’ve also sold more Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo than usual."
Krubsack said he sold all of his Kosuke Fududome cards early in the season and hasn’t been able to get any more with so few Fukudome cards issued thus far. Sox sales aren’t quite as strong despite the passion of some of his customers. Krubsack said he does sell quite a few Carlos Quentin cards and youngsters gravitate toward Paul Konerko.
Dealer Ted Lee has experienced the same response from fans who’ve patronized his table at shows.
"More people are passionate about the Cubs than the White Sox," said Lee who added that his sales of Cubs cards have actually doubled this year. "Even when you go to t-shirt shops you just see more Cubs shirts than White Sox."
Like Krubsack, Lee said the Cubs’ catching sensation has been his biggest seller. "I stocked up back in October on Soto cards and his stuff is selling great," Lee said.
Fukudome arrived from Japan amid much fanfare and while his numbers aren’t MVP worthy, he’s been immensely popular as evidenced by his All-Star selection.
"Everywhere you look in Chicago, someone is trying to sell something with Fukudome on it," Lee remarked.
Not everyone has seen local sales spike because of the Cubs’ success, though.
Another dealer, Chuck Thomas, said the Cubs are more of a national baseball card phenomenon as expatriate Chicago natives seek out cards of heroes past and present. Thomas’ sales increase have come on eBay but not at shows.
"I haven’t sold any at all," Thomas said. "The local card shop has a box of new Cubs and I don’t ever see anyone taking any cards out of it."
But online auctions are a different story, according to Thomas. "Any old Cub from the 1950s and 60s is selling like hotcakes on eBay."
"The Cubs and Sox are not fueling sales for me," said dealer Dave MacDonald. "I would imagine it helps a lot of other dealers but we’ll probably get a bigger turnout (at the National) because of the Cubs."
But for Chicago dealer Bob Downing, the Cubs are not only fueling sales but also his Cubbie-blue passion.
"This is finally the year for the Cubs," Downing predicted. "I know it is going to happen because I recently caught a foul ball at a game for the first time in my life!"
His passion is rubbing off on his customers as sales of Cubs photographs, autographs and cards have nearly doubled from last year.
"Soto, Theriot and Fukudome are selling hot and we always do well with Ron Santo," Downing said.
Downing and some other memorabilia shop owners in and around Chicago have tried to take advantage of north side pennant fever by hosting autograph signings featuring current Cubs. At his Park Ridge shop, Around the World Cigars and Gifts, Downing recently hosted reliever Carlos Marmol for a signing session. Soto will appear next Thursday, August 7 (memoraboblia.com for info).
You can visit Tony Gordon at booth #1832 at this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention. Check out his blog from the show floor.