From vintage bats to milestone home run balls, 2009 had plenty of tales for the telling.
Sports memorabilia may not be recession proof, but the best items continued to bring strong prices at auction during 2009. Many of the usual suspects provided the market’s strength.
Game-worn items associated with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and vintage New York Yankees memorabilia headlined several auctions. An autographed 1952 Mantle jersey brought over $188,000 at auction, a Ruth bat dating from the early portion of his career sold for $155,000 and at the All-Star Fan Fest auction in New York, a game-worn Lou Gehrig cap brought $74,750. Memory Lane Incorporated revealed the sale of a one-of-a-kind 1927 Yankees team photo, signed by 30 team members, for $350,000 to a private collector. Just three years earlier, the same photo had sold at auction for $206,000.
Retired players continued to marvel at the prices attained for game-worn and game-used items and some decided to part with their collections. Bob Gibson offered numerous items to Legendary Auctions for its summer sale and the trophies, awards, rings, game-used items and other memorabilia brought over $500,000. Gibson’s former teammate, Lou Brock did the same a few months later, turning over World Series rings and even the historic jerseys and bases from his stolen base record games.
The FBI began investigating some items that were popping up in auctions. It seems some of them had been reported missing from libraries in New York and Boston years earlier. Several letters from the estate of baseball pioneer Harry Wright were pulled from the All-Star auction when questions arose. Many of the missing items were originally dispersed into the hobby through the famous auction of Barry Halper’s collection in 1999. Broadcaster/collector Ernie Harwell reported that a diary reported to have been written by Ty Cobb and sold in the Halper auction was actually a fake.
The National Football League increased its presence in the memorabilia world by bringing several new items to its auction including a line of 50th Anniversary AFL uniforms, jerseys from the league’s game in London and some wild looking pink-colored memorabilia donned during the league’s breast cancer awareness month. A game-worn Brett Favre Vikings jersey sold for $16,000 during one of the league’s auctions.
JO Sports landed a huge piece of the NFL jersey pie when it signed deals with several teams including the red-hot Saints and Vikings and began to offer dozens of unwashed jerseys on its website.
The mainstream media in Philadelphia had a field day with the story of a Ryan Howard home run ball. When Howard hit one into the seats in Miami, he became the fastest player in baseball history to reach 200 home runs. A 12 year-old girl latched onto the ball, but gave it up when pressured by team officials and a planned meeting with Howard never materialized. Her mother contacted an attorney who put the full-court publicity press on the Phillies. In a no-win situation, the Phillies caved and Howard turned the ball back over to the girl.
The annual auction at the Basketball Hall of Fame produced several sales of high-end game-worn jerseys including Wilt Chamberlain’s 1972 All-Star game shirt that sold for $72,000 and a rookie year Michael Jordan autographed gamer that went for $66,000.