Less than 24 hours after the Kansas City Royals won their first postseason game in 29 years my “In” box had an offer for a unique piece of memorabilia to commemorate the event. Granted, my baseball card and memorabilia business is in the state of Missouri, and that extra-inning victory against the Oakland ball club was the first of a historic three extra-inning victory run. But the historic run was not begun yet and, frankly, it was somewhat shocking to see a national company pay attention to the Royals. Shocking in a good way, of course, but somewhat jarring nonetheless.
My interest in Royals memorabilia goes beyond having a business that trades in such items. I am an unabashed Royals fan. When I lived in the Cubs area code the citizens of Wrigley Field would often say how they felt sorry for me. It didn’t matter. Ever since the boys in blue swept a double-header from the Seattle Pilots on July 4, 1969, I have been hooked. During the first game of a doubleheader at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, centerfielder Bob Oliver hit the first grand slam of his career, and it was also the first grand slam in the history of the Royals organization during a 13-2 victory over the visiting Seattle Pilots. The KC club also won the second game and my loyalty that day.
I was in “the K” during the glory years of the 1970s-1980s when it was known as “Royals Stadium.” My fandom continued through the last 29 years of drought. And as a fan who is involved in the commercial end of the collecting memorabilia I have known, firsthand, how scarce the amount of Royals collectibles have been.
Baseball cards are the first wave of collectibles we usually consider, and as a major league team the Royals have been in most of the major sets throughout their history. To be sure, during the lean years the “team set” may consist of fewer than 10 cards, but at least they were represented. In some ways it is kind of like the All-Star Game rule. A major league club has to have someone in the game…and in the national card sets.
Even so, with the exception of certain forced rarities (1/1s, low numbered parallels, etc.), there have been very few Royals cards that have been sought after since the slight bump in 1985 when people were seeking Brett Saberhagen rookie cards or 1986’s fascination with the Bo Jackson rookie card in the Topps Traded set. The exception was in 2006 hen the Alex Gordon rookie card scenario played out.
Gordon was a top prospect in the Kansas City Royals system in 2006, but under MLB Players Association rules, Gordon was not allowed a Rookie Card yet because he was not on the Royals’ 25-man roster. However, an Alex Gordon card was accidentally released in the 2006 Topps set, card #297. There were eventually four versions of the card found: a full card, a card with the picture cutout, a blank gold and a blank silver – all of which still pop up on eBay from time to time. The most popular is the full card, which features Gordon’s portrait on the front with full name on front and back.
In 2006, the cards sold for thousands of dollars in the initial wave. According to ESPN, a collector sold five of the cards for $5,761.79 at the time. The card still commands a premium, but has since come down in price. On July 6 of this year, a raw card sold for $113.61 on eBay and on June 9, a PSA 10 sold for $281.66. The Royals recent run of success may see this card bump up a bit once again.
But even with their success not many of the Royals cards garner much attention or respect. Yordano Ventura, a key piece in the Kansas City rotation and owner of a solid rookie season, is a good example. Earlier in this year the revived Donruss brand from Panini made a Ventura card part of the 3-card special Rookie pack that collectors could redeem with wrappers. The other two players were Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. Their cards push $20 while Ventura cannot sell at $5. True, the slugger in Chicago had an awesome year and Tanaka was dominant when healthy, but only Ventura is playing in October and contributed greatly to a postseason team. His regular rookie card even sells for less than Xander Bogaerts. It comes with being a Royals player.
Another great example is the fine catcher for the Kansas City nine, Salvador Perez. Many people consider him the best all-around catcher in the American League, and while there may be some debate on that, he is a valuable component on that club. His rookie card values? In the $1.50 to $3 range but autographed versions bring a bit more.
Compare his stats over the last three seasons with, say, Manny Machado. Perez will come out on top and has a Gold Glove as well. Manny’s rookie card value? Double that of Perez.
Part of the problem is that some of these Royals have been late bloomers. Lorenzo Cain, who came over from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke trade a few years ago, has turned in some defensive plays that were out of this world in the post-season, introducing himself to a lot of fans who didn’t know much about him even though he’s 28. Cain rookie cards–and what few certified autos are out there–are mostly still dirt cheap.
Indeed, when it comes to recent baseball card sales, the only major events that have included the Royals have had to do with the iconic 1975 rookie card of all-time great, George Brett. Recent graded card sales of his regular and his mini rookie card from that year have been in four figures when the card is a 9 or a 10. Even in this arena George Brett still owns Kansas City.
This is not a complaint. Frankly, it makes being a Royals collector considerably more affordable that following teams that get a lot of national spotlight. And, with the Kansas City run this postseason, it will be interesting to see if any of the attention translates into an increase of memorabilia and/or its value.
And there are some neat pieces of Royals history to be found.
The Royals, due to being a smaller market club, have always had a strong local flavor to the things that they do. Many of the early pieces of memorabilia or stadium giveaways feature local businesses or national concerns with large offices in the Kansas City area. Milgram’s grocery stores, Guy’s Potato Chips and Skelly Oil were all early sponsors, and their logos appear on several Royals items. Of course, as with most baseball clubs, beer products were well represented in advertising, and it is not unusual to find the Hamm’s bear wearing a Royals cap every now and again.
The Royals first played in Municipal Stadium, which had been home to the Kansas City Athletics (before they moved to Oakland). It also hosted the minor-league Kansas City Blues of the American Association from 1923 to 1954 and the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues during the same period. Needless to say, it was not exactly a “modern” stadium when the Royals moved in.
One of the more commonly found pieces of memorabilia is due to that beloved, but antiquated stadium. Seat cushions with handles became a very popular stadium giveaway. Versions can be found with each of the companies mentioned earlier advertised on the reverse of the cushion (the Royals logo being on the front). These can still be found in flea markets and antique malls around the KC area. In fact, the cushions were so popular that the team brought them back following the 1985 World Series championship year even though the modern stadium seats did not require them.
Another unique piece of Royals memorabilia also centers around Kauffman Stadium. When it was built and opened in 1973, it was quite renowned for its artificial playing surface. The turf was manufactured to hold up to the harsh summers and drain water quickly when the rains came. It was the surface that saw the playoffs versus the Yankees in the 1970s, the first World Series in Royals history in 1980, and was the surface on which they celebrated their lone championship in 1985. However, the stadium’s turf was replaced by grass for the 1995 season. When the Royals ripped out the turf, they worked with Conoco gas stations to sell encapsulated 5-inch squares of the turf to fans. The squares came with serial numbered plaques and COAs. They proved immensely popular, and even now can be found from time to time on eBay.
Of course, like most MLB clubs, the Royals do see their game-used equipment sell in the hobby market. Up until this season, however, it has been consider some of the more affordable pieces to be made available. It will be interesting to see how this changes.
Recently, a 1 of 1 bat barrel booklet card from Topps Heritage of Royals first baseman, Eric Hosmer, sold on eBay for over $1,000. That would have been unheard of even a few months ago, and so who knows, changes may be coming to make those Royals items a better buy than they have ever been before!