You might have heard it at a show or seen it in an online forum. Maybe a “knowledgeable” long-time collector mentioned something. Maybe you just came to your own conclusion.
Whatever the case, not everything that’s often considered hobby gospel is really true.
On a recent edition of the Collectable Daily podcast, hosts Alan Goldsher and I discussed hobby myths. Here’s a slightly expanded edition, with a little more depth.
1) Most quality game-used gear is now out of reach for collectors.
Mickey Mantle’s 1968 final jersey fetched $2.2 million in February in a Heritage auction. Jackie Robinson’s 1951 game-used Brooklyn Dodgers home jersey nearly hit $7 million in a Golden Auction, but didn’t meet the reserve.
That doesn’t mean you should give up on game-used. One area ripe for entry is caps. You can still buy amazing vintage caps worn by major leaguers.
“In recent years, the baseball cap has become more of an everyday fashion than a function of keeping the sun off of a player’s head and out of his eyes on the ball diamond,” Mike Heffner, the president of Lelands auction house, wrote in a comprehensive guide for PSA called “The Equipment Manager.” “Every time I turn around, I see someone wearing a baseball cap. I believe that caps are relatively still affordable and somewhat unappreciated by the collecting public. One of the main reasons that caps worn by Hall of Famers and star players are undervalued is because most are tough to authenticate.”
First, only caps prior to the 1950s had the player’s name sewn into the band inside the cap. Since then, things have become more complicated. First look at various manufacturers’ labels and stamps used by big leaguers, which Heffner details. Make sure the player’s number shows its age.
“Even when dealing with caps from the modern era, the ink used to mark the player’s number sometimes fades or bleeds from repeated usage and sweating,” Heffner explains. Likewise, look for natural wear and uneven sweat stands that show true game use. And, of course, the style should coincide with the years that the player was on the team.
Provenance is key. Today teams and MLB sell authentic gamers at the ballpark and online, but they are very common and often used for a game or two. True vintage specimens come with letters from family members, the team, or team employees like the equipment manager. Two years ago, I bought a well used 1970 Brooks Robinson cap with a notarized letter from an Orioles usher who was gifted the cap along with a game used jersey and bat. Hunt showed a photo of the ex-usher with Robinson and the jersey and bat. Being a huge fan of Robinson and of his MVP heroics in the 1970 World Series, I won it for $1,900. That’s not chump change but a fraction of the cost of the Brooks jersey: $28,000. I then mailed it off with all the documentation to a private signing for him to autograph it, date it 1970, and write, “My Cap.” After that, I mailed it to John Taube at PSA/DNA who authenticates caps besides bats for an ironclad LOA.
“It is my personal belief that the source of a baseball cap is more important than that of other forms of game used equipment,” Hefner, who has an outstanding personal collection, notes. “Caps are a significant piece of a player’s uniform, and make great displays. Treat yourself to one, you can tell your friends that your favorite player’s cap went off to you.”
2) All big game ticket stubs are valuable.
Actually most World Series and All-Star tickets dating back to the 1930s command far less than value debut tickets because people kept them, and often cost a few hundred dollars. Even the Don Larsen perfect game ticket isn’t worth much, selling for as little as $595 on eBay compared to the recent Heritage sales of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 debut ticket stub for $480,000 or Michael Jordan’s full ticket for $468,000. No one dared throw a Larsen ticket away.
World Series tickets with memorable events like game one in the 1954 World Series when Willie Mays made his amazing basket catch or the first game of the 1955 World Series when Jackie Robinson stole home at Yankee Stadium sell for $1,000 to $1,500. Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in Game 3 of the 1932 has skyrocketed, with a PSA 4 going for $35,000 last month in a Hunt auction. (I could have kicked myself for passing up a PSA 7— one of only three— last November, but would have had to dip into my retirement savings.) Delving further back into history are the 1903 (the first World Series, $175,000), the 1919 Black Sox ($8,100), and the Yankees’ 1927 Murders’ Row ($8,000).
Virtually all Super Bowl tickets tend to be less valuable than even World Series tickets, though a full ticket to the first game in LA topped out at $11,000 on eBay. But that was another debut ticket.
3) Final game used bats and jerseys are worth a fortune, so last game tickets are, too.
A PSA authenticated ticket to Mickey Mantle’s last at bat, in Boston, in 1968 has collected dust on eBay for at least a year with a price tag of $9,999/Make an Offer.
A lower grade ticket stub from Jackie Robinson’s last regular season game, unslabbed, was recently sold on eBay for an astonishing $1,100. Remarkably, both players announced their retirements months after their appearances, so the fans had no reason to save the tickets. Could “final” tickets be the next wave? I doubt it, if history is a guide.
4) Vintage autographs are worth far more than later ones.
While Ruth’s earliest signatures from the 1920s with the quotes around Babe carry a premium, his later scribbles on official AL Harridge balls from the 1940s, long after he retired, remain some of the most valuable autographs in the hobby. Likewise, Ty Cobb signed official balls from the 1950s are still very desirable.
For five years I’ve been tracking vintage signed Mays and Mantle balls. Willie’s neat and legible signature, compared to his later illegible scrawl, on Giles NL balls from the 1950s and 1960s have no takers for $2,000 on eBay. Want a period signature from Mantle’s playing days in the 1960s on a Cronin AL ball with the distinctive looping Ms? On eBay, Mill Creek Sports is offering three, for as low as $975. The same indifference holds true for many other Hall of Famers, such as Tom Seaver, whose signature, like Mays’, deteriorated during his retirement.
5) The photo used to make X’s rookie card was the actual one in the card’s production.
Casual collectors may mistakenly assume the photo for sale in an auction was the actual one used to make the card when it is impossible to prove that. Rather, it was most likely an example of the iconic photo. Unless there’s a way to prove, or at least strongly suggest that an image is the actual photo used for production, assume it’s just one of the copies that were inevitably printed and utilized for a variety of purposes.
Since 2015, Heritage has sold the Barney Stein image used for his 1950 Bowman card seven times (with one commanding $25,200 in February), though one of the examples could have been sold more than once. Yes, the “sports card photos” are great and worthy of your collection. Just don’t take the auction description too literally.
6) Heavily used, cracked baseball bats are worth less than minty bats players swung in games.
In fact, serious bat collectors covet heavy wear and tear. Cracks—as long as they don’t result in a piece missing, which hurts eye appeal— are proof of true game use. Try cracking a bat at your local batting range. It usually takes a professional pitcher to do the damage. Bat enthusiasts cherish cleat marks from a hitter knocking dirt out of his spikes, stitch marks from a ball’s impact, and grain separation from extended play.
Bats are the most customized game-used item of any sport, giving each individual character. George Brett lathered his with pine tar, of course. Babe Ruth carved notches in the barrel’s center for home runs he hit, like a gunslinger. Ty Cobb wrapped his handles in black tape almost all the way up the handle.
“Pete Rose affixed several small ringlets of tape along the handle while adding a big swath of tape at the top of the handle,” writes Joe Orlando, formerly head of PSA and now president, sports at Collectable in Legendary Lumber. (I highly recommend his lavishly illustrated coffee table book .) He also highlighted the crisscross, grip enhancing pattern used by Ken Griffey Jr.
Orlando cautions against unnatural wear like a bat with severe water damage from being stored in a shed or being abused on a playground.
I’m afraid that Hall of Fame bats will break the budget of the average collectors, but you can often buy common players from the 1960s and 1970s for $100-$200. I own two used by backup Mets outfielders, Dave Marshall and George Theodore, whom I was a fan of as a kid. The Marshall set me back $25 and the Theodore was a gift from a friend.
7) All cards of pre-War Hall of Famers in higher grades cost a fortune.
Being in the Hall is a very big deal. Only 196 players have been elected-a rate of about one percent of all major leaguers.You can actually buy some very nice Play Balls, Diamond Stars, and other classic cards for a pretty modest amount considering the population reports and difficulty finding finer examples.
Here are some recent examples: an SGC 6 1916 M101-5 Sporting News Eddie Collins for $850; a PSA 6 1933 Goudey Earl Averill for $526: a PSA 6 1933 Goudey Burleigh Grimes for $649; a PSA 6 1934 Goudey Bill Terry for $549; a PSA 6 1934 Goudey Leo Durocher for $495; a 1935 PSA 7 Diamond Star Paul Waner for $564; a 1939 PSA 8 Play Ball Lloyd Waner for $299; a 1939 SGC 7 Play Ball Charley Gehringer for $300 and a PSA 7 1940 Play Ball Jim Bottomley for $331.
8) All Jackie Robinson autographs are valuable.
A blank autographed Robinson government postcard just sold for $8,000; a cut signature for $4000. He died young at 52 in 1972 and demand well outstrips supply. Two years ago in an auction I paid $1,800 for a unique piece signed by Robinson in 1958. Robinson and the movie star Charlton Heston appeared at a blood drive in Connecticut. Robinson signed a woman’s blood donor card. The autograph was mint and the event attested to his public service.
With Robinson being so hot, I figured it was a good time to sell earlier this year. Even with a superb writeup in a top auction house, I lost money on it. There’s such a thing as oddball memorabilia being too oddball. “A blood donor card is a little creepy,” a friend said.
9) Everyone should get into NFTs.
You have to know what you’re doing because it’s an extremely volatile market. “NFTs are the future,” Chris Brigandi of Brigandi Coins & Collectibles explains. He compared today’s market to NASDAQ in 2000. “There was so much BS, but a lot of good stuff, too,” he said. Sorry to sound like an old timer, but that seems like a crapshoot to me. Personally, I never invest in anything I don’t understand. Remember derivatives?
10) Babe Ruth Boston Braves material isn’t worth much.
About two years ago, I told a knowledgeable pre-war dealer at a show about a tip I received. Buy Babe Ruth’s 1935 Goudey card he shares with three other players, including Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville. “No,” the dealer said. “The big problem is that he’s not with the Yankees.”
Well, he was still Babe Ruth and this was his final appearance as an active player on a mainstream bubble gum card. Since I spoke to the dealer, the 1935 Ruth has skyrocketed with the market loving just about every card from his playing days.
To put things in context, excluding the pedestrian black and white candy issues in the 1920s, Ruth appears as a Yankee on only three issues in color (1932 US Caramel, 1933 Sport King Goudey, and regular 1933 Goudeys). It’s worth noting that fewer 1933 and 1935 Goudeys have survived than T206s because the latter were produced for three years, 1909-1911.
He quit before the season was half over, but Ruth hit three home runs in one game and reached his magic number of 714 in that final 1935 season in Boston, where his career started.
It remains a mystery why Quaker Oats waited so long, given Ruth’s flood of endorsement deals, but their premiums probably rank as the best in his career. There are three pins and a celluloid scorer with Ruth in a Braves cap smiling more than he usually did with the Yankees. Quaker Oats also offered an 8×10 photo, a regular book and a flip book, a brass ring, a felt cap, a beanie, and a pen knife. The rarest are the cap, beanie, flip book and pen knife. Everything else is very affordable, mostly available for between $100 to $300.
At a major show at CitiField in New York 12 years ago, I stood in line waiting for Willie Mays to sign a store model glove for me. I was astonished to see a young man holding a solid 1951 Bowman Mays rookie card to have it signed with a Sharpie. “He’s ruining that card,” I thought to myself.
Last November, Robert Edward auctioned off a signed 1951 Bowman Mays card for $28,800. And the card itself was severely miscut.
In 2017, while I was a senior contributor to Forbes, I commissioned Ron Keurajian, author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, to file a post about the wisdom of buying signed Sandy Koufax rookie cards, which at the time were fetching about $1,000 on eBay. “My prediction: they will hit $5,000 in five years,” Keurajian wrote. “There’s a finite supply of genuine signed cards. Koufax was never a regular on the autograph circuit. And he rarely signs anymore.” Today signed rookies do indeed sell for $5,000-$6,000.
By now the taboo about defacing cards has long been put to rest. In early 2021, a signed 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth from the famed “Uncle Jimmy Collection” sold for $761,100 in a Wheatland auction, shattering records for a Ruth card. The signed Ruth was the sixth and final one left in the collection. The first five Babe Ruth cards and four signed Lou Gehrig cards sold for over $2 million at auction in 2020.
Meanwhile, Hall of Famers from the 1950s through the 1960s have seen a meteoric rise. Lou Brock signed a lot of autographs before his death in 2020, but his 1962 signed rookies still sell from $500 to $750. Frank Robinson’s 1957 rookie sells as much as $3,8270 when the card is PSA 6 and the autograph is PSA/DNA 10. Even Brooks Robinson, a familiar fixture on the autograph circuit, goes from $750 to $1500 if the signature is a strong Sharpie. If you’re attending an autograph show with a Hall of Famer it would be worth your while to bring a nice raw example of the player’s rookie card.
I favor vintage signatures from playing days, usually in ballpoint or felt tip pens. But PSA/DNA tends to give the highest grades to Sharpies stretching back to the 1980s. For the rarest signed cards the condition matters less. In March a lower grade 1953 Topps Mantle sold for a five-figure price on eBay, rounded corners and all. In his later years Mantle spent much of his life at autograph shows but few collectors were presenting him with his early, valuable cards to sign.
Last April, I won a signed PSA 2 1956 Topps Jackie Robinson for $8,100 in a Hunt auction. PSA has slabbed only 10 from that year. Today Keurajian estimates its worth to range from $15,000 to $20,000, which takes the sting out the Robinson autograph I sold and Called Shot ticket I missed. “Robinson is on fire,” Keurajian says.
Some collectors try to obtain complete runs of their favorite players. The precipitous drop in price in second and subsequent years makes it fun and affordable on either eBay, at shows, or sometimes in lots in auctions. I have Tom Seaver’s first four cards. The collector who sold me his rookie at a very fair price several years ago has every possible Topps Seaver, including the early Topps 1970s League Leaders, but one.
One word of caution. I’ve seen several Ken Griffey, Jr. 1989 Upper Deck rookies PSA 10 and PSA/DNA 10 sell on eBay between $8,000 and $14,000. There are 4018 PSA 10 Ken Griffey cards and 45 PSA/DNA 10s on the population report. TriStar is doing private signings with him and you can have one signed for 300 bucks. If you’re industrious and careful, you could crack open a PSA 10 and send it in. Voila!
12) Store model gloves that never saw game use are not a valuable collectible.
The first baseball glove you owned can excite memories as sweet as your first kiss. Or more. “A glove is like a wife,” Darrell Evans, the eight-time Gold Glove winning Red Sox outfielder once said. “A glove should always be there for you.”
Game-used gloves with provenance are prohibitively expensive because in days of yore players hung on to a few at most per season and then tossed them in garbage pails like old shoes or gave them to neighborhood kids.
I believe the retail versions are fun and affordable. One way to collect is through endorsements. The big names from the early 1900s— Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Cy Young— can go from several hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the quality and condition. Some rarer big names like Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson can sell for more than $7,500.
Unendorsed pro stock, or top-of-the-line models, dating back to the 1960s are the equivalent of muscle sports cars. They were the best gloves made in America that money could buy. A former high school and college player fits the profile of a customer looking for the Wilson A2000 he paid $51 for in 1971 (the equivalent of $340 today). Rawlings Heart of the Hide models are even more popular because Rawlings has been more prevalent.
Also hunt for right-handed Rawlings, Spalding, Wilson, and MacGregor personal models top-of-the-line endorsed from the 1950s through the 1970s by all-time greats such as Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, and Brooks Robinson. Some are actual replicas of the models players used. I’ve had Brooks inscribe them “My Game Model.” They make great display pieces and enhance the value.
My biggest coup was a professional Rawlings HOH X late 1960s catcher’s mitt exactly like the kind Johnny Bench wore for his 1969 baseball card, using a photo from 1968. It cost me $100 at the National. I had Johnny Bench sign it “My Rookie Game Model” for $225 through the mail. Though it was hard to part with, I consigned it in a Memory Lane auction in February and it sold for $3,000, my best return ever. (At a public appearance in Cooperstown two years ago, I gave Bench an HOH X for him to auction off for his personal charity and he was thrilled.)
Collectors place a high premium on clean leather, original lacing, and in-tact patches. They frown upon replacement lacing, marker and other ink from an original owner writing his name, and left-handed models.
Unfortunately, the supply of high-end gloves has dried up online and at flea markets over the years. Occasionally, you will score at shows, as I have. For example, at the National in Chicago a few years ago, I picked up a mint Mickey Mantle Rawlings personal model for $80 and flipped it for $600, covering my airfare.
The best source for information on gloves is BaseballGloveCollector.com where you will find thousands of gloves in a photo gallery and hundreds of vintage baseball equipment catalogs. On baseball’s Opening Day and the day of the first game of the World Series, Jim Daniel emails a sales list of premium gloves from collectors across the country. I’ve happily bought and sold many gloves through this list over the years.