Baseball Memorabilia Market Heats Up in Anticipation of Opening Day

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This article is a round-up of some of the premier baseball items that have been offered at auction throughout the month of March. Memorabilia such as Mickey Mantle worn briefs and signed briefs, Babe Ruth‘s bat, and notable vintage baseball cards all hit the auction block. 

Vintage Baseball Memorabilia Hits New Highs

Mickey Mantle game-worn and autographed briefs

Weiss Auctions has on its auction block a three-inch by five-inch cut piece of what purports to be undergarments worn by the Mick himself. Bidding ends March 28. Printed on the briefs themselves is “Mickey Mantle’s Briefs 1973” and “Snatched on ‘Old Timers Day.’” Accompanying that statement is a message from Mantle, “Bull shit!” followed by his signature. The obscenity and autograph are independently authenticated by James Spence Authentication. Mantle, not known for being a choir-boy, has his fair share of obscene statements and swears documented across a number of baseballs.

A Forbes article on the piece recounts an anecdote of Mantle reflecting upon the prices some pieces of his memorabilia are commanding. Upon learning of his first uniform to exceed $100,000 at auction in 1991, Mantle stated “That’s really unbelievable, I never made more than $100,000 playing for the Yankees, and now someone pays that for my sweats. I wish I had saved my underwear from that uniform. Then it would have been worth even more.”  Although the Long Island-based auction firm estimates this small swatch of briefs is likely to bring only $150-300, other Mantle pieces bring top dollar. Mantle’s 1952 Topps rookie card is the second most expensive trading card, an example which received a perfect mint 10 by PSA sold for almost three million dollars.

Babe Ruth Bat, Rookie Card

Perhaps the only player more sought after than Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth has had his share of notable memorabilia change hands in a recent auction. Robert Edwards Spring Catalogue Auction came to a close this week with two Ruth items receiving the most attention. The highest priced of the two, a bat used by Ruth from 1918-22, a span in which he played for both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, sold for $156,000.

The 1916 M101 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie card graded a PSA 2 realized $132,000. Avid baseball fans may know that 1914, not ’16, was Ruth’s rookie season. However, due to shortages and rationing of ink and other materials during World War I, no major card sets were produced. The war greatly impacted sports cards, and Ruth did not appear in another major set until the Goudey Gum cards of the early 1930s by which time he was at the end of his career. The auction included over 90 Ruth-related objects, including 16 which sold in excess of $10,000.

T-206 Near Complete Set

Although the term T-206 likely means nothing to the average person, in the sports collecting world that alphanumerical denomination is revered. The T-206 is a tobacco issued set from 1909-11 and is home to the famed Honus Wagner, the single most expensive piece of cardboard ever made. The set is known for its seemingly endless varieties of cards. Over 500 players, in multiple poses, across major and minor leagues, distributed by dozens of brands and multiple factories comprise the set. Many collectors are completists and seek all of the above cards, but fully completing a set like this is an impossible task.

The near-complete set offered by Mile High Card Company has 477 cards all graded PSA 4 or better condition-wise. The Honus Wagner was not included in the set, neither were the other members of the set’s Big Four, cards that often command at least six-figures by themselves. Players that were included in this auction are Hall of Famers Cy Young, two of Christy Mathewson and three of Ty Cobb. The set sold for $127,920, for an average card price of $268.

Last Word

The vintage baseball market has exploded over the past two decades. Investment’s in names like Mantle and Ruth have outperformed traditional stock investments. This trend is likely to continue as America’s appreciation for some of the games greatest players only intensifies.

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