By Larry Canale
With another Opening Day having passed — the 148th in Major League Baseball’s long history — let’s take a look at the game’s most celebrated face.
In a recent eBay auction, an original press photo showing Babe Ruth on Opening Day in 1923 sold for $565 on 38 bids. The vintage photo actually features two images. One of them captures the Mighty Bambino mugging with a young boy; both are in uniforms as they strike right-handed batting poses (Ruth, of course, was actually a lefty hitter).
The other image on the photograph shows the packed stands at Yankee Stadium on its first day: Wed., April 18, 1923.
Dubbed “The House That Ruth Built,” it came to life just as any scriptwriter would have had it: a 4-1 win over the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, Ruth’s former team. Imagine the ratings that game would have enjoyed if TV had been around ... And, by the way, guess who hit the first home run at the new ballpark? Yep — the Babe took pitcher Howard Ehmke deep for a three-run blast in the decisive third inning.
As for the unique composite press photo, it’s credited to Kadel & Herbert News Photos. The caption reads:
“Record crowd attends opening of new Yankee Stadium — Babe Ruth makes his first home run / The new stadium of the Yankees houses 74,000 persons at the opening of the baseball season in N.Y. Up to that time the greatest number to turn up for a baseball game 42,680. The famous Babe Ruth hit his first home run of the season. / Photo shows right, immense crowd attending the opening Ball Game and left, two masters of the bat, Babe Ruth and the Yankees’ mascot. The world’s largest scoreboard is also seen in the photo.”
Note the presence of an Upper Deck rookie card of Connor McDavid on our Top 10 list. The “Young Guns” card, a 2015 issue, was the subject of a major bidding war on eBay.
It listed on March 16 as a 10-day auction with the teaser minimum bid of 99 cents. Early birds jumped in quickly to get it to $100, then $300, and then $500 within hours. By the end of the week, bidding had pushed the price to nearly $8,000. And over the final three days of the auction, the McDavid rookie more than doubled in price. When the hammer fell, 99 bids had escalated the price to $17,100.
McDavid, just 20 years old as the 2016-17 season (his second in the NHL) wound down, has quickly become a major star. After notching 16 goals and 32 assists in 45 games during his 2015-16 rookie season, he brought his game to a new level this year. At press time, he was leading the league in points with 94 (29 goals and 65 assists) with just a few games left.
THE SHOELESS ONE
Question: When does a card in PSA 1 condition sell for a five-figure price? Answer: When it’s a rare 1909 American Caramel card of a baseball legend — in this case, a young Joe Jackson. A March sale on eBay offered a highly desirable but poor-condition (creased, off-center, stains) card featuring a first look at the slugger known as Shoeless Joe.
Kudos to American Caramel for dedicating a card to Jackson for that 1909 series: In 1908, as a 20-year-old, he got called up to the Philadelphia A’s after hitting .346 for the minor-league Greenville Spinners but stumbled in the bigs, managing only three hits in 23 at-bats (.130). The 1909 season would be similar for Jackson; he tore up minor-league pitching but scuffled in a brief stint for Philadelphia. His breakout season would come in 1911, when he hit a hefty .408 for the Cleveland Naps during his first full season.
SPIRIT OF ’77
Forty years ago, you could have picked up a cello pack of Topps baseball cards at your local W.T. Grant or Woolworth or G.C. Murphy store for 25 cents. Today, you’ll see stray unopened 1977 cello packs pop up for anywhere from $125 to $150, sometimes more if a star — an Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy or Bruce Sutter rookie, for example — is visible on the front or back.
In March, an entire box of unopened 1977 baseball cards sold for $3,200 on 35 bids. The box, certified and sealed by Baseball Card Exchange (BBCE), includes 24 packs, putting its auction price in line with single-pack values.
By themselves, the Dawson, Murphy and Sutter cards can draw $1,000 to $1,500 if graded 10 by an authentication firm. Other highly desirable cards in the 1977 set include George Brett, Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt; recent PSA 10 examples of those cards sold for $1,000, $660 and $610, respectively. In February, a 1977 Steve Garvey graded PSA 10 sold, perhaps surprisingly, for $2,000 on 37 bids. Contributing to its value: PSA reports a population of just two 10-grade Garveys in its registry.
SIGNED, M-SOMETHING OR OTHER
We love big, clean, bold and especially legible autographs — ones that instantly tell you who signed it. See Mickey Mantle’s or Ted Williams’ or Joe DiMaggio’s sigs: They’re model autographs in every way. Today, though, we don’t see that level of penmanship from most ballplayers. Instead, we see marks, or scribbles. Some are so cryptic you can’t make out the first letter.
Mike Trout, as much as we love his brilliance on the diamond, is in the “scribble” class when it comes to sigs. We can show you a great example: a one-of-one 2015 Topps Dynastic Data card featuring Trout’s sig. It’s certainly big, clean and bold but, alas, no one would describe it as legible. No matter: The card, which also includes a game uniform patch, still attracted a powerful price: It sold for $3,000.