Mike Gutierrez Auctions had planned for an auction on Dec. 15, but Babe Herman's family had something to say about that. The addition of the Babe Herman Collection -- 150 items provided by the family -- and later a massive accumulation of single-signed balls, pushed the auction back five weeks to Jan. 26. The auction was slated to open on Monday, Jan. 2, at the www.mgauction.net website.
Gutierrez didn't release the name of the collector, but noted he has been collecting signed baseballs for around 10 years and has about 2,000 single-signed balls. "This is the kind of thing that the old collectors did in accumulating massive quantities back in the 1940s and 1950s, and really kind of stopped in the 1960s," Gutierrez said.
"But no one has amassed these kinds of numbers anymore, not as collectors anyway," he continued. "I knew he had a serious collection because I had auctioned some balls from him a few years ago, perhaps a couple of hundred lots. He told me those represented his doubles, triples and quadruples," said Gutierrez, shaking his head in amazement. "How many guys out there do you know with collections of more than 2,000 balls?
"Sometimes he would buy large single-lot collections in auctions, maybe 100 or 200 or so single-signed balls. And after a while he obtained two, three or four of some names."
There are more than 100 deceased Hall of Famers such as Lou Gehrig, Tris Speaker, Herb Pennock and others, and a majority of the 1970s and 1980s deceased Hall of Famers, and all 2,000 or so balls are in the auction (the entire collection is consigned).
"We will probably put them in lots of a couple or dozen or so, with all the big names and deceased stars pulled out for single lots. There are 300 or so balls from up-and-coming guys right out the minor leagues, guys who could be good. The reality is that what he did with those guys is like the same thing that autograph collectors did back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but they did it with 3-by-5 cards and he did it with single-signed baseballs. He was a true collector."
Gutierrez said he has two Honus Wagners, both just unbelievable. Some of the balls are from the period; most are from after the players' careers. And there were a number of stars, non-Hall of Fame deceased players, like Dixie Walker, Roger Maris and Elston Howard.
"Oddly enough, some of these guys are worth more than some living and even deceased Hall of Famers, because of the rarity and demand. These guys weren't asked to sign at any shows, especially for those who died before the advent of the baseball business around 1980. That even adds more value to them," he said.
"The majority of these will be sold in group lots, and our staff is able to put them in groups in ways that some auction houses won't or can't do, like MVPs, 500 Home Run Club members, by teams, and All-Star teams from various decades."
Gutierrez pointed out that bidders and autograph collectors buy according to themes, even if sometimes they don't know it, but probably all collectors in the hobby buy according to themes. Even unconsciously.
"By theming the lots as we do, as opposed to what some companies do, creating something that says just 'Lots of living players,' well, that just seems like stuff to bidders.
"If you theme it for them, then you are telling them what triggers their mind to make them move on a lot. And that's what we do really well. We will have lots of 300-Game winners, or Cy Young Award winners or stolen base leaders, all from different eras, but it's a theme, and it triggers their imaginations and they wind up bidding."
"He went to all these minor-league guys and got them to sign, and then all of a sudden you pull out a Thurman Munson ball from when he was with Columbus, and so it has added value because it's from before he became a major leaguer and a big star and before his autograph changed and you could actually read it," Gutierrez said.
"We have a Ted Williams that is from around 1960-61, a single-signed ball on an old Joe Cronin AL ball with an old Williams signature on it," Gutierrez added, noting the distinction between that and Teddy Ballgame stuff that was signed after the hobby took off in 1980. He figures that fact alone probably puts the ball in the $1,000 range.
"There are some beautiful pieces in here, like Wally Pipp," said Gutierrez, referring to the guy who lost his first base job to Lou Gehrig in 1922, taking a day off and winding up out of a job.
"This will be a big portion of the auction, with more than five dozen just of themed balls, but we have a lot of other things, too. Like some selected vintage, game-used and unusual autographs from the Dave Berman Collection."
The Babe Herman Collection
Floyd "Babe" Herman played for five teams from 1926-37 and then made a surprising comeback at 42 years old with the Brooklyn Dodgers for 37 games in 1945. He finished second in the league in batting twice and had 1,818 career hits. Herman died in 1987 at 84 years old. His family is selling team balls, championship balls, a Babe Ruth single-signed ball, game-used items and items from Herman's personal collection, obtained before he even played in the bigs.
"They called me at the beginning of the year (2005) and hired me to appraise it," Gutierrez said. "There are three (daughters) involved who have this collection and they wanted to divvy it up."
The Herman Collection is added to dozens of items obtained from a former Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse worker, and the collection of Ed Gorsuch, a significant collector of modern items who died within the past year, plus the Sam Ross estate items.
The Gutierrez auction advertisement appears on page 21 of this issue; for more information call (480) 991-8060, or go to the website at www.mgauction.net.
-- Rocky Landsverk and T.S. O'Connell