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Recalling Don Sutton’s remarkable career

Online Auctioneer

STEADY AS HE GOES — Another of baseball’s shining stars flickered out in January when pitcher Don Sutton died of cancer at age 75. Sutton had a remarkable career: He pitched 23 seasons, 16 with the Dodgers, and compiled a 3.26 ERA, 324 wins (14th all time) and 3,574 strikeouts (seventh all time).

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Despite his lofty stats, Sutton appeared in only four All-Star Games and, amazingly, had to wait 10 years after his retirement for Hall of Fame induction (1998). Sutton was less celebrated than contemporaries like Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. Yet he was just as effective as those marquee opponents.

A steady, rock-solid contributor, Sutton rarely missed a start, earning the respect of his teammates, opponents, and generations of fans and players. After Sutton’s passing, Chipper Jones posted this telling comment on social media: “Don Sutton was one of my favorite people. Always had a smile, kind word and a story that captivated you. Always asked how my parents were doing. Always positive! Gonna miss you, my friend. Tell Knucksie (Phil Niekro) we all said hello. Love ya, buddy!”

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In the collectibles market, Sutton’s HOF status makes him a desirable autograph subject. Yet because he was a generous signer, his signature remains affordable. You’ll find Sutton-autographed baseballs for anywhere from $50 to $150, depending on condition and authentication, while signed photos and cards are in the $25 to $100 range.

Sutton’s first appearance on a baseball card set came in 1966, when Topps featured him with fellow Dodgers rookie Bill Singer on a “Rookie Stars” card. Upon news of Sutton’s passing, one seller got $1,700 for a PSA 9-graded Sutton rookie. A month earlier, another PSA 9 example of the card sold for $1,350 on 30 bids. Drop your sights to a 7-grade Sutton rookie and you’ll find prices of $300 to $450. Drop to a grade of 6 and you’re looking at $75 to $150.

Other popular Sutton issues include his 1967 second-year Topps card; one PSA 9 example sold in December for $400. His 1971 Topps card also has appeal; the black borders make it a tough find in top condition. If you want a Near-Mint 9 example, you’ll pay $450 to $700, as two recent sales tell us. In middling condition (meaning 5 or 6), it can be had for $10.

If you love gobs of stats, look for Sutton’s final player card. The 1989 Score set includes the hurler pictured in an action shot on the front, backed by his entire career statistics, from 1966 through 1988. Find that card for a few dollars.

Topps didn’t include him in its 1989 set but did create a Sutton card for retail box panels. The reverse side of Sutton’s panel card doesn’t offer his stats but does celebrate his iron-man approach in its narrative, noting he started “750 of his 768 big league games” (the actual numbers are 756 of 774 games). The card also notes that only Cy Young started more games, although Nolan Ryan would later surpass Sutton.

After his playing career, Sutton went on to become a highly regarded announcer, calling Dodgers games in 1989 and Braves games from 1990 through 2006.

THE KNUCKLE-MASTER — The Chipper Jones quote above includes mention of “Knucksie.” Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who died the day after Christmas in 2020, had a career similar to Sutton’s. He pitched forever (well, from 1964 through 1987, retiring at age 48) and used his fluttery knuckleball to confound opposing hitters. Niekro won 318 games, had 3,342 strikeouts and posted an ERA of 3.35—all in the same neighborhood as Sutton’s stats. Like Sutton, it took Niekro 10 years to win HOF honors.

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Niekro’s cards, however, sell for higher levels than Sutton’s. His rookie card is in Topps’ 1964 set (he’s paired with catcher Phil Roof); recent sales on eBay include PSA 9 examples that brought $2,520 on 37 bids and $1,901 on 49 bids. Both of those auctions happened within days of Niekro’s death. It’s worth noting that a month earlier, a PSA 9 Niekro rookie went for $872 on 19 bids while another brought $750 in a Buy It Now deal. Clearly, his death put a spike in his rookie-card value.

Niekro’s autograph sells for slightly higher prices than Sutton’s. We’re seeing Niekro-signed baseballs go for a wide range of auction prices—from $50 to $200, depending on authentication and condition. Autographed photos and cards are in a similarly wide range: $25 to $125 range.

BUFFALO’S BEST — Don’t look now, but there’s a new QB heating up in the hobby: Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. The 24-year-old gunslinger may be football’s most improved player over the past two seasons. From the growing pains of his 2018 rookie year, when he had 10 TD passes and 12 interceptions, he has progressed to where he’s one of football’s most productive players. In 2019, he had 20 passing TDs vs. nine interceptions, and in the 2020 regular season, he led Buffalo to a 13-3 record while throwing 37 TDs vs. 10 INTs. A dual threat, he’s also rushed for 25 touchdowns in his three seasons.

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Collectors have been all over Allen. Besides the $75,100 item in our Top 10, here are some sample prices paid for recently auctioned Allen items on eBay:

$35,000 on 1 bid for a 2018 Panini National Treasures “Black” Josh Allen, marked #1 of 5. This autographed patch card was graded BGS 8.

$20,100 on 84 bids for a 2018 Panini National Treasures autographed NFL Shield patch card, a 1-of-1 issue.

$15,517 on 45 bids for an ungraded 2018 National Treasures autographed patch card marked #5 of 10.

$12,201 on 38 bids for a PSA 9-graded 2018 National Treasures signed patch card marked #26 of 99.

$12,000 on 87 bids for a 2018 Panini Gold Mojo Prizm Stained Glass card. Marked #9 of 10, it carries a BGS 9.5 grade.

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN — Between the last two items in our Top 10 and the first in our “next 10,” the value of a 9-grade Michael Jordan Fleer rookie card is coming into focus. The three examples we see here sold within $2,000 of each other.

Last year, 10-grade examples of the card soared to the $75,000 to $100,000 range. Clearly, the next-best grade is keeping in line with that spike.

• $40,600 on 41 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 9)

• $40,100 on 55 bids: 1986-87 Upper Deck MJ Comeback Commemorative Michael Jordan, #23/23, auto patch (PSA 8)

• $40,099 on 66 bids: 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, #149, red background (PSA 6)

• $35,000 on 53 bids: 2007 Topps Chrome Kevin Durant Refractor (PSA 10)

• $35,000 on 1 bid: 2018 Panini National Treasures Black Josh Allen, #1/5 auto patch (BGS 8)

• $32,100 on 59 bids: 2007-08 Upper Deck Kevin Durant “Black/Blue” Patch Autograph, #1/1, auto patch (BGS 9)

• $31,600 on 56 bids: 2003-04 Upper Deck Top Prospects Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, Dare to Compare, 1 of 25, auto (PSA 10)

• $31,401 on 54 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Xfractor, #071/220, ungraded

• $31,400 on 51 bids: 1963 Topps Pete Rose (OSA 8.5)

$30,600 on 68 bids: 2009-10 Panini National Treasures James Harden, #49/99, auto patch (BGS 9.5)

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THE HULKSTER — Believe it or not, an eBay bidder spent $36,600 on an autographed 1982 Hulk Hogan signed trading card graded PSA 9/Mint. Issued by Wrestling All-Stars as one of 36 “Series A” cards, it features a head shot of the hero grappler sporting his blond Fu Manchu mustache. The autograph on the card was added post-production but has been authenticated by PSA/DNA.

Amazingly, the auction drew 76 bids, proving that Hogan, now 67, remains a popular figure among wrestling fans.

Unsigned, lesser-condition examples of Hogan’s 1982 card can sell for surprising prices. In recent months, one bidder spent $1,982 for a BGS 6 example, while another paid $1,515 for a PSA 6.

TOP 10 CHART

1/19/21

1. $225,100 on 143 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Basketball wax box, 36 packs (BBCE)

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2. $90,100 on 62 bids: 2017 Panini Contenders Rookie Ticket Patrick Mahomes Red Zone, 1 of 8, auto (PSA 10)

3. $75,100 on 71 bids: 2018 Panini National Treasures Josh Allen holograph gold, #3/10, auto patch (PSA 10, auto 10)

4. $75,00 on 66 bids: 1997-98 Skybox Premium Michael Jordan Star Rubies, #45/50 (BGS 8)

5. $55,099 on 39 bids: 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., auto (PSA 10, PSA/DNA)

6. $51,695 on 47 bids: 2017 Panini Contenders Rookie Ticket Patrick Mahomes II Optic Gold Prizm, #/2/10, auto (BGS 9, auto 10)

7. $49,100 on 61 bids: 2009 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout Xfractor, #128/225, auto (BGS 9.5, auto 10)

8. $44,100 on 30 bids: Panini Prizms Black Mosaic Anthony Bennett, #1/1 (BGS 9.5)

9. $42,600 on 66 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 9)

10. $41,000 on 88 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 9)