THE SAY-HEY KID AND THE MAGNIFICENT YANKEE — Exactly 60 years ago, it was the summer of 1960, and there was no place like center field—that wide-open expanse on a baseball diamond, a place patrolled by the game’s most athletic types. And back then, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were the kings of center field, and they inspired nonstop arguments about who was better.
At the time, Mays was 29 years old and in the midst of a season in which he’d hit .319 with 29 homers, 107 runs, 103 RBI and 25 steals. (Sounds like a first-round fantasy baseball stud, no?) Mays would also win his fourth straight among 12 consecutive Gold Glove awards.
And Mickey Mantle was 28 and in the process of leading the Yankees to the World Series. It was a typically productive year for Mantle: .275, 40 HRs, 119 runs, 94 RBI and 14 steals. (Another first-round fantasy pick!) Despite his individual excellence, the season didn’t end well—1960 was the year the heavily favored Yanks lost to the Pirates in the World Series, with Bill Mazeroski’s stunning walk-off homer in Game 7 stealing the crown for Pittsburgh.
We’re reminded of that season because of the August sale of a top-condition 1960 Topps Mantle card that fetched $31,655 on 96 bids. It’s a great-looking piece—a horizontal design with a bat-on-shoulder portrait of Mantle in his prime, augmented by a smaller photo of The Mick in a lefty batting pose. This example drew a PSA 9 grade, something we don’t see often for a card of this vintage.
The same day that card sold, a PSA 8 example of a 1960 Mantle sold for $6,655 on 71 bids. And to show you how strange the online auction marketplace can be, just three months before in May, still another PSA 8 example of Mantle’s 1960 was listed on eBay—but sold for only $3,459 on 40 bids. So the same card, same grade, almost doubled in price in three months.
Not surprisingly, you can find a 1960 Mays for far more reasonable prices. For example, a PSA 8 went for $1,523 on 31 bids in May. Amazingly, another PSA 8 example went on the block in August and this time drew half of that price: $840 on 36 bids. Some things just don’t make sense—like the wide disparity between Mantle and Mays in memorabilia value.
SIGNED, BABE — An authenticated Babe Ruth-signed baseball in top condition usually sells for five- or even six-figure prices. One of the cleanest we’ve seen (graded PSA/DNA 8.5) brought $180,000 at Heritage Auctions in 2017.
But Ruth-signed baseballs don’t always cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes you can sneak a good deal…if you’re willing to accept a lower-condition ball, and if you don’t mind other players’ signatures or a personalization on the ball. Two such examples showed up on eBay in early August.
• The first was a ball Ruth signed in 1932 or 1933. It was authenticated by PSA/DNA and graded out at 5, based on a 7 for the sig itself (it’s well-rendered and very readable, though it shows some fading) and a 3 for the ball (which has seen better days). The ball included eight other signatures, including Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez, Joe Sewell and Tony Lazzeri. But, importantly, Ruth’s signature is on the sweet spot. With just one bidder getting into the game, the ball got away for $8,000.
• Two days later, another Ruth-signed baseball sold on eBay, this one dating to c. 1935 and bearing a personalization—“To Frank Phelps”—inked onto a side panel. Ruth filled the sweet spot, and his fountain-pen stroke has aged quite well, holding a dark color that reveals Ruth’s sig in all of its distinctive flair. PSA/DNA graded the autograph at 8/9. The ball, deemed in Very Good condition, was coated with a light layer of protective shellac and shows tiny abrasions and a few areas of light, scattered discoloration.
Interestingly, two Ruth-signed traded cards—cut signatures designed into 2017 and 2020 cards—sold for higher prices in recent weeks.
In late June, a seller earned $11,351 (on seven bids) for a 2020 Topps Diamonds Icons card. The cut sig includes a “Sincerely” on top of a neat and clean Babe autograph. In July, a seller offered a 2017 Topps MVP Cut Signature card from the 2017 Topps Transcendent Collection. This one sold for $12,000 on 53 bids.
Both cards, needless to say, are 1-of-1 issues.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN — Here are 10 items that placed just outside our Top 10 list. If you’ve been following trends reflected in this space, you won’t be surprised to see all the hoop love here: There are four Michael Jordan items, two LeBron James cards and a Kawhi Leonard rarity. James and Leonard also accounted for four of our Top 10 spots.
And then there’s Bill Russell. If not for this legendary Boston Celtics champion and other early NBA stars, the LeBrons and Kawhis of the world wouldn’t be nearly as celebrated. Russell was a workhorse of a center, putting in 13 seasons for the Celtics and leading them to 11 championships. A five-time MVP, he was selected to play in 12 All-Star games, missing out only in his rookie season. And when he hung up his high-tops in 1969, he had a scoring average of 15.1 points per game and—amazingly—22.5 rebounds a game.
Collectors love Russell’s rookie card, the key to Topps’ highly desirable 1957-58 set. Today’s hot memorabilia market for contemporary hoop stars seems to be pulling vintage items along with them. Earlier this year—in fact, just weeks ago—a Russell rookie graded at 6 might have settled in between $5,000 and $10,000. But the one listed here approached $27,000, buoyed by 90 bids.
At press time, another seller, PWCC, had just listed a PSA 6 Russell rookie, and with five days left in the auction, it was already at $22,985 on 57 bids. PWCC also listed a PSA 5.5 Russell rookie. At this writing, that card was on a similar trajectory: It had reached nearly $19,000 on 55 bids with five days left.
In early July, by comparison, a Russell rookie graded PSA 6 sold for “only” $6,850 on 19 bids. Clearly, this is a vintage card with a head of steam.
Our full list of “the next 10”:
• $31,655 on 96 bids: 1960 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 9)
• $30,005 on 72 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)
• $30,000 on 68 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)
• $27,702 on 61 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)
• $26,850 on 90 bids: 1957-58 Topps Bill Russell (PSA 6)
• $26,519 on 39 bids: 2012-13 Panini National Treasures Kawhi Leonard, #17/25, auto patch (BGS 9.5)
• $25,100 on 100 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James (BGS 9.5)
• $24,500 on 15 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)
• $24,445 on 76 bids: 2018-19 Panini Select Luka Doncic Silver Prizm Courtside (PSA 10)
• $24,099 on 33 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James X-Fractor, #84/220 (BGS 8)
TOP 10 CHART
1. $100,100 on 189 bids: 2012-13 Panini Prizm Kawhi Leonard Prizms Gold, #5/10 (BGS 9.5)
2. $76,700 on 34 bids: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (SGC 6.5)
3. $70,700 on 85 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Refractor (PSA 10)
4. $65,988 on 56 bids: 2003-04 Fleer E-X LeBron James Jambalaya, 1 of 15 (PSA 10)
5. $57,950 on 82 bids: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (SGC 4)
6. $55,100 on 80 bids: 2009-10 Topps Chrome Stephen Curry Refractor, #197/500 (BGS 9.5)
7. $47,100 on 52 bids: 2000 Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket Tom Brady, auto (BGS 9, auto 10)
8. $46,200 on 79 bids: 2003-04 Upper Deck SP Authentic LeBron James Signatures, auto (PSA 10, auto PSA/DNA 10)
9. $42,934 on 37 bids: 2013-14 Panini Prizm Giannis Antetokounmpo Prizms Silver (PSA 10)
10. $33,100 on 61 bids: 2018-19 Panini Crown Royale Luka Doncic Silhouettes, #5/25, auto patch (BGS 9)