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Remembering Bart Starr and Bill Buckner

With the passing of Football Hall of Famer Bart Starr and former major leaguer Bill Buckner, collectors are taking another look at their collectibles.

By Larry Canale

The world of sports lost two of its finest on back-to-back days last month. On May 26, Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr died at age 83, and a day later, baseball star Bill Buckner died at 69.

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Starr, who led the Packers to five NFL championships, went into the Football Hall of Fame in 1977, as soon as he was eligible. Many say Buckner should be in baseball’s Hall of Fame, but he’s been on the outside looking in. Both are often recalled for singular moments. If there’s one play that defined Starr’s toughness, it’s his quarterback sneak to beat Dallas and advance to Super Bowl II.

For Buckner, the play that defined his career, unfortunately, is the error he made as Boston’s first baseman in the 1986 World Series, possibly costing the Red Sox a championship-clinching win over the Mets. His career, however, should be known for far more than that one play: He spent 22 seasons in the bigs, notching 2,715 hits and batting .289 with 174 homers and 183 steals.

Buckner was a good sport about “the play,” during which a ball hit by Mookie Wilson slithered between his legs. Even though it haunted him, he was still a willing signer of items related to the 1986 error. On eBay in recent weeks, Buckner- and Wilson-signed World Series tickets from the game sold for $500 and $400, for example, and a dual-signed 16- x 20-inch action photo of the play brought $449. Other examples of the photo at a smaller size (8 x 10) sold for prices between $150 and $250.

Perhaps the most touching Buckner item is a photograph of the play onto which he inscribed the following passage:

“Who knows whether the Red Sox would have won if I had caught the ball. Maybe Mookie would have been safe anyway. The momentum of the game had clearly shifted. Walking off the field, my thought was ‘Wow’ we are going to play in the 7th game of the World Series and we were going to win. God allowed this to happen. It has shaped my life, I have learned a lot. Life is good, I’m thankful and blessed.”

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Measuring 16 x 20 and authenticated and sold by Steiner Sports, the inscribed photo sold for $262.

If you want Buckner mementos outside of the error, there are plenty of options, and prices are collector-friendly. In recent months, a PSA 10 specimen of his 1973 Topps card brought $270 and a PSA 9 example of his 1972 Topps card sold for $130. Multiple examples of his rookie card, a 1970 Topps issue, got away for prices between $50 and $100 in 8 or 9 condition.

That 1970 card also features rookie pitcher Jack Jenkins. Buckner also appeared on a multi-player card (with Enzo Hernandez and Marty Perez) in Topps’ 1971 set. You’ll find that one for bargain-basement prices—between $5 and $25.

As for Starr, he’s covered more in-depth elsewhere in this issue. But let’s give a nod here to perhaps the Holy Grail for Green Bay fans: a Packers helmet autographed by Bart and his two star successors, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Such an item sold in April for $1,500. Another one, authenticated by JSA, turned up in a listing the day Starr died at the Buy It Now price of $4,000.

Also in April, weeks before Starr died, four of his rookie cards, all graded PSA 7, sold for prices between $1,450 and $1,900. In 8 or 9 condition, that card can get well into five figures.

BREAKOUT BABE

The Babe Ruth card atop our list is touted as the highest-grade example of the Bambino’s 1921 American Caramel card. Its PSA 7 assessment reflects a sharp black-and-white image, a clean print job, and fairly sharp corners. It’s slightly off-center vertically and horizontally, but not by much. In short, it’s a beauty—a wonderful memento showing off baseball’s biggest name of all time.

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Upon the card’s release, Ruth had burst onto the scene in a big way, having transformed from a star pitcher for Boston (1914–19) to a game-changing slugger for the Yankees. He hit 54 homers in 1920, with 135 RBI and a .376 average. In 1921, as collectors were adding this American Caramel card to their albums, Ruth’s numbers got even gaudier: 59 HRs, 168 RBI and a .378 average. From there, the legend of Babe Ruth only grew.

LeBRON #1

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An eBay bidder spent a king’s ransom on a rare LeBron James card last month. A Black Refractor version of James’ 2003-04 Bowman Chrome card, one of only 500 made, sold for $19,501. The card had been graded PSA 10. Its fragile black borders make it difficult to find in Gem Mint condition.

HOCKEY’S “OTHER” BOBBY

Yes, Bobby Orr gets more collector love than his contemporary Bobby Hull. But make no mistake: Hull was a force as a player and also can prompt heavy bidding in the hobby. A case in point: In late May, 38 bids sent an SGC 7-graded specimen of his rookie card to $19,053. Issued as part of Topps’ 1958-59 hockey set, the card offers this tidbit (in both English and French) on the reverse: “Only 18 when he joined Hawks last year, Bobby is blond husky of brilliant promise.”

Nicknamed “The Golden Jet,” Hull was known for his high-velocity shot and blazing speed on skates. He played for 23 years in the National Hockey League and World Hockey Association, spending most of his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. He retired after the 1979-80 season with 1,170 points in 17 NHL seasons and 638 more in his seven WHA campaigns.

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