By Larry Canale
A NOD TO THE NATIONAL — Yes, it’s always a kick to troll the Internet in search of treasures. Online auctions and dealers collectively give us an unbelievably wide and deep selection of sports memorabilia. But let’s be honest: The chance to dig through the untold numbers of sports items available at The National is even better.
If you’re at the National this year (Cleveland, Aug. 1-5), drop us a note and tell us about your finds—and how they compare to the best of your online finds in recent months. Do you find show inventory to be better-priced, or is it more expensive? How about the selection? It’s hard to compete with the world-wide inventory at our web-browsing fingertips, yet we always seem to find oddities in the nooks and crannies of The National that are nowhere to be found online. So… tell us about your experience.
CLEVELAND ROCKS — Speaking of The National, the always-popular VIP card set this year features five Cleveland Indians legends or legends-in-the-making: Bob Feller, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel from the past and Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber from the current Tribe. While you wait to get your hands on those, let’s look at vintage cards from each of these Cleveland heroes.
• One treasure of a Feller card is his 1938 Goudey. The playful design features a combination photo (Feller’s head) and illustration (body) as artwork. Tucked into each of the four corners on the card’s front are small cartoon treatments that impart information about the speedballer (example: “Young Feller hails from the tall corn country of Iowa”). On eBay in June, we spotted an example of the 1938 Goudey Feller in PSA 6 condition; it sold for $1,250. A lesser-condition example—PSA 4.5—fetched $690. At the time of the card’s release, by the way, Feller was but 20 years old and had already pitched two seasons in the bigs.
• Thome arrived in the majors at a time when baseball card production was in high gear, so new issues were coming out of the woodworks. As such, there isn’t much scarcity associated with Thome’s most popular rookie card, his 1991 Bowman Chrome. We recently saw two PSA 10 examples of that card sell for prices of $80 and $90. If you’re interested in the work of a smaller manufacturer, look for Thome’s 1990 ProCards release. It features a scrawny-looking Thome as a minor leaguer for the Burlington Indians (his position is listed as “Infield”; remember that he came up mainly as a third baseman). A Gem Mint PSA 10 specimen of Thome’s ProCards issue recently sold for $100.
• Vizqel also appeared on ProCards issues, starting in 1986. You can find Mint-condition examples of that release for less than $50. Vizquel’s first major-manufacturer cards appeared in the 1989 Topps Traded Tiffany set and also in the 1989 Upper Deck set. PSA 10 examples of the Topps Traded Tiffany card recently sold for prices of $90 and $100. The Upper Deck Vizquel rookie can be had for $20 to $40.
• For Lindor and Kluber, the idea of a “rookie card” gets more complicated, because there are multiple candidates. But the ones attracting the most attention include Lindor’s 2011 Bowman Chrome autographed Blue Refractor card and Kluber’s 2007 Bowman Chrome Draft card. A Lindor Chrome graded BGS 10 recently sold for a hefty $3,000. As for Kluber, his 2007 Chrome Draft card can sell for $25 to $250, depending on whether you get a Gold Refractor (high end) or a “plain” Chrome.
BEST EVER? — Yes, sports fans love to argue about who was the best this or the best that. When it comes to running backs, you’ll hear Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Walter Payton’s names in the conversation, but really, wouldn’t you want Jim Brown before anyone else?
If you aren’t sure, just go to YouTube and take a look at that patented Jim Brown running style. He blasted through linemen like a bowling ball through pins, he brutalized linebackers, and he outran even the speediest defensive backs—if he didn’t leave them in the dirt with an evasive cut.
After the 1965 season, Brown retired at age 29. During his all-too-brief career of nine seasons, he led the NFL in rushing eight times and in TDs five times. He piled up 12,312 rushing yards and averaged a gaudy 5.2 yards per carry. He also caught 262 passes for another 2,499 yards. All told, he scored 126 touchdowns—and threw for three more.
So it’s no wonder that Brown cards and autographs are highly desired, as these examples illustrate.
• In recent weeks, we’ve seen his rookie card, a 1958 Topps, come up in a number of listings and sell for consistent prices. In fact, four different Brown rookies, all graded PSA 8, brought prices between $5,000 and $7,000.
• Brown’s second-year card, 1959 Topps, is easier on the wallet; you can find 8-graded examples for less than $1,000. The same for his third-year card, although a Near-Mint PSA 9 example sold in May for $2,605.
• Want an oddity? Look for Brown’s 1962 Kahn’s Wieners card, a black-and-white issue with a running-pose photograph and facsimile signature on the front along with these lines of text: “Compliments of Kahn’s/The Wiener the World Awaited.” Recently, a PSA 7-graded example of the card attracted 20 bids and sold for $761.
• Looking for a Brown sig? Autographed cards issued by major manufacturers have been selling for prices between $75 and $400. One we love is the Fleer 1999 issue Sports Illustrated Greats of the Game; we saw a Mint-condition (ungraded) example sell for $103.
BACK TO BRETT — We featured a 1975 Topps Mini of George Brett in this space last time out. How about a game-used bat this time?
In May, an eBay seller listed a Louisville Slugger C27 that looked from the photos like it went through a war—besides being cracked, the bat was caked in (what else?) pine tar. Plus, it looks from the seller’s photos like it was the weapon of choice for hundreds of Brett’s 3,154 career hits.
The bat drew 26 bids and sold for $11,101. Helping its cause was authentication by JSA. Also helping out its cause: autographs on the barrel not only from Brett but from his contemporary Nolan Ryan.
TREMENDOUS TRIO — Here’s one for the ages if you’re a hoop fan: a triple-signed card that bears the autographs of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Issued in a limited edition of just 15, it’s a visually striking card that features small photos of each NBA legend accompanied by bold, blue sigs.
The card, numbered 7/15, was part of Upper Deck’s 2008 Premier set. It had been graded Gem Mint 10 by PSA, a condition that helped to land a $15,000 price.