As we put a wrap on Sports Collectors Digest for 2020, we reflect upon a most unusual and unforgettable year, one filled with heartbreak, uncertainty and—remarkably—overwhelming success.
The hobby is alive and well, and thriving as if there wasn’t a global pandemic. Through the darkness, it’s nice to see a bright spot.
So, as we close out 2020, let’s take a look back at the Year of the Virus:
Heartbreak: The year began tragically with the death of former Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who with his daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26. Not surprisingly, Bryant memorabilia became hot items.
The baseball world was hit particularly hard in 2020 with the loses of six Hall of Fame players: Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford and Joe Morgan. We also lost Don Larsen, the former New York Yankee who is the only pitcher to have pitched a perfect game in a World Series.
Longtime NBA commissioner David Stern; legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula; former college basketball coaches Eddie Sutton, Lute Olson and John Thompson; NFL great Gale Sayers; and NBA star Wes Unseld were among other notables who passed from the sporting world.
The National: Due to COVID-19, the National Sports Collectors Convention scheduled for Atlantic City in the summer was postponed until December before it was ultimately canceled. It was one of the toughest decisions NSCC executive director John Broggi has been a part of in 36 years on the job. The plan is to move forward with the 2021 show in Chicago followed by the 2022 show in Atlantic City.
Many other smaller card and memorabilia shows across the country were also forced to cancel, but many collectors adapted, going online for card breaks and auctions, and tuning into The Virtual, an online replacement for The National.
Card craze: The most remarkable story of the year was Vegas Dave and his Mike Trout Superfractor. Dave Oancea, who stocked up on Trout cards, sold a red Refractor for $922,500 in May but hit a bigger jackpot in August with Goldin Auctions. He sold his 2009 Bowman Chrome autographed Superfractor 1/1 for $3.936 million—the highest price ever paid for a sports card. He had purchased the card in May 2018 for $400,000.
But it didn’t stop there.
A T206 Honus Wagner card that graded a PSA 3 sold for $3.25 million in a private sale brokered by the Mile High Card Company. It was a record for that Wagner card grade, and it surpassed the previous high for a T206 Honus Wagner card, which was $3.12 million in 2016.
And let’s not forget a LeBron James card going for $1.845 million and a Giannis Antetokounmpo card fetching $1.8 million at auction. These were just some of the success stories.
“The Last Dance”: The ESPN documentary featuring Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls couldn’t have come at a better time as sports fans were yearning for something to watch when sporting events were put on hold during the pandemic.
Consequently, it became a Bull(s) Market in the hobby as prices soared. For instance, on April 19, the first day of the documentary, a 1986-87 Jordan Fleer rookie card graded a PSA gem mint 10 sold for a then-record $51,600 through Robert Edward Auctions. On May 7, Heritage Auctions sold a similar PSA gem mint 10 card for $96,000.
“We’re all longing for sports and this ‘The Last Dance’ thing just came at the right time, it really did,” Derek Grady of Heritage Auctions told SCD.
Collector stories: What’s better than stories about people finding undiscovered treasures of cards or other memorabilia in the unlikeliest places. The year had plenty of them. A couple of our favorites:
An artist who had helped clean out a house of a deceased relative was given a box of things 10 to 15 years ago. It included a sandwich-sized baggie filled with what she thought were old advertisements. She was about to use them in a piece of artwork until a friend recognized they were vintage cards—specifically, they were from the 1916 M101-4 Sporting News set. Dubbed the “Baggie Find,” the 178 cards were sent to auction in December.
When James “Uncle Jimmy” Micioni passed, he left a treasure trove of memorabilia to his nephews and nieces—in the attic.
“We always knew he had Babe Ruth and it was always in the attic, but we were never allowed in the attic,” nephew Peter Micioni, 59, told SCD.
Among 40 boxes of memorabilia was not one but six signed Babe Ruth 1933 Goudey cards. In all, there were more than 1,000 vintage cards in remarkable condition and an estimated 100,000 baseball cards all told. Amazing.
Let’s hope 2021 is filled with more incredible discoveries.
Dave Strege is Editor of SCD. Contact him at email@example.com.