By Larry Canale
Earlier this summer, you likely noticed a host of tributes to the great Yankees captain and catcher Thurman Munson. One reason for the attention was the 39th anniversary of his death (Aug. 2, 1979). Another reason was the release of long-stored documents related to the plane crash that killed him—depositions from a lawsuit filed by the Yankees (eventually dismissed) and a lawsuit filed by Munson’s widow, Diana (settled after initial testimony).
For longtime fans, the attention reminded us of how perfect Munson was for those early-1970s Yankees, who were finally rising from the hard-luck “Horace Clarke years” of the late 1960s. Munson was the team’s sparkplug as the Yanks found their way back to the top, winning World Series titles in 1977 and 1978.
Should Munson have been voted into the Hall of Fame? In an all-too-short career, he managed to win a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, two World Series, three Gold Glove awards and seven All-Star Game selections. He was a career .292 hitter with three 100-RBI seasons and five .300-plus seasons. And he was known as a top clutch hitter; in post-season play, he batted .357 with 22 RBI in 30 games. Yet he never got more than 15.5 percent of baseball’s voting writers to give him a thumbs-up.
Still, in honor of Munson, let’s look at related memorabilia that changed hands over the summer.
• A 1971 Topps Munson card graded PSA 8.5 sold for $4,200 on 32 bids. The card’s photo captures the essence of the catcher: He’s shown in an action shot, blocking the plate amidst a cloud of dust as an Oakland A’s player tries in vain to reach home plate. The card also bears that classic “Topps All-Star Rookie” icon, recognizing Munson’s 1970 performance, when he batted .302 in 132 games.
• A 2004 Donruss Playoff Prime Cuts card of Munson sold for $2,500. The card celebrates Munson’s 1976 MVP award and presents a cut signature—a real rarity, considering Munson’s death at such a young age (32).
• A signed and framed photo postcard autographed by Munson sold for $2,240. The sig came with a Beckett authentication letter. And a personalized 8 by 10 photo autographed by Munson (“To Doug”) in the late 1970s sold for $1,900. The picture itself is a close-up view of the Yankees catcher with a half-smile on his face.
• A signed program from the 1977 Syracuse (N.Y.) Automobile Dealers Association sold for $1,800. The program, which bears several stains, came from an “Auto World” event at the Onondaga County War Memorial. Munson—who had just been named A.L. MVP for the 1976 season—appeared at the show and signed this particular program for the seller, who at the time was a young fan. Along with the program, the lot included a scrap of paper on which the catcher wrote, “Happy Birthday Frank/Thurman Munson.” The lot also included one of those endearing oddities that only collectors can appreciate—a cigar Munson had been smoking during his appearance at the show. The seller wrote of the cigar, “I know it’s not worth anything, but after he was done signing and was walking away (I had stayed there the whole hour, off to the side, just watching him), my father grabbed the cigar from the ashtray for me.”
• Another seller listed a Gem-Mint 1979 Topps Munson card graded PSA 10 and sold it for the same price as the above item—$1,800. It represented Munson’s final card as a player.
• And how about his rookie card? That would be Munson’s 1970 Topps issue, a card he shared with first baseman Dave McDonald. A PSA 9-grade example of that grey-bordered card sold in July for $1,525 on 17 bids.
We mentioned Horace Clarke in the previous item, but didn’t intend it as a disparaging comment. Ol’ Hoss may have played in pinstripes during the Yankees’ dark era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but he was a scrappy little second baseman and leadoff hitter who’s worth a mention. So let’s give you a look at a Gem-Mint, PSA 10 Clarke card from 1968 that sold, amazingly, for $1,500. The memorable photo on the front shows the bespectacled Clarke (a switch-hitter) in a right-handed swing pose, while the reverse reflects his respectable .272 performance in 588 at-bats in the 1967 season.
In lesser condition, this same card can be had at far more affordable prices. We saw a PSA 9 sell for $78, while a PSA 7 sold for $10.
It’s not often you see San Diego Padres hitters stirring up excitement, but remember this name: Franmil Reyes. A husky rookie outfielder, Reyes made a real splash this summer; after his call-up in May, he hit 15 homers in his first 180 at-bats.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Reyes joined the Padres’ farm system in 2012 and has been climbing the ranks, culminating in a 25-homer, 102-RBI season in AA ball last year. This season, he blasted 16 HRs in AAA ball before the Padres promoted him.
Are collectors noticing? Consider that in late August, a 2014 autographed Bowman Chrome Red Refractor card of Reyes sold for $1,726 on 23 bids. Orange Refractors from the same set fetched $405 (BGS 9.5) and $360 (ungraded) in late August.
THAT CLASSIC FLEER HOOP SET
Talk about hot summer sales ... In late August, a wild eBay auction for a complete set of graded 1986-87 Fleer basketball cards inspired 124 bids, pushing the final price to $72,601. Virtually the entire set—131 of the 132 base cards, plus the companion 11-sticker set—were graded 10 by PSA. The only exception was a Johnny Moore card housed in a BGS 9.5 holder.
Keep in mind that a PSA 10 Michael Jordan from this landmark set can sell for $20,000 to $30,000—sometimes more. The Johnny Moore card, a harder-to-find piece, draws between $4,000 and $6,000 in Gem-Mint condition.
A host of other cards in the set, if graded 10, can sell for hundreds and into the thousands by themselves. Among the many Hall-of-Famers here: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale and, of course, “The Round Mound of Rebound,” Charles Barkley.