Like most moms, mine had many wonderful qualities. Among the feats that made her a star: She never threw away my baseball cards.
I started collecting them around age 12 in the mid-1960s, picking up packages after school for a nickel each at a local drug store in West Orange, New Jersey, where I grew up. I can still smell the thin pink chewing gum pellets that were inside each packet and have contributed to countless cavities. My cards were in better shape than those of most other kids in my neighborhood. It was because they were turning over their cards in a game they were playing on a patio behind a friend of mine’s house.
With the flip of a hand, a child dropped a card which landed either showing the image of the ballplayer on the front or on the back with his stats. If the next child’s card lands the same way, that child has won the opponent’s card. If the cards do not match, the first player wins. I’ve never been a big fan of flipping – or, for that matter, sticking cards between the spokes of a bike wheel to generate a loud click. Both practices damaged them.
Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t just collect players from my favorite team – in my case, the Los Angeles Dodgers – and trade others. I collected stars, which meant being willing to keep players on teams I hated, like the New York Yankees. As a result, I ended up with the cards of many players who went on to join the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York – including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski and Stan Musial.
When I went to college, my collection of over 1,000 cards sat in shoeboxes in my closet. I don’t remember telling my mother to keep them. But she did, with one exception. At some point, she got rid of the bulletin board above my desk. Pressed into the lower right corner was the 1955 Rookie of the Year card for my hero, Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax. I had ordered it directly from the company that made the cards – Topps Chewing Gum Inc in Brooklyn – for about 15 cents, sending a dime and a nickel stuck on a file card.
The Koufax card would probably be worth several thousand dollars today. DECISION TIME
In the years that followed, I rarely looked at my collection. But I’ve carried the shoeboxes around for decades, along with stamp albums and old coins I collected as a kid. When I moved to London in 1998, I started renting a series of safes in the United States to store everything. Rental fees eventually exceeded $1,000.
Then, after more than 50 years, I had to decide what to do with my baseball cards. My mother passed away in 2015. Two years ago, my sister sold her house in northern New Jersey and closed her bank account – as well as a safe I used to store my cards because I didn’t have my own United States. Account. This meant that I had to find a new reserve for my collection.
How much were my cards worth? My attempts to find out had always ended in failure. Sometime in the 1980s I took them to a baseball card show and was told they might fetch around $700. But then, just as Wall Street does from time to time, the baseball card market crashed. About a year ago I started seeing reports that the sports memorabilia market was back in vogue. I consulted a longtime friend who used to collect cards. He suggested selling my collection through Lelands, an online auction house in Matawan, New Jersey.
So, last November, my sister and I went to a mall to meet Keith Breitweiser, a company acquisition specialist. To prepare, I had gone through all the maps for the first time since my teenage years. Using an online price guide, I narrowed down the ones I thought were the most valuable, a task that took a long evening. They were nearly 450.
Keith met us in a small conference room. I lay a thick black binder containing my cards on the table. He was quick to say that these types of cards were the “bread and butter” of the auction house. He would be interested in offering them at the next sale – the “Winter Classic 2022”. I asked what he thought they were looking for.
He estimated they could cost between $3,000 and $5,000. Another specialist with more experience selling baseball cards said he thought they could fetch over $5,000. But the pair said it was hard to predict as they believed the market had already peaked. Keith also explained that Lelands would charge a 15% commission plus a fee to get about a dozen of my cards professionally graded – about $30 per card. Appraisal companies authenticate cards and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, taking into account factors such as the condition of the edges and corners, and the centering of the images. A high rating can mean a lot more money.
Intrigued, I told Keith to go and left my cards with Lelands. “SMART MONEY”
The online auction started on February 13 and lasted for a month. My cards came in four separate bundles: 10 Mickey Mantle cards from 1958-1968, a Nolan Ryan rookie card, 40 cards with many Hall of Famers, and the remaining 379 cards. They were hardly one of the highlights of the auction. Among its 1,200 prizes, “Winter Classic 2022” included a 2000 “Championship Rookie Ticket” autographed by a young football quarterback named Tom Brady, a 1933 baseball card signed by Babe Ruth, and a 1936 card autographed by Joe DiMaggio.
My cards quickly attracted offers, however. I could follow online. After two weeks, the total of the four lots had reached $3,486. “It’s gonna heat up in the end,” texted me. “Smart money is coming late.”
With nine days to go, bidding totaled $4,469. By the final day, with around 12 hours remaining, they had hit $6,333, beating Keith’s prediction. The Mickey Mantles were worth up to $940, the Nolan Ryan rookie card was up to $777, the Hall of Famers was up to $1,832, and the remaining prize was up to $2,784. And my friend was right.
When the auction ended late in the evening of March 12 – while I was sleeping in London – the total was $7,719. The buyers, all anonymous, paid a 20% commission on top of their winning bids. This meant my cards were actually selling for $9,263, far exceeding my expectations. After subtracting the 15% seller commission on $7,719 and grading fees, I made about $6,200.
As another friend – a longtime foreign correspondent whose mother threw away her baseball cards years ago – said via text: “Home run! (Editing by Michael Williams and Paulo Prada.)
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)