July 15, 2024

Wealth Matters: From Honus to Derek, Memorabilia Is More Than Signed Bats

Like many Yankees’ fans, I spent last Saturday watching the coverage of Jeter getting his 3,000th hit over and over. And then, I thought of all the memorabilia that was coming — all the balls, bats, jerseys, photos and anything you could imagine signed by Jeter.

Three days later, I actually saw some of that memorabilia in the making, at the headquarters of Steiner Sports in New Rochelle, N.Y. The Steiner warehouse looked like a cross between a Home Depot and Santa’s workshop, with shelves stacked to the ceiling with sports merchandise. I saw a half-dozen men framing photographs Jeter had signed Sunday night. There were boxes of balls he had also signed, stacked like crates of oranges. Blown-up Sports Illustrated covers of Jeter were in the back, out of the way for the time being.

I had gone to Steiner Sports to see more than just the Jeter memorabilia, though. I also wanted to understand the broader market for baseball collectibles. What types of things appreciate? Can a collector expect to profit from his hobby? Most important, how do you know if what you have is valuable or just an expensive tchotchke? Here is some of what I learned:

STRIKEOUTS Chances are pretty good that the sports memorabilia most people have is not worth much. All the balls, bats and pictures being sold at retail stores and online to commemorate Jeter’s milestone fit into that category.

Brandon Steiner, who in 1987 founded Steiner Sports, which is now owned by Omnicom, said there were different levels of collectors, ranging from those who save programs and tickets to people who buy things that were used in a game.

In between is the market for so-called authentic collectibles. A day after his 3,000th hit, Jeter signed 500 balls and 400 photos for Mr. Steiner’s company. Those balls are selling for $699.99; the photos range from $599.99 to $799.99.

Mr. Steiner said this was a relatively small signing to meet the immediate demand. He has scheduled two more for Jeter to autograph game-used memorabilia as well as things fans send in and pay a fee to have autographed.

And that’s just for one moment in baseball history, awesome though it was. Retired baseball greats and not-so-greats have been signing memorabilia, for a fee, for 30 years at baseball card shows, flooding the autograph market.

The worst offender may be Pete Rose, who holds the record for the most hits ever, 4,256. Since he was caught betting on baseball and banned from the sport, he has been a prolific signer. Balls inscribed “I’m sorry I bet on baseball — Pete Rose” are being sold on Walmart.com for $189.99 and on Amazon.com for $159.95. (A ball with just his name costs $69.99.)

This segment of the memorabilia industry is an easy target for purists. “I have total disdain for the manufactured memorabilia market,” said Richard Simon, a baseball card dealer and authenticator. “That is what is going on right now, as opposed to Babe Ruth signing an autograph book or a photo of himself 70 years ago.”

But Mr. Steiner is unapologetic. “The last three or four years, I’ve been thinking, how do we get to the average fan who can’t afford authentic, let alone game-used?” he said. He cited ballpark dirt and the bricks from the old Yankee Stadium as affordable keepsakes. “People laugh at me about the dirt, but I’ve sold over $10 million worth of dirt.”

Howie Schwartz, chief executive of GrandStandSports.com and a competitor to Steiner, said the relative affordability of Jeter memorabilia — ranging from $400 to $1,000 — matches up well with the huge market for him.

“Look at how many people watch baseball and how many kids play baseball,” he said. The average consumer may think 900 items is a lot. But there were 50,000 fans at Yankees Stadium that day.”

Still, while 50,000 people buying identical signed baseballs may be good for the seller, it is not good for anyone who expects the collectible to increase, or even hold, its value.

HOME RUNS The market for high-end sports memorabilia is different.

The most famous baseball collectible of all time is a baseball card known as the T206. It depicts Honus Wagner, a Hall of Fame shortstop from the early 20th century, and there are only about 60 still around. (Wagner ordered the maker, the American Tobacco Company, to stop production, legend has it, because he was not paid enough for his image or feared that children would buy cigarettes to get it.) The T206 once owned by the hockey legend Wayne Gretzky was sold in 2007 for $2.8 million to Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=85ea56465ccdc9b0bc6d66c587abc390

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