Walter Johnson: A Legend Well Ahead of His Time

There’s no need to wonder how a power pitcher like Nolan Ryan or Bob Feller would have fared in the dead ball era of the early 1900s, because they were there. So was Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman. Each one of these ace hurlers dominated the early days of baseball, but they did so under the name Walter Johnson. Nicknamed “The Big Train” because a train was the fasting thing people knew of to move from one place to another at the time, Johnson’s unprecedented sidearm fastball baffled even the most iconic baseball immortals of his day.

“We couldn’t touch him …”

There weren’t many times in his 24 year career that Ty Cobb was overmatched at the plate, and far fewer that the surly “Georgia Peach’ would actually admit to. But mention the name Walter Johnson and you’d see a rare emotion from Cobb … humility. “The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger,” said Cobb. “We couldn’t touch him … every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.” Johnson’s dominance can be traced back to high school. As a member of Fullerton Union High School, he struck out 27 batters during a 15-inning game. Discovered while playing in the Idaho State League, the scout that signed him said of the 19-year old pitcher, “He throws so fast you can’t see ’em, and he knows where he’s throwing because if he didn’t there would be dead bodies strewn all over Idaho.” Once he developed a curveball, “The Big Train” became a runaway train, leading the league in wins for four consecutive seasons while topping the strikeout board eight straight times and twelve in all.

Game-Used Walter Johnson Bat Offered in MHCC March Auction

With a body of work that includes the all-time record for shutouts with 110, second all-time in wins with 417 and a career record in strikeouts that lasted for nearly 56 years, Walter Johnson is not only considered by many to be the greatest pitcher of his day but the greatest pitcher in baseball history. As incredible as his accomplishments were on the mound, he was remarkably skilled at the plate. A lifetime .235 hitter with 24 home runs, Johnson was called upon to pinch hit over 100 times in his career and, at age 37, batted .433 with two homers and 20 RBI in just 97 at-bats. Mile High Card Company is proud to offer a game-used Walter Johnson Louisville Slugger bat in the upcoming March auction, one of only three known to exist, authenticated and graded GU8 by PSA/DNA. Also available is the most significant card issue of Johnson ever produced; his absolutely stunning T204 Ramly card that rates as one of the highest ever graded at SGC 80 EX/MT+ 6.5. Both items are among the finest of a variety of high-profile items featured in the MHCC auction, which runs from February 20th through March 9th.

Is Ted Williams the greatest hitter in baseball history?

Whoa, whoa, slow down there, deputy!

Before you go running off to grab your Goudey Babe Ruth card and cradle it in the fetal position, just hear me out. You don’t have to agree with it; I’m not even sure I agree with it myself. And while there’s no doubt that Babe Ruth is, and always will be, the most dominant athlete of his day and the greatest icon in American sports history, or even just American history, a case can be made that Ted Williams was actually the greatest hitter the game has ever known. Mile High Card Company offered a Spectacular Fresh to the Hobby 1950 Ted Williams Boston Red Sox Game Worn and Autographed Jersey in our August 2016 auction, and while preparing a description for the catalog, I got an opportunity to crunch the numbers on behalf of “The Splendid Splinter” with some interesting results. Keep in mind, what I’m about to suggest is completely unscientific and totally speculative, but might just give some insight into how truly incredible a hitter Ted Williams really was.

It’s Not Just About the Numbers!

Sure, a side by side comparison of the career numbers of Williams to Ruth leaves “Teddy Ballgame” lagging far behind in every category but walks (#4 all-time, Ruth is #3) and slugging percentage (#2 all-time, Ruth #1) with a slight lead in doubles (525 to 506). But Williams missed considerable time while in the prime of his career to military service; close to 5 years. What I’m proposing is to “give back” those lost years, using seasonal statistics prior to and after military service, to estimate what his career body of work might look like. Of course, many would say, “Hey, it is what it is, players get injured but we don’t sit around ‘giving’ them extra stats for missed games.” True, but losing time to injury is part of the game; losing time to defend your country is something different altogether. While it’s possible that Williams might have gotten injured and missed time anyway, I’m not claiming the player with the best numbers is the best hitter. We’re just trying to “even the playing field” of what might have been so that we can make an “apples to apples” comparison … so here it goes!

World War II

Ted Williams was in his fourth season at 23 years old having just completed an American League Triple Crown season, batting .356 with 36 homers and 137 RBI when Uncle Sam summoned him to military duty. He wouldn’t see the field again until he was 27 years old, losing three prime years of his career. If we take the average of the two seasons prior and the four years after his service, projecting that over three years would net Williams 1,548 more at-bats, 408 runs, 555 hits, 113 doubles, 106 home runs, 390 RBI and 449 walks to his resume, with a batting average of .359 over those three seasons.

Back to the Front

In the six seasons after his return from World War II, Ted Williams won two batting titles, two home run crowns and was twice the American League MVP. But in 1952, he was recalled to active duty to serve as a combat pilot in the Korean War, playing only six games in ’52 and returning to the field for 37 games in 1953. Using the average of the prior season and the three seasons after as an estimate with Williams missing about 83% of those two years, it earns him another 677 at-bats, 146 runs, 230 hits, 41 doubles, 63 homers, 157 RBI, 195 walks and a .340 batting average.

The Fair Comparison

OK so in our alternate universe, Ted Williams never served in the military and continued to perform at or about the same rate for those “missing” years. Under those conditions, here’s the career comparison of Ruth and Williams…

AB R H 2B HR RBI BB AVG
Ruth 8399 2174 2873 506 714 2214 2062 .342
Williams 9931 2352 3439 679 690 2386 2665 .362

Not only would Williams surpass Ruth in several key categories, he would be baseball’s all-time leader in runs, RBI and bases on balls (all highlighted in red). He would have retired second to Ruth in homers, and with 29 round-trippers in his final season in 1961, might have played another year or two for the chance of taking the all-time home run crown. And let’s not forget, Ted Williams didn’t have “The Iron Horse” batting behind him … EVERY … SINGLE … GAME … for well over a decade! The defense rests, your honor. What’s your verdict?

1950 Ted Williams Boston Red Sox Game Worn and Autographed Jersey sold in our August 2016 auction

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1950’s Ted Williams Type I Original Photo Used in 1954, 55, and 56 Topps Card by George Woodruff Sold in our August 2016 auction

What’s Your Favorite Post-War Set? The MHCC Staff Picks

 

Mile High Card Co Staff Picks

When people ask what we at Mile High Card Company do for a living, we usually tell them, “Same thing we did in 6th grade, play with baseball cards!” Obviously it’s a quite a bit more complicated than that, but with all the hard work and dedication we put into consistently producing one of the finest auctions in the hobby, we still marvel at the quality of material that passes through our doors, whether it’s something we’ve seen over and over or a rare piece surfacing for the first time. Sadly, there are those in this industry that look at sports cards as merely a means to make a living, seeing just little pieces of cardboard encased in plastic to be bought and sold for profit. And while what we do won’t cure a wasting disease or solve the plight of hunger or global conflict, we do have a passion for the hobby that drives us to deliver a first-rate catalog time after time, presenting auction material the way we’d want it to be presented if we were the consignor. So as our new catalog auction gears up to begin on October 24th, we thought we’d share our “Staff Picks.” Presenting our favorite Topps sets:

 

Brian Drent – President and CEO: 1952 Topps

A traditionalist through and through! If you ever had a sit-down with Brian and just discussed baseball cards, you’d see that he sounds more like a collector than an auctioneer. I expected Brian to pick this set for two reasons: respect for its importance to the hobby and the challenge of building it in high grade. There are so many layers to the ’52 Topps set that it’s almost a separate hobby within the hobby. Of course, there’s the Mickey Mantle card, the lead issue of the enigmatic high-number series, a 97-card collection that has its own folklore. Then there’s the “why him?” card #1 Andy Pafko, the handful of commons that are inexplicably difficult to find in high-grade, and the back variations of the low series that make the 1952 Topps set seem like a dysfunctional family that somehow manages to get along perfectly when sitting around the dinner table at Thanksgiving. It’s easy to pick the ’52 set just for the Mantle, but there are so many other reasons as well!

Ben Gassaway – Auction Coordinator: 1953 Topps

I was a little surprised that Ben chose the 1953 Topps set, but I can understand why. Sure, the 1952 set gets most of the accolades as the inaugural issue and the birthplace of the iconic Mickey Mantle card, but if we’re really being honest with ourselves, there’s no better assemblage for sheer aesthetics than the ’53 series. The intricate detail of the player depictions on each card far surpasses the quality of the 1952 set, right down to the advertising on the outfield fences in the backdrop of most issues. While it doesn’t carry the financial swagger of the ’52 set with virtually all of the potential for key rookie issues gobbled up by the premier series, the ’53 set is easier to build in high-grade than its predecessor, has a tough but not crazy-hard high-number series, a smaller 274-card size, and a smattering of short-prints that make life more interesting. Plus it’s got Mantle, Mays, J. Robinson, and the addition of a Satchel Paige card that are arguably the best looking issues ever produced for each player.

Mitch Rosenberg – Senior Writer: 1957 Topps

I might have gone with the 1955 set if not for one thing that’s unfortunately a deal-breaker: no Mickey Mantle card. But to me, the 1957 Topps set is the complete package. At 407 cards, it’s large enough to present a challenge but small enough so that you won’t have to lose your mind trying to find those last six cards to complete it. It’s the first Topps set with live, on-field shots that lend an authenticity to the series, as if you’re at the ballpark taking the photo yourself. It’s also loaded with great rookie cards of Hall of Famers: Drysdale, Mazeroski, Herzog, F. Robinson, B. Robinson and Bunning, in addition to the debut of Colavito, Richardson and Kubek. It’s got a tougher mid-series that provides a touch of card-collecting drama, a Mickey Mantle card that’s one of the best, and a “Yankee Power Hitters” card that closes out the collection in style. Yeah, if we were using today’s vernacular to sell this set, the slogan might be, “1957 Topps: it just got real!”

Kyle Boetel – Generalist: 1967 Topps

Though revered as the first set he ever collected as a kid, Kyle has plenty of great points as to why the 1967 Topps series is his favorite. Like the ’53 Bowman Color collection (his second choice), the ’67 Topps series offers amazingly bright and precise color photographs that far surpassed any that came before it. The 609-card series also features key rookie cards of Tom Seaver and Rod Carew with a high-numbers series filled with difficult but attainable cards in top grade. There are even a few quirky variation cards that are fun to collect if you can find them, and a classic portrait shot of Mickey Mantle against a baby-blue backdrop that many collectors think is his most attractive card of the decade. Unfortunately, his dog took a piece out of the Mantle card he owned as a kid, but these things happen.

Whatever drives your passion, we at Mile High Card Company will continue to do our best in helping you achieve you card-collecting goals with the same enthusiasm for presenting material as you have for collecting it. When that catalog hits our hands for the first time, as it will again very soon, we still feel that adrenaline rush, and we already know what’s in it! As long as we still approach our trade with the same excitement for each catalog as we did for our first, we’re gonna continue to offer the best material with the respect it deserves. Good luck and good bidding!

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One Week Left in Mile High Card Company May Auction: 1952 Topps Mantle PSA 6.5 Reaches $165,000

Mile High Card Company’s May auction has just one week to go and the event’s headliner; a 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle PSA 6.5, has already shattered the previous record price. “Oh, there’s still a long way to go for that ’52 Mantle” said MHCC President and CEO Brian Drent, “It’s the most spectacular example you’ll ever see at this grade and we anticipate a real battle in extended bidding. The card looks like a PSA 8!” The auction opened on April 18th and the ’52 Mantle quickly shot past the $100,000 mark within 2 hours, inclusive of the buyer’s premium.

Along with the Mantle, the 1955 Topps #164 Roberto Clemente rookie card remains the hottest commodity in the baseball card world with MHCC offering a pair of PSA 8’s that are currently $63,979 each. Other key items include a 1902-11 Sporting Life W600 Honus Wagner SGC 50 VG/EX 4 that is presently bid to $33,061, 1914 Cracker Jack #30 Ty Cobb PSA 8 NM/MT at $60,979, 1952 Topps #261 Willie Mays PSA 8 NM/MT at $32,922, 1965 Topps #350 Mickey Mantle PSA 9 MINT at $24,031 and 1984-85 Star #101 Michael Jordan BGS 9 MINT at $36,034.

Other lots expected to see strong bidding are near complete T-206 and 1933 Goudey sets, a 1934 New York Yankees Team-Signed Baseball with (24) Signatures featuring Ruth and Gehrig, and several unopened wax and rack pack football and hockey cases from the 1970s and 1980s. Several PSA Set Registry rated sets are receiving significant interest, with a link to each provided on our website to give bidders an opportunity to seethe grades and population of each individual card in the set.

Bidding continues through Thursday, May 5th. Initial bids must be placed by 9PM EST on Thursday to qualify for extended bidding on that lot. All registered bidders can place bids by telephone or online. If you are not registered to bid with MHCC and want to participate in the auction, you can visit our website at www.milehighcardco.com to register or call our office at (303) 840-2784.

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Seller’s Market – The State of Card Collecting Has Never Been Better!

Less than 18 months ago, Mile High Card Company offered a 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle PSA 5 in our 2014 Summer auction. The card brought in just short of $16,000, a respectable price at the time. A few weeks ago, MHCC offered another 1952 Topps Mantle that changed hands for the sum of $21,549.00. While any collector would consider that a tidy windfall, it becomes even more impressive when you consider that the latest offering was not a PSA 5; it was graded PSA 2.5 GOOD+. The last two PSA5s have sold for over $57,000. As incredible as that sounds, it’s become a common event in an industry that is not only experiencing bull market, it’s reaching a level never before imagined!

Is it time to sell?

It would be really easy for us to just say, “YES!” We’re in the auction business, it’s what we do, so we’re definitely biased. But that doesn’t mean we’re wrong, because the results speak for themselves. When a 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente RC graded PSA 8 sells for $12,000 in an April 2014 MHCC auction and over $58,000 just a few weeks ago, or a 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan RC graded PSA 9 jumps from $15,000 a year ago to over $40,000 in the last public auction, you might conclude that there’s a few collectors out there that got a little caught up in the bidding frenzy. But it’s much more than that. When you deal with so many praiseworthy cards on a regular basis as we do, the trend becomes impossible to ignore. Look at the price changes that have taken place in just the course of a year: 1954 Topps Hank Aaron PSA 8 from $11,000 (Mar 2015) to over $28,000 (Jan 2016), 1955 Koufax PSA 8 from $3,400 (Feb 2015) to $8,600 (Feb 2016), even lower priced cards like a 1964 Topps Pete Rose PSA 8, which was selling for under $900 as recently as March and now boasts four sales of $2,200 or more since December. This incredible spike in prices has been across the board from the mid grades on up, doubling, tripling, and in the case of the Clemente RC, more than quadrupling in value, all while the stock market has fallen over the same time span.

Are we still on the way up?

Ha! If I knew the answer to that, I’d be on my own island sipping margaritas. But I do know this … nothing lasts forever. In the last MHCC auction, an incredible 1954 Topps Aaron RC PSA 9 brought in over $190,000, beating the previous high of $62,000 from a public auction in August 2014. Who can really know for sure whether that same card sells for $300,000 two months from now, stays even for the next 5 years or drops in price? Sure, most of you aren’t in the market for MINT Hank Aaron rookie cards, but everyone has an investment in their collection. The best advice we can offer is to take a good, long look at what you have. Is it something you enjoy, regardless of its monetary value? Is it something you can part with, maybe to help complete a different project or invest elsewhere? While we can’t predict the future, we do know that in the present, there’s never been a better time to sell. Whether it’s months from now, years, or even a decade away, eventually the music stops, prices recede, and balance is restored. Whatever you decide, we at Mile High Card Company are dedicated to being at your service.

1968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan

1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle

1955 Topps #123 Sandy Koufax

1954 Topps #128 Hank Aaron PSA 8

1968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan PSA 9

Just Like Willie Mays – But Not in a Good Way

willie-mays-Copy1Growing up on Long Island, my first recollection of baseball was in 1973, when my 3rd grade principal allowed the radio broadcast of the National League championship series to be played over the intercom for the last 20 minutes of the school day. I became a Mets fan. And it was exciting, because the Mets were really good, and they had Willie Mays! Except … he really wasn’t Willie Mays; he was a 42-year old part-time player who batted .221 and used to be Willie Mays. While guys like Mays, the real immortals of their sport, have earned the right to leave the game on their own terms, it’s always a little sad when they seem to hold on just a little too long and become a mere shell of what once was. Even the great Babe Ruth, still one of the best in the game at age 38, was relegated to a being a sideshow for the last place Boston Braves just two years later. When it comes to sports, or all aspects of life for that matter, Father Time remains undefeated. While many know when to hang it up, here are some of the greatest athletes from each sport that are in danger of “Willie Mays-ing” themselves:

Kobe Bryant

kobe“The Black Mamba” had done it all! He’s won titles with Shaq, he’s won titles without Shaq, captured scoring titles and MVP awards, and appeared in 16 consecutive all-star games. But over the last 3 years, Kobe has learned the names of the people in the training room better than the ones on the court. Finally “healthy” at age 37, the once great Lakers are a joke and Kobe is the punch line. It’s understandable that Kobe didn’t want to go quietly into the night from the assortment of injuries that would afflict anyone who has spent more than half of his life on an NBA court. And Kobe certainly deserves the pomp and circumstance of the “farewell season” afforded the true greats of the game. But simply put, Kobe can’t find the basket anymore. Sure, he still averages 16 points per game, but his 32% shooting percentage (23% on three pointers) couldn’t get him a roster spot in the D-League these days. Yeah, you could say that Kobe was the Willie Mays of professional basketball … and still is.

Ichiro Suzuki

After 9 seasons as one of the greatest hitters in Japanese baseball history, Ichiro came to the U.S. as a 27 year old rookie and did the same thing here. In his first 10 seasons with Seattle, “The Wizard” averaged 105 runs scored, 224 hits and a .331 batting average, all while winning the Gold Glove award every season. But it’s been five years since Ichiro has seen the .300 mark, and at 41 years old, he’s a pinch hitter and 4th outfielder for the Miami Marlins, playing behind such baseball notables as Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna. OK, he’s only 65 hits away from the legendary 3000 hit club and no one can blame him for sticking around to get that. But if he matches last year’s .229 mark, he’s gonna need some major at-bats. Hopefully he makes it to 3000, gets one more (because Roberto Clemente should forever stand alone to guard the gate) and hangs it up the next day.

Jaromir Jagr

jagrHe’s 43 years old and in his 23th NHL season, took a three year hiatus to play in Europe and ranks 4th all-time in goals and points scored. This season, he anchors the Florida Panthers’ top line and has 9 goals and 21 points in 28 games while positioning the Panthers to make a playoff run for only the 2nd time in the last 15 years. Never mind Jaromir, you keep playing!

Peyton Manning (?)

As residents of the Mile High City, we reserve the right to delay passing judgment on “The Sheriff.” True, he’s 39 years old and has been pretty disappointing this season, but he’s got injuries to his foot, shoulder and ribs. And let’s not forget those four surgeries on his neck; who knows how much of a factor that plays into an aging quarterback’s performance. But Manning threw for 39 touchdowns last season and found the end zone 131 times over the last three. Can it really be over that quickly? It was for Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath too, but they stuck around (in name only) for several more seasons. A “healthy” Peyton deserves one more shot to find out if the tank had a hole that’s been patched or if it’s just empty, though it might not happen in Denver. John Elway, a Hall of Famer who walked away from the game on the heels of two consecutive Super Bowl championships, isn’t sentimental. Like Elway says, “Plan B? There is no Plan B. We’re going with Plan A!” One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, a sure Hall of Famer, may be just like Willie Mays … but not in a good way!

What do you think?  Anyone else you would add to this list?  Comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

The 1953 Topps baseball set: A New and Improved Collection

Not long after the New York Yankees secured another seven game World Series championship over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the summer of ’52, Topps architect Sy Berger was hard at work, utilizing feedback gathered from the release of the inaugural Topps set to create an even better product for 1953. The “super-sized” pasteboards were praised by collectors, though the subpar colorization of the black and white images and limited success of the troubled high-number series left plenty of room for improvement. An even bigger problem was brewing in Philadelphia as Topps had the attention of rival Bowman, who would not only increase their card size for the 1953 collection but also file a lawsuit against Topps, alleging player contract violations. It was clear that in 1953, Topps was either going to make their mark or become the next victim to fall by the wayside.

Topps 2.0 – Making a classic even better

In order to improve the appearance of the players, Topps commissioned artist Gerry Dvorak to sketch and paint the likeness of each player. The result was a collection of memorable portraits and action shots, finely detailed with dominating images and warm flesh tones that, to this day, stands among the most admired in the industry. Even the background of each card was carefully crafted, capturing the feel of the stadium crowd and appropriate advertising that lined the fences. Jackie Robinson was moved to the pole position as card #1, with Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews also moving from the previous year’s high-number series to the ’53 set’s first series. This gave collectors an opportunity to quickly acquire many of the popular stars that they were unable to find the previous year.

As the court battle with Bowman over player contracts raged on, Topps was forced to continually make changes to their print plans, replacing players that they couldn’t get under contract by either “moving up” a player from the next series to the present one or double-printing a player in the existing series. There were also five cards from both the 1st and 2nd series that were moved back, creating “chase cards” that couldn’t be obtained until the next series was released. By the time Topps reached the late-season high number series, there weren’t enough contracted players for a complete run, so many more cards were double-printed, with six (#253, 261, 267, 268, 271 and 275) left out of the series entirely. Seemingly a mix of superstars and “no-name” players, the cards slated for double-printing were likely chosen randomly or left in the hands of the printer to decide. If left up to Topps, they surely would have gone exclusively with big name stars. After all, who’s going to complain about getting too many Mickey Mantle cards? As for the six missing subjects, one can only speculate who they may have been. But it should be noted that Richie Ashburn, Leo Durocher, Gil Hodges, Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts and Duke Snider all appear in the ’52 series and are absent in the ’53 collection.

With the dreadful centering issues plaguing the 1952 Topps high-number series largely corrected, a new wrinkle was introduced that would soon be added to the card collector’s vernacular; chipping. Though the attractive red and black nameplates that ran along two of the edges were met with overwhelming favorability, collectors soon realized that the colors easily flaked, making it a much more difficult task to keep their cards in pristine condition. As a result, only 30 cards from the entire set have graded PSA 10, and less than 1% of all submissions have reached the level of PSA 9. Ironically, Bowman countered with a “color” series revered by many as their best ever, but they fell to Topps once again in terms of sales, and a new king of the baseball card market was crowned!

#4 Ranked PSA Set Registry Collection – 8.41 Set Rating – offered in MHCC October 2015 Auction

Over the last 25 years, several small “finds” of high-grade 1953 Topps cards from Canada produced a modest cache of perfectly centered, chip-free pasteboards that received the blessing of PSA in the form of PSA 8 and higher grades. There’s little doubt that some of those premier examples made it into this complete assemblage. Presented in the October 2015 Mile High Card Company auction is a crowning achievement in card collecting, one of the finest 1953 Topps collections in existence. Nearly impossible to assemble today if started from scratch, this set ranks #4 on the PSA Set Registry with an overall 8.41 set rating. Every card in this collection carries a minimum grade of PSA 8, with #41 Slaughter, 77 Mize, 114 Rizzuto and 63 others graded PSA 8.5, and 54 cards graded PSA 9, including amazing MINT specimens of #27 Campanella, 37 Mathews, 61 Wynn, 66 Minoso, 76 Reese and 86 B. Martin. Included is a stunning PSA 8 example of Mickey Mantle, a card that has been riding the coattails of the 1952 Topps card to record-breaking prices each time one is offered. The most astonishing member of this collection is a breathtaking PSA 9 card of #224 Satchel Paige, one of the single finest specimens known to exist. Offered as a complete set as well as each card individually, with the higher total between the set price versus the sum of the prices of the individual cards determining the method of sale, this set is but one of many collections rating at or near the top of the PSA Set Registry that will be available in the MHCC October 2105 auction.

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The rookie card market is on fire!

52t311mantle8-p19nf654ng1dncq7t1grn19031hrtWhether it’s Hank Aaron’s glowing orange ’54 Topps, Michael Jordan’s patriotic ‘86 Fleer or Wayne Gretzky’s often ill-centered 1979-80 OPC card, collectors have always had a fondness for debut appearances. But the market for rookie cards, specifically high-grade Hall of Famers, has never been better, regardless of sport. Over the past year, Mile High Card Company has procured some of the most elusive GEM MINT specimens in the hobby and posted record-shattering results, doubling and tripling the previous highest sale price in many instances. But it’s not just the truly elite examples that have taken off…

1980 Topps Rickey Henderson RC tops $30,000

80t482henderson10159It was literally moments after MHCC’s 2015 Spring Elite Extra Innings Auction ended that message boards began to light up about the sale price of a 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card. At $30,325, it nearly tripled the record price of the last example to come to auction. But that was in 2012, when Joe Montana’s GEM MINT 1981 Topps rookie card was selling for around $4,500; five have sold in the last four months for an average of over $14,000. Jerry Rice’s GEM MINT RC? A record-setting price of just over $4,000 in 2012 will set you back well over $11,000 today with one recently selling for over $14,000. And it’s not just GEM MINT specimens that are fetching amazing prices. Roberto Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card has jumped from $6,000 to over $25,000 in PSA 8. Even a ’73 Topps Mike Schmidt rookie card has doubled in price from $1,500 to $3,000 for a PSA 9 in just the past year. And then there’s the ’52 Topps Mantle, not actually a rookie card but easily his most desirable. A strong PSA 8 would have cost you around $75,000 three years ago but that’s only good enough to get you turned down for a PSA 7 today. MHCC just sold a PSA 8 privately for $325,000 and a 1955 Topps Clemente PSA 9 for $200,000. Where does it end … does it?

So what’s going on here?

Simple economics I suppose; just a matter of supply and demand. With published population reports, along with a perception that grading companies have become far more stringent than in years past, collectors are not only armed with the knowledge of which particular issues are more scarce in various grades but that few, if any, future submissions will achieve such lofty results. It’s been 35 years since Henderson’s rookie card was released and only 13 exist at the grade of PSA 10. The question isn’t when, but if, there’s going to be a 14. And when will one of those 13 be offered for sale again? That collector who paid a “crazy” price today might be raking in six figures a few years from now.

The next explosion in the sports card world!

Ha! If I knew that, I’d be sipping margaritas on a private island instead of typing away at a keyboard. We’ve seen T206s, Goudeys, caramel cards and many other issues rocket to record prices in the past. Sometimes they maintain the momentum and continue to rise, sometimes the popularity is fleeting and the waters recede. I’ve always maintained that high-grade Diamond Stars cards are undervalued (and if that becomes a thing I’m taking full credit for it), but if scarce and even not so scarce high-grade rookie cards are going crazy, I’d be taking a look at some select second-year cards. Many of those have even smaller population numbers than their corresponding RC’s and can be had at a fraction of the price. Michael Jordan’s GEM MINT 1986 Fleer RC (pop. 209) sells for close to $15,000 today, but his tougher ‘87 Fleer second-year card (pop. 116) is under $2,000. Sure, it’s not nearly as popular a card … right now. But that’s what would make it the NEXT big thing. What do you think?

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The 1961 Topps Baseball Set – Nothing But Meat and Potatoes!

PSA Registry #2 Ranked Set in MHCC March Auction

61t300mantle9783It was just 3 weeks into the start of a new year and America was inaugurating John F. Kennedy as its 35th President. World War II was long behind us but a new threat emerged from its aftermath, one that would leave our nation on edge for decades and change the culture of our society. In a time marked by unrest and uncertainty, the Topps Company released a 1961 baseball set that brought order to chaos.

Gone were the wild color schemes of the 1958 and 1959 sets as well as the horizontal format of the 1960 collection. The 1961 Topps baseball set eliminated all of the gimmicky bells and whistles, offering a straightforward, no-nonsense format with brilliant color photos and rectangular name and team plates at the bottom. In addition to the usual lineup of superstars, Topps expanded their arsenal of star power with league leader cards, a “Baseball Thrills” subset that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, a Most Valuable Player series and the high-numbered All-Star cards. While many collectors believe the 1961 set to be too conservative, sedate or just plain dull, it’s ample selection of Hall of Fame rookie cards (Ron Santo, Juan Marichal, and Billy Williams) and popularity of the Mantle and Maris cards due to “The Chase” has made the 1961 Topps baseball set a true classic!

It’s tougher than you think!

61t563cerv9973 61t484aaronmvp10871Many collectors are under the impression that the 1961 Topps set is the “easy” one to assemble in high-grade versus other sets of the decade. That might be true when compared to the troublesome 1962 and 1963 sets and their pesky colored edges, but statistics show that just over 6% of all 1961 Topps submissions have earned a grade of PSA 9 and only 0.24% (561 cards total) can claim GEM MINT PSA 10 status, making the 1961 Topps set tougher in elite grade than every Topps set from 1964 through 1969. Much of that is due to the higher number series (#523-589), among the toughest to complete of all Topps sets, which boasts many single pop PSA 9s and “one of one” PSA 10s.

 

1961 Topps Complete Set #2 On PSA Set Registry with Incredible 9.02 GPA

Presented for bidding, as a complete set as well as individual lots with the final sale going to whichever total (the set versus the sum of the individual lots) is higher, is truly a marvel in set assembly, ranked #2 on the PSA Set Registry with an astonishing overall GPA of 9.023. Of the 561 recorded PSA 10s, 24 are offered here, including the one and only PSA 10 specimens of #186 Valo, 255 Power, 405 Gehrig Benched, 438 Flood, 491 Phillies Team and 581 Frank Robinson All-Star. Other important PSA 10s are #260 Drysdale, 443 Snider and 484 Aaron MVP. Card #2 Maris, 150 Mays, 300 Mantle, 475 Mantle MVP, 559 Gentile, 563 Cerv, 578 Mantle All-Star and 579 Mays All-Star are all graded PSA 9 with just 15 cards in the entire collection graded lower. For a complete breakdown of cards and grades in this set, please visit our website for a link to the PSA Set Registry.
The auction opened for bidding on Monday, March 2nd and will conclude on Thursday, March 19th. All auction items are now available at our website, www.milehighcardco.com. MHCC is actively accepting consignments for our June auction, please call us at (303) 840-2784 to discuss any items you wish to consign or visit us in Philadelphia (March 6th – 8th) or Chicago (March 20th- 22nd) to drop off any consignment items and pick up a catalog for the current auction.

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Astonishing 1916 M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie card to be sold in Mile High Card Company March 2015 Auction

As we stand at the cusp of a new baseball season, Mile High Card Company is set to commence with the Spring Auction, which begins on March 2nd and concludes on March 19th. The auction preview will be available Friday, February 27th. Keeping in line with MHCC’s sterling reputation for offering the best in sports cards and memorabilia known to exist, this auction promises to feature many unique, rare and historically significant items. Headlining the auction, one of many items that would serve as the cornerstone to any world-class collection, is an SGC 60 EX 5 graded 1916 M101-4 Sporting News card of Babe Ruth.

m101-4 Babe Ruth Rookie cardThe most important rookie card ever produced!

While the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card and a handful of other illustrious pasteboards may eclipse the Ruth rookie card in both rarity and value, the premier appearance of “The Bambino,” pictured as a lanky Red Sox pitcher, provides an ironic contrast to the rotund slugger who posted unprecedented offensive numbers while wearing the pinstripes of New York just a few years later. Unlike baseball cards that were produced exclusively by tobacco, gum, or candy companies, the Sporting News collection was the creation of Chicago-based printer Felix Mendelsohn, who contracted with several companies to distribute cards with blank backs so his clients could add their own advertising and create a “collectible business card.” Thus, the Ruth rookie card is thought to exist with no less than 16 different reverses though the Sporting News example is the most widely coveted by collectors.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth … pitching ace!

After posting a 22-9 record with a 2.39 ERA for the minor league Baltimore Orioles in 1914, Ruth’s contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox. From 1915-1917, Ruth was one of the best pitchers in the game with a combined 65-33 record and an astonishing 2.01 ERA, leading the American League at 1.75 in 1916. But Ruth’s prowess as a hitter was becoming more evident, and with his desire for more playing time, the Red Sox began transitioning Ruth to the outfield in 1918, cutting his starts on the mound in half and giving him more opportunities at the plate. Ruth proved that he could be dominant at both by posting a 13-7 record with a 2.22 ERA while also batting .300 and leading the American League in home runs in just 317 at-bats. In 1919, Ruth’s time on the mound was scaled back even more but he still posted a 9-5 record, though his ERA rose sharply to 2.97. More importantly, his 432 at-bats yielded 29 homers, 113 RBI and 103 run scored, all league-leaders.

Traded to Chica … uh, New York.

“The Babe” almost wasn’t a Yankee! When Red Sox owner Harry Frazee made it public that he was willing to part with his greatest asset, the Chicago White Sox offered star outfielder Joe Jackson and $60,000 cash for Ruth’s services. Wary of the ongoing investigation into the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal and the potential consequences to “Shoeless Joe,” Frazee was delighted when the New York Yankees entered the bidding with a cash offer of $100,000 and Babe Ruth was sent to New York. Manager Miller Huggins immediately put an end to George Herman Ruth’s pitching career and made him a full-time outfielder. Had the White Sox been successful, instead of Ruth becoming the savior to restore baseball’s integrity, he would’ve worn the cap of the team that destroyed it and likely become just another name among the greats and taking the sport of baseball on a very different path.

 

m101-4 babe ruth rookieOffered is one of the most stunning, mid-grade M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie cards in existence!

The featured item would be at home in a world-class museum or on exhibit at Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame just as easily as it will be in the collection of the highest bidder. Though graded SGC 60 EX 5, an extraordinary accomplishment on its own, this prolific pasteboard is likely the most impressive specimen for the grade and has a stronger overall appearance then several graded even higher that have recently become available. Any collector that has been in the market for a mid to upper-grade Ruth rookie card is well aware of the two biggest pitfalls plaguing the issue; centering and print lines. The M101-4 Ruth is almost always poorly centered, but the featured specimen offers superior framing for the issue, slightly positioned toward the left side but well within parameters for a higher grade and far more accurate than the large majority of examples in the EX grade. Even more significant is the absence of the two horizontal print lines that appear on virtually every M101-4 Ruth, clearly scarring the surface from the center to the right edge near the top of Ruth’s image and in the middle, by Ruth’s waist. Many prospective buyers think these imperfections to be unavoidable at this grade level, but we’re happy to report that this card proves that to be false. The image quality of the young, lanky legend is superb, enhanced by an unadulterated layer of reflective gloss, while each corner shows consistent, mild wear with light enamel loss that is visible under magnification but looks less pronounced to the naked eye. The Sporting News ad on the reverse is surprisingly strong and well-preserved, ably positioned on an off-white canvas that is clean save for the light mark under the “C. C. Spinks & Son” name, a negligible blemish considering its placement on the card and a likely reason the SGC grade isn’t higher … which, of course, would greatly increase the price. We advise you to research prices realized for this card in similar grade, then look at those cards and compare it to what you’ll be getting here. We did, and there was no comparison; this one is superior … hands down!

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