2020: The Worst of Times, the Best of Times!

Sorry to get all “Tale of Two Cities” on you there but it seems like a lifetime ago that the NBA announced that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 and some NBA games would have to be cancelled. Then in an instant, the entire NBA was gone. And then the NHL. And there goes NASCAR, and the PGA, and the Kentucky Derby. Suddenly, the DraftKings app was only good for wagering on Russian table tennis in the Moscow Ligo Pro, with fistfights breaking out between fans of Alexandr Serebrennikov and Dmitry Petrochenko. OK, that last part might not be accurate, but yeah, 2020 was a different kind of year. In retrospect though, it wasn’t all bad. No seriously, it wasn’t.

Lockdown, Market Up!

On March 25th, MHCC President and CEO Brian Drent called the staff into the office and informed us that a stay at home order was going into effect and that we’d be working remotely until further notice. We were joining the legions of working refugees stuck at home, trying to figure out how to schedule a Zoom meeting. We discussed our immediate futures and wondered what was to become of our industry. With economic uncertainty on the horizon, we figured that the demand for pricey sports cards would take a back seat to more immediate needs, like paper towels and toilet paper. At least, that’s what we thought. It’s what everyone thought. Trying to be optimistic, we decided, “Hey, maybe collectors will get bored sitting at home without sporting events and spark a greater demand for sports cards.” Yeah, we didn’t believe it either, but lo and behold, it wasn’t long before price records were dropping faster than disposal facemasks. The Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” hit the airwaves, and for many people, it was a quick fix for fans suffering sports withdrawal. MJ rookie cards went through the roof, with his 1986 Fleer rookie card graded PSA 9 jumping from $7,800 in February to $18,000 in November, and PSA 10 GEM MINT examples reaching $125,000, a 400% increase from the start of the year. And it wasn’t just Jordan cards, as Lew Alcindor’s 1969 Topps RC, for example, went from $6,500 in PSA 8 in January to over $35,000 in August. Almost 4 MILLION dollars for a Mike Trout rookie card? Across the board; from vintage to modern and covering all sports, card prices were tripling, quadrupling, and more. It even brought out the big guns of the hobby…

Need a T206 Honus Wagner? Take Your Pick!

The creation of sports cards started some 150 years ago and no matter what you collect, the fact is that the T206 Honus Wagner card will stand as the pinnacle of the hobby. It’s not the rarest card, it’s not the most attractive card, and as recent events have shown, it’s not even the most expensive card. But it is the king, and until this year, you rarely saw one up for sale. The collecting frenzy of 2020 brought some of those big boys out from storage and Mile High Card Company was at the forefront. It actually started last October with a PSA 2 selling for $1.326M, almost doubling the current record price. But MHCC sold two more of the prized pasteboards in 2020, a PSA 1 that fetched a world-record price of $1.146M, which has since been topped with a November sale of $1.392M, and a PSA 3 that was sold privately for $3.25M, the highest price ever paid for a T206 Wagner.

There’s no telling what the future holds for the hobby, but what was appearing to be the demise of the industry has instead become the greatest bull market ever. If you’re a buyer, there’s never been more opportunity, and if you’re a seller, there’s never been better prices. Like all goods things, it will eventually come to an end. So let me end this with the same choice words that have never rang more true than they do right now: if you desire the maximum possible return for your prized sports cards and/or memorabilia, please call our office at (303) 840-2784 to speak with one of MHCC’s team of experts or visit www.milehighcardco.com and consign to the Spring 2021 auction.

The NBA “super team” — Some Were on Top, Others Were a Flop!

With the upcoming trade of perennial All-Star Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round picks (one of which is the #4 pick in this year’s draft), it appears the Lakers are going all-in to build what has become known as the “super team.” Clearly the Lakers are not done yet, with names like Kyrie Irving and Kahwi Leonard being bandied about as the third piece in forming a superstar trio. As is the case with the AD trade, it involves mortgaging the future for the chance to own the present, but is it worth the risk? Like other sports, perhaps even more so, basketball isn’t necessarily about the excellence of the five individuals on the court but the chemistry they create in working together as a unit. A group of superstars playing together could result in a conflict of egos, each having a different vision about how the offense should flow (most undoubtedly preferring themselves as the focal point). It’s counter intuitive for stars who have been the primary option of their respective teams to join with similar stars to form a cohesive bond, with some (or all) yielding the lead role for the betterment of the unit. It’s an experiment that has resulted in great successes and epic failures. Here are some of the best, and worst, super teams of the 21st century:

Flopped: The 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers

One of the earliest attempts at a super team, the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers had the greatest starting lineup in NBA history, on paper that is. Take the championship duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, then add in two more lock Hall of Famers in Gary Payton and Karl Malone to work under legendary coach Phil Jackson. Sound like a team that can’t lose, right? Well, not so much. The Lakers finished the regular season just six games better than the previous year and with the fourth best record, then were crushed by the Detroit Pistons in five-games for the NBA championship. Shaq and Kobe each saw their scoring average dip six points per game while Malone and Payton, both aging legends pining to finally earn the championship ring that had eluded them, were no more than glorified role players. The following year, Payton moved on to Boston and Malone retired. The super team that couldn’t lose …. did.

On Top: The 2007-08 Boston Celtics

While the Lakers experiment came up short, the Celtics believed a “super team” could work with the right mix of stars. They already had themselves a solid scorer in Paul Pierce, but without the firepower around him, were a losing franchise. Boston made some bold moves in the 2007 offseason, with Kevin Garnett coming over from Minnesota to bolster the inside game and sharp shooter Ray Allen providing the deep threat to complete a new big three. Adding in a strong bench that included playoff tested Sam Cassell and PJ Brown, along with a rising star in Rajon Rondo, the Celtics jumped from 24 wins the previous year to a league-best 66-16 and captured their first NBA title since the Larry Bird era.

Flopped: The 2007-08 Houston Rockets

Same season, different result. The Celtics found the right trio to catapult them from also-rans to champions, but the Rockets … ummm, no. Building a nucleus of experience and youth, the Rockets offered a “super team” with Tracy McGrady in the prime of his career, Yao Ming as a rising star, and Steve Francis, who had come back to Houston after dominating for the Rockets from 1999-2004. Expected to challenge the Celtics in the NBA Finals, Francis turned out to be just a shell of his former all-star self and played in only 10 games before having season-ending surgery while McGrady and Ming each saw their scoring average drop three points and the Rockets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Mostly on Top: 2010-13 Miami Heat

Credit Pat Riley for perpetrating the greatest coup in NBA history.  Organizing his teams finances over several seasons for the express purpose of making a splash in this particular free agency period, Riley blinded LeBron James and Chris Bosh with his championship rings and convinced them to join Dwyane Wade and take their talents to South Beach. Many thought the Heat would suffer the same fate as the 2003-04 Lakers; too many egos, not enough basketballs to go around, and it took time for them to get it figured out. But eventually the trio learned to co-exist on the court. The Heat fell to the Mavericks in the NBA finals in the trio’s first attempt, but Riley added bench depth to the squad that resulted in back to back championships. Over the four years the trio played together, they compiled a 224-88 regular season record with two NBA titles while making it to the NBA finals each year.

On TopThe 2014-2019 Golden State Warriors

Five years and five NBA Finals appearances; that says it all. “King James” was back in Cleveland doing his thing but Steph Curry had passed him up as the game’s most influential talent. His offensive outbursts, dropping three-pointers at an alarming rate and from virtually anywhere on the court, changed the landscape of NBA offenses and was pivotal to the rise of the Warriors as a super team. With a nucleus of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, you couldn’t consider Golden State a super team; that is until “The Slim Reaper” came to town. With Kevin Durant in the house, the Warriors have posted a 182-64 regular season record with two NBA Championships in three years … and counting.

Can the Lakers make the trio of LeBron, Anthony Davis and player(s) to be determined the nucleus of the next great super team? Time will tell.


Mike Trout, the New Mickey Mantle? All Rise … Court is in Session!

Many times over the past few years and at least twice since the 2019 baseball season started, I’ve heard comparisons of Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout to New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. Now I’ve never been a Yankees fan or a Mantle fanatic so I have no compunction to jumping on board the Trout bandwagon, but my first instinct is to scoff at such a notion. Perhaps it’s the baseball card collector in me that sees Mickey Mantle as an untouchable given he’s the single most coveted post-war subject on cardboard and the primary reason for the almost 70 year reign of Topps, but I also realize that his popularity in the hobby is much larger than his actual accomplishments on the field, because as grand as they obviously were, there are plenty of baseball players with a superior body of work overall. OK, so I’m open to the discussion. I don’t really follow Trout all that much other than to know he’s really good, so as I put this blog together, I’m going in with an open mind and a blank slate; no preconceptions. I’ll learn the ins and outs of this comparison as I write it, and I’ll play the advocate and cross-examiner for both parties. At the end of this, I’ll issue a ruling. Here we go:

Mickey Mantle: A Pinstriped Legend

Mickey MantleAs I said, it’s difficult to entertain a comparison of any modern day ballplayer to Mickey Mantle, and I imagine to the majority of Yankees fans, them’s fightin’ words! He’s so beloved to collectors that anything Mantle related immediately moves to the head of the class. But OK, let’s put that on the back burner and talk accomplishments, and to be fair we’ll toss out the partial stats of his rookie year and stick to the first 7 full seasons of his career, same amount of time Trout has been in the league. While Mantle’s first three seasons were solid, he really didn’t have the breakout year worthy of being named Joe DiMaggio’s heir apparent until 1955, when he led the American league in triples (11), homers (37), walks (113) and slugging percentage (.611). And of course, Mantle has the 1956 Triple Crown season under his belt (52 homers, 130 RBI, .353 batting average and an AL MVP award). I haven’t even looked at Trout’s accomplishments yet but I’m pretty confident he can’t match that. Mantle followed up that season with another AL MVP performance, posting 34 homers and batting .365 while walking a league-leading 146 times for a gaudy .512 on-base percentage, second to Ted Williams in large part due to “Teddy Ballgame’s” .388 batting average (no shame there). In the final year of our seven season comparison, Mantle once again took the home run crown with 42 round-trippers and topped the league with 129 walks while batting .304. In all,, Mantle smacked 234 dingers, batted .319, stole 69 bases, led the league in homers three times, runs scored four times, triples once, RBI once and won an AL batting title and two AL MVP Awards.

Mike Trout: Baseball’s Modern King of the Hill

While Mantle was “the next in line after Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio” to lead the decades long Yankees dynasty, Mike Trout received no such fanfare.There were 24 players selected ahead of him in the 2009 MLB draft, six of which never spent a second on a big league diamond. Merely being mentioned in the same sentence with Mickey Mantle is already an amazing feat, but let’s be fair and put “The Commerce Comet” on the bench, it’s Trout time! In his first full season with the Angels, Trout won Rookie of the Year honors and finished 2nd in AL MVP voting with 30 homers, a .326 batting average, a league leading 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. Following a 27 homer, 33 stolen base and .323 batting average performance the next year that left him runner-up in the voting once again, Trout took the AL MVP crown in 2014 off of 36 homers with a league-leading 111 RBI and 115 runs scored, and a .287 average. He followed that up with a 40+ homer season, mashing 41 taters while batting .299 and leading the league in slugging percentage. Another MVP season in 2016 with 29 homers, 100 RBI, and league leader in walks (116) and runs scored (123) was followed by campaigns of 33 and 39 home runs respectively, thriving above the .300 mark all three seasons (.315, .306 and .312). Trout’s 7-year total: 235 home runs, .310 batting average, stole 185 bases, led the league in runs score four times, RBI once, stolen bases once, walks three times, and won two AL MVP Awards.

And The Verdict is …..

After going back and forth on the subject, I have to agree with what Tom told Tessio in The Godfather, “Can’t do it, Sally.” Baseball traditionalists tend to focus on the numbers when making player comparisons, more so than any other sport. Sure, Trout’s career stats are pretty similar to Mantle’s. But there’s one glaring distinction between the two: Mantle had captured four World Series Championships in six appearances during that time, hitting 11 homers in 130 at-bats with at least one in each of the six matchups. Mantle was the heart of a newest generation of the Yankees dynasty, and like great champions, made those around him better. Trout has one playoff appearance, and went 1-12 with a home run in a losing cause. Sure, Trout supporters may object to introducing championships into the comparison. Objection overruled. Part of what makes Mickey Mantle the player that attracts such a comparison is his ability to win. It’s why calling Trout “the new Mickey Mantle” is contentious to so many. If you called Trout the “the next Ken Griffey Jr.” most people wouldn’t bat an eye, and that might actually be the better comparison, both statistically and from a viewpoint of status among the baseball community at the same point of their respective careers. But comparing Trout to Griffey doesn’t carry the same stature as comparing him to Mantle. That’s the point. Not to say that Trout couldn’t someday be a modern day Mickey Mantle; he just hasn’t earned it yet. Few have.

Ruling for the defense, Trout is not the new Mickey Mantle.

The 500 Home Run Club – A Little Luck and A Whole Lot of Power!

On August 11, 1929, Babe Ruth sent a Willis Hudlin pitch over the right field wall for his 30th home run of the season. The Yankees lost that game 6-5 but “The Bambino” made history as the charter member of the legendary 500 home run club. Before Ruth, the concept of a 500 home run hitter seemed ludicrous as his predecessor to the throne, Roger Conner, held the top mark for 24 years with 138 dingers. Oh, you could make the argument that those were the “dead-ball” days and the game changed dramatically in the 1920’s (and of course, it did), but consider that the same day Ruth touched all four bases for the 500th time in his career, #2 on the list was 33-year old Rogers Hornsby, who also hit a home run and pushed his career total to 233. It takes a combination of consistent greatness and injury-free longevity to reach the magic number, with the long list of baseball players that came up just short including such icons as Lou Gehrig (493), Stan Musial (475) and Carl Yastrzemski (453).

Welcome to the Club! Ruth has Company

As the home run became a more integral part of the game, players came along with greater power and longevity. Though challenging Ruth’s 714-lifetime homers was still a pipedream, the idea that another superstar could join Ruth at the 500 home run plateau seemed attainable given the right circumstances. When Babe set the single-season record in 1927 by notching 60 round-trippers, a mark that would stand for over 30 years, he single-handedly hit more home runs than every TEAM in the American League. Teammates Gehrig and Lazzeri finished 2nd and 3rd with 47 and 18 respectively. But just five years later, with Ruth’s career winding down, the 30 home-run hitter was no longer an aberration. Eleven years after Ruth started the club, Jimmie Foxx next crossed the barrier and New York’s Mel Ott joined as the first member from the National League five years after that. Where once there was just Ruth now stood three. But it was time to set a few more places at the table, this party was just getting started!

The 1950’s – Going, Going …. Gone!

It would be another 15 years before baseball would see another 500 homer guy with Ted Williams gaining admittance in 1960, having lost several years to military service. And while the 1950s didn’t celebrate a 500 home run hitter, it produced a new wave of superstars that made it the golden age of baseball and opened the club to new membership. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays started their assault on “The Big Apple” in 1951, followed by Eddie Mathews in ‘52, Ernie Banks in ‘53, Harmon Killebrew and Hank Aaron in ‘54, Frank Robinson in ‘56 and Willie McCovey in ‘59. Eight new members that began their careers in the 1950s had all crossed into the club, with Mantle and Mathews doing it two months apart in 1967 and Aaron joining exactly a year after Mathews. Adding in Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray, the 500 home run club was up to 15 members, all of which are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since 1999, 12 more members have entered the 500 home run club since; McGwire,Palmeiro, Bonds, Sheffield, Sosa, Griffey, F. Thomas, Thome, M. Ramirez, A. Rodriguez, Ortiz and Pujols.

MHCC Offering Collection of Game-Used Bats from Each Member of the 500 Home Run Club and More!

The March MHCC auction will feature a game-used bat from each of the 27 members of the illustrious 500 home run club, highlighted by a 1921-31 Babe Ruth Louisville Slugger Professional Model MEARS A6 and PSA/DNA, 1926-27 Jimmie Foxx Spalding Rookie-Era PSA/DNA GU 9, 1939-40 Ted Williams Rookie-Era Louisville Slugger PSA/DNA GU 9, 1943 Mel Ott Louisville Slugger PSA/DNA GU 8, 1950-1960 Frank Robinson Rookie Era Signed Louisville Slugger PSA/DNA GU 8.5, 1950s Harmon Killebrew Louisville Slugger PSA/DNA GU 8.5, 1959-60 Eddie Mathews Adirondack PSA/DNA GU 10, 1960 Willie Mays Signed Louisville Slugger Used to Hit Career HR #278 PSA/DNA GU 9 and 1965-68 Mickey Mantle Louisville Slugger PSA/DNA GU. In addition, there are several other highly-prized wood gamers that include 1969-70 Pete Rose Game-Used and Signed Louisville Slugger Bat PSA/DNA GU 8, 1990s Mike Piazza Mizuno Pro Limited Game-Used Bat PSA/DNA GU 9.5, 1998 Tony Gwynn Game-Used and Signed Louisville Slugger Bat Used for Career Hit #2825 PSA/DNA GU 10, 2002 Derek Jeter Signed Louisville Slugger LOA/Steiner and PSA/DNA GU 9, 2007 Miguel Cabrera Game-Used Nokona Bat PSA/DNA GU 8.5 and 2013 Mike Trout Old Hickory Bat PSA/DNA GU 10. The auction runs from March 4th through to Thursday, March 21st.

Rarest of All Topps Test Issues: The 1961 Dice Game Series

1961 Topps Dice Game Bill White SGC 5 EXNever heard of it? That’s OK. Like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, cards from the 1961 Topps Dice Game test series are considered more urban legend than reality with the number of known specimens from the entire series coming in lower than that of the iconic T206 Honus Wagner card. In fact, the known population of each card can be counted on one hand. Most of what is known about this set is speculation, but it seems that having defeated the Bowman company for baseball card supremacy, Topps considered dabbling in a market that was dominated by the American Professional Baseball Association (APBA) and Strat-O-Matic board games introduced in the 1950s, producing an independent game which included black and white baseball cards reminiscent in design to cards produced by Leaf in 1960. Unlike the baseball card sets from 1952 to that point, this collection of 18 cards was to be sold as a set with a pair of dice and together were used to play a simulated baseball game. The reverse of each card is filled with numbers and baseball plays, outcomes determined when the card holder “called a pitch” and then rolled the dice. However, the concept didn’t get past the initial stage of development and the cards are so rudimentary that they don’t even have any trademark or copyright information to identify them as a Topps product. Some of the information on the reverse, specifically those related to baserunning, are crudely printed from handwritten originals, confirming how early in the process this test series was. It’s very possible that just a few complete sets were made so that test subjects could try playing the game to see if it was a marketable product. Some of these cards escaped the Topps factory from the files of Woody Gellman, an editor and art director at Topps for over 25 years. Examples have surfaced with staple holes, which could have been one or more of each in the set that was attached to a file card and locked away in the archives.

The Jewel of Mickey Mantle Cards, and 17 Others

Forget the 1951 Bowman rookie card or even the 1952 Topps issue; if you want the absolute rarest card of “The Commerce Comet” ever produced, it’s the 1961 Topps Dice Game Mantle. Just 2 are known to exist with a PSA 1 selling for $144,000 in May, 2018, seemingly a bargain with the astronomical prices realized on other Mantle cards over the past few years. Other great Hall of Famers, namely Mays, Drysdale, Kaline, Musial and the Robinsons, Brooks and Frank, are part of the 18-card series and each represents the single toughest card of their respective libraries. With one player from each position and the set evenly divided between American and National League, the 18-cards represent “all-star” teams. If the set sold well, the likely plan was to update and expand the collection in subsequent years, letting players custom tailor their lineups over time.

Mile High Card Company to Offer Newly Discovered Group of 1961 Topps Dice Game Cards – Each Fresh to the Hobby and the First Ever Graded!

The MHCC March Auction will offer five 1961 Topps Dice Game cards, each making their very first appearance to the hobby. “Several advanced collectors have taken on the task of trying to complete this amazingly elusive set, and years of searching for those white whales is about to pay off” said MHCC President and CEO Brian Drent. Not only are they the very first graded examples of Jim Davenport, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, Norm Siebern and Bill White even seen by the general public, free from the staple holes mentioned earlier, it’s interesting to note that several of the cards have writing on the reverse that appear to be revisions to some of the dice-roll outcomes, as if the Topps used feedback from the test subjects to attempt to make the game more statistically realistic to actual outcomes. In virtually any other circumstance, writing on the card is a big liability to its value but in this case it’s a strength as it explains some previously unknown details of the collection’s very short life, which technically didn’t even get as far as to enter the test issue stage. Though we may never know the full story behind the ill-fated 1961 Topps Dice Game, what is true is that it is the rarest Topps product ever produced. The MHCC March auction begins on Monday, March 4th and closes Thursday, March 21st.

1961 Topps Dice Game Bill Mazeroski SGC 3 1961 Topps Dice Game Norm Siebern SGC 4 VG/EX
1961 Topps Dice Game Jim Davenport SGC 2 GOOD 1961 Topps Dice Game Dick Groat SGC 2 GOOD

Expect the Unexpected – Rock and Roll Collectors Are Gonna Love This

Being an employee of an auction house is certainly not an ordinary job. After numerous years in restaurant management, I was used to expecting the unexpected. Very rarely did a day go by where everything went as planned. Whether it was servers not showing up, forcing you to run your shift short-handed, or the walk-in cooler going down, or one of the fryers not wanting to light, or not getting your delivery of chicken wings because the truck got hijacked in Texas, there was never a dull moment. The same thing applies in this industry. You must certainly expect the unexpected, but usually, in this business, the unexpected is a good thing. Such is the case with the recently acquired collection of rock and roll memorabilia, housed in a small town just a few miles away from our office that no one knew about. Sure, we’re Mile High Card Company, and the focus of our business is baseball cards and sports memorabilia, and our consignor had plenty of incredible material in that realm as well. But we weren’t expecting the vast array of music items. Anyway, after a phone call that came to our office out of the blue, we were on the road to check it out.

Now I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable person when it comes to classic rock, but as it is often said, you learn something new every day. A large portion of the collection centered around the Grateful Dead, and while I never had anything against them, I was never a Deadhead, and growing up I preferred the likes of Hendrix, Zeppelin and Cream. So imagine my surprise when I learned that Jerry Garcia was missing the middle finger of his right hand ever since he was a child! Apparently his older brother accidently chopped it off with an axe, missing the intended piece of wood that Jerry was trying to hold still for him. And I’ve heard Jerry do some finger picking, which can’t be easy when you’re missing a digit. I also learned that the road manager for the Allman Brothers Band once got in a dispute with a club owner regarding payment after a gig, during which he stabbed the guy with a fishing knife and killed him! Tough business being on the road.

Garcia was an artist as well as a musician, having attended art school as a child. Although his focus was obviously on his music career, he continued to sketch and paint, and he made it a practice not to sign his lithographic prints until they sold at gallery. I had the privilege of examining and photographing over 30 of his signed prints for the upcoming auction, and I found them to be quite fascinating! My favorite is probably Dracula’s Heart, which can be found as lot 470 in our December 2018 auction. In addition to the Garcia prints, there are multi-signed Grateful Dead T-shirts, and a felt bearing their original name, The Warlocks, signed by Garcia, Weir, et. al. A Gibson Epiphone SG signed by six members of the Allman Brothers band highlights the collection of signed guitars, which also features Neil Young, Widespread Panic and, of course, the Grateful Dead.

But I’d have to say the crown jewel, or jewels, of this collection is a pair of items signed by all four members of the Beatles! One is a promotional photo and the other is a hotel register, both from 1963 and featuring R. Starkey rather than Ringo Starr on the hotel register! Both items are in spectacular condition, with signatures that look like they were done yesterday rather than 55 years ago. There is also an incredibly rare Grateful Dead concert poster depicting founding keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, along with several other elements of the 1960s counter-culture movement. Be sure to check that one out; there’s lots of history on that piece!

Okay, it’s closing time here at MHCC. I’m on my way to find a cold beverage and a slice of pizza. I hope you have as much fun with this remarkable collection of rock and roll memorabilia as I did. Like I said, you learn something new every day!

“The Bustin’ Babes” and “Larrupin’ Lou’s” Helped Give Rise to the Great American Pastime

In an age when Giancarlo Stanton gets a 13-year, $325 million contract and Bryce Harper decides a 10-year agreement at $30 million per year isn’t enough, one has to wonder what teams would pay in today’s dollars to acquire the services of a Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. Would they be worth $40 million a year? Maybe $50 million? Long before the days of mega-sponsors and television revenues, baseball players (even the really good ones) didn’t make the kind of generational wealth that they do today. In fact, many took off-season jobs to supplement their income. In 1927, fresh off of a record-setting 60 home run season, Babe Ruth was paid an “audacious” sum of $70,000 per year, almost as much as the President of the United States at the time. But in today’s currency, that amounts to about a million dollars a year. Considering the league average in 2018 was just north of $4 million per year, the greatest player in baseball history at his peak was receiving the salary of a marginal major-leaguer in the present. That’s where “barnstorming” came in.

The Off-Season Circuit: Everybody Wins

Though the American and National Leagues each had eight teams, the furthest west any team was based was St. Louis. That left over half of the continental United States without the ability to attend a major-league baseball game. Babe Ruth’s business manager Christy Walsh (the first professional sports agent) saw a lucrative opportunity to take his home run juggernaut and a group of baseball stars on a coast-to-coast tour, performing exhibitions in cities and small towns that would otherwise never have had that opportunity. The tour consisted of 21 games over three weeks and reached cities such as Providence, Sioux City, Denver and up and down the California coast. With a bonafide superstar like Lou Gehrig earning more money in those three weeks than he made all season with the Yankees, you can imagine the waiting list of players itching to be included on the tour. The “Bustin’ Babes” and “Larrupin’ Lou’s” became more popular in the western United States than any team during the season. The barnstorming teams even picked up sponsors along the way, entering “The Mile High City” as “Ruth’s Piggly Wiggly vs. Lou’s Denver Buick.” Ruth’s team won that day 15-8 with “The Bambino” slamming a homer and Gehrig actually taking the mound in the game, though it isn’t known if Ruth’s homer came from a Gehrig pitch. When the players weren’t dazzling spectators, they routinely visited hospitals, orphanages and other locations where kids could meet their heroes and get an autograph of players they only knew of from listening to games on the radio, opening new markets and promoting baseball expansion nationwide to cement the game’s legacy as the greatest American pastime.

Mile High Card Company Is Offering A Spectacular Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Signed Barnstorming Photograph PSA/DNA MINT 9

It’s one of the most famous photos of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig ever snapped, made available to fans who attended a game during their three-week exhibition in 1927. Both Yankees legends appear in their opposing uniforms with a facsimile signature of each, but this one has actual autographs as well and is featured in the Mile High Card Company Elite December Auction, which concludes on Thursday, December 6th. Signed by Ruth and Gehrig in green ink as to differentiate from the black colored simulations, the genuine signatures are easy to read with Ruth adding an inscription, “To my friend Judge Meyer.” Matted and framed to a size of 12 1/2″ x 14″ and double authenticated by JSA and PSA/DNA (the latter assessing the signatures as PSA/DNA 9 MINT), it is likely the finest autographed example of Ruth and Gehrig from their legendary barnstorming tour.

The 1967 Topps Set: A Card Collector’s Dream

A decade after introducing “on field” shots for the 1957 collection, Topps returned to the baseball diamond for the 1967 set and created one of the most aesthetically pleasing and enigmatic assemblages ever produced. Offering the brightest and sharpest images to date, Topps decided to let the photo the focal point of the card by ditching the nameplates and moving a small player name and position combo to the top of the card and the colored team name to the bottom. Matching the clean image of the front is the bright green surface on the back, which alerts collectors to whether a raw card has top-grade potential. With significant rookie cards, a tough high-number series and a handful of quirky variations, the ‘67 Topps set provides plenty to challenge the high-grade set-builder.

The set features 609 cards, not exactly a convenient figure when producing 132-card sheets, with several cards either short-printed or double printed. Even more interesting was the decision to slightly change the format after the first series, adding a dot between the player’s name and their position for series two through six. And each card carries a facsimile signature; that is with one unexplained exception (#254 Milt Pappas). But that’s just the start for the idiosyncratic ‘67 Topps set, which contains some of the most bizarre variations in existence which bump the master set from 609 to 624. Some are minor revisions; a trade statement added to #26 Bob Priddy and #86 Mike McCormick, the placement or addition of a period or copyright date on checklist cards #62 and 103, checklist #191 that changes the name Dick Kelley to Tom Kelley (and adds a neck to Willie Mays’ inset photo), and card #417 Bob Bruce, which had “RBAVES” misspelled on the back and later corrected.

But then there are the more puzzling variations; card #374 Queen, 402 Jackson, 427 Gomez and 447 Belinsky are missing stats or the stat line on the reverse, mysterious green ink appears above the bat on #58 Schaal, an inexplicable white streak was later removed on card #149 Moeller and 252 Bolin, part of the name is missing on the front of #128 Spezio, and checklist #454 features an inset photo of Juan Marichal, whose missing left ear suddenly reappears on the revised card. There’s even a blank-backed proof of #45 Roger Maris as a member of the Yankees (he was traded to the Cardinals before the season and CARDS appears on his regular card) though it is not considered part of the master set. And while the high-number series (#534-609) is understandably tougher, there are several that are particularly difficult to find in high-grade due to centering issues or print problems and are more heavily weighted on the PSA Set Registry; #558 Belanger RC, 560 Bunning, 570 Wills, 580 Colavito, 592 NL Rookies, 604 Red Sox team, 605 Shannon, 607 Stanley, 609 John, and the toughest of all, card #600 featuring Brooks Robinson. The highly coveted rookie cards of Tom Seaver and Rod Carew were held back and inserted in the high-number series, making them even more pricey than even Mickey Mantle’s stunning card #150

Mile High Card Company To Offer #4 PSA Set Registry Ranked 1967 Topps Set in their October 2018 Auction

Featured in the upcoming Mile High Card Company Auction is the #4 ranked 1967 Topps basic set, which carries a set rating of 9.49. There 154 cards graded PSA 10, including #30 Kaline, 240 NL Batting Leaders, 570 Wills, six cards from the difficult high-number series and four “one of one” examples (#38, 135, 137 and 145). Every major star from Mantle to Mays to Clemente, as well as the highly-prized rookie cards of Tom Seaver and Rod Carew, is graded PSA 9 with over 96% of the set rated MINT or GEM MINT. As MHCC has done in the past with world-ranked collections, this set will be offered as individual lots as well as a complete set (with the final sale going to whichever total (the set versus the sum of the individual lots) is higher. This provides the opportunity for many set-builders to improve upon their collections or for one collector to catapult themselves into contention on the PSA Set Registry with a winning bid on the entire set. The auction opens on Monday, September 17th and concludes on Thursday, October 4th.

1967 Topps Baseball Complete Set #4 Current Finest on PSA Set Registry With 9.49 GPA
1967 Topps Baseball Complete Set #4 Current Finest on PSA Set Registry With 9.49 GPA

Jim Bottomley: Pioneer of A Baseball Dynasty

The St. Louis Cardinals baseball franchise was founded in 1882 as the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The following year, they shortened their nickname to the Browns until 1899, when they spent one season calling themselves the Perfectos (though their 5th place finish was far from perfect). Starting in 1900, the name Cardinals was adopted as a result of a female fan commenting on the uniforms being “a lovely shade of cardinal.” The uniforms did look good; unfortunately, the team didn’t. For the next quarter century, and despite legendary Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby winning six consecutive batting titles, the Cardinals could muster no better than a 3rd place finish. But just as Babe Ruth did in New York, a player came to town in St. Louis and helped build a National League version of a Yankees dynasty. That was Jim Bottomley.

Now, the tale of Jim Bottomley may not be as distressed as that of “The Bambino” but his childhood in the town of Nokomis, Illinois was anything but easy. As with many other children during World War I, Bottomley dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to help raise money for his family. He took jobs as a truck driver, grocery clerk, railroad clerk, and at one point, coal miner, an occupation that took his brother, Ralph’s life in an accident in 1920. He earned the nickname “Sunny Jim” for his unwavering optimism in the face of all his hardship and uncertainty, always offering a light-hearted smile and a word of encouragement. Bottomley’s luck started to turn when he signed on with a semi-pro baseball team to extra money and caught the eye of a police officer who knew Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey. Soon after, Bottomley was offered a tryout and signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals. Two years later, he was making his debut in St. Louis.

While Jim Bottomley turned out to be a major “find” for the organization, he was but the first, resulting from what would become a standard practice that would advance the winning culture Hornsby and Bottomley were building in St. Louis. With Branch Rickey taking the reins as business manager in 1920, he expanded scouting, player development, and pioneered the minor league farm system. Marty Marion, Enos Slaughter, Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst were just some of the great players produced through the Cards’ farm system that kept the team on a winning path for decades to come.

The Birth of the Cardinals’ Dynasty

Though Rogers Hornsby was considered one of the top players in baseball, having won the National League Triple Crown in 1922 and 1925, the Cardinals were never serious contenders for the pennant. That changed in 1926 when the Cardinals fielded a lineup with seven of the eight starters batting .290 or better and Jim Bottomley leading the team in home runs and RBI. With some bookmakers installing the mighty New York Yankees as high as a 15-1 favorite, the Cardinals came back from down 3 games to 2 to sweep the final two games in New York and claim their first title. Two years later, the Cards returned to the World Series behind Bottomley’s NL MVP season, leading the league in triples (20), homers (31) and RBI (136) while posting a .325 batting average. This time it was the Yankees that were victorious, but St. Louis would return to the World Series in 1930 and 1931, losing the first to the Philadelphia Athletics while taking the crown the next season in a rematch. Bottomley was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1932 but the culture of winning stuck with the Redbirds, making five more World Series appearances (winning four of them) from 1934-1946. A quarter century with no championship appearances was followed by four in just a six-year span, with Jim Bottomley and the St. Louis Cardinals beginning a run that includes 19 NL pennants and 11 World Series championships for the history of the franchise. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1974 by the Veterans Committee.

Mile High Card Company Is Proud To Present Items From The Personal Estate of Jim Bottomley

Jim Bottomley passed away in 1959 and, having had no children, all of his personal items were left to his wife, Betty. Betty remarried in 1972 to J. J. Tucker, a friend of and pallbearer to Jim who had a daughter from a previous marriage. Upon Betty’s passing in 1977, three years after Jim’s induction into the baseball Hall of Fame, the Bottomley estate was inherited by Tucker, who then left the items to his daughter upon his passing. These items were then acquired from the daughter of J. J. Tucker and consigned to MHCC. Leading the list of 85 Jim Bottomley items in the June auction is his 1926 World Series game-used bat, an H117 model Hillerich & Bradsby gamer that is un-cracked yet exhibits plenty of game and is graded a conclusive GU 10 by PSA/DNA. Also featured is Bottomley’s 1931 World Series championship ring, which he left in the care of his wife after losing his ’26 championship ring while pheasant hunting. Other key pieces include a game-used Rawlings profession model JB glove that shows evidence of extensive use with heavy game wear in the pocket as well as the reverse side, and authenticated by PSA/DNA. Other key items include his Hall of Fame Induction Plaque, a one of a kind piece specially made for the inductee, Bottomley’s Major League Lifetime Silver pass and 200 Home Run Club Award Presented to Jim Bottomley Signed by Cronin and Giles. More personal items include Bottomley’s Engraved Lighter with Wrapped Cigar and Diamond Matchbooks, Personal Shaving Kit, Engraved Doorknocker, Selective Service System Certificate of Appreciation, A.A.S.R. Freemasonry Certificate From 1929, Birth Certificate with Certified Copy of Wife Betty’s Birth Certificate, Official Marriage Certificate, Ceremonial Marriage Certificate, Pair of Cowbells Belonging to Jim Bottomley’s Cow “Fielder’s Choice”, many never before seen photos of Bottomley and a 1932 Dizzy Dean Rookie Year St. Louis Cardinals Game-Used Warm Up Jacket Gifted to Jim Bottomley. Autograph seekers will be impressed with the array of unique, signed items that include a Jim Bottomley Signed and Cancelled Bank Check, Signed 1934 ANSAR Temple Shriner’s Membership Card, Personal Signed and Inscribed Bible, Signed Bank Deposit Slip, Jim Bottomley Oil Company Ledger Written in his Hand and a 1954 St. Louis Cardinals Season Pass Extended to and Signed by Jim Bottomley.

Rare J. A. Peach Gloves Advertising Display To Be Sold In Mile High Card Company June Auction

Dating back to virtually the very beginnings of the game itself, baseball’s greatest players and most colorful personalities have been used by advertisers to endorse products ranging from sports equipment to tobacco products to candy and gum and just about every saleable item in between. And while Mile High Card Company has had the privilege of offering some of the most famous of baseball display pieces, notably the 1915 E145 Cracker Jack Advertising Display Poster and 1910 Christy Mathewson “Won in the Ninth” Cardboard Advertising Display, MHCC is extremely proud to present what is considered by many enthusiasts to be the single greatest baseball advertising display piece ever made: the 1910 Spectacular Peach Baseball Gloves Advertising Display in near pristine condition.

Produced for the J. A. Peach Company of Gloversville, New York, the approximately 19-½” x 29-¾” piece is a promotional advertisement for their baseball glove line that depicts a stadium scene with various players, coaches and fans. Perhaps trying to ride the coattails of the well-established A. J. Reach Company, J. A. Peach lined up every star of the day save for Joe Jackson for this display. Putting aside the rarity and historical significance of the piece, the sheer magnetism and use of color and design is simply breathtaking. Of the 19 professionals in the display, 13 are members of the Hall of Fame with Cobb, Wagner, Mathewson and W. Johnson leading a group that includes Speaker, Baker, Lajoie, Bender, Walsh, Bresnahan, Chance, McGraw and Mack. Originally discovered in worn condition, the piece has been expertly restored to its original mint-like state and any alterations, if you can even spot them, are completely unobtrusive. Given that only two other examples are known to exist, one of which resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame, this is simply the absolute gold standard of any and all advertising pieces

This tremendous item will be featured in Mile High Card Company’s June Auction. MHCC is presently accepting consignments, so if you desire the maximum possible return for your prized sports cards and/or memorabilia, please call our office at (303) 840-2784 to speak with one of our team of experts, contact us at www.milehighcardco.com.