By Terry Melia
Photos courtesy SCP Auctions
On the night of November 2, 2016, at 28 minutes past midnight, Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant scooped up a weak ground ball hit by Cleveland Indians’ pinch-hitter Michael Martinez and fired it to Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo. That bang-bang play signified the final out of the 2016 World Series and so many other things in a single instant. It clinched the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 years and exorcised demons from long ago including the curse of the dreaded Billy Goat named Murphy from 1945; the team’s epic collapse in the 1984 NLCS; and longtime Cubs’ fan Steve Bartman’s foul ball miscue with Moises Alou in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. After more than a century of frustration and heartbreaking finishes, the Wrigley Field faithful were rewarded with a baseball championship for the Windy City’s lovable losers.
And what about that baseball that spelled the final out? After securing it in his glove, and thrusting both arms toward the heavens, Rizzo promptly slipped it into his back left pocket and let the on-field celebration begin. Rampant speculation amongst officials from sports memorabilia auction houses immediately ensued.
“That baseball, based on its historical significance in ending a century-old championship drought, is easily a six-figure item which could exceed $250,000 or more at auction,” said David Kohler, president at SCP Auctions, whose firm has sold other epic baseballs including Shane Victorino’s grand slam baseball from Game 6 of the 2013 ALCS, which sent the Boston Red Sox on to the World Series and sold for $18,840. Another significant baseball that SCP Auctions sold was Barry Bonds’ 756th round-tripper in 2007, which eclipsed Hank Aaron’s long-standing career home run record. Two weeks after being launched out of San Francisco’s AT&T Park, the Bonds’ ball sold in an online auction for $752,467 to a private collector and now rests in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
In the end, Rizzo gave the momentous baseball to Cubs’ team owner Tom Ricketts. And much like the Boston Red Sox of 2004, who successfully erased 86 years of heartache and reversed the “Curse of the Bambino” by knocking off the New York Yankees in the ALCS after going down three games to zero before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the Cubs suddenly found themselves on top of the baseball world. To the victor go the spoils and with that, anything related to the 2016 Chicago Cubs was suddenly considered collectors’ gold. In fact, even an enormous, six-liter bottle of unopened Luc Belaire Rose Champagne-signed in silver sharpie by 26 key members of the 2016 Cubs’ roster including World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Jake Arietta, Javier Baez, David Ross and Addison Russell-fetched $2,510 in another online auction conducted by SCP Auctions this past January.
When Teams Earn a Title
Winning cures everything, or so it seems. But what kind of impact does a team title have on a franchise and its history? And why do collectibles associated with a team’s championship suddenly take on a life of their own when it comes to the memorabilia investment market?
“Winning the title is the ultimate goal in sports, and building a collection with championship mementos is often the ultimate goal for collectors,” said Brendan Wells, auction director for SCP Auctions. “From an investment standpoint, traditional winners with passionate fan bases such as the Yankees, Celtics, and Packers certainly provide a boost in long-term intrinsic value for such special pieces.”
Special pieces can range from game-used baseballs, footballs or basketballs used to clinch a title, to game-used jerseys or uniforms worn by pivotal players in post-season triumphs. Another much sought-after prize by serious collectors is a team’s championship ring, which is usually awarded to the victorious players months after the dirty work on the field of play is done.
Take, for example, NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who won a pair of Super Bowl titles (XXI and XXV) with the New York Giants. LT’s second Super Bowl ring, a massive, size 12 beauty sporting two football-shaped diamonds on its face, sold in May of 2012 by SCP Auctions for a new industry football ring record of $230,401. The game itself held patriotic fervor as it was played at the height of the Gulf War on January 27, 1991, at Florida’s Tampa Stadium. With the late Whitney Houston providing a rousing pre-game rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the game is best remembered for Buffalo Bills’ placekicker Scott Norwood’s last-second, 47-yard field goal attempt which sailed wide right of the uprights to hand the Giants a 20-19 victory.
Championship rings from former players’ collections often do very well at auction. Whether from a living legend or an estate collection from a deceased Hall of Famer, championship rings resonate with auction investors. But they don’t come cheap. Note some of the incredible prices obtained by SCP Auctions for these jewels in just the past six years alone: Julius Erving’s 1974 New York Nets ABA World Championship 10K gold ring, $460,741; Erving’s 1983 Philadelphia 76ers NBA World Championship 14K gold ring, $244,240; Don Drysdale’s 1963 L.A. Dodgers World Champions 14K gold ring, $110,111; Ray Nitschke’s 1967 Green Bay Packers Super Bowl II Championship 14K gold ring, $91,151; Red Auerbach’s 1981 Boston Celtics NBA World Championship 14K gold ring, $82,727; and Lyle Alzado’s 1983 L.A. Raiders Super Bowl XVIII Championship 14K gold ring, $80,750.
In fact, even coach’s rings resonate with collectors’ investment options. Case in point: the late, great Vince Lombardi. The legendary Green Bay Packers coach’s son, Vince Lombardi Jr., recently consigned seven pieces from his father’s collection of mostly Packers’ trinkets to SCP Auctions but what tallied the most money was the old man’s 1956 NFL Championship ring he won while serving as the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants. The impressive size 12, 10K gold ring sold for $50,131.
Game Worn Winners
The allure of a championship and a significant piece of game-worn equipment from that title run is something diehard fans of a particular team feel they must have. It’s a right of passage, provided they have the finances to fuel their passion.
Let’s take a look at the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers who ended a 54-year-old championship drought for their city (in any professional sport) by winning the franchise’s first NBA title. Led by LeBron James, the Cavs battled all the way back from a three-games-to-one deficit in the NBA Finals to stun the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. In their preceding postseason series, the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers disposed of the Toronto Raptors in six games.
An alternate road jersey signed and worn by James in Game 4 of that series, a 105-99 defeat at the hands of the Raptors, sold last August via SCP Auctions for $28,244. Despite the loss, James poured in 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds. His consistent outstanding performances on the court help persuade collectors to make that kind of investment, but sensing that more championships may be forthcoming for Cleveland may not always be a good thing for investors.
“In the case of the Cavaliers’ 2016 ‘Believeland’ season, the rarity of such a pinnacle achievement sparks not only a rush to buy championship merchandise but also an investment opportunity for collectors to acquire more premium memorabilia like a World Champion team-signed basketball or a game-worn jersey from that title run,” said Wells. “If the city of Cleveland were to have another five-decade drought without winning a professional championship, such premium pieces could see a huge spike in value. On the other hand, if this is the beginning of several championships in the next decade for Cleveland with the Cavs or the Indians, those items will not appreciate as much.”
Bring on the Whole Team
During the summer of 1992, a group of 12 American basketball players set off to win an Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, Spain. Only this particular group competing as the U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team was special. Dubbed the “Dream Team,” they represented the first American Olympic squad to feature active professional NBA players and proved to be unstoppable. Described by American journalists as the greatest sports team ever assembled, the unbeatable bunch annihilated each of their opponents by an average of almost 44 points per game in capturing the gold medal. Led by co-captains Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the team was coached by longtime Detroit Pistons head coach Chuck Daly, who was assisted by fellow NBA coaches Lenny Wilkens and P.J. Carlesimo along with Duke’s legendary Mike Krzyzewski. In the championship game, they defeated Croatia by the score of 117-85.
In August of 2015, SCP Auctions sold a game-used, team-signed and painted official (“National Federation Approved”) Molten basketball from the actual gold medal-winning game, which was held on August 9, 1992. It came from the personal collection of Daly, who passed away in 2009. The highlight of this prized lot was the collection of 12 signatures (11 players plus Daly) found on five of the basketball’s six panels. Every player except David Robinson signed the basketball with seemingly the same black marker, and five added their Olympic uniform numbers: Christian Laettner (#4); Clyde Drexler (#10); Karl Malone (#11); John Stockton (#12); and Chris Mullin (#13). The winning bid: $230,041.
When it comes to winning championships, World Series titles seem to resonate first and foremost with many collectors. Take, for instance, the case of the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers. Led by hard-charging outfielder Kirk Gibson for most of the season, the Blue Crew battled its way to the Fall Classic to face the juggernaut American League Champion Oakland Athletics, the owners of the league’s best regular season record at 104-58. Gibson, the National League MVP, however, was injured and did not make the starting roster for the series opener. Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1, the Dodgers – with a man on and two outs – needed a spark. L.A. Manager Tommy Lasorda asked Gibson, hampered by a nagging knee injury, if he could pinch hit. Always the gamer, the hobbled Gibson eventually made it to home plate to face A’s closer Dennis Eckersley, who saved 45 games that season and had just been named the ALCS MVP.
After fouling off a few pitches and working the count to 3-and-2, Gibson swung at Eckersley’s next pitch and promptly deposited it into the right-field bleachers at Dodger Stadium. The home team won, 5-4, and the Dodgers went on to win the series, four games to one. Gibson never played in the series again, but his mark was indelible. In November 2010, the Dodgers’ home jersey Gibson was wearing for that epic at-bat was auctioned off by SCP Auctions for an astounding $303,277. For the record, the Dodgers have not won another World Series since, which only adds to the lore of Gibson’s remarkable feat.
Phrases like “buyer beware” and “proceed with caution” are common sense reminders to collectors and investors alike to do their homework when it comes to making purchases via sports memorabilia auctions. They need to work with reputable auction houses, ones that employ third-party vendors for authentication purposes to ensure that the piece clients are bidding on is, indeed, the genuine article. SCP Auctions partners with Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) to authenticate its autographed items and works with Memorabilia Evaluation & Research Services (MEARS) to evaluate and authenticate many game-worn jerseys and uniforms it puts up for auction. Providing real, authentic merchandise worn by many of the greatest athletes in the world is key to staying in business.
Other sound advice to collectors everywhere is to go after pieces that tout your favorite sport, team or player. The sports memorabilia world is full of diverse investment options so deciding to streamline your chase is often half the battle. That way, even if your team doesn’t win a championship or become a dynasty for the next decade, you can still applaud their efforts and cherish your newly acquired memorabilia for years to come.
Terry Melia is the Public Relations and Marketing Manager for SCP Auctions, which is based in Laguna Niguel, California.