Stories pour out of prized items

July 28, 2011

By Brandon Steiner

Note: This article originally appeared on ESPN.com.


Collectible Chat With Don Larsen
Brandon Steiner talks to former Yankees pitcher Don Larsen about his perfect game in the 1956 World Series and the items he saved from the historic game.

I’ve been in this business for more than two decades, but one thing about memorabilia still amazes me every day. It’s the magic that takes an ordinary item, such as a glove or a jersey or even a wristband, and turns it into a valuable keepsake — a totem to be revered for all time.

I’m not talking about the simple act of New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera signing a baseball — though we collectors know that Mo

certainly has beautiful penmanship, and an autograph as elegant and straight-forward as his timeless windup.

No, I’m referring to what’s contained in that signature. You look at that signed ball and your mind conjures up visions of all those epic October nights in the Bronx, when Mo came loping from behind the outfield wall, called in to save yet another nail-biter of a postseason game. All the broken bats his cutter has left in its wake. The way he flexes his body at the hips, then rights it just before going into his windup, like a butterfly knife snapping into place. The way he came up in the Yankees’ farm system as a middling starter, then found an unhittable fastball in his first year in the majors, became a relief man and climbed his way up from anonymity to immortality. Five hundred-plus saves.

That’s the magic in memorabilia. The history and the inspiration each item carries with it. A ball is never just a ball. It’s a window into an

enchanted world.

Of course, sometimes that window doesn’t look into an epic life or career. Sometimes it looks in on one singular play or game — and that moment is so magical that it captures our imagination in the same profound way.

Such is the case, of course, with Don Larsen. On Monday, Oct. 8, 1956, at Yankee Stadium, Larsen executed what many (myself included) consider the greatest pitching performance of all time. The sixth perfect game in history would have been special enough. Coming as it did against the Brooklyn Dodgers, as part of baseball’s most historic rivalry, added zest. Coming in the World Series — holy cow, nothing tops that. There have been 20 perfect games in total now, but Larsen’s gem is the perfect perfect game.

Yankees pitcher Don Larsen celebrates his perfect game with catcher Yogi Berra after Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Photo: Diamond Images/Getty Images


More magic here. Larsen came to our offices recently and I got to chat with him about that famous fall day 50-plus years ago. When he woke up that morning, Larsen had no way of knowing that the next several hours would virtually define his life, that he’d be commemorating it with his John Hancock for decades to come. In fact, Larsen didn’t even know whether manager Casey Stengel was going to have him pitch in Game 5.

Larsen told me that after being clobbered by the Dodgers in Game 2, he didn’t know he’d be starting Game 5 until he arrived at Yankee Stadium that morning. Can you imagine having a day start out pretty much as anonymously as any other, then before you go to bed that night, you’ve become an all-time legend?

I asked Larsen if he ever imagined how many autographs he’d end up signing as a result of that perfect game. “Not really,” he said matter-of-factly, “I just do it when it comes up. I enjoy it.”

Which is not to say the game doesn’t hold a special place in Larsen’s heart. Of course it does. I mentioned it’s one of the greatest performances in baseball history, and he acknowledged that.

“At least they can’t beat it, they can only tie it. I’m very pleased I was part of it. It was a great day. The best day I ever had. Ever thought of having. Especially with Yogi (Berra) behind the plate. I couldn’t have done it without Yog. And the club we had was pretty damn good.”

Of course I asked Larsen if he saved any mementos from that day. He did originally, but over the years he auctioned them all off, to provide for his grandson’s education. Talk about making the most of your pitches!

The best anecdote he told me was how his teammates acted during his quest for perfection. As is the well-worn baseball custom, the other Yankees gave him the silent treatment during the game, lest anyone jinx the whole thing.

“Nobody would talk to me. I was in the dugout, and it wasn’t normal, like it is when they’re joking around and having fun, rooting for everybody,” Larsen said. “I didn’t like that feeling, being by myself. The only time when I was happy was when I was back on the mound, pitching. But those guys have those superstitions. I don’t believe in superstitions. What’s gonna happen is gonna happen, and it did. I was very happy.”

Needless to say, so was the rest of New York. Well, at least the portion that wasn’t composed of Dodgers or Giants fans. And those deep feelings, the awe-inspired spine tingle of watching each new zero being put on the scoreboard, the great relief at the final out, the visceral recognition of having witnessed something so transcendent, are conjured up every time we lay eyes on that photograph of Berra jumping into Don’s arms, on a scorecard from that game, on Don’s signature on a ball. Or even a slip of paper.

It always amazes me how these simple objects can be so infused with history, that they become descendants of it, pieces of history themselves. This is the inspiration of memorabilia. This is why we collect it.

And it’s why I love hearing the stories from your collections. As I read your emails, I’m reminded that often the way a piece of memorabilia is acquired adds priceless personal value to an item already rich with history.

“What’s It Worth?” Reader Emails

Players ranging from Michael Jordan to David Popson autographed this North Carolina Tar Heels basketball. Courtesy of Ted DesMaisons

Brandon: I’ve got a treasure of a ball from the 1984 University of North Carolina basketball team, Michael Jordan’s last year there.

A dear friend of mine (a woman who had helped raise me soon after my parents divorced) was in nursing school at UNC and worked on the floor of the hospital where all the players would come for treatments. She knew I was a big UNC fan so she got all the guys to sign the basketball as a Christmas present for me and my brother. Needless to say, that was a cool Christmas.

On the ball, you’ve got the Tar Heel greats who were there that year: Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Dean Smith and Kenny Smith. You’ve got some midrange guys who were or went on to be coaches: Buzz Peterson, Eddie Fogler, Matt Doherty and Bill Guthridge. And you’ve got the others: Steve Hale, Joe Wolf, Cecil Exum, Curtis Hunter, Dave Popson, Timo Makkinen and Cliff Morris.

The ball’s been kept under a glass cover for years, though it does have a bit of yellowing on the white parts of the ball. It’s never been played with.

I’d so love to hear your perspective. Thanks so much.
Ted DesMaisons
Northfield, Mass.

Steiner: What a story. At the time, your friend must have known that getting that powerhouse Tar Heels team to sign a ball was a big deal, but considering the careers Jordan, Perkins and Smith went on to have, and Coach Smith’s standing in the game, she couldn’t have possibly known the significance years later.

The Jordan autograph alone on a ball, by itself, is worth at least $1,000. With the rest of them, I have to think this ball is worth at least $5,000, but I wouldn’t sell it for the world. I love that it’s a UNC colored ball, by the way. This is a unique item, very special.

Brandon: This is truly a one-of-a-kind item. Back in 1996, I was a writer for an advertising agency that represented a NASCAR sponsor. We produced a limited-edition poster that digitally recreated the Winston Cup champion cars from

The owner of this historic NASCAR poster took many years to compile autographs of Winston Cup champions. Courtesy of Jeff Barnes

the previous 30 years, and I wrote the headline for the poster. In the course of my work, I often went to NASCAR races — complete with garage passes — and attended trade shows where NASCAR drivers would also be. For the next couple of years, I went to all of these events with poster and Sharpie in tow and was able to get every living driver’s autograph in person. This includes Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, and Jeff Gordon. (Of course, Dale Earnhardt and Benny Parsons have since passed, and Bobby Isaac and Alan Kulwicki were already gone.) David Pearson was the last one, collecting that about 10 years after I started by visiting him in his hometown. Naturally, I’ve got a little story behind each autograph.

A sidebar to this poster: When it came out, it was very popular among racing teams and we supplied to all of them with copies. Gary DeHart, then crew chief for Terry Labonte, told his crew they’d be the next car on the poster; he cut out a picture of the car and stuck it in the corner of their poster. As it happened, Labonte did win the Winston Cup that year. We took a photo of Labonte and DeHart holding that poster for an ad produced for our client; I’ve got a copy of that photo, signed by both men. I’ll have to get that framed to hang alongside.

I’d be curious to hear what you think.
Jeff Barnes
Omaha, Neb.

Steiner: Jeff, you’re not kidding this is one of a kind. And I love the header of the poster and the graphics. The sheer length of time you spent rounding up these autographs speaks to the value of the piece. The names on there — the autographs — are a true who’s who of NASCAR legends. And as you mention, a couple of those autographs are sadly already part of limited lines. I estimate this poster to be worth around $2,500, but as I seem to keep writing, the personal value to you is clearly incalculable. What a great job all around on this item.

 What’s Your Collectible Worth?

 Do you have an item of sports memorabilia that you believe might be worth some money?

Each month, Brandon Steiner, the CEO of Steiner Sports Marketing & Memorabilia Inc. in New Rochelle, N.Y., will offer appraisals of fans’ sports  memorabilia items monthly in ESPN.com’s The Life.  Send an email with photos, a description of the item and how it was obtained, along with your  full name and city of residence, to steinerespn@gmail.com, and check back for Steiner’s next installment.


Appraising Yankees items, Red’s stogie

June 23, 2011

By Brandon Steiner

Note: This article originally appeared on ESPN.com.

June has been a crazy month, as baseball is in full swing and New York is mesmerized by the fact that a New York Yankee has never had 3,000 hits. Derek Jeter is almost there.

Joe DiMaggio items, such as this painting, are always special to baseball collectors. Photo: Edward Krawiec Sr.

I knew June 7 was a special day. The day began in our offices with Yankees great Andy Pettitte coming up for a quick interview for my YES show, and it was my first time seeing Pettitte since his retirement.

Of course interviewing Pettitte is always special, and this day was no different. I’m sure none of my readers are surprised that the interview turned slightly to collecting.

Surprisingly, Pettitte gathered a lot of signed balls in his first few big league seasons, from players he had respected greatly. Then the collecting turned to game-used items, as Andy would get his jersey, shoes and articles he wore in the World Series framed in a large display. After the first World Series, he went on to do this many more times.

Pettitte was most proud of his all-time postseason win total, as well as the win-save record he shares with Mariano Rivera. This is an incredible statistic: 68 times Andy won a game, Mo saved the game, a major league record.

Wrapped it up with Pettitte, then headed straight to the MLB Fan Cave for my weekly show, “What’s it Worth?”

We started with Jim Houlihan, from Houlihan Parnes, who brought three amazing New York Yankees World Series programs from the 1930s. Houlihan and I got a laugh from the fact you could buy a brand-new car for $399, according to the advertisement that graced the back cover. World Series programs in beautiful shape from that era are worth upwards of $500. The 1936 was amazing as it was Joe DiMaggio’s rookie year as well as a year the Yankees went to the World Series.

Then came the type of item I am always hoping to see. Peter Norrito, from Going Pro, came on the show with one of the nicest single signed Roger Maris balls I have ever seen. The signature was strong and in blue ball point, and the ball itself had minimal signs of vintage toning.

I estimated the ball at between $10,000 and $15,000.

I then met collector Greg Carol, who had quite an unusual item, which always shows me the different twists and turns to collecting. It was a 1945 World Series-era Tigers baseball, signed on the sweet spot by Babe Ruth. Must have been a Ruth single signed, and the collector then added Tigers Champs, amazingly. Ball is no question the only one of its kind, and is valued at $5,000.

I logged onto my ESPN email account and saw great stories and entries for my column.

Red Auerbach was almost as synonymous with cigars as he was with the Celtics. Courtesy of Ian Baldwin.

Brandon, I have a partially smoked cigar from Red Auerbach. In 1990, when I was in high school, a friend of mine invited me to the Celtics’ rookie camp because his uncle was some key person at Babson College. He invited me to help out at camp for a day. Red made a short visit, and at one point I saw him throw his cigar on the ground. As someone was in the process of picking it up to throw it away, I ran over there and said I wanted to keep it. It has been in my parents’ house for two decades in one Ziploc bag inside another Ziploc bag because of the smell. It is about 3 inches long or so.
Ian Baldwin
Gainesville, Fla.

Steiner: Ian, great item and story. You know what collecting is all about. I would say to take this cigar from the Ziploc bag, add it to a great Red Auerbach photo, and frame it up, so you can enjoy the item and savor the memory. I estimate the value at $500.

Brandon, here is my item: It’s a painting done in 1991 of Joe D. It is on thick acid-free stock. It’s 22 inches by 29 inches unframed. Included is the show flyer photo, signed by Mr. D. on July 27, 1991, and in blue Sharpie. I do have a photo of Mr. D. signing it.
Edward Krawiec Sr.
Old Bridge, N.J.

Steiner: Ed, Joe DiMaggio items are always special. The painting looks to be in great shape and the signature strong.

I have good news, this particular DiMaggio is worth well into the $750 range.

Keep the requests coming, as nothing beats finally knowing what it’s worth!

 What’s Your Collectible Worth?

 Do you have an item of sports memorabilia that you believe might be worth some money?

Each month, Brandon Steiner, the CEO of Steiner Sports Marketing & Memorabilia Inc. in New Rochelle, N.Y., will offer appraisals of fans’ sports  memorabilia items monthly in ESPN.com’s The Life.  Send an email with photos, a description of the item and how it was obtained, along with your  full name and city of residence, to steinerespn@gmail.com, and check back for Steiner’s next installment.