Gooooooose!

GooseExpectations were high for the New York Yankees entering the 1979 season.  Coming off two consecutive World Series victories and one of the greatest comebacks the game had ever seen, the Yankees had an All-Star lineup, had added All-Stars Tommy John and Luis Tiant to their pitching staff, and had a strong bullpen anchored by future Hall of Famer Rich Gossage.

The team failed to live up to its expectations.  While John and Tiant were exceptional additions, pitcher Ed Figueroa, coming off a 20-win season, would pitch just 104 innings and win only four games.  The team’s power numbers were off, and an early season fight between Gossage and backup catcher Cliff Johnson would keep Gossage on the disabled list with a tendon injury for three months.  Tragedy struck in early August, when team captain and All-Star catcher Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.  The team, by that point 14 games back in the standings, never recovered, failing to win 90 games for the first time since 1975.

Goose ADespite the injury, the 27-year-old Gossage managed to pitch 58 innings during the season, posting a 5-3 record with a 2.62 earned run average and 18 saves.  All but three of those saves occurred after July 23, when he returned from the DL; Munson was gone just over a week later.

Goose BPresented here is an outstanding document of Gossage’s tumultuous 1979 season: a game-worn road jersey.  The jersey was obtained by a long-time collector quite some time ago, and despite being in outstanding overall condition, exhibits outstanding signs of wear, including considerable soiling and perspiration staining.  The staining alone is responsible for the MEARS grade of A-8, as they deducted two points from their 10-point grading scale as a direct result.  The jersey is otherwise original, with the proper tags and numbers.  Most notably, however, is the jersey’s left sleeve, which bears the black armband worn in tribute to Munson, the team’s fallen captain.

An outstanding jersey from a Hall of Fame pitcher and Yankees fireman, exhibiting outstanding signs of use, and bearing the black armband memorializing the team’s deceased catcher, as applied to each player’s uniform in August of that season.

The Dennis Clotworthy Collection of Detroit Tigers Memorabilia

Since our last catalog auction, we’ve made a number of references to the Dennis Clotworthy Collection.  With our spring auction right around the corner, it makes sense to provide a more formal introduction to the collection.

Dennis Book

Born in Malta, Dennis Clotworthy came to the United States with his family in 1963.  Settling in Detroit, he naturally became a Tigers fan, and in 1972 realized the dream of every young fan by getting his first job with the Tigers – first as a junior usher, then as a visiting team’s batboy, and in 1974 as the Tigers batboy.  Ultimately remaining employed with the Tigers until 1985, he experienced many milestones with the club, including Al Kaline’s 3,000th hit, the retirement of Kaline, the release of Tigers hero Norm Cash, the phenomenon of Mark Fidrych, and even the team’s World Championship season of 1984.

During the course of his career with the Tigers – and long after it as well – Dennis assembled a world-class collection of Tigers memorabilia (along with some Lions and Red Wings collectibles as well).  Game-used bats and equipment, autographed game balls, programs and tickets, and most notably, memorabilia from Tigers Stadium itself all graced his collection, all of which was displayed in a wonderful memorabilia room in his Detroit area home.

Al Kaline's last bat - used October 2, 1974 in his final at bat (PSA/DNA GU 10)
Al Kaline’s last bat – used October 2, 1974 in his final at bat (PSA/DNA GU 10)
Tiger Stadium right-centerfield outfield marker
Tiger Stadium right-centerfield outfield marker

In 2014, Dennis completed his memoirs and published Al Kaline’s Last Bat Boy – a wonderful collection of memories and anecdotes from his time with the Tigers.  All the ups and downs are there, from his childhood anticipation of getting his first job with the team to his final game at the end of the 1975 season.  Unlike most other first-person accounts of the big leagues, Dennis’ book tells the story from the wide-eyed perspective of a youngster, and because of that the book gives the reader the inside scoop without losing the sense of awe that comes with meeting and working with your childhood heroes.

Tiger Stadium 1999 commemorative outfield wall pad - one of only two made!
Tiger Stadium 1999 commemorative outfield wall pad – one of only two made!

Since sharing his memories with the hobby, Dennis has made the decision to share his collection as well.  We are thrilled to be the auction house that Dennis has chosen to facilitate the sale, and are pleased to present more than 100 lots of his collection in our upcoming auction.  It’s a tremendous find for any Tigers fan, any fan of 1970s baseball, and most importantly, any fan of memorabilia directly from old baseball stadiums.

Tiger Stadium Reserved Seat Row of 4
Tiger Stadium Reserved Seat Row of 4
Tiger Stadium 1948 Architect's Blueprint
Tiger Stadium 1948 Architect’s Blueprint
Tiger Plaza stadium sign
Tiger Plaza stadium sign
Tiger Stadium "Tiger Den" Seats
Tiger Stadium “Tiger Den” Seats
1972/73 game-worn cap collection - one for each AL team!
1972/73 game-worn cap collection – one for each AL team!

Tris Speaker Game-Used Bat: Attributed To Game 7 of the 1920 World Series!

Speaker Bat LongvilewIt took twenty seasons of American League baseball for the Cleveland Indians to capture their first pennant; a 98-56 record was sufficient to lead the second-place White Sox by two games and propel the club to its first World Series, against Wilbert Robinson’s Brooklyn Robins.  The club’s regular season success was marred by the death of shortstop Ray Chapman, beaned in an August 16 game against the Yankees.  After the incident, the club dropped as far back in the standings as 3 1/2 games before rallying to a 25-9 record over the season’s final month.

In his first full season as Indians manager, Tris Speaker had acclimated to Cleveland quite nicely after a nine-year career in Boston.  During his first full season in the Indians’ outfield, Speaker posted a career-high .386 batting average with a league-leading 211 hits and 41 doubles.  In 1920, he bested his career-high batting average by hitting an astounding .388, but it was his leadership that vaulted the ballclub out of its post-Chapman doldrums.  Coupled with the late-September indictment of eight White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series and the path was paved for Cleveland to reach its first-ever World Series.

Playing a best of nine Series, the highly-motivated Cleveland ballclub entered Game 7 ahead, four games to two.  The team had already accomplished two milestones in Game 5, posting the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (executed by Bill Wambsganss) as well as the first grand slam in World Series history (courtesy of Elmer Smith).  The October 12 game featured two eventual Hall of Fame pitchers in Stan Coveleski and Burleigh Grimes pitted against one another at Cleveland’s home park, Dunn Field.  While the game proved to be a pitcher’s duel, the Indians scored one run in each of the 4th, 5th and 7th innings, including a long RBI triple by Tris Speaker in the 5th.

Speaker WSUpon recording the game’s final out (a groundout to short), Cleveland fans and players alike began a frenzied celebration.  Manager Speaker initially raced into the owner’s box, where his mother sat, watching the game.  He kissed his mother and said a few words to fans and reporters nearby.  Meanwhile, 15,000 fans stormed the field, celebrating alongside the players.  Speaker, who required a police escort to bring him back to the field, signed autographs and celebrated long after the game’s conclusion.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 3.13.52 PMDuring the game, a young Ohio boy named Ken Robenstine sat just behind the Cleveland bench, watching his home team clinch the Championship.  Seated near or behind Speaker for the entire game, Robenstine participated in the postgame celebration, during which the Cleveland manager handed the young boy the most treasured of gifts: his baseball bat.

Robenstine kept the bat in his possession for more than 70 years, during which time he became a repairman and collector of vintage garden tractors.  It was in this capacity that he met our consignor, a fellow collector of tractors (and relative of another Hall of Famer, “Sunny Jim” Bottomley).  As the two collectors became friendly, Robenstine eventually told our consignor the story of that memorable game, giving him the bat as a gift.  Our consignor has kept the bat ever since.

Speaker Bat Barrel Brand

The bat is a lovely Louivsille Slugger “250” finish model, manufactured between 1919 and 1922.  It’s a club, measuring 35.75 inches in length and weighing in at 42.2 ounces.  Bats with the 250 finish were considered among the finest offered by Louisville Slugger.The uncracked bat exhibits signs of use including stitch impressions on the left and back barrel as well as cleat impressions on the upper barrel.  This, as well as the oral and written history provided by our consignor, has resulted in a grade of PSA/DNA GU 8.

When the bat was provided to us, there was some checking on the reverse barrel, as well as some overall dryness to the finish, for which we enlisted the services of a professional restorer.  While we consider this restoration to be immaterial, it is our policy to disclose any restoration performed on items we offer.

While it should be noted that there is no scientific way of unequivocally proving the bat was used by Speaker in Game 7 of the 1920 World Series, the oral history from our consignor is, according to PSA, “consistent and is an honest recollection of the events surrounding its acquisition and subsequent possession by the named owners.”  It is important to note that the bat, while certainly exhibiting signs of use and clearly ordered and owned by Speaker, may or may not have actually been used in Game 7.  Speaker may certainly have had multiple bats at the game.

For our own part, we conducted our own research into the consignor’s oral history and discovered remarkable consistencies with recorded facts.  A Kenneth Robenstine was an Ohio resident in 1920 and later attended Kent State University.  His own physical description of his appearance was consistent with yearbook photographs we discovered (i.e. he stated he had a “head shaped like a peanut”), and Robenstine’s passing in 1999 is consistent with the recollection of our consignor.

Tris Speaker was one of the game’s greatest hitters, ranking fifth on the all time list with a .345 lifetime batting average.  His 3,514 lifetime hits also ranks fifth, and his 792 lifetime doubles ranks #1 all time.  Among players of his era, his bats are very difficult to find, and are also quite desirable.  This example carries a tremendous story and outstanding provenance; a newly-discovered example dating back to the Cleveland Indians’ first-ever World Championship and one of the franchise’s most memorable stories.

This is what 625 autographed 1952 Topps looks like.

One of the most amazing components of our recent Texas Find was a massive cache of autographed 1952 Topps cards.

Not enough to be a complete set (no Mantle, for instance), the collector clearly acquired many duplicates to be used as trade bait.  The result is this enormous box of cards, each one autographed.

Autos

There are some pretty amazing treats in this box.  We’re reluctant to report on any of them in particular, until they’ve been authenticated, but suffice to say that this one will be in the first batch to go to PSA:

Campos

That is, of course, an autographed Frank Campos “black star” variation – it’s got to be the only one in existence, right?

1962 Topps from the Texas find

After going through the entire 1971 Topps set card-by-card, we were emboldened and decided to dig into another extremely condition-sensitive issue: 1962 Topps.

The “woodgrain” borders of the ’62 set are prone to chipping, much like the black-bordered 1971 Topps cards.  Atrocious centering exacerbates the condition issues with this set, as do 1960s Topps print flaws like snow, fisheyes and roller lines.

In the case of this set, however, the collector appeared to take great care to find the best possible examples for his set (though centering is still an issue throughout).  Much more so than with other sets, he appears to have taken great care not to handle the cards much at all prior to mounting them in the album.  Further, the cards do not exhibit the indentations from the corner mounts that some of the others have.  The result is a truly exceptional group of cards.  Sadly, many of the Hall of Famers suffered from poor centering, and the Mantle was the only card in the group that appeared to have been handled; its edges are clearly worn.  That said, we pulled a significant number of high-grade, well-centered examples from the set that we’ll be sending off for grading.

Here are some examples, presented to you in slideshow format.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We can’t imagine that any of the other vintage sets in this collection will be more fantastic than this one, condition-wise.  As we only pulled the best-centered examples (except the Brock in the above slide show) for grading, and rejected more than half what we pulled due to minor flaws, there’s no question that this is as gorgeous a “fresh” 1962 set as we will ever see.

Next up: 1968 Topps.

Some Black Beauties

1971 ClementeOver the past two days, I’ve been delicately removing 1971 Topps from their photo album.  Yet another stunning discovery from the Texas find, these cards were quite clearly collected in 1971, and carefully stored away in the album shortly thereafter.  The set is complete, each card in remarkably consistent condition.  The ever-present edge chipping is kept to a minimum; the primary post-production wear is related to corner dings that occurred when the cards were mounted in their photo corners, and, in some unfortunate cases, minor indentations in the cardboard resulting from the photo corners themselves.

Centering and rough cuts are another issue entirely, obviously, as Topps’ early quality control was clearly poor.  However, we have managed to pull out a significant number of gorgeous examples, each of which will be headed off to PSA for grading.  Whether they grade high or not, they are simply stunning cards, and absolutely need to be preserved in their current condition.

1971 Aaron1971 WS1971 Walton

 

 

 

 

 

1971 Johnstone1971 Monday1971 Quilici

Some 1967 Hockey from the Texas find

Over the past week or so, we’ve been culling through binders of mostly modern material from the Texas find, pulling out some of the key cards for grading.

Yesterday, we opened a binder that contained what we initially thought was a complete set of 1967 Topps hockey.  Upon further review, we discovered that the last 12 cards in the set (the all-star cards) were missing.  However, the remaining 120 were in stunning condition.

Included in the binder was a clipping from what looked like an old ad from Sports Collectors Digest for this collection, which was billed as a complete set and offered as a mail-order auction with an opening bid of $1,000.  The set was billed as GEM MINT, and judging from the condition of the cards in the binder, we won’t argue.  Though many of the cards exhibit flaws that were not considered flaws at the time (centering issues and print defects), the cards are exceptionally bright and sharp.  In this case, “pack fresh” doesn’t quite describe the cards, as they look as if they were taken right off the printing press.

That cards have survived in this condition for nearly 50 years, and have been part of the same collection since long before third-party grading had caught on, continues to amaze us.  Here are some examples of better-centered keys, along with the Gordie Howe.

All of these cards are headed off to PSA for grading.

An incredible find.

Several weeks ago, we were referred to a family in Texas that was interested in selling what was described to us as a “run of sets.”  After a few phone conversations, the family agreed to consign the collection in its entirety to Love of the Game.

During the last conversation, when we discussed how I would be retrieving the collection, I simply replied “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up.”  My statement was met with a strange silence.

Last week, I made the journey to the deep south in a whirlwind trip that landed me in Texas late Saturday afternoon.  After a brief meeting with what turned out to be an absolutely lovely family, I was brought into the card room to receive the shock of my life.
IMG_5924

This is a cellphone photo of one corner of a room that contained what is, without doubt, the largest card collection I’ve ever seen.  “Run of sets” doesn’t quite describe this collection, and “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up” was, in light of the collection’s size, a laughable statement.

The collection was assembled over a lifetime, by a gentleman who lived and breathed baseball, sharing it with his daughters and also with his community.  Decades of dedication to the hobby were evident in literally hundreds of binders and photo albums, each containing complete or near sets ranging from the collector’s childhood through his unfortunate passing in 2007.  During nearly sixty years of devotion to the hobby, the collector built sets from virtually every mainstream manufacturer, as well as dozens of regional and minor issues, minor league sets, and even “off brand” issues by companies like TCMA and SSPC.

It was almost overwhelming.  Around every corner was another surprise, inside each binder was another set.  In roughly eight hours that we spent rooting through and cataloguing the collection, we discovered a host of rarities, beautifully-stored vintage sets, and diligently assembled modern ones.

From 1951 through the mid 1970s, the collector (whose name we will disclose in due time) painstakingly assembled complete sets, paying closer attention to condition with each passing year, and carefully mounting the cards in numerical order in photo albums, using “photo corners” to help display the collection while still protecting the cards.  We took some photos of the earlier cards to help describe what these cards look like in their albums.

1952 Bowman 1951 Bowman A1953 Bowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving back in the home office in New Jersey, we were struck by how similar this collection was to the famed Lionel Carter collection that was sold at auction in 2007.  While the Carter collection contained a large number of prewar sets, this collection, for the post part, began in the 1950s – yet the display methods were very similar.  We were naturally bursting at the seams, dying to see the condition of the cards underneath those photo corners, and we decided to begin with one of our favorite sets – 1959 Topps.

Back at home in the kitchen, I have a broken steak knife.  The very top quarter inch of the knife has chipped off, leaving a flat top but a sharp edge.  For some ridiculous reason, I have not thrown this knife away – and it turns out that it’s the perfect tool to separate the photo corners from the album.  By sliding the flat top of the knife underneath each of the top two photo corners, we’re able to separate them from the paper without worrying about damaging the card.  Then, the card simply slides out of the bottom two corners, without the necessity of bending or twisting the cards to remove them.

What we discovered was absolutely thrilling:

1959 MantleThe cards were clearly maintained in relatively pristine condition when they were initially collected, with the consignor paying attention to centering during a time when Topps was notorious for poor quality control.  Looking through a pile of duplicate 1959s, we can see that the collector put off-center cards to the side when possible, choosing the cleanest and best-centered examples for display in his album.  It is our impression that the collector probably assembled the sets, and then mounted them in the albums once complete – the cards are ever-so-slightly handled, with a few exhibiting very minor edge wear and tiny corner touches.  While some were undoubtedly touched simply by inserting them into the photo corners, the collector was undoubtedly careful when handling them – many of the cards have retained not only their original color and gloss, but also their crisp, “new” texture.  Some even still have gum residue on the surface!

We are thrilled beyond words to be able to offer the vintage components of this collection in our upcoming auctions.  In the coming weeks, we will continue to share the journey of removing these cards, the surprises we encounter, and of course, the results of those cards we submit for grading.  And of course we are eternally grateful to the family for allowing us a window into the life of an extraordinary collector, and for choosing Love of the Game as the auction house to introduce this incredible collection to the hobby.

Buckle up; it’s going to be a fun ride.

Some words about fraud

The past several weeks have been difficult ones for our hobby, for sure.  Information has come to light which has long been the subject of speculation, but which the Federal Court has crystallized quickly and definitively this week.  Without describing the sordid details, you can read a news story about the incident here.  Part of the considerable fallout from this has been an (understandable) desire on the part of the collecting community to hear from auction houses.  After some thought, we’ve decided that the appropriate place for us to sound off is here, on our own blog.

The short answer: We do not shill our auctions, nor have we ever.  

We also do not alter cards.  We do not perform undisclosed restoration on memorabilia.  We do our best to accurately describe everything in our auction with educational and interesting copy, and if we discover an issue that materially impacts the value of a piece after the auction goes live, we publish an addendum and give each bidder an opportunity to cancel their bids if they choose.

Additionally, we do not have hidden reserves.  Occasionally, we offer an item that does have a reserve, and we identify such items clearly, and we publish the amount of the reserve one week before the auction closes.

The longer answer:

We do our absolute best to ensure that our bidders participate in an honest, ethical auction in which real people can bid and win at real prices, and in which consignors can enjoy consigning to an auction in which its bidders trust the process.

We have several safeguards in place to help our bidders feel more comfortable.

  1. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see what your max bids are when you place them.  This is a deliberate safeguard that prevents us from ever knowing how many – if any – bid increments exist between the current bid and a max.  As we say in our rules, we don’t have a fancy name for this; we just call it “integrity.”
  2. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see the passwords of our bidders.  This prevents us from logging into their accounts and viewing your private information.  Because of this, if you lose your password and call us, we have no way of telling you what it is – the only remedy is to send a “password reset” email.
  3. Our auction software does not permit consignors to bid on their own material.  We explicitly prohibit this in our consignor agreement, and if we feel a bid is made by a consignor under a different account, or by a consignor’s proxy, we reserve the right to cancel the bid.  There is no circumstance under which we permit a consignor to win their own item and pay us the buyer’s premium.
  4. While we can never tell why a person might be bidding on an item, or who might be friends with whom, we do look for signs of shilling between consignors and a proxy bidder.  On one occasion, we banned a bidder – and a consignor – for bidding activity that we felt was illegitimate.
  5. We do not bid in the auction.  There is no “house account.”  We understand why some auction houses feel it’s okay to bid in their own auction, but we feel that when we can see who we’re bidding against, when we know who the consignor is, and when we have a 20% advantage because we do not pay the buyer’s premium, it’s unethical for us to bid in the auction.
  6. We do not withdraw items from the auction if they do not appear to be selling well.  If an item that does not have a reserve is in our auction, and has a bid, it will sell.

Collecting sports cards and memorabilia is a fantastic hobby.  It’s the greatest hobby.  It’s the best way to see how tightly sports is woven into the fabric of American history, and each artifact is special.  Each tells a story, and each collector that preserves an artifact in his collection is saving a piece of history, and passing along stories that otherwise would be long forgotten.

When we read or hear accounts of fraud in the hobby, it disgusts us as much as it does you.  Shill bidding – even if you still win the shilled item for less money than you’re prepared to pay – is robbery.  We’re serious about this.  It’s a big part of the reason why this company was founded.  The hobby will tell us whether or not it’s possible for an auction house like ours to survive in the long-term without engaging in unethical behavior.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  Our survival will depend not only on the confidence of bidders, but on the consignors who are willing to contribute material to an auction where the house will not engage in unethical practices to help inflate prices.  But one thing we can unequivocally promise our customers, our consignors, our families and our friends: you will never, ever see us deliberately engage in fraudulent behavior.

Period.