I just returned from a week spent in one of the countries most beautiful of all cities, San Francisco for the mid summer classic. My role there was not one of a true baseball fan who comes for the week to enjoy the Fan fest or the Home Run Derby nor even the All Star game itself. My job, as it has been since the last All Star event in Pittsburgh, was to assist in an appraisal fair sponsored by MLB in conjunction with the Hunt auction group for the live annual auction held the day of the All Star game. Lest anyone think this job is akin to a side line photographer at the Super Bowl, I will reiterate. It’s a gratis job with the only real comps being the chance to be part of an event that allows one access to some great get-togethers with some illustrious guests, great (free) food along with access to some pretty good seats at either the game or the derby at face value, neither of which was I able to take advantage of this year due to the workload and timing. Perks aside, it is an event that is as exciting as it gets. Gala shindigs, stars of sports and screen, tons of really nice folks and meeting a lot of industry stalwarts that generally do not show up at your traditional sports collectibles show.
I had the opportunity to meet the president of the Hall of Fame and was invited to come up to Cooperstown in the off season to go thru some of the treasures stored in the basement. In the interest of Mears data research, this is a rare opportunity indeed. I didn’t get invited to the Barry Bonds private party, the party that got the most TV coverage and what a star gazing opportunity that would have been. Willie Mays was there driving around greeting people during the show/event and the free autograph guest line up kept the lines going around the block for great players such as Harmon Killebrew, Louis Aparicio, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue just to name a few. Media coverage of the event was almost nonstop and the crowds were huge with anything worth doing or seeing having a line around the block as well. But nobody seemed to mind as it became a time to meet other avid baseball fans and collectors and share stories. Exhibits included the Hall of Fame which was back with a great traveling display of game jerseys featuring the likes of Ruth and Gehrig among the couple of dozen shirts on display. Games for the kids abounded on all three floors of the fest with live music played on our floor the entire time. It was a true family event with sometimes three or four generations wearing their favorite team shirts and eating hot dogs and pizza, buying souvenirs (who doesn’t remember how great it was to go to a show with their mom and dad and come home with a whole bag of new treasures) and exploring the displays put on by many firms such as the Negro League display, a great display of MLB awards, a minor league gift shop where you could get items from teams I’ve never even heard of and the League of Their Own ladies as well.
But my real job at this event is that of appraising sports memorabilia for the hundreds of people that brought in items that kept both me and my team mate, Kevin Bronson, busy for most of the five days we were there. It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff is still sitting in homes having yet to hit the market place. Kevin and mine’s sole responsibility at these fairs is to help the people get an idea of the true worth of their items. As an appraiser, you give them a retail value range. That said, it makes my job that much tougher as there were any number of items that I would have loved to purchase for my inventory. It’s like being in a candy shop and only being able to look in what may be the toughest job of all for a dealer. My favorite item was a set of 1934-45 PCL post cards autographed by the likes of Joe DiMaggio. Of course, there were so many signed balls, it would make your head spin and a large majority were, of course, San Francisco related such as Giants team balls and a lot of single signed McCovey and Marichal balls along with tons and tons of baseball cards, most of which were collector favorites given the well used condition of most.
What are really interesting though were the stories of how these items were obtained. Some came down through the family while others were collected during the era by fans and collectors. Every item has a story and in five days, we heard enough to write a book. Some items had more sentimental value than they did intrinsic value. Others had a value at less than the bag they were carried in. Many were defaced or not what the owner thought such as the team stamped balls and trace overs or reproductions. These usually had a story as well, some having been passed down for years only to be dashed by two strangers from the East but a few items were highly collectible and/or interesting although they were in the minority of what crossed our desks, and they made your day when they did come in. But it is not just about what is valuable and what isn’t, it is the interaction with non collectors and their handed down treasures that have made such an impression on the American public thru shows such as the Antiques Road Show and if you have never been to an apprasil fair, you are really missing something and if have never been to an event at All Star week, you have doubly missed. If you are a baseball fan, this is a solid week of baseball immersion. And if you are a collector, then the All Star live Hunt’s auction is just your cup of tea. There were hundreds of killer items available including the bat used in game 6 of the 1923 World Series by Babe Ruth, the line up cards from the first All Star game in 1933 and a panoramic photo from the first ever World Series in 1903 featuring both teams including Honus Wagner, truly museum pieces that for a price, ended up in a private collection. I would suggest you mark your calendar for next year and look for me as it is the most fun a guy could have where the true reward cannot be counted numerically but in the experience of a lifetime.