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Play Your Cards Right With Baseball Collectibles

Own a Piece of History
Photo: Nat Fein
I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up in the 1950s as a worshipful Dodgers fan.

The Brooklyn Dodgers roster included Hall of Fame legends Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider. The Dodger's home, Ebbets Field, was small enough so fans were all right near the action. The Dodgers Sym-phony paraded around the field before games, and no other ballpark could boast of the sign under the right field scoreboard reading, "Hit Sign, Win Suit."

It was always "wait till next year" for my beloved Bums, until 1955, when Brooklyn won its only World Championship. Then, before the start of 1958 season, they abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

Like other Dodger fans, I never fully recovered from that magical time, but collecting team memorabilia brings back memories -- these inanimate objects conjure up a time when tickets were affordable, autographs were free and players were fans' next-door neighbors.

You can turn those years of collecting memorabilia into cold, hard cash if you play your cards right.

And don't just think of baseball cards -- between autographed balls, game-used uniforms and World Series pins, there are plenty of collectibles out there.

The baseball Barry Bonds just hit for his record 756th home run, for instance, could sell for about $500,000 -- half what it would have fetched without the steroids allegations surrounding the San Francisco Giants outfielder, according to sports memorabilia sellers. "It should be a million-dollar baseball," says Mike Heffner, president of Leland's Sports Auction House in Seaford, N.Y.

Baseball Cards

Cards' wide range is appealing to many: You can build a collection for relatively little money or spend big bucks to own some of the greats. A 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card fetched $200,000 at auction in April 2007. A collection of 403 1886-89 Old Judge tobacco cards (early cards were promotional items from tobacco companies) sold at the same auction for $111,625.

Baseball cards began to be produced on a regular basis after WWII, first with Bowman in 1948 and then with Topps (TOPP) in 1951. Fleer, Donruss and Upper Deck entered the market in 1989. Since the late 1980s, there has been an explosion of card sets, putting a damper on collecting.

There are several different types to look out for:
  • Rookie cards. Between the 1940s and the '50s, there was one rookie card of a player produced each year. After that, multiple cards were produced, and the value of those cards varies based on scarcity and quality. But beware -- modern rookie cards are extremely volatile and can lose or gain a high percentage of value in an extremely short time.
  • Inserts. These limited-edition cards sometimes contain player signatures or pieces of jerseys, bats or gloves. These cards can sell for thousands of dollars, so if you're lucky to find one in an unopened pack, you've spent a minimal amount for a big payoff.
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