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10 Crazy Prices Paid for Sports Memorabilia

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- In this year's World Series, there's going to be a pivotal moment that shifts the momentum and makes an entire region and generation of sports fans extremely happy.

For that reason, the items from that moment will be highly valuable for anyone lucky enough to get their mitts on them.

That's driving a $12 billion licensed sports merchandise business and a $1.5 billion autograph market, according to SportsMemorabilia.com. Baseball alone accounts for 26% of all memorabilia sales, but still ranks a close second to the 34% of revenue generated by National Football League ephemera. That hasn't exactly discounted baseball's nostalgia market, as autographs from Cal Ripken Jr. and Willie Mays at memorabilia conventions can cost $150 to $300 apiece.

And that's for the signature of living legends marking up keepsakes right in front of your face and living post-sports lives that could alter the monetary -- if not sentimental -- value of those signatures with even a minor misstep. It's a lucrative prospect on the former players' end, with stars such ad former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Bill Mazeroski selling off items tied to his World Series-winning home run against the New York Yankees in 1960 at an auction in November.

But it can be a dicey proposition for buyers who not only have to deal with a market that's volatile under the best of circumstances, but with shady dealers facing federal investigation for rigging auctions, bidding up their own items and tampering with collectibles without disclosing changes. Fraud is so common in the memorabilia world that Peter J. Nash, known to older hip-hop heads as Pete Nice from late-'80s, early '90s group 3rd Bass, has dedicated an entire second career to it on his blog, Hauls Of Shame.

A combination of nostalgia, a growing buyer base, those bidders' increasing expendable income and a little market chicanery is driving prices for the most sought-after items into the millions, with even slightly lesser pieces regularly fetching six figures. If you think the stakes are high when the games are being played, just wait about 40 years or so until the fans in the stands run companies and think nothing of throwing a few million at a ball, jersey or trading card.

To give you just an idea how much cash is rounding the bases of the collectibles market these days, we've found 10 items that helped set the standard for what starry-eyed fans will have to pay for their piece of sports history.

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