If you happened to be driving along route 6 in Woodbury about a decade and witnessed a 6'3" 200 lb 43-year-old man whacking a giant sized wiffle ball with a nightstick sized yellow plastic bat - the kind designed for 3 year olds - thank you for not calling the police or Belleview Medical Hospital. That was me. You see, my brother and his wife visited with their son, Evan, who was three years old at the time. Like almost all other uncles in America, Japan, Cuba, Mexico and lots of other places, I have this image of my nephew taking up that sport synonymous with spring itself. So far, Barry Bonds has nothing to fear. Evan was more interested in shoveling little stones into his empty Play-Doh can than practicing at being the next home run king. I hit some good whacks though. And there is always next visit.
Encyclopedias like Encarta state "the first organized baseball club was formed in 1842 by a group of young men in New York City. This group, led by Alexander Cartwright, called their club the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. The Knickerbockers developed a set of 20 rules, first published in 1845, that became the foundation of modern baseball." According to a 1908 report of the Spalding Commission appointed to research the origin of baseball; "Baseball was invented in 1839 at Cooperstown, NY by Abner Doubleday-afterward General Doubleday, a hero of the battle of Gettysburg-and the foundation of this invention was an American children's game call one old cat." Both of these reports seem incorrect. Jane Austin made mention of baseball in her 1798 novel Northhanger Abbey: "Is it not very wonderful that Catherine who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback and running around the country at the age of fourteen, to books." My point is baseball is an old sport and a wise antique hunter would pay strong attention to early evidences of this fact, as they would undoubtedly prove fortuitous.
One of the best things about Baseball collectibles is that they don't have to be that old to be valuable. Makes the hobby all the easier. And in a way, it makes it more fun. People covet baseball antiques because the sport is surrounded with good memories: playing catch with dad, hitting a homerun, going to the stadium, that great leathery smell of a baseball glove, and following our favorite players and teams in newspapers like this one every morning.
Here's a few example of recent vintage baseball collectibles sold at public auction recently: Carlton Fisk legendary 1975 World Series, game six, 12th inning homerun ball hit against the Reds-$113,273, Mark McGuire Game worn jersey-$3740, 1960 Casey Stengel signed Baseball-$435, a circa 1960 17" x 11" cardboard broadside featuring the Globetrotters of Baseball-$575, UDA limited edition Michael Jordan Baseball that looks likes and feels like a basketball-$460, Mickey Mantle personally signed baseball bat-$400, 1962 Mickey Mantle baseball card-$325, Walt Disney "The Rookie" Promo baseball jacket-$150, 1951 NY Yankees Yearbook, $173, George Brett Stamped signature baseball glove-$9.25.
One of the things to keep in mind is that baseball collecting is a relatively new craze. Although kids like me collected cards and such in the 1960's, old baseball stuff wasn't big money back then. Today, early vintage baseball souvenirs are one of the hottest antique markets going. Here are a few prices attained in recent years as reported by the Maine Antique Digest: Pair early 20th century cast iron baseball figure andirons-$23,000, 1854 Knickerbocker baseball trophy-$72,050, Circa 1910 Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, one of about 50 surviving-$28,600, Baseball cap worn by Lou Gerhig-$13,203, Babe Ruth outdoor plaza marker, 8½' tall, installed outside Yankee Stadium (baseball) following the Babe's death in 1948-$19,721, Civil War soldier's diary of 1863 with Union army battle life descriptions, including occasional baseball matches-$7,220, The tipped-finger workman-style baseball glove from the 1880's-$4620.
Authentic Baseball star uniforms, signed balls, bats and other such items come up for sale regularly. Rarity has less to do with value than star power. Toward looking out for baseball antiques in your own back yard, seek out the peripherals: Cards, baseball coins, granddad's glove, associated toys books and pamphlets. A Babe Ruth Red Sox uniform wouldn't be a bad find either. Until then, no more Play Dough for Evan!