It’s a Shutout!

  • Photo by Cordero Studios/
    A display case holds a 1962 Stan Musial Cardinals jersey, a 1957 Ted Williams Red Sox jersey, a 1962 Eddie Matthews Braves jersey, and a 1926 unused World Series Yankees ticket, among other items. Photo by Cordero Studios/
  • Bats in Brian Seigel’s collection include, from top, a 1958 Mickey Mantle, an early 1920s Ty Cobb, and a 1951 All-Star bat with a Yogi Berra signature.
  • The Honus Wagner card Seigel sold for a record $2.35 million.
  • A 1952 Mickey Mantle card that will be offered by Robert Edward Auctions in October.
  • Photo by Robert Severi
    Last year, Ruth’s 1918 contract with the Red Sox sold for $1 million and his 1948 “Silver Anniversary” pocket watch for $650,100. Photo by Robert Severi
  • Babe Ruth’s 1920 New York Yankees jersey fetched $4.42 million in 2012.
  • Ernie Banks’s 1968 Cubs jersey could bring $150,000 in SCP Auctions' August sale. A 1955 Sandy Koufax Brooklyn Dodgers rookie jersey sold for $573,600 in February.
  • Photo by Cordero Studios/
  • Photo by Robert Severi
<< Back to Collection, August 2015
  • Matt Crossman

How baseball became the star player of the sports memorabilia game. 

Brian seigel owns roughly 40 game-used baseball bats from major-league players and displays them in a 1,200-square-foot shrine to America’s pastime at his home in Southern California. When he shows the bats to visitors, they are often apprehensive about touching them, and it is easy to understand why: Each one is a museum-quality piece of history, having belonged to a member of the baseball Hall of Fame.

“People are sometimes afraid to touch them,” Seigel says. “I say, ‘No, take it. Swing it.’ That’s the cool thing about it.” 

With encouragement from Seigel, soon his guests are taking cuts at imaginary fastballs. Maybe they would swing a little more gingerly if they knew this: Historic bats, along with game-used jerseys and cards, have exploded in value over the past five years to become some of the most valuable pieces of sports memorabilia in the world. In the last year, prices have gone particularly deep for items connected to the game’s most legendary players—Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Cobb, Koufax, Mays, among a few others—and for lots tied to a major event, such as an MVP season or a World Series. 

To get an idea of how much baseball has surpassed other sports in the collectibles market, just take a look at the top lots of the past few years. In football, the most expensive item to be sold at auction in 2015 through mid-June was a Super Bowl XII ring that belonged to Dallas Cowboy Harvey Martin. Heritage sold it for $71,700 in February. During the same time period, 31 baseball items sold for more than that, according to Price Realized, a comprehensive database for collectors that tracks more than 20 years of sports memorabilia sales in the United States and Canada. The top lot was a 1921 Babe Ruth bat that sold for 10 times the amount of Martin’s ring—$717,000—at the same Heritage auction.

In 2014, 33 baseball items sold for more than the most expensive football item. In 2013, the number was 30. “Baseball is what really drives this whole industry, because it has such deep roots,” says Bill Huggins, president of Huggins & Scott Auctions. He should know: His grandfather’s cousin was Miller Huggins, a Yankees Hall of Fame manager. 

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