It’s a Shutout!
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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