NEW YORK — Baseball jerseys, especially game-worn ones, are among the most highly sought-after types of sports memorabilia. Baseball has long been America’s pastime, and most fans have fond memories of watching important games and witnessing historical moments in the sport. Engraved into many people’s memories are moments like when the Chicago Cubs finally broke a 108-year drought to win the World Series in 2016, or when Lou Gehrig played his final game in April 1939, declaring himself on July 4 that year in his farewell speech to be “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” even though a diagnosis of ALS ended his baseball career.
While baseballs and bats can be valuable, collectors practically swoon over game-worn jerseys, and if they are sweat-stained or dirty, so much the better. If the player wore a particular jersey while doing something important in that game, such as hitting a homer that won the pennant, or breaking a longstanding record, the value of the jersey goes up exponentially.
“Many collectors buy jerseys of players they grew up idolizing or players from their current favorite teams,” said Michael Russek, Director of Operations at Grey Flannel Auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Another reason collectors buy game-used jerseys is for a possible investment opportunity (i.e., purchasing a jersey from an up-and-comer and watching the value grow).”
“For the fast majority of professional sports franchises, there is a history that can be both appreciated and collected. Collecting a team rather than a specific player allows one to enter at a price point that is more in line with their comfort zone. Not everyone can go from zero to a Ty Cobb gamer,” Russek said.
Not surprisingly, the Sultan of Swat tops the list of players with the most valuable jerseys. “The number one athlete on this list has to be Babe Ruth,” Russek said. “Ruth is synonymous with American history and the game of baseball. He was a larger-than-life figure whose legend extends much farther than the sport. Ruth currently holds the record for the most expensive game-used jersey ever sold.”
A circa 1920 New York Yankees jersey worn by Ruth fetched just over $4.4 million dollars in a 2012 auction by SCP Auctions, setting a new auction record price for sports memorabilia.
Ruth’s Yankees teammate, Lou Gehrig, is another of baseball’s immortals. A 1937 game-worn Gehrig jersey sold for $870,000 in August 2017 at Heritage Auctions.
Ted Williams’ brilliant on-field career is only one reason why his jerseys are so highly sought after, said Russek. That the Boston Red Sox left-fielder departed baseball to serve twice in World War II only adds to his legendary status, Russek added. In July 2014, Lelands.com sold a Williams jersey from 1954-55, which was autographed by “The Kid,” for $137,274.
“In the current baseball market, Mike Trout is an athlete who is highly sought after following his rise to stardom and multiple MVP seasons,” Russek said. “Collectors are understanding the potential Trout has to be regarded as one of the the all-time greats.” Nicknamed the “Millville Meteor,” the centerfielder for the Los Angeles Angels is a six-time All-Star player and has won the MVP award twice.
While collectors avidly seek out memorabilia from well-known players like Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, who all rose to the top of their game, even emerging players are collectible. In addition to Trout, Russek says up-and-comers to watch are Aaron Judge (born 1962, outfielder for the New York Yankees), Gleyber Torres Castro (born 1996, a second-baseman and shortstop for the New York Yankees who made his Major League debut in April 2018); Francisco Lindor (born 1993, a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians), Corey Seager (born 1994, a shortstop and 2012 first-round draft pick for the Los Angeles Dodgers); and Alex Bregman (born 1994, infielder for the Houston Astros).
Russek offered several tips for new collectors, including not putting all their eggs in one basket, ensuring one’s collecting theme has enough room to maneuver and spread when one sees an opportunity. “New collectors should figure out their reason for collecting game-used jerseys and evaluate the submarket(s) in the hobby,” he said.
“If you are collecting a specific player, you must be aggressive in the auction process because many of these items are truly one-of-a-kind, and you certainly won’t want to miss out on an opportunity,” he added. “If collecting for an investment, collectors need to do the necessary research to identify which players’ jerseys are likely to go up in value.”
For more information, visit Grey Flannel Auctions.
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