Sports memories vs. sports memorabilia: What’s it worth to you?

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Now’s as good a time as any to ask: How do you know when it’s the right time to sell off some of your coolest sports memorabilia?

“It’s a really tough call,” admits Stephen Kolodny, a former Dodgers batboy who will part with dozens of game-used bats he collected during the 1970s – some once belonging to Thurman Munson, Joe Torre, Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente – for an auction that starts this week.

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“For me, it was time to downsize. I never had these as an investment. I used to just give them away to friends 20 years ago.”

Mentally, how do you separate sentimental from actual value, especially if you’re a former athlete parceling out pieces of your life?

“You don’t want to attach yourself to a lot of this things that end up in the garage collecting dust,” says Rogie Vachon, the Kings’ former All-Star goalie who has watched the online bidding on a few dozen of his own things start to climb toward six figures – including a menacing, marked-up purple-and-gold facemask he wore in the early ’70s.

“You just accumulate so much over the years, going from house to house, keep moving the boxes. This really isn’t bittersweet for me. Sometimes, you just have to move on.”

From week to week, beyond whatever questionable things are out there on eBay, the various specialized sports memorabilia websites and auction houses make attainable items that look as if they were left behind in a museum heist.

As a buyer, it’s an insane chance to grab a piece of history, bank account willing. As a seller, it’s an opportunity knocking. Emotions willing.

And the way it works these days, with commissions, authenticators and very little caveats, it’s all pretty painless.

Really? Here’s a third-party crasher’s perspective: If that was my stuff, I’d never part with it. Unless…

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“It is what it is and it really depends on the situation,” says David Kohler, the Orange County-based facilitator of SCP Auctions (linked here), currently involved in the sale of Kirk Gibson’s bat, jersey and helmet used when he hit his memorable 1988 World Series Game 1-winning homer.

Some of the proceeds – his ’88 MVP award and replica World Series trophy, which combined have drawn more than $40,000 so far — are earmarked for his foundation to fund high-school scholarships. The rest is going to whatever Gibson has privately decided to do with it.

When former Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy decided nearly 10 years ago that the things in his basement could would help his daughters (one was a school teacher) pay off their home mortgages, he made the cash call to Kohler.

When members of Casey Stengel’s family didn’t know what to do with all his baseball-related things after he passed away, they decided to keep a few special items, and let the rest of the collectors out there enjoy it. Kohler helped.

“It’s not a flea market or garage sale, it’s more a celebration of their careers, gets them back in the news,” said Kohler.

In the past, donations to Halls of Fames were more the norm. But floor space is an issue, and many of the items aren’t permanently displayed.

Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, when someone’s Super Bowl ring popped up for sale on the Internet, a terribly sad tale came attached to it. The athlete was down on his luck, no pension to pay medical bills, and this was something of value to keep moving forward.

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Over the last couple of years, things owned by former baseball star and financially insolvent Lenny Dykstra have popped up. His ’86 Mets World Series ring sold last year. His 1993 Silver Slugger Award is up for bidding now on Heritage Auction Galleries, and has $4,780 on it so far, with the sale ending Nov. 22 (linked here).

Kohler’s experience is those kinds of desperations stories aren’t so frequent. Vachon agrees.

“Sure, I used to hear stories like that,” said Vachon, 65, who lives with his wife in Venice these days and regularly uses his MountainGate Country Club membership. The sale of his things through Canadian-based Classic Auctions (linked here) through Nov. 16 could bring him more than $100,000.

“The money isn’t a big deal. I’m fine. I see more athletes do it this way. It’s fun. And the collectors, the fans, get to have these things.”

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Kolodny has been given estimates by his new business partner, Hunt Auctions (linked here), that the bats that he once fished out of the trash can in the Dodgers’ locker room (with equipment manager Nobe Kawano’s OK) could fetch more than $40,000 when bidding starts Nov. 13 at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in Kentucky.

Kolodny has three boys – there’s Tyler, the former El Camino Real High standout who just finished his fourth year in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system, plus two more in college.

Kolodny admits he’s a big autograph collector, and says he’ll keep most of his things, like personalized signed baseballs. He can even find those kind of things available online that his son has signed if he was really looking to buy.

But with whatever money that is generated from this auction, Kolodny knows it can help with anything from his kids’ tuition to his retirement fund.

“I got their permission to do it,” Kolodny, who lives and works in Woodland Hills as a personal injury lawyer, said of his sons who could have inherited these things. “I vacillated a lot on it. I mean, once you give away your bats and collect the money, whatever that is, and then you spend that money, what do you have to show for it?”

Extra room to collect more stuff?

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It gets even crazier.

How about the official rules that Dr. James Naismith typed up in 1891, explaining the official rules of this game he invented called basketball.

Those will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s (linked here) in December by his grandson, to benefit the Naismith International Basketball Foundation. Experts expect it to reach as much as $2 million for what amounts to the 13 Commandments of Basketball (without mention of dribbling).

If there were only a nice clean set of rules that people could go by when buying or selling sports memorabilia. What would they be worth?

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Our final Daily Moment of Zenyatta: A perfect sendoff, and a perfect payday

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(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Zenyatta runs during a practice session for the Breeder’s Cup horse race at Churchill Downs Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, in Louisville, Ky.

A press release from the National Throughbred Racing Association:

In support of Zenyatta’s attempt for a 20th consecutive victory in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., has placed a 20′ x 150′ sign on its rooftop that reads, “Good Luck, Zenyatta!” The sign will be in full view of airplanes flying into and out of nearby Los Angeles International Airport.

“We, like so many others here in Southern California, are fiercely proud of Zenyatta, and this is just one small way for us to share that pride,” said Jack Liebau, President of Hollywood Park.

“Zenyatta is a once-in-a-lifetime Champion bidding to accomplish something no Thoroughbred in modern history has achieved,” said Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA. “We wish her the best of luck in her quest for perfection.”

A view of the banner from the roof of Hollywood Park as you might see it if you’re coming into LAX (but very doubtful if you’re leaving, since planes tend to take off over the ocean): (linked here)

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Meanwhile, Guinness said it is offering Zenyatta a trip to its famed St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland if she wins today’s race.

Trainer John Shirreffs is known to open a bottle of Guinness and pour it into a bowl for Zenyatta in the afternoon. He says she’ll only drink the dark Irish stout with its creamy head.

Guinness brand director Patrick Hughes says the brewery will be raising a pint and holding its collective breath during the $5 million race. He reminds all thoroughbreds and the race fans who love them that Guinness is best enjoyed responsibly.

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A couple more tales on the curious life of George Anderson

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(Tony Ranze/Getty Images)
Sparky Anderson talks to reporters in 1995 at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., where the Tigers held spring training.

Here’s excerpts from a story that the Daily News’ Kevin Modesti did on Sparky Anderson in 1990, after he was forced to take a 2 1/2 week vacation at his home because of exhaustion:

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Anderson is 56 now. His white hair no longer looks as out-of-place as it did at 40. The hair is thinning a bit in front. The circles under his eyes are deeper and darker. His hand shakes ever so slightly as he pours a soft drink into a styrofoam cup. He speaks more slowly, more softly.

“The only way I’ve changed is I’ve gotten older and quieter,” says Anderson, who said earlier in the season that for the first time, he feels more like a George than a Sparky. “And I don’t want to be around crowds. Like my wife said, ‘You’ve paid your dues. Let the young managers do that.’ ”

He is more than older and quieter. He has found peace. …

“I came into baseball with only a high school education. Without baseball I would have been a painter. With baseball I own six homes and I have more money than I ever dreamed I’d have.”

Each of his three children has one of the houses; Sparky bought one for his mother; Anderson and his wife, Carol, share the winter home in Thousand Oaks and a condominium in Detroit. They are building a seventh house in Dearborn, Mich. …

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“I look at it this way: I came into baseball because I love baseball,” he says. “I’ve never worked, other than the first few years in the minor leagues, when I worked at home in the winter. I stay in the best hotels, I get unbelievable meal money.

“Why would I not want to stay in baseball?” …

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Sparky Anderson is a baseball Calvinist. A stoic. He takes the bad with the good.

He doesn’t blame the game. He doesn’t blame himself.

“I love this game every bit as much as I did before, maybe more,” he says. “Because now I know what it takes to survive.”

== Another Modesti piece from 1997 when Anderson was making his first visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame (linked here):

Anderson said he doesn’t even tie his shoes when he runs errands in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood he and his wife Carol have called home for 31 years.

“Never know when I might have to get out of ‘em in a hurry,” he said with a mischievous
chuckle. “My wife gets on me about the way I dress. I wear sloppy clothes. I say, it doesn’t matter, they know me, they know I’m an idiot.”

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== An email from Paul Olden, the former L.A.-based baseball broadcaster and current public address announcer for the New York Yankees:

It was just a couple of weeks ago when I asked ESPN’s Joe Morgan (in New York for the ALCS) how Sparky was doing and he passed along a less-than-upbeat update. Now comes the news.

Sparky and I attended Dorsey High School- he about about 20 years ahead of me, a student there in the 1950s. I first learned of him when, as a freshman student in the late 60s, I discovered his picture posted in the gym building in a makeshift wall of fame there. I didn’t get to meet him until 1988 when I first made it to the Majors as a play by play guy for Cleveland.

And he was a great guy – I think the Dorsey connection helped break the ice. He was always willing to sit and talk – at length – in his office at Tiger Stadium about his team or whatever.

== And then there’s his pre-game rant about writers (more to the point: headline writers) in Los Angeles back in the 70s when he came to town to some unflattering news:

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Our Daily Moment of Zenyatta: Why she’ll win

From the Daily Racing News’ Bill Finley (linked here):

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On paper, Zenyatta has no chance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She’s too slow, and she has spent much of year narrowly beating ordinary fillies and mares. Really tough, fast males like Blame, Quality Road and Lookin at Lucky should thrash her. As the favorite in the Classic, she could well be the biggest underlay in Breeders’ Cup history.

All of which I am going to ignore. I’m picking her.

I might be guilty of drinking the Kool-Aid or believing in fairytales, but sometimes you just have to, well, believe. In this case, that means having faith in a great horse who has a tremendous will to win and always finds a way. Always.

That’s the intangible Zenyatta brings to the table, and it’s bigger than Beyer figures, company lines and everything else her critics might judge her on. She just wins. You cannot argue with 19 straight, no matter how weak some of the fields she has been facing might have been. It is an historic accomplishment, something no other top-level horse has done. Corny as it might sound, she has a big heart, refuses to lose, knows where the wire is, whatever. In the Classic, that’s what is going to get her to the finish line first.

Having said that, she’s going to have to be better than she has ever been. On paper, a repeat of her race in the 2009 Classic probably won’t be enough. That day, she beat a grass horse, albeit a good one, in Gio Ponti, and another grass horse in European shipper Twice Over. And she did so by just a length. The horses she is set to face in 2010 are much better.

I do not agree with those who are discounting Zenyatta’s chances as she comes into the Classic, but I understand where they are coming from. The coddling of the mare was taken to an extreme this year; she beat nothing but cupcakes. She hasn’t defeated a single Grade 1 winner all year, and the five horses who finished second behind her are a combined 8-for-38 on the year. Her best Beyer figure in 2010 is a 103. There are seven horses among those pre-entered for the Classic who have run faster numbers this year.

As much as I might like her … she has to win the Classic to deserve Horse of the Year, especially if Blame, Quality Road or Lookin at Lucky wins. To suggest she deserves the title as some sort of lifetime achievement award is nonsense. Her 14 starts prior to 2010 have no bearing on this, and her 2010 campaign thus far hasn’t been anything close to Horse of the Year-worthy. It would have been a lot different had owner Jerry Moss decided to challenge her some this year and had she won races like the Pacific Classic or Hollywood Gold Cup. He should have asked more of her; he didn’t.

Still, it will be a moot point when Zenyatta passes 10 horses inside the final two furlongs and wins by a nose over Lookin at Lucky in what will be the most thrilling Breeders’ Cup Classic in history. I think it’s going to happen. She’s an extraordinary talent, the type of horse that doesn’t come along more than once in a great while. When it comes down to it, that’s what’s going to matter.

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The Media Learning Curve: Oct. 29-Nov. 5

Recent buzz in New York after the screening of a documentary called “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story” focused on how Dodgers’ Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax actually made himself available to be interviewed for the project.

Ira Berkow, the New York Times writer who wrote the film and was the technical advisor, told the New York Post: “If you’re doing a film about Jews and baseball, you need Koufax in the film.”

Koufax’s last extended TV interview of note had to be in 1999 when ESPN was doing its “SportsCentury” series, and Charley Steiner was able to get to ask the questions after he used former Dodgers minor-league manager Kevin Kennedy as a go-between.

The New York Times notes that Koufax has turned down HBO several times in the last 30 years about doing a story on him.

According to the film’s website (linked here), the exclusive L.A. premiere of the movie, narrated by Dustin Hoffman and directed by Peter Miller, will be on Nov. 17 at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Beverly Hills, followed by the Laemmle’s Town Center 5 in Encino and Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills (Nov. 19), the Chabad of Bel Air (Nov. 27) and the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs (Dec. 3). Ticket purchases for the screenings at the temples, some of whom are using it as a fundraiser, can be found on their websites.

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After the film debuted earlier this summer, a review from the Jerusalem Post back in July (linked here) said “one of the emotional high points” was recounting a accidental collision between the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson and famous Jewish first baseman Hank Greenberg, the former Detroit Tigers star now playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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On May 17, 1947 — about a month after Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, he laid down a perfect bunt and streaked down the first-base line. The pitcher’s throw pulled first baseman Greenberg off the bag. Reaching for the throw, he collided with Robinson, who was able to get up and reach second.

The next inning Greenberg walked, and asked Robinson, who was playing first base, if he had been hurt in the collision.

“Greenberg gave him some words of encouragement, urging him not to let all the bigotry get to him,” Miller said. “It made a huge impression on Robinson.”

The closing credits give a shout-out to former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley for providing funding for the documentary.

One reason for Koufax’s inclusion here may be that Fred Wilpon, the current New York Mets owner and a close friend of Koufax — they played together at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn — is also on board.

Aside from Koufax, former Dodgers Shawn Green and Norm Sherry are interviewed. The Brewers’ Ryan Braun, out of Granada Hills High School, only appears in video clips.

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Following up on today’s media column (linked here), here’s some unfunded media notes for the rest of the weekend:

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== Joe Tessitore will host the two-day Breeders’ Cup coverage on ESPN2 (Friday), ABC and ESPN (Saturday) with analysts Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss. In one form or another, Kenny Mayne, Hank Goldberg, Nick Luck, Jeannine Edwards, Jay Privman, Caton Bredar, Steve Cyphers, Jeremy Schaap and Bill Nack will be part of the telecast. Trevor Denman will call the races.

Among the features planned to air somewhere on the weekend is something called “Zenyatta: Hollywood Overtime” – a screenplay feature about Zenyatta and her Hollywood-esque finishes in each race she competes, and another piece on Zenyatta’s relationship with jockey Mike Smith and trainer John Shirrefs.

There’s also a “Sport Science” breakdown by John Brenkus that explains the physics of her size and stride and how Zenyatta is able to recover after each race.

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More on the passing of Sparky Anderson

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There was never a problem separating the character of Sparky Anderson with Sparky Anderson, the character.

In a 1998 autobiography written by the future Hall of Fame baseball manager, whose messages were often so mangled by improper use of the English language that it drew comparisons to Casey Stengel, Anderson refrained from telling a bunch of stories about problems he had with star players or arguments he had with front-office management.

He captured it all in just 11 words, on the fifth page: “I ain’t no better than anybody else. And neither are you.”

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When news came that the longtime Thousand Oaks resident died Thursday at age 76 at his home from complications brought on by dementia, Anderson’s indelible character was one of the first thing that friends talked about.

“His idea of baseball was the highest ideals,” said longtime friend Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame manager who played with and against Anderson in the minor leagues and managed against his great Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s.

“He believed in the game and represented the game to the highest degree of class, dignity and character. Baseball has lost one of its greatest members.”

Anderson, the first man to win World Series titles in both the National and American leagues, had been suffering from dementia for just the last several months. His family did not release the information about his need for home hospice care until Wednesday.
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George “Sparky” Anderson (1934-2010)

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A couple of quick thoughts on the sudden passing of Sparky Anderson:

One of my more prized possessions is an autographed copy of “They Call Me Sparky,” which he wrote with longtime friend Dan Ewald in 1998. Any chance to talk to Sparky was great. I’d give him a call at his home in Thousand Oaks, his wife Carol would answer, and then, holding the phone, yell out, “George, it’s for you!”

For that book review, I wrote:

In the introduction to his autobiography, Sparky Anderson offers an apology.

“I don’t always get the right word in the right place at the right time,” he writes.

Except in 256 pages of “They Call Me Sparky,”‘ (with Dan Ewald, Sleeping Bear Press, $24.95), the future Hall of Fame baseball manager gets his point across so succinctly, it’s perfectly elegant.

Far from a collection of as-told-to zany stories from his days screaming at umpires, the essence of Anderson’s work is captured in just 11 words from page 5 – “I ain’t no better than anybody else. And neither are you.”

He then explains why that’s so.

Anderson seems most disturbed by those who’ve set themselves apart from others because of their accumulated wealth. But the other virtues he wants to emphasis – discipline, determination, staying true to oneself, taking time to understand others, honesty and humor – are all made in relation to how they’ve come up in his life experiences.

The most telling chapter is how he decided not to manage replacement players during the spring of 1995, which leads a discussion about loyalty. The most revealing chapter about his personality is in one called “A Bogey and A Smile,” about how he plays golf with his pals at the Sunset Hills Country Club, about five miles from the Thousand Oaks home he’s lived in with his wife, Carol, for the last 30 years.

The book alternates between chapters where Anderson’s voice is the narration and where co-author Ewald, the former Detroit Tigers’ publicist, summarizes points in Anderson’s career. Those chapters are supplemented with interviews/testimonials from many of Anderson’s former Cincinnati Reds and Tigers players, as well as friends like former President Gerald Ford.

If the striking black-and-white portrait of Anderson on the jacket cover isn’t suitable enough for framing then the final italicized paragraph – a quote from Anderson – should be. He says:

“All I ask of all you young people is that you never make money your one goal in life. Make people your life. And I promise you what a wonderful life it will be. Love life . . . and it will love you.’”

No need to apologize for that.

Sparky later signed a copy of the book for me:

To “Tom”
Thank you for writing a piece about me. This was an honest book and thanks for knowing that. Good luck with everything you do in the years ahead.
Sparky.

Note, the quotes were around my name and not his.

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Our Daily Moment of Zenyatta: Why hang it up?

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Like many of us, the New York Times’ Alex Brown wonders (linked here): Why would Zenyatta quit on us now, win or not in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic?

If she is perfectly healthy, as we are led to believe, she can make more money on the track than in the breeding shed (unlike a colt). If she keeps winning for fun, and enjoys herself, this is simply a tremendous opportunity to continue to showcase a true star; a star that can become inspirational to a much wider audience.

Kinscem holds the record for an unbeaten horse at 54 wins over four years, in the late 1800s. She won races all over Europe and against the boys. A star from Turkey, she became a national treasure. When she died she was mourned, much like Man o’ War was mourned in this country.

There is no rule to say that a horse should only run a certain number of races, and then needs to be retired. If the horse is fit, healthy and enjoying her career, it seems a no-brainer to me to continue having fun, profitably.

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Next Halloween, you’re going out as Rogie Vachon — with all original stuff

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A game-used, all-pucked-up dark purple-and-gold mask that Rogie Vachon wore some 40 years ago is one of nearly 50 items that the former Kings’ All-Star goalie has up for auction from his personal garage sale.

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In an online scramble at Classic Auctions (linked here), the Vachon mask (linked here) has already received 12 bids and, from a $2,500 starting point, has climbed past $7,100, far and away the most popular item.

The 47 lots so far have generated more than $37,000 in bidding. What else can be had:

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== A 1972 Kings yellow jersey (signed) (11 bidders have pushed it past $1,000).

== His Los Angeles Kings Hall of Fame trophy, given to him in 1997 (only one bidder so far, at $200).

== His 1968 Stanley Cup champions rings that he won with Montreal (opening bid: $2,500, currently up past $4,400).

== His 1968 Venzina Trophy plaque (no bids yet at $1,000)

== The Czechoslovakian national team sweater of 1976 Canada Cup rival Vladimir Dzurilla which Vachon, the tournament’s all-star goalie, obtained in an on-ice jersey exchange between the two finalists after Darryl Sittler’s title-clinching overtime goal. (Started at $500, now up to $2,100).

== His 1973 All Star ring with a purple stone (he gave up four goals in the East’s 5-4 win in the first All-Star Game ever at Madison Square Garden) (up to $550) and a game-worn jersey (up to $733).

== His ’75 All Star jersey (No. 1) from the game played in Montreal (a 7-1 win) (up past $600).

== His ’78 All Star jersey (No. 1) from the game played in Buffalo (up past $660).

== A bunch of other signed jerseys, trophys, blocker pads and glove and other memorabilia from his playing days (including a No. 30 Kings jersey the team gave him to wear during Luc Robitaille’s No. 20 jersey retirement ceremony in 2007).

Thrown in there are at least six Wayne Gretzky game-used and signed sticks, some Jari Kurri sticks and a couple of Grant Fuhr jerseys, and Vachon can finally get rid of all those memories, plus make a little scratch on the side (there’s no indication any of the proceeds are going to charity).

Bidding on all the Vachon items go through Nov. 16.

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