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.
“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…
“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.
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.”
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?
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?