Originally Posted on CINCINNATI.com
This is no ordinary baseball card. It's too regal for a shoebox, too elegant for an attic. It's too old to do much but sit and rest, encased in Lucite and the dreams of others. Sticking this baseball card in your bicycle spokes would be like using the Hope diamond to carve a turkey.
There he is, Honus Wagner, the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame shortstop, the object of so much affection, greed, treachery and lust, his cheeks red, his face pink, his gaze cartoonish, nestled in a 3-by-6-inch block of plastic, Phillips-head screws snugging each corner. Between the Lucite blocks, Honus sleeps, eyes wide open, in a thin, clear plastic sleeve. On his back is an ad for Piedmont cigarettes. A strip of aluminum foil running the length and breadth of the Lucite protects him from light. Except when his owners roust him to show him off.
Honus is yellowed and a little stained, something the owners say helps prove his authenticity. His edges aren't quite complete; the "register" is off. Honus was born on a four-color, lithograph offset printing press, with a rosary dot matrix, on paper stock in fashion at the time. Honus looks a little worse for wear. You might, too, if you were created, supposedly, in 1909.
John Cobb and Ray Edwards, his owners, Cincinnati guys, think Honus looks like a million bucks.
Only one problem:
Nobody else does.
Experts in the card-collecting industry say this Honus is a fake.
Or, to use the polite, card-collecting industry term, a "reprint." John and Ray have walked a million miles the last two years, working to prove their man in Lucite is the real deal. Theirs is an odyssey almost as storied as the card itself. John Cobb has owned the card for 20 years, and in the last two has had it tested more than a lab rat.
Cobb has defended it more than Darrow defended evolution and at least as much as Cobb's own honor, which he feels is very much at stake here.
Twenty years with Honus Wagner has taken John Cobb from a local estate sale to a paper expert in Wisconsin and a printing expert in Cincinnati. It has led him on a journey through the virtual halls of eBay and the real ones at card shops.
Honus has mined the lodes of this 52-year-old man's emotions.
Cobb has been elated, angry, hopeful, bitter and defiant. He has been frustrated. He is nearing the end of his journey, if not his fight, mostly because he's running out of places to go to validate Honus' worth. Cobb's journey ends where lots of journeys end for those who have hoped and dreamed: in sunny California, bumping the Pacific Ocean, at a place called Pro Sports Authenticator, PSA, the world's foremost judge of baseball cards.
All that's at issue is:
Real or reprint?
All that's at stake is:
A million dollars.
"If they can disprove the experts," says local collector Steve Wolter, "they can go from something that's worth nothing to something that's worth a million bucks or more."
Who's right? Who's wrong? A knight's quest? Or a fool's errand?
"I was taught never to give up," John Cobb says.
"I wouldn't spend this much time on a fake," Ray Edwards says.
"The whole thing is comical," says Joe Orlando, president of PSA.
Is it? Come along and find out. Enter the Byzantine, multimillion-dollar world of baseball-card collecting, where things aren't always what they seem and the dreams of would-be rich men are dashed with the flick of a 100-power electronic microscope. Join Honus Wagner, a shy, humble, original Hall of Famer, in wondering what all the fuss is about.
When you're done traveling, decide whom you believe.
John Cobb's journey with John Peter Wagner started in 1983 or 1984. Cobb can't recall which. An acquaintance dabbled in estate sales. He had something Cobb might be interested in.
John Cobb was interested in everything. As a teenager in Loveland, he worked for spending cash on a trash truck. He was always amazed at the things people threw out. He'd see things on the curb: Furniture. Toys. Jewelry. Books. He saved them. And then he saved some more.
At one point, Cobb says, he had seven "storage bins" full of other people's stuff. By bins, he means those sheds you rent by the month to store your possessions between moves. That's a lot of stuff.
Cobb had a comic-book collection he estimates was worth close to $1 million, though nobody has ever verified that. He sold it eight years ago to pay legal bills.
He still has an 8-by-8-foot shed full of stuff in the backyard of his Covington home. Mostly personal things, Cobb says.
John Cobb has led a life. He played keyboards in an R&B band that featured the locally legendary Bootsy Collins. In 1969, the band opened for Jimi Hendrix at the Pickle Barrel, a club in Clifton. By the early '70s, Cobb was pulling in $800 a week playing music.
He was drafted into the service in 1971. Cobb was headed for Vietnam until his records showed he'd contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as an 8-year-old. He says the vaccinations needed for service in Southeast Asia would have reacted violently with the medication he'd taken a decade earlier for the spotted fever. He was discharged and went to work in his father's trucking business.
In 1977, a car wreck left him with a crushed left hip. He still limps. In 1998, Cobb retired on partial disability. He spends most of his time now fretting about Honus. He paid $1,800 for the Wagner card 20 years ago, with the promise from the owner that he could get his money back if he couldn't sell it.
Almost immediately, a collector offered Cobb $10,000 for Honus. Which got Cobb to thinking: "Why take that when it could be worth more? If he goes for 10 grand, he'll go for 20. I have to find out more about this card," Cobb recalls. "I just put it away."
It might have ended there, with Honus being a highly valued treasure in Cobb's overflowing chest. But then, about 10 years ago, Cobb was watching TV with his cousin, Ray Edwards. Magician David Copperfield was magically tearing up a baseball card part-owned by hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky. "I've got that card," Cobb said to Edwards. And away they went.
"When I saw (Cobb's) card, chills went up my back," Edwards recalls.
Edwards, a 1986 Withrow grad, owned Rainbow Gold, a store in Walnut Hills. Now, he was operating his store online. He knew how to work the tangled Web. "My father taught me a long time ago, when a big ruckus is made over something little, there's something to it."
Or, as Cobb puts it, "That's when we stepped into the card."
You won't believe what they found.
It is the most famous baseball card in the world: the T-206 Honus Wagner card with a Piedmont tobacco company back. Made in 1909, for insertion into packs of Piedmont cigarettes. It has its own museum, the T-206 Museum, which you can find online at t206museum.com. It has inspired tale upon tale as to its origin, and why Wagner decided to have it pulled from the shelves. Or if it ever reached the shelves at all.
Only two are known to exist, if you believe the experts. Three, if you believe Cobb and Edwards. One, universally known as "the Gretzky Card" because Wayne Gretzky once had part ownership, fetched almost $1.3 million at auction four years ago. The other, in very poor condition, went for $86,730 in November 2001.
The Wagner Piedmont card is "the Holy Grail of baseball cards," said David Kohler, president of Sports Cards Plus, a nationally known card-collecting business in Southern California.
"You could sell half of one for $20,000," said Brian Marren, vice president of Mastronet, a large sports memorabilia auction house. Marren's boss, Bill Mastro, once owned the Gretzky Card. He paid $25,000 for it, in 1986. He sold it later the same year, for $110,000. He's still kicking himself.
"It's the Mona Lisa" of baseball cards, Mastro said. "On its worst day, it would sell for $1 million."
Experts estimate there are between 40 and 50 T-206s out there. Most have a back advertising Sweet Caporal cigarettes. One such card, in poor condition, sold at auction three weeks ago for $109,638. PSA graded that card a 1 on a scale of 10, 10 being mint condition. PSA has judged the Gretzky Card to be an 8.
How valuable is any Wagner T-206? PSA president Joe Orlando said at the same auction, a 1915 Babe Ruth rookie card, graded an 8, sold for the same price as the Wagner Sweet Caporal card graded a 1.
There are baseball cards that are more rare. Marren cites the 1951 Topps cards of Eddie Stanky, Robin Roberts and Jim Konstanty. He says there are "three or four" of each known to exist. All three cards recently fetched a total of $30,000.
So why Honus?
And why would anyone spend $1 million on a baseball card?
"Who knows?" says Bill Mastro. In the most recent Mastronet auction, someone paid $200,000 for an original letter written by George Washington. "There is no rhyme or reason to this."
Honus Wagner would agree. In his 21-year career, The Dutchman won eight batting titles, tied with Tony Gwynn for most ever in the National League. Wagner hit .300 17 years in a row. He hit .329 lifetime. He was a member of the Fabulous Five, the first five players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
And he would have no use for commercializing his name in this fashion.
Sports Cards Plus president David Kohler was asked last August by the Wagner family to sell what remained of his memorabilia. Kohler asked Leslie Blair Wagner, Honus' granddaughter, why Honus ordered his likeness pulled from cigarette packs.
"It wasn't that he didn't use tobacco," Kohler said. Wagner chewed it, in his later years. And it wasn't the money he received, or lack of it. "What he didn't like was that it promoted smoking to kids, that kids would have to buy cigarettes to get the cards," Kohler says.
Wagner was a square shooter. He even looked square, standing 5 feet 11, weighing 200 pounds, as solid as the hours he spent working in a Pennsylvania coal mine with his father and brothers could make him.
His long arms and bowed legs caused pitcher Lefty Gomez to remark, "He could tie his shoes standing up."
Wagner played his whole career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, from 1897-1917. He never negotiated a contract. He just took what the owner felt he was worth. Wagner was easygoing and amiable, the perfect foil to his biggest rival, the ornery Ty Cobb.
It isn't hard to imagine his objection to the cigarette cards, nor the card collector's fascination with them. John Cobb and Ray Edwards are hooked. They've spent the last two years chasing their obsession.
Cobb and Edwards arrive in the Loveland office of their lawyer, James Arnold, toting a blue plastic storage tub the size of a laundry basket. Inside are seven notebooks containing every correspondence they've had with PSA, printing experts and paper know-it-alls, and the online auction house eBay.
Arnold is acting as a go-between for Cobb and Edwards in their dealings with eBay and PSA. Arnold said he will receive a percentage of the profits if and when the card is sold.
Edwards has spent hour upon Internet hour researching the history of his baseball card. It's all there, right down to a scientific explanation for something called titanium dioxide, used since 1921 to whiten paper. The notebooks are the totems of Edwards' joy and frustration in trying to show the experts that he has the most valuable baseball card in the world. "One of one," Edwards says.
"Lots of sleepless nights and emotional stress," Edwards said.
One night in particular. In February 2003, Edwards and Cobb drove to Appleton, Wis., to the offices of Integrated Paper Services Inc. There, they paid $303.50 to Walter Rantanen, Integrated's group leader in something called fiber science.
For six hours, Rantanen analyzed the paper stock on which Honus resided. He judged it to be pre-1916. It was free of titanium dioxide, a whitening pigment not used until 1921. Edwards and Cobb say that's crucial for dating their card.
Next, they turned to Arnie Schwed, a consultant to the printing industry. Schwed confirmed, without being paid, that the printing was of 1909 vintage.
A year earlier, Edwards and Cobb had put the card on eBay. They posted it for auction seven times between July 2002 and July 2003. EBay ended five of the auctions; in the other two, the reserve - or minimum - price wasn't met. That price was between $300,000 and $500,000.
Edwards and Cobb said eBay booted Honus and demanded authentication.
"Theirs was a clear violation of our authenticity policy," eBay spokesman Hani Durzy said. "We'd like nothing more than to see another T-206 on the site. It's good publicity."
The Web auction house recognizes seven card authenticators, one of which is PSA.
So they went to Rantanen and Schwed. This is where the story goes Byzantine.
In the closed-shop world of card collecting - and, by extension, eBay - nobody cares about paper experts or printing savants. They don't care about anyone's judgment except the guys whose lives are spent judging baseball cards.
As local collector Steve Wolter put it: "All these outsiders can say anything they want. If the people in the hobby don't accept it, it's worthless." Which brings us back to Pro Sports Authenticator.
PSA has graded and/or authenticated 7 million sports cards since it opened in 1991. It charges $100 for an evaluation. Grading tells you the shape the card is in; authenticating tells you if it's real. PSA is acknowledged as the industry leader.
Edwards' dealings with PSA could fill a few books. The essence of it is this: PSA's policy doesn't allow owners to be present when their cards are being judged. No exceptions. Edwards and Cobb will not let their Honus out of their sight. No way.
"Would you let something out of your sight that might be the only one in the world?" Edwards asks.
Happens all the time, PSA president Joe Orlando says. "We've graded 23 Wagner cards. Our security measures are at the top of their game. We aren't going to sacrifice that for one customer."
Edwards and Cobb allege PSA has a financial interest in the Gretzky Card, which could be devalued if their card is deemed genuine.
They're nuts, Orlando says. "I said to Mr. Edwards: 'We don't buy or sell anything. We have relationships with every major auction house in the country. We are a publicly traded company. If that's good enough for everyone else, why isn't it good enough for you?' "
"One scratch and the card is worth a lot less," Edwards says.
PSA doesn't allow owners to be present for security reasons and for possible conflicts of interest. If a grader knew an owner, he might be tempted to give the guy's card a higher or lower grade. In the case of a Wagner card, going from a PSA-7 to a PSA-8 could add $100,000 to its worth. Plus, PSA doesn't have time to argue with proud owners who feel their cards were marked too low.
"This card is one of a kind. They ought to make an exception," counters Edwards.
"If you think you have a million-dollar card, don't you think it'd be worth a plane flight out here?" Orlando asks. "It'd take 20 minutes" to grade and authenticate the card. It arrives in a cardboard box, coded, with no names. Experts look at it through high-powered microscopes, authenticate it (or not), grade it, put it back in the box and push it down the line.
"If they don't want to submit the card, that's their choice," Orlando says. "But they're going to have a hard time selling it."
"We won't leave it," Edwards says.
So there you have it. Edwards and Cobb are fighting city hall and getting creamed. Without PSA's blessing - or a thumbs-up from another recognized card-authenticating service - eBay won't allow it to be auctioned. Edwards and Cobb want to tour the card, but they won't unless they can insure it. They can't insure it without knowing what it's worth.
They have a million-dollar property that to the rest of the world is swamp land.
Bill Mastro says the card is almost certainly a reprint. The P in "PITTSBURG" should be slightly larger than the other letters, he says. It's the same size as the rest. "That's the only discrepancy," Edwards counters. "That's what makes it unique. One of one."
Is it unique and real? Or is it simply unique?
Back in Jim Arnold's office, John Cobb and Ray Edwards slide the foil over Honus' cherubic face. Hopes and dreams die when flown in the face of a tightly knit community of people with the power to say what's real and what's not. John Cobb might as well own the back of a Wheaties box. For now.
The Dutchman sleeps again, eyes wide open. Laughing, perhaps, at all the commotion. It's enough to drive a man to smoke.
"Something's worth what someone's willing to pay for it," John Cobb says, sighing.
Ain't that the truth?
Originally posted on TNT.tv.
This movie first aired on Sunday, April 4 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT. Subsequent broadcast times on TNT are:
Saturday, April 10th @ 12pm(ET)
Sunday, April 11th @ 9am(ET)
Saturday, April 17th @ 9am(ET)
Golden Globe? winner Matthew Modine (Le Divorce) plays baseball legend Honus Wagner, with Screen Actors Guild Award? winner Kristin Davis (Sex and the City) as his fiancee and Shawn Hatosy (Soldier's Girl) as a young man who travels back in time and meets Wagner in THE WINNING SEASON, an Original film from Turner Network Television (TNT) and Johnson & Johnson. David A. Rosemont, executive producer of TNT's Emmy?-winning Original film Door to Door, serves as executive producer on the film, with executive producers Robert Riesenberg and Tracy Dorsey. Teleplay by Steve Bloom (Jack Frost) and based on the novel Honus & Me written by Dan Gutman. John Kent Harrison (What the Deaf Man Heard, TNT's You Know My Name) is the director.
THE WINNING SEASON is an uplifting film about a legendary baseball player's struggle to choose between the love of his life and his love of the game. In the film, baseball fanatic Joe Soshack finds a mint condition Honus Wagner baseball card that magically takes him back to the 1909 World Series. Joe is befriended by the legendary Wagner (Matthew Modine) and his fiancee Mandy (Kristin Davis) who show him the importance of honor, family and love. When the couple's storybook romance is challenged by Mandy's family's disapproval and Honus' passion for baseball, it is Joe who changes their lives forever.
THE WINNING SEASON is produced by Rosemont Productions in association with MAGNA Global Entertainment and Viacom Productions. The two-hour JOHNSON & JOHNSON SPOTLIGHT PRESENTATION premieres Sunday, April 4, at 8 p.m. (ET/PT), exclusively on TNT.
THE WINNING SEASON will be the fourth original film to premiere under the JOHNSON & JOHNSON SPOTLIGHT PRESENTATION banner. The critically acclaimed and award-winning Door to Door, starring Oscar?-nominated actor William H. Macy as a successful door-to-door salesman with cerebral palsy, was the first JOHNSON & JOHNSON SPOTLIGHT PRESENTATION, premiering on TNT in July 2002. Door to Door went on to earn an industry-best six Emmys? from 12 nominations, including Outstanding Made-For-Television Movie and acting honors for Macy. It was followed by Miss Lettie and Me, starring Mary Tyler Moore and Burt Reynolds, in December 2002, and Wilder Days, starring Peter Falk and Tim Daly, which premiered on TNT in October 2003.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON SPOTLIGHT PRESENTATION series represent the latest effort by Johnson & Johnson, a founding member of the Family Friendly Programming Forum of advertisers, to expand family-friendly programming on prime time television. The JOHNSON & JOHNSON SPOTLIGHT PRESENTATION development effort was initiated by Interpublic's MAGNA Global Entertainment.
Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation is a service mark of Johnson & Johnson.
Estate Fresh Items From Cousy, Lazzeri and Wagner Soar In SportsCards Plus? Record Setting November Auction
The Bob Cousy Collection, billed as the largest personal player collection ever offered, headlined one of the most successful auctions ever conducted by SportsCards Plus. Celtic fans and basketball collectors clamored over an incredible array of awards, game used items, and personal effects gathered throughout Cousy's prolific career. The final numbers clearly prove that the "The Houdini of the Hardwood" still has plenty of magic left. The Cousy Collection accounted for $455,641 of the auction's total gross of $1,431,938 and amounted to nearly twice as much as the 10-time All-Star earned during his entire NBA playing career. Cousy, whose playing days with the Celtics ended 40 years ago, long before athletes were millionaires, stated, "If someone had said 40 years ago, 'Save that stuff because someday you'll get half a million dollars for it,' I would have said, "Take this guy away, he's looney tunes.' I'm just pleased for our daughters." Cousy, 75, and his wife, Missy, decided to auction his memorabilia kept in their basement to raise money for their two school-teacher daughters and two grandchildren. Among the 150 plus Cousy lots, were some of the most important basketball artifacts ever to be offered publicly. Some of the highlights included Cousy's 1952 NBA All-Star Uniform ($11,205), 1957 League MVP Trophy ($51,673), 1957 Celtics Championship Ring ($27,179) , the Game Ball Used to Garner His 5000th Career Assist ($11,132), a John F. Kennedy Signed Photo "to Bob Cousy" ($25,300), his Last Game Ball used versus the Lakers in the 1963 Championship Game ($6,326), and his Hall of Fame Induction Ring ($19,134). Other items that drew lots of attention included a selection of items related to his 1996 selection as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, including his personal (#Cousy 1/1) 50 Greatest Signed Lithograph ($86,940), custom Hamilton Leather Jacket ($5,553), and 50 Greatest Players Ring ($13,558) . Numerous momentos from his memorable 1963 "Bob Cousy Day" retirement ceremony included his Engraved Cigar Humidor from Celtics Teammates ($5,415) , 1963 Boston Celtics Team Signed 'Court' Table ($3,732), and a Set of 15 Custom Presentation Plaques Received from The Celtics ($10,830). Dan Imler, SportsCards Plus Auction Director, described the Cousy results as "very strong overall". Imler states, "We had high expectations from the start, but some of the individual items still really surprised us." According to Imler, the final price of $51,673 for Cousy's 1957 MVP Trophy is the highest price ever paid for any basketball trophy. Additionally, the Hall of Fame Ring ($19,133), and 50 Greatest Lithograph ($86,940) are also said to be auction records.
SCP's November 20th Auction also featured significant memorabilia collections directly from the estates of other Hall of Fame legends such as Tony Lazzeri, and a follow-up offering of items from the Honus Wagner Collection that was part of their previous August '03 auction. New York Yankees legendary Hall of Fame second baseman, "Poosh 'em Up" Tony Lazzeri, was represented by over 40 items, including his personal collection of team signed baseballs, signed photos, and game used equipment. Among the top performing items were high-grade Yankees team balls from 1932 (World Champs!) - $23,463, 1936 (World Champs!) - $7,337, 1937 (World Champs!) - $7,395, and 1955 (NL Champs!) - $3,827 . The incredible selection of signed photos were well received, including examples personalized to Lazzeri from Babe Ruth ($3,795), Lou Gehrig ($13,215), Ty Cobb ($1,530) , and Jimmie Foxx ($2,709). A Large 1936 Yankees Photo Signed by Seven incl. DiMaggio, Gehrig & Lazzeri brought $6,958. Game used equipment from the famed member of the Yankees revered "Murderer's Row" lineup includes his Cap ($6,164), Fielder's Glove ($13,899), Flannel Pants ($5,000), and Cleats ($1,530).
The second offering of items from the estate of Honus Wagner included his 1909 World Series Pin. The pin, described by Imler as, "One of the most historic pieces of baseball jewelry ever offered" realized $53,538. Another marquis Wagner item was a magnificent 10 1/2" tall sterling silver "Honus Wagner Day" Loving Cup that brought $31,050.
The balance of the memorabilia portion of the auction featured several other Hall of Fame caliber items including a Christy Mathewson Game Used Glove from the Mathewson Estate ($32,764), a supremely rare 1902 (First) Rose Bowl Program ($35,520), a 1922-25 Babe Ruth Game Used Bat ($34,687), a Spectacular Babe Ruth Single Signed Baseball w/Original Box ($21,836), and a Jim Brown 1957 Rookie of The Year Trophy ($10,572).
As usual, SportsCards Plus' November Auction included a vast array of quality cards that generated vigorous bidding competition. Topping the list of high-end cards was a remarkable 1909-11 T206 Eddie Plank graded PSA 7 NM that realized a record price of $93,661. Other notable offerings include a 1914 Cracker Jack #30 Ty Cobb PSA 8 NM-MT ($30,938), 1933 Goudey #170 Harry McCurdy PSA 8 NM-MT ($4,807) , 1933 Sport Kings #15 Reggie McNamara PSA 8 NM-MT ($7,449), 1933 Goudey #119 Rogers Hornsby PSA 8 NM-MT ($4,592), and a spectacular 1951 Bowman Baseball Complete PSA Graded Set ($39,140) .
SportsCards Plus will follow up this highly successful auction event with another major auction scheduled for April, 2004. The company is actively seeking consignments for this sale. For more information on SportsCards Plus and their auctions please visit www.sportscardsplus.com or call 1-800-350-2273.
Honus Wagner is considered by many to be baseball's greatest all-around player. The Pittsburgh Pirates' shortstop was a sensational hitter, a brilliant base runner and a flawless fielder. Today his baseball card is considered one of the most valuable in existence. It was recalled in 1909 because the cards were distributed along with tobacco. The nonsmoking Wagner objected to his being included in the promotion because he did not want to set a bad example for children.
Almost 100 years later, the legendary Honus Wagner remains an icon of the golden age of baseball, as well as one of the most beloved baseball players of all time. For this reason, Helmar Brewing Company has chosen Honus to represent The Flavor of the Game? and help to promote their new special recipe Big League Brew beer. In addition to product packaging, Big League Brew utilizes images of Honus on various advertising media.
The packaging of the new product will also feature other Hall of Famers and CMG Worldwide clients including Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove and Mordecai Brown. Big League Brew, available in stores in September 2003, will cost approximately $6 USD for a four pack of bottles. For information on product distribution and related issues, please call Helmar Brewing at 248.882.0834.
By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
When Leslie Wagner Blair was a little girl, springtime meant lovely, fragrant pink and white peonies were in bloom in her grandparents' yard in Carnegie. Her grandmother, Bess, would pick them and put them in a silver chalice.
That was no ordinary flower vase. The 11-inch Tiffany sterling chalise, or loving cup, was presented by National League president Harry Pulliam in December 1907 to the man Wagner Blair knew as Buck, her grandfather. Everyone else knew him as Honus Wagner. It is engraved with the five NL batting titles Wagner had collected to that point. He would win three more.
The story goes that Wagner, a Pirates' legend and Hall of Fame shortstop, was in a contract dispute that off-season and was called to Pulliam's office in New York and placated with the loving cup.
It is part of a collection of Wagner memorabilia that Wagner Blair has decided to sell this summer in a catalog auction run by SportsCards Plus of Orange County, Calif.
Wagner Blair, who still lives in Carnegie and gives her age as plenty-nine, was an only child and has no heirs. She was close to her grandfather and is depicted as a girl at the base of his statue outside PNC Park.
She is moving soon, and no longer has the space to store all the memorabilia.
"I still have pink and white peonies in my yard, so if [the cup] doesn't sell, I'll just use it for peonies again," Wagner Blair said with a laugh.
That's highly unlikely. The loving cup is one of the centerpieces of the collection and could bring upward of $50,000. All told, the memorabilia could sell for about $250,000.
Another prized item is a framed patch with "PBC," for Pittsburg Baseball Club from the sleeve of the heavy wool uniform Wagner wore in 1909, the year the Pirates beat Detroit in the World Series in a matchup between Wagner and the Tigers' Ty Cobb, two charter members of the Hall of Fame.
Other prize items include a game-used ball from the 1909 World Series, Wagner's large floor safe, contracts, scrapbooks and lots of photos, some signed. Some photos show Wagner in baseball scenes, others are from his outings as an avid hunter. There are also mementos from baseball's 1969 centennial banquet when Wagner, "the Flying Dutchman," was named the game's greatest shortstop.
Some of the items will be combined into lots. There will be about 50 lots for sale.
The auction will cause a buzz in the collecting and baseball worlds, according to Dan Imler, auction director of SportsCards Plus.
"This is Hall-of-Fame-caliber material," he said. "This material will be bought by high-level collectors and museums. These pieces are so special and so unique."
The provenance of the items -- something "Antiques Roadshow" fans know about -- makes the collection all the more astounding.
"The more time that passes, the greater the likelihood that important items from the estates of great figures would have been absorbed into the market," Imler said. "It's very rare that a collection like this even exists, and this one is coming right from the family."
Items will include a letter of authenticity. Estimates and opening bids won't be set for two or three weeks. Bidding will begin in late July and close Aug. 14. The items can be previewed on the auctioneers' Internet site, www.sportscardsplus.com, beginning sometime next week.
Many of the items, which are being held by SportsCards Plus, will be on display July 24-27 at the National Sports Collection Convention in Atlantic City.
Catalogs and auction information are available by calling SportsCards Plus at 1-800-350-2273.
Wagner Blair and SportsCards Plus were put in touch by CMG Worldwide, an Indianapolis company that protects the marketing and licensing rights of Wagner's name and likeness. CMG also represents the interests of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mark Twain and Malcolm X, among others.
SportsCards Plus sold what Imler called the third-best example of Wagner's baseball card several years ago for $350,000 and has auctioned memorabilia pertaining to Wilt Chamberlain and Ernie Banks, among others.
The importance of Wagner's memorabilia can be gauged by the scramble for his rare baseball cards. The best-known example, card T206, was sold two years ago by Chicago collector Michael Gidwitz to an unnamed buyer for $1.2 million. There are no cards among the memorabilia being auctioned this summer.
"He's absolutely an elite figure, with Ruth and Cobb," Imler said of Wagner. "He's as important a baseball figure as there is."
Wagner Blair hopes some of the items she is selling are more affordable and will go to fans, perhaps Western Pennsylvanians, who appreciate her grandfather not only for his baseball legacy but also for his kindhearted ways and the prominence he brought the city.
"Here's Buck, who I've never heard a bad thing about," she said. "He put 'gentle' in the word, 'gentleman.' He was just a good, hometown person. The way the image of some sports people is today is sad, and here's a man who was down to earth.
"I'm the only one who can continue what he did, push for good sportsmanship and family ties and how important it is to do good for people."
Wagner Blair realizes that to many people, the items being auctioned are treasures and hold great historical meaning. She said her grandfather was not materialistic.
"They were beautiful and unique things," she said. "Maybe I don't have the awe of it because I grew up with them, but I just don't have room for everything.
"I think they should be out there. I hope whoever buys any of these items will enjoy them and be able to display them."
She is keeping a few things, including Wagner's 1909 World Series pin, which an aunt had turned into a ring years ago. There are also her priceless memories from her childhood and her close relationship with Wagner, who died Dec. 6, 1955, at his home on Beechwood Avenue in Carnegie.
"He died in our house," Wagner Blair said. "He was in and out of a coma. The only one he recognized was Honey, and that was me. I hold that in my heart."
On behalf of the estate of Honus Wagner, CMG Worldwide is proud to announce an exclusive auction featuring a selection of items belonging to of one of baseball?s most legendary figures. The sale of this personal collection has been facilitated in part through a joint venture with esteemed memorabilia auctioneer, Sportscards Plus.
To many who saw him perform, and to some present-day historians and analysts, John Peter "Honus" Wagner was among the greatest players in the game's history. In the realm of sports collectibles, Honus Wagner has no equal. The mystique surrounding his famous T206 baseball card made Wagner a household name, but to true baseball connoisseurs he has long been considered an elite-figure in the annals of the great American pastime.
Highlights of this collection include a large swatch of material from the sleeve of Wagner?s 1908-1909 uniform featuring the Pittsburgh Baseball Club ?PBC? logo. According to SportsCards Plus Auction Director Dan Imler, ?The swatch was cut from Honus? jersey about twenty-five years ago. Apparently the jersey was somewhat worn and tattered, and the family saw no reason to keep it. Prior to discarding the treasure, they decided to remove the logo from the sleeve to frame and display as a keepsake. The survival of the swatch is a silver lining to another story to add to the book of heartbreaking hobby tales.? Among the other more prominent items set to be offered are Wagner?s personal safe, 1908 Pirates players contract and his posthumous award from Major League Baseball for being named the Greatest Shortstop of All-Time as part of the league?s 100th Anniversary.
Another cornerstone piece in the auction that is sure to turn hobbyists on their collective ear is an incredible game ball hit by Wagner in the final game of the 1909 World Series. The ball, used in the historic match-up against rival Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers, is considered by SportsCards Plus officials to be among the most desirable game balls known to exist. An inscription on the ball reads, ?Ball Hit by Honus Wagner of Pittsburgh Nationals ? Winning Game and Championship from Detroit American ? Oct/1909 ? Kindness of Umpire William Klem.? This ball represents the pinnacle of Wagner?s career. After leading the Pirates to 110 wins in 1909, he bested Cobb and helped earn his team to their first World Series Championship. In one of the most storied series in history, Wagner?s performance was magnificent. This ball is simply awe-inspiring.
The Honus Wagner items, along with hundreds of other lots of fine memorabilia and quality sports cards, will be featured in SportsCards Plus? full color catalog as well as on the company?s Web site at www.sportscardsplus.com. Many of the premier items in the auction will be on display at the company?s booth (#721-723) at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City from July 24th-27th. The auction will be open to registered bidders during the last week of July and will culminate on August 14th, 2003. Bids will be accepted by phone or online through the company?s real time Internet auction program. Call (800) 350-2273 for more information on how to participate in this extraordinary auction event.
In February 8, 2003 the world-renowned Chicago Field Museum unveiled "Baseball As America," an exhibit dedicated to the legend and legacy of America's favorite pastime. Feature items include a bat belonging to Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner's T206 baseball card, Jackie Robinson's #42 Brooklyn Dodgers jersey and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's shoes. "See the stuff of legends and discover how baseball embodies the American spirit," the museum's Web site reads. "This exhibition reveals how baseball mirrors our nation's values, struggles, triumphs and aspirations."
In addition to holding prominent roles in the exhibit, Ruth and Wagner are part of billboard advertisements around the city, and promotional rack cards in hotels and tourism centers throughout the Chicagoland area. Ruth is also featured in print ads which are scheduled for 12 insertions in the Chicago Sun Times.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, was instrumental in the organization process, providing more than 500 treasured artifacts. This marks the first time in history many of the items have been loaned out. "Baseball As America" will run until July 20, 2003. For more information, visit www.fieldmuseum.org or www.baseballasamerica.org