2016 National Convention: Tales from the Floor

By Ross Forman

I’m sure I walked the magical “10,000 steps” every day of the five-day National Sports Collectors Convention, no doubt more – and I’m going to wear my high-tech, high-dollar Garmin watch next summer at the show in Chicago to confirm. I felt like I was walking a marathon, all 26.2 miles, through the Atlantic City Convention Center, sans the pretzels, Gatorade or GU – some of the staples I’ve used to run 23 marathons over the past eight years.

Aisle after aisle during The National’s run in this (New) Jersey Shore city, from Aug. 3-7, I saw amazing memorabilia, as expected, as is always the case at this summertime spectacular. So many “Oh, wow!” moments as I passed cool collectible after cool collectible.

It’s always fun walking through The National, seeing some of the most unbelievable sports memorabilia. It’s often said that The National is the Super Bowl of Sports Memorabilia. So true – this year, next year and every year.

There are cards in every condition, from every sport, for every player. And also some featuring coaches, managers, broadcasters, cheerleaders and more.

There are game-used uniforms from every era, from almost every major and minor league team, particularly baseball.

There are, of course, autographs in every color ink, with an endless supply of inscriptions and more. It’s no longer just John Doe signing a baseball on the sweet-spot, and then adding “HOF” and his induction year.

There was an autograph pavilion, run by Houston-based Tristar Productions Inc., that featured such an eye-popping array of icons and legends that it’d be impossible to pick the lone headliner. Think about it: Joe Namath, “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan were autograph signers in The National’s Tristar Autograph Pavilion in 2016. Each is a legend in his sport. And those four were among about 130 total signers during the five-day show.

The National Sports Collectors Convention kicked off with a dedication of the Mike Berkus Main Stage, attended by the Berkus family, John Broggi and Tristar's Jeff Rosenberg. Ross Forman photos.

The National Sports Collectors Convention kicked off with a dedication of the Mike Berkus Main Stage, attended by the Berkus family, John Broggi and Tristar’s Jeff Rosenberg. Ross Forman photos.

The National kicked off with a special ceremony to honor Mike Berkus, who passed away late last year. Berkus was The National’s co-founder and executive director. Show organizers formally unveiled the Mike Berkus Main Stage in the case break pavilion, with a huge banner. John Broggi hosted the event that included a speech from Jeff Rosenberg, president of Tristar Productions, and the surprise announcement of a Berkus swatch card from Upper Deck’s Chris Carlin. Mike’s four sons were present, along with his widow. Dan Berkus and Nate Berkus also spoke to the crowd, then posed for photos under the Mike Berkus banner.

Mike would have been proud. Mike was The National.

But, as the saying goes and no doubt Mike would have wanted, the show goes on.
And this year’s return to Atlantic City brought plenty of memories, and an unlimited supply of memorabilia.

Cards, photos, jerseys, autographs … if it is sports memorabilia, it was in Atlantic City for the 37th annual National.

I’m always amazed by what’s offered at The National – so much to see, touch and buy.
There were, for instance, lighted sports stadiums, which I’ve seen at past shows, but for some reason, I was really intrigued with them this time – and had to talk with Chris Skovira about the product.

They actually have been around for about 20 years and first started with 20 stadiums, no lights or cases. Flash-forward to today, and the collectible is quite eye-appealing – especially when lit.

Stadiums are offered in four sizes: 9-inch ($99, lit with case); 13-inch ($129-$179); 19-inch ($189-$269); and a whopper 34-inch ($499).

Chris Skovira had a great National selling mini, replica stadiums that light up. By Sunday morning, more than 100 examples had walked out the door.

Chris Skovira had a great National selling mini, replica stadiums that light up. By Sunday morning, more than 100 examples had walked out the door.

The National “was awesome” for Skovira’s business, he said. He came to Atlantic City hoping to sell 60 or 70, yet on Sunday morning, he had already sold more than 100. Top sellers for Skovira were Penn State, Rutgers and Florida.

There are more than 120 stadium options for sale, and many sold at The National, including the football stadiums from Iowa State University, North Carolina State, James Madison University and Mississippi State, along with stadiums for the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and others. Vintage stadiums also were popular at The National, as Skovira sold a relic of Forbes Field and Ebbets Field, among others.

“When lit, people just seem to gravitate to them. And the stadiums bring back great memories, too,” said Skovira, who has displayed his stadium souvenirs at five or six past Nationals – and this was his best, hands down.

“I never would have predicted the strong sales. We did really well last year in Chicago, but surpassed last year’s total on Saturday,” he said.

Ken Small is the founder of the company, and he writes the text on the back of each stadium, telling its history. Skovira is a sales representative. For more information, visit www.homefields.com.

A ball that gets better with each examination. The Dweck Brothers showed off a ball signed by Ed Barrow, Harry Frazee and U.J. Hermann, and inscribed in the hand of Babe Ruth.

A ball that gets better with each examination. The Dweck Brothers showed off a ball signed by Ed Barrow, Harry Frazee and U.J. Hermann, and inscribed in the hand of Babe Ruth.

Anyone have a spare $100,000?
I saw a baseball signed by Christy Mathewson with its eye-popping price-tag of $11,995. But that was nothing compared to the baseball inches away in the same dealer’s showcase, believed to be game-used in the deciding Game 6 of the 1918 World Series, when the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs, 4-2. The ball was believed to be heavily inscribed by Babe Ruth, and signed by Red Sox manager Ed Barrow, team owner Harry Frazee and treasurer U.J. Hermann.

The ball carried a $99,995 price tag.

I had to hear more.

The dealers selling the ball, brothers Andrew and Joe Dweck from New York, acquired the relic in early 2015 and promptly had it authenticated by JSA – but they just thought it was a Barrow-signed ball.

“Ed Barrow was a big character in Red Sox and Yankees’ history, so we thought it’d be a cool ball to add to our inventory,” Andrew Dweck said.

JSA then told the brothers that, after their detailed investigation, the ball also had the signature of Frazee – and it was the only Frazee autograph on a baseball they had ever seen.

JSA then said the ball also included Hermann’s signature.

Then came the bombshell – inscriptions on the ball were hand-written by Ruth.

“I saw stars; I almost flipped out,” Andrew Dweck said when hearing the update on the ball.

Sometime after the 1918 Series’ final game, according to the seller and JSA, an anonymous individual in the Red Sox hierarchy took a moment to capitalize on the day’s euphoria, getting signatures from the top three management figures for the Red Sox.

The ball is signed in black fountain pen by Barrow on the sweet spot, and elsewhere by Frazee and Hermann.

Ruth is believed to have inscribed the date of the final game, “Sept. 11th 1918,” the game’s final score, “Red Sox 2 Cubs 1,” and the series-winning game tally, “4-2.” Ruth also inscribed “Sport.”

The entire inscription begins under the Frazee side-panel signature, extends into the panel below and was placed in Ruth’s distinctive hand-writing. This double-panel inscription also indicates that Ruth was the final person of the four to apply the pen to the ball, it is believed.

It is possible that Ruth also signed the ball, yet his name faded with time. Or, perhaps Ruth himself was the original owner of the ball.

JSA provided a full LOA for the E.G. Barrow sweet-spot signature and the side panel Harry Frazee signature, along with the signature of the team treasurer. The LOA also acknowledges Ruth’s inscriptions, and notes the presence of a latent, indecipherable signature under the Ban Johnson stamping.

Additionally, the baseball was sent to MEARS, where the piece was microscopically assessed for game use, as well as for period-correctness of the writing on the ball’s surface. Based on MEARS’ examination of the ball, its evident use and its writing, the company issued a full letter of authenticity (accompanying the ball) to fully validate this 1918 World Series game-used baseball as “Authentic.”

The ball has appeared in a Goldin Auction, but the reserve was not met. For more information on the ball, visit stores.ebay.com/showpiecessports/.

IMG_0230Also in Atlantic City . . .
Here’s more of what I spotted as I repeatedly walked through the dealer area of the 2016 National:
• A bucket filled with money, mostly $1 bills that was ear-marked for the Avon Breast-Walk For Cancer.
• A box of 1987 Topps Baseball, $12.
• A box of 1986 Topps Baseball, $30.
• A box of 1988 Topps Traded Baseball, $8.
• A dealer’s sign told of the baseball sets he had for sale: 1954 and 1959 Topps, either for $5,000.
• Why was it so hard/difficult to find dealers’ booths?
IMG_0193• A “Sunday Blowout” sign offered uncut sheets of cards for 50 percent off.
• Signed and framed 16-by-20 photos: Mike Tyson ($165), LeBron James ($700), Marc-Andre Fleury ($150), Bill Parcells ($175), Y.A. Tittle ($95) and Alexander Ovechkin ($260).
• Signed, unframed 16-by-20s: Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus on the same photo ($150), Jack Lambert ($85), Ben Roethlisberger ($140), J.J. Watt ($165), Joe Montana ($115) and Terry Bradshaw ($115).
• Signed team pucks were $25 for Adam Graves, Brian Leetch and Ken Daneyko, among others. And the dealer on Sunday offered a “perfect deal” if I was interested in any, or all.
• Legendary Sports Enterprises was selling a Mike Trout-signed bat with a case for $525.
• A Chris Ivory-signed pylon was $35.
• Bill Lee signed baseballs were $10 each.
IMG_0194• Encore Select was selling Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton T-shirts. Sales manager Jill Appel said Trump was convincingly out-selling Clinton … “but Pokémon (shirts) were out-selling both of them,” she added. All shirts were $15 each or two-for-$20, and only $5 on Sunday.
• There were purses for sale in pro team colors with their logos, $25.
• Chrome Super Bowl mini helmets, with a limited run of 200, were $60.
• A 2008 New York Yankees team-signed Derek Jeter jersey was $1,800.
• I like the jerseys with artwork of the player emblazed on them, such as the Michael Jordan jersey for $550.
• There was a match-used steel chair from 2000, signed by the WWE combatants in the match: Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Val Venis and Hardcore Holly.  No visible price tag, though, which is always frustrating.
• Aramis Ramirez-signed baseballs were $15.
• Signed 8-by-10 photos were $20 each for Mark Spitz, Jim Kaat, Jermaine Dye, Matt Leinart and Graig Nettles.
• A Donald Trump bobblehead was $50.
• Bat pens were $5 for a dozen.
• Pete Rose copy photos were $1.
• Josh Smith-signed shoe, with JSA authentication, was $75.
• A “Pistol” Pete Maravich-signed pennant was $1,499.
• Kris Bryant-signed Cubs jersey was $295.
• There was a dealer with six display cases filled with autographed and swatch cards. All were $8 for each card or three-for-$20.
• Was bummed that several prominent dealers who I have seen annually at The National for countless years opted to skip this year’s event.
• There was a Mike Trout-signed baseball, with a JSA LOA, though not signed on the sweet-spot, for $175.
• Michael Jordan’s Upper Deck Authenticated shoes, signed, were $1,250.
IMG_0259• I miss the press conferences that card makers and other prominent companies in the industry always held at The National.
• Tony Hawk-signed 8-by-10 photos were $60.
• Mariano Rivera-signed 8-by-10 photos were $200.
• There was a Mike Torrez-Bucky Dent 8-by-10 photo, signed by each, for $50.
• Used chairs from the old Philadelphia Spectrum were $145, and the dealer said he could let one go for $125. He also had Veteran’s Stadium chairs, with the home run gold star for $325, which were down from $495.
• Joe Theismann-signed jersey was $125.
• Arnold Palmer signed Bay Hill program was $75.
• Hulk Hogan signed yellow Hulkamania photo was $125.

The 2017 National will be in Chicago, held July 26-30. I can’t wait, as the biggest annual event in the sports memorabilia world returns to the hottest sports memorabilia market in the world. The 38th National in Chicago is a must …. plus, the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, where the event will be held once again, has some great soft-serve ice cream for sale.

I can’t wait!

Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.

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