Veteran dealer and collector Robert Rodriguez wasn’t at the 2005 All-Star FanFest in Detroit, at least not physically, but he wound up being an impact player at the event nonetheless.
Rodriguez, 48, a full-time dealer in Reno, Nev., was the winning bidder on two of the high-profile items in the All-Star Auction, including a single-signed Christy Mathewson ball and a stunning Mathewson photo. They were two of the very first items in the July 12 Hunt auction, and remarkably, the Mathewson ball wasn’t even listed in the impressive auction catalog. That’s because you might say that it just walked into FanFest, in a manner of speaking.
Hunt Auctions served as the official FanFest auctioneer and part of the company’s display included an appraisal fair. Hundreds of items were offered up for appraisal with some later showing up in the auction.
The Mathewson-signed baseball and a Honus Wagner signed baseball were brought to FanFest by the same Michigan collector.
“The gentleman’s relative was the traveling secretary for the New York Giants back in the 1910s,” Hunt said. “He drove three hours and brought a single-signed Christy Mathewson ball, supposedly used in his 17th consecutive win game back in 1916, a record at the time. And that ball was in near-mint condition. The Wagner ball was from 1916. Each was authenticated by James Spence.
The Mathewson ball had an estimated value of $30,000 to $40,000 and sold for $110,000. The Wagner ball (estimated value of $10,000-$15,000) sold for $23,000.
Rodriguez was contacted by Hunt Auctions about the walk-in additions to the sale and knew immediately that he would be in the hunt, so to speak, for both items. “I didn’t expect (the Mathewson ball) to go over $70,000,” Rodriguez said, adding that provenance on the ball was truly incredible. “I don’t think anybody though $100,000,” he added, noting the pre-auction estimate.
He was also the underbidder on the Wagner ball. “It was a phenomenal ball, but Wagner doesn’t bring the same prices as Mathewson,” he added.
“This will be the crown jewel of my collection,” he noted, who also won the Mathewson photo for all of $22,000.
“It’s rare to find something like that – two incredibly rare baseballs,” Hunt said. “We’ve had great pieces literally walk in to past appraisal fairs, but two rare balls, in the high quality that they were in, wow, that’s very rare.”
“It really surprises me that we’re about 30 years removed from when auctions became a real strong hobby, and yet there are still really rare items popping up, such as these two balls,” Hunt said.
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As usual, the 2005 FanFest had something for everyone. From cards and memorabilia, to autograph opportunities and interactive activities. There also were countless pieces of priceless baseball memorabilia on hand.
FanFest also had a pitching machine on hand so fans could test the speed on their fastball, hitting machines and areas to catch machine-generated fly balls. There were displays honoring the Negro Leagues and an area saluting the minors as well. There was also a Hall of Fame area, complete with a Casey At The Bat reader and an amazing live auction from Pennsylvania-based Hunt Auctions, which included daily auctions.
“I think one of the strengths of this year’s show was the variety. We had an awful lot going on,” said MLB’s director of special events Morgan Littlefield.
Official attendance figures were not available at press time, but MLB officials, numerous card dealers and several card company executives were pleasantly surprised with the show’s strong showing.
“We had different strong days than in the past,” Littlefield said. “It was a stronger Sunday and Monday than we normally see. Why, I don’t really know. We could analyze all day long and everyone would have a different opinion. Regardless, Sunday and Monday were very strong. Tuesday was solid, too. I know the collector’s area was busy throughout the event and that’s always good to see.”
The card collector’s area was noticeably smaller than past years, and although Littlefield confirmed it was smaller in terms of the number of dealers displaying their wares, she didn’t know exactly how many fewer dealers were present this year versus 2004.
“Detroit is a great sports town, with a great basketball team, the All-Star Game this year and the NFL Super Bowl here next year. That sports excitement really helps FanFest, the energy among the local attendees,” Littlefield said.
Harmon Killebrew and Rollie Fingers were among numerous celebrities signing at FanFest, with all of the guests on hand signing for a minimum of two hours.
Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi said five-day attendance was “good, steady,” especially on Monday, which he dubbed, “exceptional.” Topps, like Upper Deck and Playoff, participated in the popular wrapper redemption program. Topps also sold 2005 complete sets, which included five unique Detroit Tigers cards.
“Detroit is a great baseball town and, consequently, I think we did exceptionally well with the complete sets that included the bonus Tiger cards. We exceeded our expectations with those sets,” Luraschi said. “This year’s FanFest was definitely on par with past years.”
“The show was great, definitely very beneficial for all of the licensees because it is a perfect way to interact with our consumers,” Upper Deck PR manager Don Williams said. “This is a great place to get feedback that we can incorporate into future products.”
Upper Deck’s redemption cards featured Ivan Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Barry Bonds. The California-based company also gave away nine-card uncut sheets of cards, T-shirts and hats. Upper Deck also featured a trading card area.
“One of the best things about FanFest is there’s something for everyone,” Williams said. “From the starry-eyed kids to the adults trying to relive their high school glory days,” Williams said.
Philpott said the collector’s section was “excellent.” In fact, Home Run Sports had to expand its space to help accommodate the crush of collectors.
“We were pleasantly surprised. Everything we heard before the show was false,” she said. “Move-in was perfect. Security was excellent. The facility was good and the customers are happy. I did not hear any complaints.
“Sales were excellent, better than expected. The customers came ready to spend, and that they did. We’re really looking forward to the Super Bowl right back here in February.”
Philpott noted strong FanFest sales of unopened boxes and packs. The biggest FanFest surprises were Topps Finest ($145 per box) and Topps Chrome ($4 per pack). Home Run Sports sold out of both.
In fact, no FanFest dealer had any Topps premium products for sale on site after Monday afternoon.
Hunt Auctions held daily silent auctions at FanFest, then a huge live auction on Tuesday. The live auction included a baseball signed by the six members of the 1939 Hall of Fame induction class, including Babe Ruth ($22,000 including buyer’s premium). There was also a Duke Snider game-worn uniform ($13,200) from 1962; Roberto Clemente’s 1965 Silver Bat award ($99,000); and Warren Spahn’s 1960 Milwaukee Braves home jersey ($30,800), among other lots.
Here’s a look at a sample of other items brought to the Hunt Auctions’ Appraisal Fair at FanFest:
- Mark McGwire signed, game-issued uniform from 2000 (estimated value: $1,500-$2,000)
- Detroit Tigers postcard advertising display from 1908 ($1,500-$2,000).
- Pete Fox’ 1935 World Series ring ($10,000-$12,000)
- A collection of cards from the 1930s, mostly Goudeys ($15,000-$20,000)
“What FanFest really brings to the hobby is, exposure,” said David Hunt, company president. “Hopefully FanFest brings in new collectors each and every year. I think this year’s show was great. I heard nothing but positive comments. I think a lot of people have been pleasantly surprised. Last year in Houston, FanFest was a very successful show. This year is right there with Houston, probably better than Milwaukee and Chicago in years before that.
“I don’t really know why that is. Maybe the fact that there are not too many major shows in the Detroit area, unlike Chicago,” Hunt said.