As readers of my column in Sports Collectors Digest know, I am enthralled by the voting process for the Hall of Fame, in part because the honor is such a vital component determining a player’s status within our hobby, but mostly because I am simply interested in the results.
And I’m no Johnny-come-lately to the cause either. As a junior in high school in 1967, I used to surreptitiously write “Joe Medwick for the Hall of Fame” on various blackboards around the school, which sounds silly 40 years later given all the serious stuff that was going on in those days. It was probably just a coincidence that Medwick got elected in 1968.
The ballots for 2008 were just sent out, and it’s one of the most interesting lineups that we’ve had for quite some time. Adding another intriguing element to the Hot Stove League debate, the relatively weak list of newcomers on the ballot comes at the same time that the Hall has rather dramatically revised the Veterans Committee voting.
Along with revisions on the frequency of the voting and procedures on how the ballot is finalized, the number of voters was slashed from the same aggregate HOF roster to a 16-member committee. The change was in response to Veterans getting shut out several years in a row, prompting the widespread view that the existing voting procedures might never get anybody elected.
The 10 managers and umpires eligible for election to the Hall of Fame in 2008: managers Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Southworth and Dick Williams; umpires Doug Harvey, Hank O’Day and Cy Rigler. The 10 executives eligible for election in 2008: Buzzie Bavasi, Barney Dreyfuss, John Fetzer, Bob Howsam, Ewing Kauffmann, Bowie Kuhn, John McHale, Marvin Miller, Walter O’Malley and Gabe Paul.
I would figure (and hope) that the new arrangement will get Miller inducted, and possibly a couple of the managers. The regular ballot is going to be just as fascinating: with Tim Raines and David Justice heading the list of first-timers, this would seem like the best shot for holdovers Jim Rice and Rich Gossage. Mark McGwire is also a holdover, but with all the steroid news and the ominous presence of the Mitchell Investigation looming, it’s hard to imagine McGwire getting a nod this year.
Kevin Savage is one of the veteran dealers in the hobby who holds auctions that are about as collector friendly as can be, with literally hundreds of items from all four major sports offered each week, often with modest opening bids.
Into this setting comes one of the great hobby rarities from the world of boxing: the 1948 Leaf Rocky Graziano card. This card is so rare that experts debate whether it was ever actually included in packs, with much less debate about the numbers that are known in the hobby.
“No one is sure why the card was pulled from the set,” said Pat Blandford, vice president of sales for Kevin Savage Cards. “And no one is sure how many are out there,” he added, noting that the number is thought to be just a handful.
This particular Graziano card, graded PSA 4, makes it the second-highest of those graded by PSA, which helps to explain a $25,000 opening salvo needed by bidders in the Dec. 5 auction. Blandford, the master of the understatement, said that he’s “pretty elated about this card,” which he notes rarely shows up even in big auctions, or anywhere else, for that matter.
“We think it will go for a lot more than that,” Blandford continued. He describes the Graziano card as incrementally rarer than the T206 Wagner, which is hard to dispute, since that card is thought to exist in numbers like three or four dozen or more.
Conventional wisdom in the hobby has also held that the card was pulled because Graziano was suspended by the National Boxing Association in 1948 for his failure to appear for a Dec. 1 scheduled fight against Fred Apostoli, but that notion may get a second look now.
SCD columnist and boxing expert Don Scott pointed out that the 1948 Leaf Boxing set was supposedly a 49-card set. “In fact, uncut 7-by-7 sheets have been found,” said Scott. “That would lead one to believe that the card was never issued, that is, never sold in a pack of gum.”
But Scott also explained that the owner of the first Graziano card to emerge collected it as a kid, Stating that he traded another kid for it and that, at the time, no one noted that it came from a source other than a gum pack.
Boxing collectors have also speculated that the card was a salesman’s sample. “That 49-card uncut sheet is at least a pretty good indication it was never issued in gum,” Scott said.
“When I first learned of the card, Graziano was still alive and I considered contacting him but, not realizing yet just how rare, just put it off and then he passed away,” he added. “In 30 years, I have seen just three: One is VG-EX with soft corners, one is crisper but off center and one is creased. Compare that to a Wagner T206.”