Live auction an inside-the-park homer

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   Bartman was a no-show, Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t but didn’t exactly wow the great unwashed with the sale price of his 600th home run ball and once again Honus stole the show on the weekend of the 29th edition of the National Sports Collectors Convention in suburban Chicago.

   National Conventions often provide great theatre to complement all the world-class memorabilia and autographs floating around, and this year was no exception. Ironically, much of the theatrical end of it was at the auction Friday evening at the ESPN Zone in downtown Chicago, which wasn’t technically linked to the National.

   In the final lot of the Mastro Live Auction, well-known collector John Rogers of Arkansas pushed the PSA 5 T206 Honus Wagner card up past the $1 million mark, all to the delight of several hundred high rollers (and me) on hand for the unique live auction.

   Rogers was bidding by phone; his only challenge to the card came from Memory Lane Auctions, with J.P. Cohen and Dan Wulkan (shown at right)  waving their paddle in response to Rogers. An enthralled crowd, noisy for much of the night, was eerily quiet between bids, followed by a broad murmur that would ripple through as the sales price was bumped up in $50,000 increments.

   “Friday night at the ESPN Zone was exciting,” said Wulkan, Memory Lane’s executive director for auctions. “We really wanted that Wagner card,” he added. The final price with the commission was a reported $1.62 million.

   The sale of the card drew national media attention and was a nice launch into the weekend. The live auction featured only 94 lots but approached $5 million, including five lots atop the $100,000 level. On the same weekend that Ken Griffey Jr. made his Chicago debut with the White Sox after a trade, his 600th home run ball was hammered down for $42,000 in the closing moments of the auction.

   After last year’s version at the House of Blues in downtown Cleveland, the atmosphere changed from gritty rock ’n’ roll to high-tech glitz, with auctioneer Nick Dawes standing in front of 12-foot high television screen, which was flanked with six flat-screen TVs on each side of it. With guys shouting bids from the bar area to be heard above the usual din, there as a raucous aspect to it that made it unlike any auction I’ve covered in more than 15 years for SCD.

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