Musing about Ruth, Aaron and Bonds autographs

Linda and Charlie Zabransky in Monument Park.jpgOn the Mason-Dixon Line between New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans, tucked away in a small town near New Haven, Conn., lives the granddaughter of Babe Ruth. At the start of the home run drama in Major League Baseball this year, I was lucky enough to visit with Linda Ruth Tosetti. On the Saturday afternoon following the conclusion of the University of New Haven card show, I hitched a ride with baseball guru Herbie Buck and his wife down to Tosetti’s house.

Buck and his wife had just returned from their yearly migration down to Florida during spring training. During the drive, they both relayed their successes and disappointments in their hunt for autographs. They explained that some stadiums were friendlier to autograph seekers than others. Hearing the thrills of the preseason autograph hunt, I started to wonder how the home run chase this year would affect the market and the values of the baseball titans with more than 700 home runs.

Coming into the 2007 baseball season, Ruth autographs were as strong as ever. At that time, authenticated Ruth cuts were selling for around $3,500-$4,000. With the home run chase at center stage from the start, I decided to track the selling prices of Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, as well. Aaron baseballs were steady at about $125-$175. and Bonds authenticated jerseys were selling for upward of $1,300 on eBay.

Meeting Ruth’s granddaughter
When we arrived at Tosetti’s house, we were greeted warmly by her and her husband Andy. Obvious with his baseball allegiance, donning a Red Sox hat and wind breaker with the sleeves rolled up, it forced me to ask Tosetti which team she rooted for. Her response was almost poetic.

“My heart is with the Sox, but I respect the pinstripes,” she said.

Still stunned from learning that the granddaughter of Babe Ruth was a Red Sox fan, I was delighted to discover that she was also an autograph collector. Unlike most collectors who have some sort of theme behind their collection, she takes an entirely different approach.

“To mark a moment,” she said as the motive behind collecting autographs. She produced a binder filled with photos of various famous personalities. Most of the autographs were personalized to her, and the majority of her collection was entertainment signatures.

“I write to some of my favorite actors and actresses and ask for their signature,” she said.

Following a time-tested formula of seeking autographs through the mail, she has had several successes, including Al Pacino and Tom Cruise. I’m sure her personalized stationery featuring the Babe might help a little.

I asked her what she thought about the Babe’s signature selling at times for six digits. Her response was that it makes it unattainable to the average fan. However, she did take solace in the fact that there are still some reasonably priced items for sale.

We carried out our conversation at dinner. Both Linda and Andy spoke about the Hall of Fame weekend and their experience. They make their annual trek to Cooperstown for the induction weekend to see old friends and take in the ceremony. However, they said can’t get autographs in the section they are seated. They were not allowed to ask for any autographs in the family section.

“They’re very strict on this,” Tosetti said. “They’ll revoke your access if you ever try to get an autograph.”

“To mark a moment,” she said as the motive behind collecting autographs. She produced a binder filled with photos of various famous personalities. Most of the autographs were personalized to her, and the majority of her collection was entertainment signatures.

“I write to some of my favorite actors and actresses and ask for their signature,” she said.

Following a time-tested formula of seeking autographs through the mail, she has had several successes, including Al Pacino and Tom Cruise. I’m sure her personalized stationery featuring the Babe might help a little.

I asked her what she thought about the Babe’s signature selling at times for six digits. Her response was that it makes it unattainable to the average fan. However, sge did take solace in the fact that there are still some reasonably priced items for sale.

We carried out our conversation at dinner. Both Linda and Andy spoke about the Hall of Fame weekend and their experience. They make their annual trek to Cooperstown for the induction weekend to see old friends and take in the ceremony. However, they said can’t get autographs in the section they are seated. They were not allowed to ask for any autographs in the family section.

“They’re very strict on this,” Tosetti said. “They’ll revoke your access if you ever try to get an autograph.”

Tosetti is also involved with a group that is circulating an online petition that asks Major League Baseball to retire Ruth’s No. 3 at every major league ballpark.

The website, www.retirebabes number.com, cites the singular impact that Ruth had on the game of baseball, a contribution hardly lost on collectors of cards and memorabilia, who have made Ruth the most popular and collected player in history.

A similar undertaking is also being done by fans of the late Roberto Clemente, asking that the Hall of Famer’s No. 21 be retired at every major-league park (www.retire21.org).

Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 was retired by MLB in 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s historic breaking of the color line in 1947.

Nearly a month later . . .
I was back on the East Coast for the White Plains Show about a month later. I scored a pair of tickets for the Red Sox/Yankees game in New York. There I stood in front of “The House that Ruth built” for the first time, and off in the distance, you can see the new stadium rising from the city’s underbelly.

I headed over to the shops across the street. Among the various souvenir and apparel stores is a fan-priced selection of autographed memorabilia. It was a little disappointing seeing the quality of autographs on sale, however, most stores seemed to carry memorabilia with a solid authentication standing behind them.

Strolling back across the street, I ducked into the stadium and walked up the tunnel behind home plate. As a California skeptic and lifelong Angels fan, I saw the greenest grass rise up from the floor, like the sun on the ocean’s horizon, and chills raced through me. After a quick run through Memorial Park, we headed back over to check out the clubhouse store. There we found a nice display case showcasing a wide selection of Steiner-authenticated memorabilia.

I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the great stadium and the man synonymous with baseball, Ruth. His autograph was still as strong as before the Bonds home run record march. The same could be said for Aaron’s signature. About this time, Bonds jerseys had started to decline, selling for about $1,000.

Bonds memorabilia during The Chase
As the season carries on, so does the autograph market. Neither Ruth nor Aaron had shown any decline through the All-Star break. However, Bonds seemed to continue his slide, and jerseys started to slip to around $900 on eBay. As Bonds marched closer and closer to breaking Aaron’s record, I saw jerseys for around $750. Then on the day Bonds broke the record, a home Giants Bonds authenticated jersey closed at $627.

In the days that followed the record-breaking home run, Bonds jerseys seemed to float up in price a little, selling between $760-$880, but have since dropped even further, closing below $600. How will his signature hold up, only time will tell.

Whether we like it or not Bonds is now the all-time home run king, but keep in mind that he is only 43 and will probably be around for a long time. I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be a shortage of Bonds autographs on the market anytime soon.

Are collectors wising up with what is really rare, or are they just not as interested in the modern stuff because the value in the long-term might not be there? I remember something Tosetti said when I asked her about how many autographs the Babe was alleged to have penned.

“He may have signed more than anyone else, but back then, people didn’t take care of them like they do today,” she said.

What it comes down to is simple supply and demand. Over supplied product on the market that has little demand sells for less. Unfortunately, many modern autographs seem to fit this model.

The Steroid Era in baseball has not only hurt the game’s reputation, but the hobby, as well. Today we are left with the heroes of days past that have stood the test of time. Now we only have skepticism of what is to come, as we have been betrayed too many times in recent memory.

Many have said the market is slow, but many auction houses still post record sales on vintage autographs. Huggins & Scott sold a Christy Mathewson single-signed baseball for more than $160,000. Heritage recently sold two different items featuring Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, fetching almost $90,000 for a photo and $191,200 for a baseball signed on the side panel. Premium Ruth balls still reach six digits, and on eBay and Mantle balls still easily close for more than $500.

Blame the price of gas or a bear economy if you want, but when it comes to some of the modern sluggers, I think people just don’t want to spend their money on suspected cheaters.

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