By Larry Canale
FAREWELL, YOGI – When baseball lost beloved Yogi Berra, who died at age 90 on Sept. 22, tributes to the Yankee great filled the Internet, television, radio and newspapers. Berra, who hit 358 career homers despite his short (5-foot-7) stature, had very few – if any – enemies. He was roundly hailed as a humble, gracious, funny, genuine person. Any of us who had the good fortune to meet him can attest to Berra’s authenticity.
After news of Yogi’s passing, surprisingly, there wasn’t a mad rush on eBay. Yes, sellers pushed more product online, but buying wasn’t off the charts by any stretch. Part of the reason may be that Berra’s health had been failing, so his passing wasn’t a shock. And part of the reason may involve the healthy supply of Yogi collectibles. It’s great for fans and buyers: There’s an amazing variety of “Yogi-bilia,” and you can create a fitting shrine to Berra without breaking the bank. He was a generous autograph signer, so even now, you’ll find signed Berra baseballs for under $200. And unlike so many players today, Berra had a recognizable, attractive signature.
We’ll have more on Berra memorabilia in coming installments. For now, we’ll share a signed baseball (SGC authenticated) that brought $149 in the hours after Berra died, plus a top-condition rookie card – a 1948 Bowman graded PSA 8.5 – that fetched $5,350 in June.
SAY HEY! – Every month, we see a few 1951 Bowman Willie Mays cards sell for $2,000 to $5,000 each. Typically, they’re graded in the 4-5 range. In mid-September, a PSA 7-graded Bowman Mays fetched $12,995, just sneaking into our Top 10 list for the period. It edged out by $117 a Mike Trout 2009 Bowman Chrome Orange Refractor autographed card graded BGS 9.5.
CATFISH AND FRIENDS – Jim “Catfish” Hunter was one of those rare impact players who never spent a day in the minor leagues but went on to star in the big leagues. He played only until the age of 33, retiring early because of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), but he still compiled a 224-166 record, 3.26 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 42 shutouts while earning nine All-Star game appointments and winning the 1974 AL Cy Young Award.
One of the most desirable mementos from Hunter’s career is his 1965 Topps rookie. He shared space on the card with three other players, all of them interesting footnotes.
Catcher Rene Lachemann would play only three seasons (mustering just a .210 average in 281 at-bats) but he was a sharp baseball mind; he went on to manage the Mariners, Marlins and Cubs. Pitcher Skip Lockwood was a character – as we discovered in Jim Bouton’s classic tell-all baseball book Ball Four – who played 12 seasons; while he had a subpar 57-97 record pitching for a lot of bad teams, his ERA was a respectable 3.55. And John Odom was an effective pitcher (84-85 record, 3.70 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) who, like Hunter, became known for a colorful nickname: Blue Moon.
Hunter, though, is the draw here. His rookie card – now a full 50 years old! – includes an error on the reverse: Topps called him “Tim” instead of Jim. The card correctly notes, though, that Hunter had “No minor league record.”
Typically, you can find an ungraded but Excellent-condition Hunter rookie card for $50-$100, and a higher-grade (7 or 8) at $150-$250. On Sept. 20, however, we saw a Catfish rookie card in Gem-Mint PSA 10 condition prompt an all-out bidding war on eBay. Multiple participants drove the price all the way to $15,555 on 68 bids, proving once again how motivated collectors can be when perfection is involved.