SCD Classic – an interview with the Wild Thing

sheen22.jpg He is arguably one of the most famous collectors in the country, and once was the owner of one of the most famous World Series balls known. Movie star Charlie Sheen, who startled the hobby by paying nearly $100,000 for the “Mookie Ball” in 1992, put that famous spheroid and more than two dozen other treasures up for auction in 2000 as he stepped back from the hobby a bit to devote more time to family, health and his movie and television career.

The ball that dribbled through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game Six of the 1986 World Series headlined the April 27-28 Leland’s auction that drew even more attention with the inclusion of the other items from Sheen’s collection.

But he wasn’t getting out of the hobby altogether, just shifting emphasis, and selling some of his more spectacular pieces in the process. Sheen, now the star of the wildly successful “Two and a Half Men” sitcom on CBS, was getting ready take over Michael J. Fox’s role on “Spin City” that fall of 2000 on ABC television, has done much to promote the game of baseball through his roles in the two “Major League” movies and “Eight Men Out,” which chronicled the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

01SCD051807.jpg In a interview in 2000 with Sports Collectors Digest, the New York native talked about his collection, his own baseball career and even about Pete Rose, a friend of Sheen’s and possible fodder for another baseball movie, starring Sheen himself as the switch-hitting, all-time hit king. Sheen turned out to be one of the most cordial and accommodating interview subjects I’ve ever encountered.

Born in New York City, he has been a baseball fan his whole life, and even got scouted as a junior college player in Kansas. “But, I decided to become an actor instead,” said Sheen.

He collected cards as a kid, with the Yankees and the Big Red Machine being his favorites as he was growing up in the 1970s. “I dabbled with cards, but I didn’t understand the value. I would tape them to my walls.” An inauspicious start for a collector who would one day own some of the hobby’s great card rarities, like the 1933 Goudey Lajoie and the T206 Sherry Magie error.

“I started collecting seriously when I was building a home and I wanted to include display cases with baseball memorabilia,” said Sheen. In the fall of 1989, he was in Spain filming “Navy Seals,” and he told an assistant to hook him up with the best memorabilia expert he could find.

Enter Josh Evans of Leland’s, who has been working with the movie star for more than a decade.

Sheen’s first sortie into the world of high-end sports memorabilia was a 1959 Ted Williams road jersey. “That kind of got the ball rolling, and they built the display case even larger than I anticipated, so I had more room to fill,” said Sheen with a laugh. “Before that time (1989), people were just starting to get things out of their attics,” continued Sheen.

He promptly dove in headfirst, picking up, usually through Evans, and also Rob Lifson of Robert Edward’s Auctions, many of the most spectacular pieces available at the time, including game-used uniforms, bats, balls, gloves, cards and even trophies and advertising displays.

Ultimately, he agreed to consign some of his treasures to All-Star Cafes in Las Vegas and New York City. “When the Sheen Room in New York was burglarized, I was devastated, so I decided to shut it down if they wouldn’t protect it from a cleaning crew. I am now at a point where I’m not as attached to my stuff. Family, health and career are more important, so I have decided to put much of (the collection) back into circulation.”

Devastated, indeed, since the tally of items stolen included a 1934 Goudey uncut sheet with the famed 1933 Nap Lajoie card included. Four are known, “And I had the nicest one,” said Sheen. He also had the T206 Sherry Magie card. The estimated value of the stolen pieces was $170,000.

Along with the “Mookie Ball,” Sheen owned horsehides from some of the most famous ballgames in history, like the Bill Wambsganss triple-play World Series game in 1920, the final out baseball from the 1927 World Series, a 1920 Chicago White Sox team-signed ball (with Joe Jackson), and even the famed Cleon Jones “Shoe Polish” ball from the 1969 World Series.

Mix in incredible game-used bats from Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, game-worn jerseys or uniforms from Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams and Roger Maris with stuff like Don Hoak’s 1955 Dodgers World Series ring or Fergie Jenkins’ 1971 Cy Young Award and you’ve got some of the best stuff to come down the pike since, uh, Barry Halper came down the pike.

And speaking of the most famous sports memorabilia collector in the world, Sheen has picked up a number of items from Halper by way of Evans. “But I’ve never met (Halper),” continued Sheen. And there’s a good reason why Sheen wasn’t on hand for the amazing sale in September of 1999 at Sotheby’s in New York City of nearly 2,500 of the most-prized items from the Halper Collection.

“I’ve never attended an auction in-person,” Sheen noted, adding that the glare of celebrity also prevents him from attending shows, since he frequently winds up signing autographs endlessly. “It becomes work,” concluded the actor.

And while the Leland’s auction represents the sale of some of his favorite pieces, it hardly signals the end of his hobby involvement. “I’ll step back from acquiring the real high-end stuff for awhile,” continued Sheen. “I’ll still get stuff for my personal tastes and interests, but the emphasis will be more on appearance rather than value.”

When he bought the Mookie Ball in 1992 for $93,500, it turned a lot of heads in the hobby. “When the Mookie Ball sold for nearly $100,000, people said, ‘Are you insane?’ It was amazing. And Buckner shouldn’t even have been in the game,” Sheen said.

Sheen reportedly beat out another well-known collector, broadcaster Keith Olbermann, in bidding on the Mookie Ball, with Olbermann dropping out at $85,000. Not surprisingly, Sheen conceded that he paid more for the ball than he intended to at the time. “I was going to go to $50,000, but my ego got in the way,” Sheen said in that New York Daily News interview. “I told myself, ‘I have to own this ball.’ “

When Sheen bought the ball, there was a bit of controversy in the hobby at the time when Buckner publicly announced that it wasn’t even the actual ball, noting that he (Buckner) had the real one instead. “I thought it was absurd,” said Sheen, in reference to the brief flap. “You can clearly see on the tape that (Buckner) just walked off the field.”

The “flap” was brief, because the authenticity of the item was almost beyond question in the hobby, Buckner’s unfortunate comments aside. And he seemingly quickly retreated from his claims. “I was taking batting practice with the Mariners in 1996,” said Sheen, “and Buckner came up to me and apologized for any inconvenience it may have caused.”

The man who has portrayed real-life Black Sox outfielder Happy Felsch and the fictional Cleveland Indians reliever Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn would like to try his hand at playing at least one more baseball player. “The Pete Rose story needs to be told,” said Sheen, adding that he already has the switch-hitting part down, having learned from Ken Medlock during the preparations for “Major League II” several years ago.

“I’ve met (Rose), and he’s been at the house,” he continued. Obviously, Sheen would seem to be a natural, pardon the pun, for the part, but for the moment there’s that sticky problem of plot resolution for the story. There’s no ending, and apparently none in sight while the powers-that-be turn a cold shoulder to Rose’s often admittedly hamhanded efforts to get the ban lifted.

Sheen calls modern Major League Baseball “a whole different ballgame,” an allusion to all the home runs flying out of stadiums over the past several years. And he figures that power surge is going to put one of the most famous records in the game at risk. “People are always talking about records they say will never be touched. Cy Young won’t be touched (511 wins), but 755 (Henry Aaron’s lifetime home run record) is now in reach.”

And Sheen adds a further observation in that regard. “I think it will be Griffey before McGwire,” said Sheen. Even though the latter has clubbed an amazing 245 home runs over the past four seasons. “I have my doubts about whether McGwire can hold on long enough to break (the record).” Such was the prevailing view in 2000, before Barry Bonds launched the most incredible late-career power surge ever seen in MLB history.

Like a number of other celebrities with a well-documented love of the game, Sheen relishes the occasional batting practice or spring training workout, but unlike many, his professional baseball options are a little more serious, even if ultimately ignored. He had an offer in 1998 to try to hook up with the Madison (Wis.) Black Wolf, an independent minor-league club that plays in the same league as the Saint Paul Saints.

The Saints are almost certainly one of the most famous minor-league ball clubs in the country, by virtue of: a) The promotional wizardry of former co-owner Mike Veeck, who is the son of Hall of Famer Bill Veeck; b) Another former co-owner, Bill Murray, who frequently delighted soldout St. Paul crowds with unannounced visits when his film schedule permitted; c) Memorable attempts to revitalize fallen major-league heroes like Darryl Strawberry and Jack Morris; d) Having all of the aforementioned chronicled in a neat bit of non-fiction called Slouching Toward Fargo; and e) all of the above.

Adding Charlie Sheen to the Black Wolf club would have been a nice addition to a minor league famous fox putting fun first at ballgames but it was not to be. “I had an offer to try out for the Black Wolf two years ago, but I couldn’t do it at the time,” said Sheen of an opportunity to earn a whopping $750 a month.

But the offer still stands, and as he awaited the start of production for “Spin City,” the visions of minor-league stardom occasionally danced in his head. “Maybe I’ll make a trip to Madison this summer,” Sheen mused.

Even as he said it, he had second thoughts, but not for the reason you might expect. “It would be my luck to be up at the plate and run into a kid trying to make a name for himself who’s pissed off at me because his girlfriend likes my movies. And he tries to stick one in my ear,” said Sheen with a laugh.

That’s no way to treat one of the game’s biggest boosters. I’m still hoping he gives Madison a visit. I’m convinced none of those polite young fellas in the Northern League would do such a thing.

Photos courtesy of Morgan Creek Productions

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