I grew up in Western Pennsylvania in the early 1970’s following Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Johnny Bench and all the other great baseball players from that era.
As a young kid from Western Pennsylvania I began to follow the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates were a solid perennial contender in the early 70’s but were often defeated by the Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine as they were known as.
In those days DH was short for double headers and great opportunities to snag some signed baseballs. The entrance to the players’ clubhouse at Three Rivers Stadium was easily cased out by teenage fans like me, and players would often stop as they signed baseballs for most of the young kids like me. I remember Ken Brett standing outside in 1974 after a game he pitched for the Pirates, leaning against his car as he signed baseballs. And Dave Parker as he also signed baseballs patiently as we one by one would ask “Mr. Parker would you sign this baseball for me”?
And Fenway Park in Boston was an awesome place to watch a baseball game, and still is! In the summer of 1973 I had a regular seat in the bleacher section most of the summer. I remember the ticket price being only one dollar! All the signed baseballs I got by sitting in the bleachers at Fenway were off the bats of the ballplayers and they weren’t signed by players, but by the league presidents. Great Red Sox like Yaztrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant and seventeen game winner Bill Lee were fun to watch and often signed baseballs for adoring fans.
The day that summer that I remember most; watching Reggie Jackson in right field for the Oakland A’s. The day I regret the most that summer is missing the game Nolan Ryan pitched. I don’t remember how many visiting players signed baseballs or how often I saw them entering or leaving Fenway but as a seventeen year old baseball fan, it didn’t matter to me. I just loved the game and still do.
In 1974 the Pirates and Dodgers played in the League Championship Series, this was before the Divisional Round or the play in game existed. In those days there were only two divisions in each league and the league series was a best of five game series. It was a great summer for baseball in the Iron City since the All Star game was also hosted by the Pirates at Three River Stadium. Signed baseballs were easy to get, but my best memory is a signed baseball bat. My friend who is a scout now for Tampa Bay in the American League took home a game used bat from Bill Russell. I left the ballpark that day with a game used bat by Von Joshua. Both bats were broken but loaded with pine tar which stayed on them for many years after. Imagine that, a game used baseball bat from a major leaguer and it was FREE! We didn’t need signed baseballs, the game used bats were a huge bonus for the two of us as we jumped in our cars and drove north to our little country home town with our prized possessions.
Actually the popularity of signed baseballs goes back several decades, even to the 1920’s. Can you imagine owning signed baseballs of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, Frankie Frisch, or Rogers Hornsby. My guess is a signed baseball from Ty Cobb would probably be worth around $5,000, maybe much more. And Babe Ruth would probably go past $10,000, maybe much higher.
I would suggest that if you are building a collection around your favorite player that you purchase a signed baseball signed only by that player. This tends to have the best values for collecting. Many times you can find a ball signed by a group of players, or even two players, and it may seem like a great deal but the value just isn’t as strong as it is with only one signature on a signed baseball.
As far as the history of collecting sports memorabilia goes you can go back to the beginning of the 20th century when fans first began to collect autographs of their heroes. With the modern form of marketing or selling, e-commerce, this industry has grown into a true multi-million dollar, maybe even billion dollar industry. In fact special occasion signed baseballs are grabbing huge dollars at auctions, some over one million dollars.
As with any type of collecting, sports memorabilia collectors need to educate themselves about the items in which they are particularly interested, to avoid being sold a fake.
To avoid disappointment if you intend to purchase a rare item, it is best to deal with a reputable company that will guarantee the authenticity of your purchase. Many companies nowadays will offer a lifetime, money back guarantee of authenticity for your peace of mind.
There is a wide range of items available, and hundreds of authentic signed baseballs on the market. They range from the older era baseball players like those I mentioned above to the modern era players like Albert Pujols, Derrick Jeter, Josh Hamilton and A-Rod along with a slew of others. Autographed items by tainted stars like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons and Sammy Sosa have slid in value because of their connection to the steroid era of major league baseball so be careful not to overpay for these items. However purchased at the right price and if the autograph is authentic, then it is possible to have a collection that will grow in value as time moves forward.
Enjoy your hobby and even though this site is primarily about signed baseballs, as you become more educated in values as a collector, expand your horizon and collect other items. Things like game used items which have a very high value when authentic and autographed. And don’t forget about some of the other major sports like football, hockey and basketball. As a sports enthusiast you will find great profits and entertainment in being a collector of sports memorabilia.