CHICAGO -- You can buy pucks from Stanley Cup games. For $30 you can own a puck from Game 1 of this season's Blackhawks-Bruins NHL Finals. A Game 6 puck costs you $40.
I learned the prices at a national sports collectors show. I then had two questions.
The show was in a convention building the size of Rhode Island. There were baseball cards, Babe Ruth's barnstorming cap, and Eddie Gaedel's bat. There were poker chips from Arnold Rothstein's gambling club, the putter Sam Snead used to win a Masters, jerseys worn by Drew Brees and Manti Te'o, and a program from the 1954 New York baseball writers' dinner, aka the chapter's "Thirty-Second Eating & Oratorical Contest."
Asking my questions again: "How does anyone know this stuff is real?"
And, "Why would anyone spend a dollar on it, let alone thousands?"
If hockey's in my backyard, I pull the shades. Yet people would pay $30 for a chunk of hard rubber that might have been made from old tires in somebody's garage.
Eddie Gaedel's bat looked like a toy out of a Cracker Jack box. Yet Heritage Auctions had it up for bids that night with an estimated price of $20,000. Gaedel was 3-foot-7 and 65 pounds. During World War II, he was a riveter in an airplane factory. He did his riveting after crawling inside the planes' hollow wings. On Aug. 19, 1951, wearing uniform number "1/8," Gaedel batted leadoff for the St. Louis Browns. The team's owner, Bill Veeck, later wrote that he advised Gaedel to take four pitches: "Eddie, I'm going to be up on the roof with a high-powered rifle watching every move you make. If you so much as look as if you're going to swing, I'm going to shoot you dead."
So there's a story with Gaedel's bat. He was a ham. He had been Mercury Records' official mascot, a little guy with wings on his hat. Taking four straight pitches for a walk, he stopped twice on his way to first base to bow to the 18,369 customers at Sportsman's Park. Gaedel never batted again. He still holds baseball's all-time record for on-base percentage, 1.000.
OK. But $20,000? That night, the bat sold for $44,812.
I asked Chris Ivy why people spend money that way. He's in charge of the Heritage sports auctions. His answer: "Passion and investment." The typical high-end buyer is a 50-something man with tall piles of money. He may be into loving remembrances of the ways things were. Or maybe he's "looking for an investment, just as he would in real estate or on Wall Street."
That reminded Ivy of the Bill Buckner ball. Poor Bill Buckner. He never much touched the ball that made him famous. Mookie Wilson's hopper went through Buckner's legs into right field just when the Red Sox seemed to have won their first World Series. Instead, the Mets took advantage of the error, rallied to win that day, and won the Series the next day.
"The Buckner ball first sold for $93,000," Ivy said, "and we sold it again last May for $418,000."
That's not even close to the record price for sports memorabilia. A Yankee road uniform worn by Babe Ruth in his first New York season, 1920, sold a year ago for $4,415,658. The auction house Lelands bought it with plans to sell it to a private buyer. Presumably, the buyer will be a mad scientist bent on extracting the Ruthian DNA necessary to clone a new Babe.
Are these people nuts or what?
Then I saw, at the Heritage booth, in a glass case, the Stan Musial jersey.
Wow. Beautiful. That snow white field. Those bright red cardinals. The golden bat. A 1963 Musial jersey, his last season. On the back, the familiar number 6.
I wanted it.
Yes, if I had tall piles of money, I'd go nuts.
I grew up halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. I listened to Harry Caray do Cardinals broadcasts long before he became a cartoon doing the Cubs. Musial was The Man. A right-hander, I tried to hit from the left side, coiled, peering around my shoulder. The experiment failed. There was a glitch in my brain's hard-wiring. I couldn't get out of the way of pitches. I was hit in the head twice. So ended my ambition of being The Next Musial.
So, yes, the Musial jersey would be wonderful in my office.
Alas, at that night's auction, the jersey went for $53,775. For a shirt? I haven't spent that much on clothes in my lifetime.
But I'm saving my pennies for October. Then, Heritage will auction The Stan Musial Collection. Musial's grandson, Brian Schwarze, told me there will be as many as 700 items for sale -- or, as he put it, "A whole lifetime of what Stan Musial stood for."
• Musial's 1945 U.S. Navy baseball uniform.
• A baseball signed by Babe Ruth in 1941 to the young Stan, 20 years old and playing for Rochester Red Wings in the International League.
• A letter from Ty Cobb on hitting, and a hand-written Branch Rickey letter praising Musial for his "great human qualities of humility and courage and ability."
• Musial's 1,000th, 2,000th, and 3,200th hit baseballs, photographs of Musial with every president since Eisenhower, and World Series rings presented to him in 2004, 2006, and 2011.
"And," Schwarze added, "several harmonicas."
Oh my, and uh-oh.
Musial was famous for his harmonica versions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." At a dinner in Louisville before the Kentucky Derby once, Musial and Jack Buck, the broadcaster, stopped by our table. Musial, always eager to please, pulled a harmonica from his jacket pocket. I nudged a friend, "Listen, this'll be great."
Then, in fact, the great man did a great thing.
He played "My Old Kentucky Home."
Would I buy a Musial harmonica?
I've done sillier things. I bought a Wurlitzer jukebox because it reminded me of my grandmother's tavern and it was produced the same year I was.