Prior to 1985 , few collectors outside of Kansas City, Mo. had ever heard of Buddy Biancalana.
His rookie card wouldn't have been worth more than a stick of gum, his autograph might not have drawn much notice outside of the unusual spelling to most trade show participants and his on-the-field record was one that hardly drew the notice of fans or the media.
But a funny thing happened to Biancalana on his way to baseball stardom. He got some hits in the World Series and became an overnight sensation. Suddenly he was appearing on David Letterman's late night gab fest; he was a major draw at card and trade shows and out of the blue a Biancalana baseball card had great value.
The World Series has that effect on the world of collecting, more so than any other sporting event outside of the Super Bowl. Unheralded bench players, untested rookies or slumping veterans can suddenly get a couple of key hits and their memorabilia goes from the outhouse to the penthouse in the span of a week. A player like the Kansas City Royals' diminutive shortstop comes out of nowhere, grabs the attention of the media, becomes a celebrity and his name becomes valuable to collectors, even though he quickly descends into post-World Series mediocrity for the rest of his career.
The reasons are fairly obvious. The World Series draws more than 700 credentialed reporters from all over the country, including the media-heavy metropolitan areas of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. With so many reporters and so few stories, those low profile players who get hot for a couple of games get hundreds of more stories written and reported about them than if they had a hot streak in the middle of June.
Then there is television. Although there are more games on TV than ever before, most of those games are regionally or locally telecast. At best, there are the Fox and ESPN games of the week during the regular season, but those telecasts are often seen by fewer people than a NASCAR event or 60 minute telecast from the World Wrestling Federation. One weekend this summer, the WNBA actually drew more viewers than a Saturday game of the week.
The World Series ratings are always among the highest rated shows of the week and come at a time when the networks, NBC and Fox, have among their largest viewerships of the year. Summer is over, schools are in session, people aren't on vacation and even the most casual fan will tune in to the World Series.
This year, the possibilities for higher ratings are enhanced by the chances of at least one New York team making it to the Fall Classic.
As a result, the possibilities of another Biancalana popping up and drawing the attention of collectors is increased.
It isn't just the former Kansas City shortstop who turned into a hero for collectors, either. In 1954, Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians made history by making an out. His towering drive to centerfield was caught by a young Willie Mays of the New York giants. While Mays' value is known to all collectors, Wertz became a favorite for hitting the ball.
Two years later, journeyman pitcher Don Larsen was hardly known to fans outside of New York City. He pitched a perfect game in the World Series against Brooklyn and his card and autograph still bring top dollar today, even though his career was mediocre at best after the 56 perfecto against Brooklyn.
In 1968, Denny McLain was the talk of the baseball world after winning 31 games. But it was teammate Mickey Lolich who won three World Series games for the world champion Detroit Tigers and the pudgy southpaw became the darling of collectors for years to come.
The next year, unheard of Tommy Agee and Ron Swaboda of the Mets had great post-season performances and triggered a love affair between collectors and themselves that would last at card shows well into the 1990s. Neither did very much after their great World Series performances in 1969.
In the early 1990s. Pat Borders was a reserve catcher who was considered a light hitter but a decent defensive catcher. But when the cameras were on during the World Series, the Toronto catcher was unconscious at the plate and led the Blue Jays to back-to-back worlds championships. Borders would never duplicate his success after that time yet was a MVP of the World Series.
Who will be the Biancalana of this year's World Series. Check out the rosters and don't throw away any of those cards, autographs or memorabilia until the end of the Series at the end of the month. It could be very valuable indeed.