By Joe Orlando
ell, some of you may already be asking why this topic is being covered under our Set Registry portion of SMR. Here's the good news. The Set Registry, once our IS team is done reprogramming and enhancing the system, will be adding single signed baseball sets as a category. This new programming project, coupled with PSA's recent Baseball Grading launch, will help make single signed baseball collecting a reality on the registry.
This new category, like our card and ticket registries, will allow for collectors to create their own sets. For example, under the single signed baseball category, a run of Hall of Famers might be a set or a World Series MVP's run might qualify. You can get very creative here since there are no "manufactured" sets like there are in trading cards. The usual suspects would include collections based on The 300 Win Club, The 3,000 Hit Club and, of course, the most popular of them all – The 500 Home Run Club.
There is just something special about the home run and its importance in baseball history in unquestionable. No matter who the combatants are, the pitcher and the hitter are faced in a head-on collision that can result in feast or famine for the man at the plate. If that hitter connects just right, matching round ball to round bat – with less than half of a second to react – the ball is sent over the wall where no defender can assist his teammate on the mound. There is something majestic about a home run just as there is something glorious about the victor's trot around the bases.
This is part of why The 500 Home Run Club is the basis for so many collections. What better way to celebrate baseball's most cherished moment than to collect items (in this case single signed baseballs) related to the men who sent more souvenirs into the far reaches of the cheap seats than any other men in the game? Furthermore, the set is actually feasible to complete. It may be expensive when it comes to the likes of Foxx and Ruth but it is feasible. Imagine trying to complete a 3000 Hit Club set. Good luck trying to find a single signed Cap Anson baseball! Finally, the single signed baseball has long been a symbol of collecting and one that makes for great display.
The single signed baseball sort of falls somewhere in between what a trading card and a game-used piece symbolize. While it is not game-used, it is a tool of the trade. And, while it's not a collectible that was found in packs and lets us relive childhood memories of opening those packs, the signed ball does represent memories of getting autographs at the ballpark and it adds a personal touch that is absent in the trading card world. Babe Ruth did have to hold the ball if he signed it – I think you get the picture.
Making it to the magic number 500 is best measured, in my opinion, by considering all of those who didn't make it. There are so many great sluggers who never made it to 400, let alone 500. Even Ralph Kiner, one of the best pure home run hitters in history, leading the league in homers for 7 straight seasons, "only" hit 369 in his entire career. Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg, two top all-time sluggers, hit fewer than Kiner. And sure, they both missed time due to service in the military but that is also part of why it is so hard to reach 500 homers, you have to be a great slugger and sustain it for a long period of time.
In addition, it's hard to stay injury-free during a long career. Just ask Jose Canseco who would have been a shoe-in for 500 and well beyond but missed a ton of games during his career as a result of a variety of serious injuries. He ended up with 462. Even those who are recognized sluggers and had virtually injury-free careers fell short. Duke Snider, the top home run hitter of the 1950's, clubbed a "mere" 407. Willie Stargell, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig, all top sluggers, didn't make it to 500.
Now, as the PSA Autograph Registry evolves, let us break down the task of building a complete single signed baseball collection based on the members of The 500 Home Run Club with every man eligible on this list already a member of baseball's Hall of Fame.
Hank Aaron – 755
Here is the where the list begins. The current King of The Club has been at the top for four decades now with Bonds coming on fast. Aaron was much more than a slugger as his career offensive numbers are staggering across the board. Aaron is at or near the top in several important categories like RBI's (2,297 – 1st all-time), runs scored and even career hits with 3,771- which is 3rd all-time.
While "The Hammer" remains at the top of The Club, a single signed baseball of Mr. Aaron is actually one of the easier autographs to obtain. This is, of course, due to the fact that Aaron has been an active signer for years and under contract with different memorabilia companies like UDA. Considering his accomplishments, all Aaron items seem to be overlooked but there is a decent supply of Aaron signed baseballs. The current market values for single signed Aaron baseballs tend to fall in the $85-$100 range.
Babe Ruth – 714
There may be no more symbolic collectible in the marketplace today than the single singed sphere of The Sultan of Swat. Ruth was an avid signer during his lifetime, well before the mass produced hobby days of the present but he is so popular that the demand will seemingly always outweigh the supply. Early examples can be found with "Babe" in quotes, a practice that he phased out later in his life.
One thing to look out for, in regards to authentication, is the fact that a large number of secretarial Ruth signatures plague the marketplace and were generally signed during the last few years of his life. These, of course, were not signed by Ruth but were signed by his secretary, assistant and his nurse. Ruth's nurse signed a large number of autographs for him while he was bedridden in the hospital fighting cancer. He just could not keep up with the demand. This was obviously not done with malice; Ruth was one of the most obliging signers of all-time. Once you become familiar with these secretarial examples, it becomes easier to spot them and, thus, avoid them.
The bottom line with Ruth single signed baseballs is that they are often the cornerstone of high-end collections and, without a doubt, the most popular piece to The Club's puzzle. The current market values for high-end examples can range from the $15,000 range up to $50,000-$80,000 range.
Barry Bonds – 692 and counting
Say what you want about Bonds; the guy has amassed absolutely ridiculous numbers during his illustrious career. Where do you begin? Six MVP Awards, twice as many as the few men who have won three each. What about 500/500 – home runs and stolen bases – could that ever be duplicated? How about 73 homers in a season? The list goes on and on but this single season home run leader may become the all-time leader within two seasons.
Barry has his own line of authenticated products, including single signed baseballs. His signature has changed over the years, much like other players, and it has actually become more legible and full. Once considered a relatively tough modern era signature, his autograph is more readily available since the inception of his memorabilia company. The current market values for single signed Bonds baseballs tend to fall in the $125-$200 range.
Willie Mays – 660
Much like Aaron, Mays is a living legend whose single singed baseball values are relatively affordable for those looking to fill this void. Mays has been an avid signer and one that has been a frequent guest on the show circuit which, in turn, has left the hobby with a solid supply of signed baseballs. While that may be true, something tells me that when Mays is no longer with us, many collectors may regret not obtaining one when they had the chance because he is, arguably, the greatest all-around player in the game's history. The current market values for single signed Mays baseballs tend to fall in the $75-$90 range.
Frank Robinson – 586
Robinson is one of those players who is clearly overlooked when you look at his accomplishments. He was much like Mays and Aaron in that, despite hitting a ton of home runs, he was also a complete player who won the MVP award in both leagues! Robinson has been an avid signer and continues to be, he is known to have one of the more attractive autographs in the group, much like fellow club member Harmon Killebrew. The current market values for single signed Robinson baseballs tend to fall in the $50-$65 range.
Mark McGwire – 583
McGwire will go down as probably the most awesome pure home run hitter in baseball history. He did not possess the all-around ability of Bonds or Mays or the charisma of Ruth or Mantle but his legendary clouts were awe inspiring. He reached the cheapest of the cheap seats with his monumental blasts. His sudden retirement was, honestly, disappointing but it's better to see a great player leave the game slightly early than hang on only to damage their legacy.
Big Mac's autograph was once considered a major modern era rarity. McGwire, who participated in autograph signings and shows during the late-1980's, went into hobby hiding in the early 90's. Just after the 1998 season, single signed examples were known to reach upwards of $2500-plus at major auctions. For a modern era signature, that is astonishing. Today, McGwire has signed items for a couple of major hobby companies, including UDA – enhancing the supply in the hobby. The current market values for single signed McGwire baseballs tend to fall in the $250-$500 range.
Harmon Killebrew – 573
Killebrew is a member of the club who reached the 500-mark with awesome raw power. As a man who hit many tape measure home runs in his day, Killebrew complimented his brute strength with a wonderful personality that has left a permanent mark on those who have had the pleasure of meeting him over the years. As a show circuit fixture, Killebrew has signed his share of baseballs, leaving a nice supply in the marketplace. The current market value for single-signed Killebrew baseballs tend to fall in the $50-$60 range.
Sammy Sosa – 566 and counting
While Sosa got off to a slow start in his career, he has certainly made up for it. In a burst of power, Sosa has been a leading slugger since the late-90's and is still showing few signs of slowing down. His classic battles for slugging supremacy with Big Mac were legendary and helped bring fans back to a game that was scarred and reeling from the strike of 1994.
His autograph, which exhibits a very flamboyant style, is highly sought after for a modern era signature. Sosa has been signing for a few different memorabilia companies over the past few years so the supply has increased in recent times. Still, due to his great popularity, his autograph has retained premium value considering the era. The current market values for single signed Sosa baseballs tend to fall in the $100-$150 range.
Reggie Jackson – 563
Love him or hate him, Reggie is here to stay. Jackson was not only one of the most exciting sluggers in the game's history with his memorable Mr. October performances but he was also somewhat of a pioneer in the hobby. As a former spokesman for Upper Deck and one that recognized the significance of the collectibles marketplace, Jackson has been a longstanding figure in the hobby since the 1980's.
Still an avid signer today and one that also signs for a company that bears his name, Jackson has produced a solid supply of product to the hobby. The current market values for single signed Jackson baseballs tend to fall in the $70-$85 range.
Mike Schmidt – 548
Schmidt is arguably the greatest third baseman in baseball history with a ton of Gold Gloves but what Schmidt will always be known for is his home run prowess. He led the National League in homers for 8 seasons, making him the dominant slugger of his era. His autograph has never been a real rarity but it is desirable because of his place in history and his autograph has always been considered attractive, which is true of many of The 500 Home Run Club members. The current market values for single signed Schmidt baseballs tend to fall in the $60-$75 range.
Rafael Palmeiro - 542 and counting
Palmeiro may not be the most exciting slugger of the bunch but he is quietly amassing stellar numbers under the radar. With his fluid, seemingly effortless swing, Palmeiro has become the sweet swinging slugger of The Club during a time of such muscle bound infusion into the league. His swing reminds us of the Williams and Musial strokes of the past.
His autograph was actually fairly tough to acquire until recently when he joined a known memorabilia company that offers a multitude of signed Palmeiro items. The current market values for single signed Palmeiro baseballs tend to fall in the $60-$75 range.
Mickey Mantle – 536
Along with Ruth, Mantle's popularity eclipses virtually everyone on this exclusive list. His power from both sides of the plate generated such a violent force that game-used bats from his career often exhibit ball stitch marks so deeply embedded into the wood that you would think he wasn't human. His autograph changed drastically over the years. Great evidence of that can be viewed in the Mantle family auction that took place at Guernsey's in Madison Square Garden this past year. They showcased every contract from his rookie season up until the end of his career and you can see the progression and evolution of his autograph.
As one of the early spokesmen for Upper Deck and a frequent autograph signer, Mantle autographs are certainly not scarce, however (and this is a big however) Mantle is one of the most frequently forged signatures in the market because of his immense popularity. The current market values for a single signed Mantle baseball tend to fall in the $450-$600 range for modern era examples.
Jimmie Foxx – 534
The Beast was one of the strongest men to ever play the game but, like Killebrew, his likable nature endeared him to teammates and even foes. Foxx was truly the right handed "Babe Ruth" of his era and was an outstanding all-around hitter and player. Like all the great sluggers on this list, what Foxx will be remembered for most are those incredible shots that mesmerized fans in every ballpark. Trying to locate a single signed baseball of Foxx is nearly as tough as it was to get him out at the plate.
Along with Ott, Foxx represents one of the toughest holes to fill and his autograph went through major aesthetic changes so keep that in mind – especially in the "J" in Jimmie. The current market values for high-end single signed Foxx baseballs tend to fall in the $15,000 range up to $40,000-$50,000 for the best of the best.
Willie McCovey – 521
McCovey, also known as "Stretch" for his play at first base, was an intimidating figure at the plate. Standing at nearly 6'5, McCovey would launch missile-like home runs out of the yard – the ball not going up or down but just straight out on a line! For a period of time, McCovey and Mays formed a tandem of power that struck fear into the hearts of National League pitchers.
McCovey autographs have always been available in decent supply as he has been a frequent show circuit signer for collectors. The current market values for single signed McCovey baseballs tend to fall in the $40-$55 range.
Ted Williams – 521
Williams, despite missing nearly 5 years of his prime to military duty, still reached the 500 home run plateau. Still considered the greatest all-around hitter of all-time, Williams holds a special place with collectors, well beyond this club but Teddy Ballgame did hit his share of memorable blasts including one to end his career in his final at-bat – amazing!
His autograph, while it evolved over time, did not change drastically like Mantle's for example. Williams was one of the early spokesmen for Upper Deck, along with Mantle. After his time with UDA, Williams also provided his own memorabilia to the hobby which initially bore his name but eventually changed to Green Diamond Collectibles. The current market values for single signed Williams baseballs tend to fall in the $350-$400 range for modern-era examples.
Ernie Banks - 512
Mr. Cub has always been considered a fan favorite, not just because of his great numbers, but also due to his enthusiasm for the game. It's too bad Banks never had the chance to play for a championship team but those loveable losers are close to many collector hearts in Chicago. Banks was a lot like Aaron in that his home runs were not a product of brute strength like Mantle or Foxx but, instead, quick wrists and bat speed.
As a signer, Banks has made his way through the show circuit much like other members from his generation so the supply is adequate in the marketplace. The current market values for single signed Banks baseballs tend to fall in the $60-$75 range.
Eddie Mathews – 512
Mathews entered the league with a vengeance, blasting home runs at a tremendous pace right from the start. Forming the most prolific one-two punch in baseball history, Mathews teamed with Aaron to crush more homers than Ruth and Gehrig or Mays and McCovey. Mathews went down in history as one of the toughest competitors in the game and one of the best third basemen ever along with Schmidt and Brooks Robinson.
Mathews, before passing away just a couple of years ago, was a hobby regular, making numerous appearances over the years at shows across the country. His autograph has never been considered overly scarce by any means but always in high demand as a club member. The current market values of single signed Mathews baseballs tend to fall in the $60-$80 range.
Mel Ott – 511
Mr. Ott, along with Foxx, might be the toughest single signed baseball in the group. While he wasn't exactly the most intimidating member of the club, Ott was a master of pulling the ball down the right side in the cozy Polo Grounds, where the fence was approximately 257 feet from home plate. With his unique hitting style, Ott would lift his front leg in dramatic fashion and swing with everything he had, hooking many homers inside that foul pole.
His autograph is highly forged because of its value and the fact that it is one of the easier signatures to replicate, possessing few highly difficult letter formations. The current market values for high-end Ott baseballs tend to fall in the 15,000 up to the $25,000- $35,000 range.
Eddie Murray – 504
Murray was never loved by the media but his teammates did love him. A leader on the field and in the clubhouse, Murray never received the credit he was due. As one of the most prolific switch hitters in history, along with Mantle, Murray was a study of consistency throughout his career. He never hit more than 33 homers in a season but averaged about 27 home runs per 162 games in his career.
Murray is definitely one of the tougher modern era signatures because he does not frequent the hobby shows at nearly the same rate as his contemporaries. The current market values for single signed Murray baseballs tend to fall in the $85-$100 range.
Ken Griffey Jr. – 501 and counting
Like some of his slugging foes of the 80's, 90's and today, Griffey has been plagued by injury during his career. Otherwise, his home run totals could be much higher than they currently are since Griffey has been one of the more prolific home run hitters since entering the league. In any event, Griffey has already reached the magic mark of 500 and has showed signs that his home run swing is still strong. He just needs to stay off of the disabled list.
Griffey has signed for some notable memorabilia companies over the years so there is a supply of autographs to be had. Keep in mind that, at one time, Griffey owned one of the most forged autographs in the market due to his popularity. The current market values for single signed Griffey baseballs tend to fall in the $60-$75 range.
There you have it. The 500 Home Run Club continues to be one of the most popular collecting themes in our wonderful hobby. The lure of the home run, the wide range of characters that inhabit the club and the fact that this club is actually feasible to complete all add to the appeal of this theme.
Good luck in collecting single signed baseballs from the game's elite sluggers!
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