By Chuck Kaufman
zzie Smith will add his Hall of Fame Inscription, a simple "HOF 2002," for what Steve Garvey, Harold Baines, Don Zimmer and Ralph Houk charge for their full autographs. The $20 for the inscription alone is more than an autograph ticket for Hall of Famer Billy Williams to sign a flat or ball - $18.
Smith rolled out his new prices and notation on Feb. 9 at a show organized by Pastime Productions and March 15-17 in Chicago at a Chicago Sun-Times show organized by George Johnson.
The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is now not only the highest distinction for a baseball player. It's a guarantee that the player will have a revenue stream for life, thanks to memorabilia shows throughout the country, private signings and, of course, those notations.
The charge for a notation used to be a nominal. Promoters once thought it was a way to deal with the time it took to deal with all of the customer requests. Some celebrities, fully aware that there is a higher value on balls with such notations, didn't want customers to cash in on their fame. Still other HOFers really didn't care and figured it was a privilege to add the notation and did so.
As it is, Ozzie's autograph is going up $10, from $40 to $50. With the $20 add-on, Ozzie is up to $70 for in-person autographs. A ball or small flat ordered by mail through Pastime will soak customers for $100. Steiner Sports recently conducted a private signing with Smith and the suggested retail price for its product is $149.
It's uncertain how long this price threshold will last. Typically, HOF election will welcome an immediate spike for an autograph price before it falls back to a new level.
When a Hall of Famer is at least a decade removed from the limelight, the price of his autograph will at least hold steady, unless the autograph price was low initially. Such was the situation for frequent signers Brooks Robinson and Bob Feller.
After a player is deceased, the forces of supply and demand will drive up prices over time. Pitchers Don Drysdale and Jim "Catfish" Hunter died at relatively young ages. Hunter frequented autograph shows, while Drysdale passed away when the show world was just kicking off in a significant way.
The supply of Ozzie-signed balls, for example, would have to be rated "plentiful." Some collectors will clamor for his signature with the "HOF 2002" notation. Instead of paying simply the reasonable bump that election brings, they'll pay almost double. The impulsive buyers will step up for the higher rate, figuring it will go higher. Investors must think this is the memorabilia market's version of timing the market.
No doubt retailers will use the publicity surrounding Smith's induction to exploit consumers further, but collectors should be patient because it's likely that the affable shortstop will be coming to a collectibles show near you.
The pricing of Ozzie Smith is interesting from another perspective. As ridiculous as his new price level is, his autograph is still far cheaper than shortstops Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez, the latter three of whom aren't even age 30, much less Hall of Famers (though they probably will be).
Smith revolutionized his position, but the other players also are revolutionizing the position (offense, defense and power), and they come along at a time when the marketing of signed memorabilia is high.
As a first ballot Hall of Famer - a very exclusive club, by the way - Smith's autograph prices probably deserve to be kicked into a somewhat higher category. Unfortunately, if Ozzie comes out of the induction gate at the end of the summer with whopping fees, he's likely to experience shortened lines.
As one dealer said flatly, "He was great, but he's no Cal Ripken."
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Well, well. One can only imagine how unpopular Bud Selig's must be these days given the discussion over contraction and a conflict of interest charge. What an understatement.
Commissioners make nice niches for baseball collectors, mostly because of the history they create.
Collectors still seek out baseballs with Bart Giammati's stamp and Pete Rose's signature. The theme is clear, with the irony of Rose being very much alive on a ball bearing the name of the man that killed his chances to be in the Hall of Fame, then died of a heart attack.
Maybe you can produce enough coin to get an item signed by the game's first commish, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who banished the Black Sox from baseball.
Selig's charge and a potential labor fight with the players will give him unparalleled notoriety. Maybe he can help his popularity, if not his record, by at least putting Rose and Joe Jackson on the Hall of Fame ballot.
We'll forget your record of indiscretion, Bud, if you forgive, but not expunge, Rose's and Jackson's. Should the writers elect them, the players' personal miscues must be noted on their plaques, along with their baseball achievements.
Who says two wrongs don't make a right?
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These hotshot high school basketballers flash nice resumes, but they lack job experience big time. To collectors and certainly others, these players have no track record. They are really unknown quantities, on the court and off. Their claim to fame, for the most part, is steamrolling the world of 6-foot, 5-inch high school post players. For the most part, they are projects for the NBA.
For collectors, players' records are enhanced when they excel at the college level before playing with grown men. Of course, Kobe Bryant will win enough with the Lakers that it won't matter that he wasn't a three-time All-American or Wooden Award winner or played on national championship teams.
Then again, imagine his aura if he had those honors.
It's taken years for people to appreciate Kevin Garnett. In terms of greatness and fame, he's still relatively unknown. An All-American career would have done wonders for his collectibility. It probably wouldn't have hurt his game either.
Granted, a player's fame (collectibility) will be judged by stats and rings. The time playing in college gives them much-needed experience and perhaps a couple of basketball resume honors that only boost one's legend over the long haul.
You say nobody cares where these guys went to college? Well, maybe not.
They certainly should not go to college to improve their collectibility. No one much cares that Karl Malone, a member of the exclusive 30,000 Point Club, went to Louisiana Tech. On the other hand, Vince Carter and Jerry Stackhouse haven't yet reached the NBA finals, but they get plenty of mileage from having gone to the same college as Michael Jordan. Furthermore, few people have forgotten the legacy that Grant Hill left at Duke University.
There's no discounting success in college, on or off the court.
The point is today's high schoolers have no pedigree. It will take years to get to know them as these kids try to take the fast track to developing their game.
Charles Kaufman, autograph columnist for the Sports Market Report, is also editor of Sweet Spot magazine; a bimonthly publication devoted to vintage and autographed sports memorabilia, and www.sweetspotnews.com.
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