Autograph Corner


Draft Days of Summer

By Chuck Kaufman


ome people thrive on staying ahead of what's fashionable. They want the coolest name-brand article of clothing. They like going to movie premieres.

For autograph collectors, that thrill comes with the anticipation of draft day. They have to be the first to have autographs of No. 1 draft choices. With this in mind, it's usually fun to contemplate top draft choices for football and basketball. The same fever that produces mock drafts also drives fans, and speculating collectors, to grab autographs while they can.

Draft weekends are times when the players become targets of hounds or dealers who organize private signings, which is really just another way of getting discounted, autographed inventory for the marketplace. And just remember that some of the NBA's hyped high school draftees just learned cursive eight or nine years ago.

Montreal ball
Jackie Robinson's historic career in the Dodgers organization began with the 1946 Montreal Royals. Minor league team balls have their own unique history.

Meanwhile, everybody wants a piece of heralded college players. The trading card companies gush over these guys. Autograph collectors are right behind them. Real fans know that many No. 1 draft choices will fail to measure up to their billing, while some No. 7 draft choice will flourish as all-pro players.

Will David Carr, this year's top pick, become the next great quarterback?

Or will he go the way of the guy taken ahead of Peyton Manning? Yeah, ol' what's his name.

Before the 2002 season begins, look for this year's top draft choices to be paraded before the collecting public. Many collectors will gladly pay on the hunch that "future stars" will live up to their billing and - cha-ching - their autograph will soar in value; others may wait patiently and request an autograph through the mail via that player's respective team.

For autograph collectors, anyway, the hot summer just got some new hot commodities with this year's crop of football and basketball draftees.

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People frequently ask about collecting niches that are underrated? What they really want to know is what niches are undervalued, so they can corner a market and make some sort of killing.

Hank Aaron ball Hank Aaron ball
Home Run King Hank Aaron's path to the majors begin with Eau Claire of the Northern League in 1952 and the 1953 Jacksonville Suns. These baseballs hold signatures that are among Aaron's earliest.
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Obviously, the world of autograph collectors has pretty much figured out that collecting autographs of Hall of Famers, MVPs, Rookies of the Year, Milestone Clubs (500 Homers, 3,000 hits, 300 wins) is pretty cool.

They like getting oddball notations on baseballs such as nicknames. Maybe you could get Jim Piersall to write "Ran the bases backwards after hitting a home run." Or Bert Campaneris writing that he played all nine positions in one game. Those are fun niches.

Underrated collecting niches? I'd say minor league team balls, AA-and-up, are underrated. I realize that few teams have the history and aura of such teams as the San Francisco Seals, which developed such players as Joe DiMaggio. Every now and then, Seals items will pop up in auctions. Or maybe a Montreal Royals item from the Jackie Robinson days will surface.

Minor league team-signed balls might be a nice niche for a number of reasons. Young players hot off good minor league careers are making a nice splash in the majors. The young players who are making a splash with the parent club started at some point in the minors. Adam Dunn is off to a slow sophomore season after a hot partial year last year. Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Roy Oswalt are continuing their rookie stardom.

Heck, the Atlanta Braves just brought up a kid named Ryan Langerhans. Gee whiz, who knows? A more select number of those players will make a serious mark in the majors. The minor leagues also feature fan favorite players who may lack fame, but may have achieved milestones at the minor league level.

Investor types would hate this idea because they'd have to wait years before the item collected any financial appreciation. They like the sure thing, the prospective Hall of Famer whose $40 autograph will jump to $75 or more when he's elected.

The minor league team ball is probably gettable. Every minor league team ought to produce team balls, sell them for $100, and give all of the proceeds to the players, minus the expense of the ball. Real fans, probably season ticket holders, would gladly part with the C-note and get a treasure for a team that they really care about. Fans of minor league teams rejoice when one of their players gets promoted. It's even more exhilarating when that player does well.

Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki was last year's top American League rookie. Autograph collectors are eagerly tracking this year's crop of new talent.

Minor leaguers would be glad to sign team balls as because most of them could use the spending money. And maybe, just maybe, you'll grow old as one of those players blossoms in the big leagues, and that ball will carry priceless memories.

See if a minor league team near you has a booster club that might consider such a program. And for you investors, there are few team balls that are worth less than $100.

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OVERHEARD at a couple of recent shows: A couple of show promoters fondly recall the good ol' days when old timers and young players could be had for reasonable fees. Autograph ticket prices were affordable. So what happened? The difference today can be noted in one word — Agents.

Ah yes, in much the same way as art imitating life, the hobby imitates professional sports. Agents are taking their slice of the autograph fee pie, thus driving up the price of tickets that much more. It's no surprise, then that autograph ticket prices are going up and sales volume is declining. It's hobby economics.

Chuck 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