The Top 15 Sports Tickets in the Hobby
by Joe Orlando
This list, which originally appeared in my book, Collecting Sports Legends: The Ultimate Hobby Guide, consists of some of the most intriguing tickets in the hobby, covering a variety of sports. Each ticket is linked to an unforgettable moment in history. These are the type of events that sports fans yearn to be a part of and wish they could have a front row seat to. Even if we couldn't be present at these great events, owning any of these tickets is a superb addition to a serious collection. These tickets evoke memories and stir feelings inside anyone who appreciates the competitive spirit of sports. Note these tickets are not listed in a ranked order, but rather chronologically from the modern era to the early 20th century.
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#15 - Cal Ripken Breaks Lou Gehrig's Streak
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Baltimore, MD, September 6, 1995
In 1939, knowing he had a terminal disease that would never allow him to play again, Lou Gehrig did not appear on the New York Yankees active roster for the first time in 2,130 consecutive games. It was an amazing feat, widely considered to be untouchable. The record stood solid for 56 years, until September 6, 1995, when Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr. surpassed that incredible streak. There was a full house on hand at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, now known as "The House That Cal Built," as Cal galloped passed The Iron Horse.
As most sports fans know, a Major League Baseball game is not deemed to be official until it reaches the fifth inning. On that early September day, as soon as the last out was made in the fourth, Ripken left the Orioles dugout and took a victory lap around the park. Ripken would go on to play in 2,632 straight games. Ripken was an outstanding player in many respects but he had never shone brighter than on that unforgettable night, a great night for the game of baseball.
#14 – Nolan Ryan’s 5000th Strikeout
Arlington, Texas, August 22, 1989
A hard-throwing right hander whose pitches regularly soared toward the plate at a speed of 100 miles-per-hour, Nolan Ryan chalked up 27 seasons of Major League play for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers between 1966 and 1993.
The Ryan Express was an eight-time MLB All-Star and his 5,714 career strikeouts rank first in Major League history. His career strikeout total is one many baseball experts feel is unreachable. To put that number in perspective, a pitcher would have to strike out 250 batters per season (a number that is usually close to leading the league) for 20 straight years just to reach 5,000.
In 1989, Ryan did just that. With the Texas Rangers, Ryan went 16-10 and led the Majors with 301 strikeouts. On August 22 of that year, in a game between the Rangers and the powerful Oakland Athletics, Ryan struck out Rickey Henderson to become the first and only pitcher to record 5,000 career strikeouts. That 5,000th "K" came in the fifth inning at 8:51 p.m. on a three-and-two fastball that Ryan delivered at 96 mph. As soon as Rickey Henderson swung and missed, the sellout crowd of 42,869 gave Ryan a standing ovation.
After the game in the Oakland locker room, Henderson, who knew he forever would hold the dubious distinction of being Ryan's 5,000th strikeout victim, told the press, "If he ain't struck you out, then you ain't nobody." Ryan defied all natural laws with his longevity and none of his records provide better evidence of that than this incredible accomplishment.
#13 - 1982 NCAA Division I Championship Game
New Orleans, Louisiana, March 29, 1982
The Georgetown Hoyas, and Patrick Ewing received the call to face the North Carolina Tar Heels and James Worthy to decide the 1982 NCAA Division 1 Championship. The teams seemed well matched and the tight score throughout the game bore out that fact. Late into the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels were down by just one point and, with only 17 seconds left in regulation play, it looked like the Hoyas would soon be celebrating. That didn't happen. It didn't happen because of one person - a 19-year old named Michael Jordan.
As those precious seconds ticked away, Jordan hit a two-pointer to put North Carolina ahead by one. But Georgetown was not finished yet. They frantically set up what they planned to be the game's final, game-winning shot.
Then things fell apart for Georgetown. Jordan confused Hoya guard Fred Brown with a block and he mistakenly passed the ball to Tar Heel James Worthy, who was immediately fouled. Both free-throws were missed. Georgetown had no timeouts left and it was the Tar Heels who were celebrating their 63-62 victory in the center court of the Louisiana Superdome. For many basketball players, such a pivotal shot and follow-up defensive move in a game as important as this one would have marked the highlight of their career. For Jordan, it was just the beginning of what many consider to be the greatest career in NBA history. This single moment brought Jordan and his amazing talents into a new light.
#12 – US Olympic Hockey Team vs. Russians
Olympic Ice Area
Lake Placid, NY, February 1980
Known as "The Miracle on Ice," the United States Olympic Hockey team’s win over the long-dominant Soviets has been credited with lifting the nation out of a decade of gloom and reviving American patriotism. While there were actually two games that made up the entirety of “The Miracle” – it was the 4-3 win over the mighty Soviet team on February 22, 1980 that garnered as much, if not more, excitement than the 4-2 Gold Medal clincher against Finland.
The U.S. team, made up of college players and amateurs like Mike Eruzione and Buzz Schneider, defeated a Russian team that dominated the Olympics since 1964. When Eruzione scored the go-ahead goal with 10 minutes remaining in the game, American TV viewers were glued to their seats. The U.S. boys held on to a one-goal lead and, as the clock wound down to the final few seconds, shouts of "USA! USA!" filled the arena as sportscaster Al Michaels delivered one of the most memorable lines in broadcasting history, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" The miracle was not just that the Americans beat the Soviets, but that amateur, working-class American kids beat well-seasoned Russian professionals.
The team, coached by NCAA coach Herb Brooks, also included Neal Broten, Dave Christian, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey, all of whom went on to impressive NHL careers.
#11 - 1977 World Series, Game 6
Bronx, NY, October 18, 1977
The New York Yankees took on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1977 World Series. In Game 6, Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson smacked three consecutive home runs, joining Babe Ruth as one of only two players in Major League Baseball history to hit three homers in a single Series game. Mr. October's first blast gave the Bronx Bombers a 4-3 lead.
He crushed the first pitch from Burt Hooton into the right field seats. In the fifth inning, with two outs and Willie Randolph on first, Reggie smashed the first pitch from Elias Sosa into the right field seats of The House That Ruth Built. Reggie completed the hat trick in the eighth inning when he put one deep into the centerfield bleachers off a Charlie Hough off-speed pitch, a classic tape measure blast.
Each home run traveled further than the last. Three pitches, three home runs and the rest is history. The 56,407 fans on hand went wild as Reggie and the Yanks held on to their 8-4 lead, giving them their 21st World Championship title and their first in 15 years. Jackson, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the series, chalked up an amazing .450 Series average with a total of five home runs and eight runs batted in.
#10 - 1975 World Series, Game 6
Boston, MA, October 21, 1975
The 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds has been called one of the greatest Series games ever played. The Reds took the crown in seven games, winning on a ninth inning single by Joe Morgan.
Game 6 of that Series is, however, the one people still talk about today. The contest proved to be a 12-inning battle rife with moments that had frenzied fans on their feet. In the eighth inning, Red Sox pinch hitter Bernie Carbo slammed a game-tying home run. In the bottom of the ninth, Reds relief pitcher Will McEnaney pitched his way out of a bases loaded, no out situation. In the 11th inning, the Reds Dwight Evans made an incredible grab to rob Joe Morgan and the Reds of a go-ahead run.
While this game is remembered for many exciting moments, none hit the scale like the last play of the game - Carlton Fisk's walk-off home run that came in the bottom of the 12th. Fisk's homer gave Boston a 7-6 win and sent the Series to a seventh and deciding game, which Cincinnati won to clinch the first of the Big Red Machine's back-to-back Championships. This game, and the Series, also served to bolster the "Curse of the Bambino" legend.
#9 - Hank Aaron's 715th Home Run
Atlanta Fulton County Stadium
Atlanta, GA, April 8, 1974
Although Hank Aaron always downplayed his chase to tie and pass Babe Ruth's home run record, he seemed to be the only person alive who did. Sports fans and the media were obsessed as they covered Hammerin' Hank closing in on baseball's most coveted record.
As the 1974 baseball season began, Aaron's pursuit was clearly at hand. His team, the Atlanta Braves, opened their season on the road. The Braves front office, expressing their desire to have the record broken on home turf, made the decision to have Aaron removed from the lineup until they returned to Atlanta. That decision sent MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn into a tizzy and he ultimately ruled Aaron had to play in at least two games of the opening series. Hank did, in fact, play two of those games and tied Ruth's record in his very first at bat against pitcher Jack Billingham.
Then, back in Atlanta, on the evening of April 8, 1974, the Braves took on the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the fourth inning of that game, before a record-attendance crowd of 53,775, Aaron surpassed The Babe. Number 715 was an Al Downing-offering that Hank hammered into the Braves bullpen. Aaron's teammate, relief pitcher Tom House, caught the ball as the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium crowd wildly celebrated the milestone, who many believed would never be challenged.
#8 - The Fight of the Century
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY, March 8, 1971
Billed as The Fight of the Century, the 1971 showdown between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali guaranteed a then-record purse of $2.5 million dollars. Witnessed by 20,455 at Madison Square Garden, and an estimated 300 million more viewers watched the fight from all corners of the world, via closed-circuit television. The fight had huge social ramifications.
Ali, the most outspoken man in all of sports, was supported by those who opposed the war in Vietnam. While Frazier, a humble man from the south, was supported by a more conservative crowd. From the opening bell, it was clear Ali was not in top form. For 15 rounds, Frazier controlled the match as he levied his devastating left hook. Ali countered with jabs and left-right combinations that his opponent seemed to take in stride. Ali had predicted a sixth-round knockout, but six rounds came and went.
Five rounds later, with 49 seconds to go, Frazier dazed Ali with a hook and then landed another devastating blow. Ali was in trouble. Amazingly, Ali survived the 11th round and went the distance. Deep into the 15th round, just as Ali prepared to deliver a right uppercut, Frazier countered with a left hook that put Ali on the canvas. Getting back to his feet, the wobbling Ali again continued on but it was clear the fight was over. Frazier won by a unanimous decision. Ali and Frazier would go on to meet two more times with Ali winning by decision twice. Their trilogy stands as one of boxing's most brutal wars.
#7 - 1969 Super Bowl III
Miami, FL, January 12, 1969
The third AFL-NFL Championship Game, which pitted the underdog AFL Champion New York Jets against the highly favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts, was the first to be officially tagged as the Super Bowl.
This battle for professional football's world title has gone down in the books as one of the greatest upsets in sports history. It is also credited as being the game that helped the American Football League earn respect. While it had been three years since the AFL forced the NFL into a merger agreement, the AFL was limping along precariously. The new league gained little respect and its future was questionable. The AFC was handed defeats in the first two Championship Games, and many thought a Colts victory would be the league's final blow. That was not to be. Three days before the game, the Jets brash, young and controversial quarterback, Joe Willie Namath, told a gathering at the Miami Touchdown Club that his team would win. In fact, he guaranteed it.
Namath's bold guarantee was splashed on the front of every paper's sports page, raising the ire of their opponents who laughed off the audacity of this long-haired kid who wore white shoes. When the final seconds ticked away and into history, it was Namath and company who were doing the laughing. Broadway Joe had completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards and was named the game's Most Valuable Player as the Jets downed the Colts by the score of 16-7.
#6 - 1968 AFL-NFL Championship Game
Miami, FL, January 14, 1968
The second AFL-NFL Championship Game, later to be known as the Super Bowl, was a match-up between the Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders. Kicker Don Chandler hit on four field goals and defensive back Herb Adderly turned in a 60-yard interception for a touchdown as the NFL Champion Packers defeated the AFL Champion Raiders by the score of 33-14. Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr was tapped as the game's MVP. Starr hit on 13 of the 24 passes he threw for 202 yards and one touchdown.
In the week preceding this game, rumors swirled throughout the sports world that the Pack's legendary head coach, Vince Lombardi, might retire after the game. The rumors proved to be true as Lombardi did call it quits. As the final gun sounded, Coach Lombardi was hoisted on to the shoulders and carried off the field by his victorious team, providing one of the more memorable images in professional football history.
#5 - 1960 World Series, Game 7
Pittsburgh, PA, October 5, 1960
The 1960 World Series saw the Pittsburgh Pirates challenge the New York Yankees for baseball's top honor. The Series is remembered most for Bill Mazeroski's Game 7, ninth-inning, walk-off home run over the towering wall in leftfield that drove the crowd into a frenzy. After a five-run 8th inning comeback by the Pirates, Mazeroski's blast won the game 10-9 in the ninth. The Pirates won the Series four games to three, giving them their third World Championship and their first in 35 years. It also avenged their 1927 destruction at the hands of Murderer's Row - the 1927 Yankees.
Mazeroski became the first player to hit a walk-off home run to win a World Series. Thirty-three years later, Joe Carter would become the only other player to end the World Series with a home run, doing so for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1993 Series. Even though Mazeroski's home run dominated the headlines, Game 7 is the only game in World Series history that saw no strikeouts recorded by either side. This game was also historic because Bobby Richardson was named Series MVP, the only time a player from the defeated team captured that honor. The game also marked the legendary Casey Stengel's last World Series appearance.
#4 - 1956 World Series, Game 5
Bronx, NY, October 8, 1956
The New York Yankees took on the defending World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. A rematch of the 1955 World Series, the Yankees would go on to wrangle away the crown in seven games marking their 17th World Series title. The highlight of the 1956 Series came in Game 5 when Don Larsen threw a perfect game. The unlikely hero was coming off his best season, going 11-5 with a 3.26 ERA. In Game 2, Larsen was less than spectacular. In fact, it was a terrible outing for Larsen as he walked four Dodgers and allowed four runs in only 1 2/3 innings. The Yankees lost 13-8 and fell behind 2-0 in the Series. When Game 5 approached, Larsen wasn't sure if he would get the nod but, when he arrived at the stadium, he was penciled in on the mound.
Twenty-seven outs later, the 64,000-plus in attendance went wild as history was made. A jubilant Yogi Berra jumped into Larsen's arms after the right hander struck out Dale Mitchell as the Yankees won 2-0. Larsen finished his 14-year career with a record of 81-91 and an ERA of 3.78, making this day the clear highlight in a relatively mediocre career. Named the Most Valuable Player of the 1956 Series, Larsen's feat stands as the only no-hitter in the history of Major League post-season play.
#3 - 1951 NLCS, Game 3
New York, NY, October 3, 1951
The 1951 National League Championship Series was one of the most exciting in baseball history. The Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants fought it out down to the wire, finishing the regular season in a dead heat. As a result, it was necessary to play a three-game playoff series. The Giants won the first game of the series that took place at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. The second game, played on the Giants home turf of the Polo Grounds, saw the Giants shutout in a 10-0 Dodger victory. The final and deciding game also was played at the Polo Grounds.
At the end of seven innings of play, the game was tied at a 1-1. In the eighth inning, Brooklyn scored three times and looked like they were handily cruising to victory. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Giants scored a run, and with two men on base and one out, third baseman Bobby Thomson came to the plate.
Thompson smacked a Ralph Branca pitch deep into the left field stands giving the Giants the National League pennant for the first time in 14 years. Thompson's homer, dubbed "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," is one of the most famous in baseball history. That moment, documented for eternity on film, has been watched over and over by sports fans of all ages. You can still hear the exuberant cries of Giants play-by-play announcer Russ Hodges who repeatedly screamed, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
#2 - 1941 Lou Gehrig Memorial Day
Bronx, NY, July 4, 1941
Lou Gehrig's humility, accomplishments and premature death took his status as a legendary athlete and transcended it to that of an authentic American hero. Having played in 2,130 consecutive games, Gehrig's playing days ended in May of 1939. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed him with a rare degenerative disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. With Gehrig's playing days over, New York sportswriter Paul Gallico suggested the Yankees have a recognition day to pay tribute to Gehrig.
On July 4, 1939, a memorial was held at Yankee Stadium where Gehrig's number "4" was retired. In his Yankee uniform, Gehrig stood alongside his teammates and fought back tears as he told 62,000 fans he was "... the luckiest man on the face of the earth." At the close of Gehrig's emotional speech, Babe Ruth put his arm around his former teammate and spoke to him the first words they had shared since 1934. On June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig succumbed to ALS at the age of 37. Two months later, on July 4, 1941, the New York Yankees honored Gehrig's memory by issuing a ticket that bore the image of The Iron Horse.
#1 - 1932 World Series, Game 3
Chicago, IL, October 1, 1932
The 1932 World Series pitted the New York Yankees against the Chicago Cubs. The Series, which opened in New York, was marked by a high level of animosity between the two teams from before the first pitch was thrown. By the end of Game 2, with the Cubs having yet to taste a victory, the tension was palpable.
In Game 3 at Wrigley Field, Babe Ruth stepped into the batter's box with one out in the fifth inning to the deafening catcalls of Chicago fans and players alike. Ruth took a called strike on the first pitch from Charlie Root. Two balls and another strike later, the Cubs fans were mercilessly taunting Ruth.
The Sultan of Swat responded by allegedly pointing to the bleachers in Wrigley's centerfield. Root wound up and released a pitch that Ruth then smacked into the exact place to where he had pointed. Forever known as Ruth's "Called Shot," this home run would also prove to be Ruth's last in World Series play, sparking the Yankees on to a 7-5 victory in Game 3, and ultimately the World Championship. Whether Ruth actually pointed is arguable but, regardless, the moment was impressive as Ruth answered the abusive fans and the relentless Chicago bench by silencing them with one mighty swing.
Well there you have it – PSA’s Top 15 Sports Tickets in the Hobby.
I fully expect the debates to begin. With so many outstanding tickets to collect, it was nearly impossible to limit this list to just 15 slots. For example, if the list was constructed on pure popularity, I would simply fill each slot with a different Super Bowl ticket. It's the same challenge that presented itself in constructing the individual trading card list Top 20 Sports Cards. I could simply list every single Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Michael Jordan card, but that would be too easy and not nearly as interesting.
To learn more about these tickets and others, head over to PSA TicketFacts to research ticket prices, population reports, and more from the web’s most extensive collectible ticket encyclopedia.
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