Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Card Show Haul: It Took Some Balls

Rennie Stennett 7-for-7 inscribed Three Rivers 
I was thiiiiiis close to making it home under budget.  Seriously.  And I even would have skipped the third day of the show.  

But as fate would have it, I guess going back wasn't the worst thing in the world.  First, let me flash back to last year's show.  I blew the budget out of the water, but landed some of the centerpieces of my collection thanks to a fellow Pirates super-collector I met named Todd.  He was retiring and downsizing, and in the process parting with some pieces.  But that was supposed to be a one-time deal, so I was shocked to see him back again this year.

We chatted for quite a while Friday, but just about all the stuff he had brought with him were the same items he had last year.  The prices were still good, but wall space is a finite thing, and there was nothing that screamed "must have" to me.

So fast forward to about 15 minutes before the show is set to close on Saturday.  I was squaring up on a couple deals, and as I headed for the door I made a stop by Todd's table just to say bye and to make plans to get together sometime at PNC Park.   

Devil Rays Inaugural baseball 

 Ok, so here's the part that cost me my Sunday.  I'm a sucker for a deal.  Don't judge.
Dock Ellis Three Rivers ball
 On Todd's table was a box that I hadn't remembered seeing the day before.  I peeked inside, and saw it was full of signed baseballs.  I've never been a big fan of signed balls.  I like having a photo of the player - whether it's a photo, or a card, or what have you - than just a generic white baseball.  But right on top of the box was the Dock Ellis ball above.  Now that alone is pretty exciting - Dock is one of the more notorious characters in baseball history for his LSD no hitter (side note: there's a pretty interesting documentary on Dock on Netflix, which even Kate enjoyed).  But more interesting was the Three Rivers stamp on the ball.

 I consider myself pretty well versed in the various oddball Pirates memorabilia out there.  Yet somehow I had no idea they made a commemorative baseball for the final season at PNC Park.
Bert Blyleven World Series baseball w/ Game 5 winner inscription
 I had never seen a ball like that before, signed or unsigned, and absolutely needed one for my collection.  2000 was a special season for me, as it's sort of the pre-cursor for my baseball obsession that would come to full boil in 2001, and I have some great memories of watching games at Three Rivers during the 2000 season.  I asked Todd what he would need, and he replied that he would like to just sell the full box, but we could work something out if there were just one or two balls I wanted.
Chuck Tanner WS baseball with 1979 World Series Champs inscription
 I decided to flip through the rest of the box of about 20 or 25 balls.  Like I said, I'm not a signed baseball collector.  I have maybe half a dozen from one year at Piratefest, but that's it.

But the one thing I can't resist is unique memorabilia.  I just love having pieces in my collection that are one of a kind, or damn close to it.  And from what I was seeing, this box was full of just that.
Dave Parker 1979 All-Star game ball - Parker won the MVP and made one of the most impressive throws of all time
 I asked Todd for his number on the box, and he said he was looking to get about $200 for all the balls.  As I flipped through the box, the PA system was asking dealers to wrap up their transactions and close up for the night.  I really had no interest in spending that kind of money.  But at the same time, I wasn't sure I could pass on some really unique and cool Pirates items for such a good price.  You would quite literally pay more for twenty plain, unsigned baseballs.

Lucky for me, I was saved by the bell as the show closed down.  I told Todd I would be back the next morning to see what we could figure out.
Jason Kendall and Brian Giles 2000 All-Star game ball
Guess I was going back on Sunday after all.
multi-player signed ball from Pirates Fantasy Camp instructors.  Matt's favorite Bob walk is at the bottom of the panel, but check out the signature 4 above that.
 I can't say I didn't try to talk myself out of the purchase more than a few times.  I hate spending big chunks of money in one swoop, whether it's sports related, groceries, or anything else in life.  And I had already had a very good show, without or without the box of balls.  But while I'm not ga-ga about signed baseballs, I do love the look of those home plate shaped ball displays.  And I'd much rather fill one up with some Pirates greats than with signed balls Andy LaRoche and John Grabow.
Don Robinson 1979 World Series baseball with Game 2 Winner inscription.
 The added time was definitely needed just to think through everything.  I got the green light from Kate, and even gave my mom, who I'm convinced genetically engineered a frugal gene into me, the chance to talk me out of it.  But ultimately it just seemed stupid to pass up on - a similar Chuck Tanner baseball on just a plain MLB ball sold for $90 alone.
The Original Frank Thomas
I headed back early Sunday to close the deal.  I know I've already emphasized it to hell, but the uniqueness of these balls is what really made me fall in love with them.  Many items in this hobby are simply a matter of whether you can afford them or not.  With enough cash, a patient collector could probably find a game used jersey of Michael Jordan, or a Willie Stargell bat.  There's a finite supply, but they're available, and will pop up at auction houses every so often.
Ralph Kiner
Obviously anything like that is well, well, well out of what I would ever spend.  But I love the idea that I can, for a pretty affordable price, have some really unique Pirate items.  It's not like these are private signing items where there are hundreds of identical inscriptions out there that a dealer is selling off one by one.  The Nellie Briles ball below?  I imagine there can't be many of those around.
Nellie Briles, 1971 World Series Game 5, 4-0, 2 hit shutout, base hit and rbi! Inscription on Three Rivers ball.
Briles is sort of a special one for me.  He lived about 15 mins from my parent's house.  In high school, I was scheduled to interview him for a feature in our school newspaper.  Unfortunately a couple weeks before we were supposed to get together, Briles died unexpectedly.  He was, from everything I've heard, a great guy who did a lot for the Pirates alumni.  While I wish I would have had the chance to meet him in person, I do enjoy the fact that I now have a great item from him in my collection.
Sweet spot from Briles ball above
 I didn't have a chance to fully go through the box until I got it home.  The final count was 23 signed balls, the Devil Rays ball, and an unsigned Gold Glove baseball.  All of the signed balls were players who you wouldn't be ashamed to have on a signed ball.  The "lesser" names that I didn't picture were guys like Neil Walker, Bob Robertson, and recent first round picks Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire.  Some of those may get sold to cover some of the cost, but I'll be holding on to all the really unique balls.
2000 Pirates team ball
As for how I'm going to display them?  That's an entirely different question.
Jason Kendall
Short answer?  I have no idea.  For now, I'm just doing the most I can to protect the balls until I finally have a proper display.  
But I wasn't totally done.  I picked up this great Three Rivers lithograph from Todd for dirt cheap, along with a PNC Park one by the same artist that isn't framed yet.

While I would have been perfectly happy to have walked home Saturday without spending any extra money, and having a day at home certainly would have been nice, it's almost impossible for me to pass up the chance to add some great and unique items.  Finding the space to display everything?  Well, that's sort of a different story.  But one step at a time, right?


  1. That's a box stellar pickups right there. Lots of big names, but my far-and-away personal favorite was the Dock Ellis, because...well, how could anybody not like Dock Ellis?

    1. I was excitedly showing Kate everything in the box when I got home. The only one she cared about was Dock. He's one of the few players who died fairly recently I really regret not getting to meet.

  2. Very cool find and well worth the purchase price. Congrats on the pick up!

    1. Thanks! I hesitated a little at first, but I'm really glad I picked it up.

  3. I would have pulled the trigger. Great deals. That Bob Walk alone would be work about 50k :)

    1. It's hard to pass up what basically amounts to an instant signed ball collection. The thing I didn't like about signed baseballs is how generic and non-team specific they felt to me. So I absolutely love the fact that most of the baseballs are special edition/commemorative balls that connect the signature with a specific event.

  4. Nice shag rug. ;) And the Three Rivers Stadium art photographed here does not do it justice. It's really a stunning piece and my favorite find Mark found at Robert Morris this year.

    1. And a guest appearance from the financier of this purchase! Round of applause for not murdering the addicted collector in his sleep.