OT: Advice for building an autograph collection

Submitted by Eat Your Wheatlies on April 21st, 2017 at 8:47 AM

Autographed baseballs, specifically. I recently decided that I want to start acquiring autographed baseballs from some of the greats and my favorite players. I just started doing some research, but was curious if anyone else on the board has a similar hobby.

I know to look for authenticated memorabilia (PSA/JSA seem to be the most reliable?), but wondered what else I should look for. Are there specific dos/don'ts for buying online? Is it beneficial to trying to find a dealer to work with, and if so, how do you go about that?

Any advice from veteran collectors would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to share your prized piece and most coveted if you're a collector.


Stuck in Ohio

April 21st, 2017 at 8:53 AM ^

I'm not a collector but my grandfather, about 45 years ago, was somewhere and met Mickey Mantle and got me a signed baseball from him. I have it in a small display cube but unfortunately the signature is extremely faded.

Everyone Murders

April 21st, 2017 at 9:00 AM ^

I was at a trade show where Mickey Mantle was signing baseballs.  This was before superstars charged for such things, so I dutifully bought a baseball and brought it to him to sign.  After a 20 minute wait in line, he signed it and I (very young at the time) said "thanks" and went on my way.

My father was at the trade show on business, and chatted him up a bit.  Mickey grabbed two coffee cups, filled them with vodka (or some other liquor), and invited my father for a "drink".  My father joined him, but thankfully could not keep up. 

That was a funny story until I learned more about alcoholism, and now it strikes me as a sad one.  I was glad to hear that Mantle addressed his alcoholism later in life.

In any event, that's one of the few autographs I've ever gotten, and my most treasured.


April 21st, 2017 at 10:21 AM ^

interesting, mustve been early 80s or prior - i recall reading an old article about mantle and ted williams and some of the other all timers finally cashing in on autographs in the mid to late 80s when that market began booming.

pretty sure the article stated they raked in much more than during playing days (over $100,000 per year, and good for them if so, since they were watching modern pros make millions, not to mention most top out earnings potential well before that age)

James Burrill Angell

April 21st, 2017 at 9:13 AM ^

I think you have to assume forgery until you know otherwise. Obviously going to shows and seeing the athlete sign live is the best way to guarantee authenticity. After that, basically assume Certificates of Authenticity are essentially worthless. IF you're going to do the buying you really need to find a dealer you can trust. If you're in SE Michigan I can tell you that DC Sports is legit but they mainly do Tigers/Wings/Pistons etc.Sometimes they do legends though.

You also mentioned trying to get some of the greats, there are websites out there with address lists. A lot of the HOF members have addresses you can mail to them and they'll sign directly through the mail for either a fee or a donation to their foundation (Nolan Ryan does the latter). Cuts out the middle man and more reliable. 

I have a pretty good autographed baseball collection but a lot of mine were from when I was young and visited and then lived in Florida and went to spring trainings. I also got hired as "muscle" (really an extra set of hands) for a bunch of autograph signings when I was in college and law school and got sigs that way. As I mentioned, Nolan Ryan was one that I could never make happen until someone told me about his signing for a donation to his foundation. The late Yogi Berra did that too.  

I'd avoid ebay entirely if you're talking about autographed baseballs.  

One other little trick, I carry a baseball with me whenever I travel and one in my car. I've probably gotten seven or eight balls signed just because I was in the airport or restaurant at the same time as a celebrity/athlete. When I was an undergrad I was flying back to UM and Hakeem Olajuwon was on my flight. Yeah he's a basketball player but whatever. Same thing happened with Jerry Seinfeld and a couple former baseball players in Enos Slaughter and Johnny Podres.  I was at a restaurant once and got long time Chicago Cubs player Mark Grace. Sometimes dumb luck happens.

While its not the most valuable ball I have by any means, my favorite is a ball signed by Japanese legend Sadaharu Oh who signed for me in Japanese and English on the same ball. Just different and kind of uncommon.



April 21st, 2017 at 9:14 AM ^

Is a Ty Cobb autographed baseball, which my grandmother got at a game in the 20s.  Fully authenticated.  I am a huge baseball fan, but not much of a memorabilia collector, so in addition to being my prize, it is also basically my only significant item.  

Eat Your Wheatlies

April 21st, 2017 at 9:19 AM ^

Someone asked me the other day what my dream baseball would be and I responded with Cobb...unfortunately (or fortunately, for you) they're valued at at least $25k, so I doubt I'll be scoring one of those. What a tremendous piece of baseball history!


April 21st, 2017 at 10:35 AM ^

i was kidding.  But even if I wasn't, and even if Wheatlies had $25k to spend on a baseball, seems to me like you're being a bit judgmental.  

1.) maybe I don't have fond memories of my grandmother

2.) maybe I need the cash more than I need a baseball sitting on my desk

3.) maybe there family reasons why I would want to dispose of it (like, perhaps, I have two sons whom I don't want to fight over ownership when I kick the bucket) 

Seems to me like the internet rush to a moral judgment is more of a commentary on society than my tongue in cheek attempt at humor.


April 21st, 2017 at 9:18 AM ^

I buy/sell/trade sports cards and am familiar with the autograph business. The big thing to remember is that the only way you know something is real is to see the athlete sign it.

PSA/DNA and JSA (James Spence used to work for PSA/DNA are both very reputable but they are basing their decision on their experience and known samples. There is margin of error.

The big thing is to have fun and collect things that you want to collect. It sounds like you're on the right path.


April 21st, 2017 at 11:06 AM ^

I met and spoke with Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen several times before he died this past January.  He might've been the most influential person in monetizing sports cards and memorabilia at the end of the 20th century. After speaking with him about his work, it made me regret not having stopped my mother when she decided to toss my baseball, football and basketball cards and my comic books frm the 1950s in the garbage when my family moved from an apartment to a house back in the early 1960s.

In April 2012, I went to a concert given by The Baseball Project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It was the kickoff event for the opening of the museum’s exhibit of part of its impressive, 30,000 baseball card collection that it had received from renowned card collector Jefferson Burdick.  The Baseball Project is a band of accomplished musicians, including Peter Buck and Mike Mills from R. E. M., and both Buck and Mills performed that day. I met someone who’d brought a baseball to have it autographed by them. When the concert was over, he saw Michael Stipe from R. E. M. in the audience and got all three of the members of R. E. M. to sign the ball.


April 21st, 2017 at 12:44 PM ^

I don't know how Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen acted when he dealt with fellow dealers and collectors, but he was very cordial with me the times when I met him. Until I saw this old article about Alan Rosen today, I hadn't known that there'd been such a decline in the sports card collecting business since I first met him in the 1990s. LINK

When my sons became interested in sports card and sports figure collecting in the 1980s and 1990s, I went to a lot of card shows with them (and spent more money than I'd like to admit.)  I'm beginning to suspect that the cards and figurines stashed away in boxes and crates in my house aren't worth even a fraction of what it cost to buy them. But my sons enjoyed it, so like Billy Crudup used to say in those MasterCard commercials, the experience for me was "priceless."

Blue Baughs

April 21st, 2017 at 9:22 AM ^

One right handed, and the other left. He is ambidextrous for those who did not know.

The signature is pretty much exact between the two balls, except for one leans left, and the other right.

Blue Baughs

April 21st, 2017 at 3:49 PM ^

Right when they first came out, due to my unhealthy obsession with all things comic book related. I got almost the entire first 70 DC figures, and about 45 of the Marvel figures all for around about $10 a piece. 

I sold them all last summer for almost $6,000 on EBay.

I figured strike while the iron was hot rather than wait around and watch the market disintegrate like all the Beanie Baby idiots.

No regrets.


April 21st, 2017 at 10:03 AM ^

I have thought about getting into collecting autographs but unless I can actually meet the athlete and have them sign I don't think I want it. There is too much chance of it being a fraud and there is no story behind the piece when you just purchase it.

But to each their own.


April 25th, 2017 at 9:50 PM ^

Build a time machine and go back to when you were 5. You'll have a much easier time rationalizing your new hobby. Only 3 autographs I ever obtained were all before age 13: 1) Payne Stewart at the Memorial right before he passed in the crash 2) Dan Marino poster in junior high raffle for having good grades or some shit 3) Vince Carter skybox out of an ordinary pack of cards from the corner store


April 21st, 2017 at 10:31 AM ^

I'm not a collector but my great grandfather, about 45 years ago, was somewhere and met Mickey Mantle and got my dad  a signed baseball from him. He has it it a small display cube but unfortunately the signature is extremely faded. When my dad croaks, I'll surely get it!


April 21st, 2017 at 10:37 AM ^

My 3rd grade teacher in the early nineties was awesome but also potentially an evil genius.

He loved hockey and got us all addicted (if we weren't already). He had this little scheme, though, where we would send cards into NHL clubs with letters written by us kids -- explaining how we loved hockey and would love an autograph -- but, we would always have to send-in two cards.  If one was signed, it was ours, of course. But, if both were signed, he got the second one.  They were both signed almost every time -- I imagine the whole "autograph culture" was very different back then, especially with hockey and kids.

He must have racked-up hundreds if not thousands of autographed cards throughout his career.  Like I said, evil genius.


April 21st, 2017 at 12:02 PM ^

I heard a similar story from a friend of mine about getting an Eric Davis (Reds Of) autograph that way. so I sent a letter to the 49ers and address it to Montana when I was about 12 in 88. And wouldn't u know, sometime during high school it was returned to me.


April 21st, 2017 at 10:42 AM ^

I collect people that collect things.  I keep them all in my basement in this glass enclosure.  They seem to be working on some kind of weird dance routine.  Anyways, this one I just got made me a sandwich even though she is blind.  It was a good sandwich. 

Wolverine 73

April 21st, 2017 at 10:45 AM ^

In the mid-80's, I was working on a matter for the since-defunct Dallas Times Herald. The assistant managing editor (or something like that) had a collection of dozens of yellowed baseballs, signed by pretty much everyone who mattered from Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Hognus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Bob Feller, you name it. Some of the balls were signed by entire teams. It was astonishing. His dad had been an umpire, and gotten these signed in the days before collecting became a huge thing. He had no clue that what he had sitting in his office was worth thousands of dollars. I suggested he might want to look into that issue. Find a guy like him and buy him out!

Eastside Maize

April 21st, 2017 at 10:50 AM ^

I got 2 autographs. One was from PBA Hall of Famer, Amleto Monacelli and the other was from HOF Warren Sapp. I spotted Amleto at Fairlane, he was in town for a tournament at Thunderbowl I think. I saw Sapp at Universal Studios when he was still a Hurricane.