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Collecting Everything Cal Ripken

January 16, 2007

By Larry Harris

Cal Ripken's election to the Hall of Fame will have far-reaching effects on several aspects of baseball, not the least of which will be the ever-growing collectors' market.

As in every endeavor, there are all types of sportsmen who dabble in collecting. Some want to make money from their collections, some want to trade object for object and others wouldn't part with a favored autograph for love, money or any inducement.

Collectors Jay Strecker, Ted Patterson, Tom Spiker and Rich Rubin all have different ideas and opinions on sports collections and how Ripken's ascension into baseball immortality will impact his memorabilia.

"It is amazing what some people with a lot of money will pay for a rare item, Cal included. One of my fellow collectors paid $10,000 for a mint ticket from the first game of Ripken's streak," Strecker said.

"His game-used items such as bats, cleats and uniforms, especially from historic games, can go for hundreds if not tens of thousands of dollars. As long as the economy is strong, and as long as there are rich people bidding crazy dollars in auctions, Cal's memorabilia will always be at the top of the list."

Patterson, a veteran media voice who has included his sports collections in several books, started gathering memorabilia in 1952, when Bowman bubble gum cards were in vogue. He has seen the world of collecting go through immense change.

"It has become less of a hobby and more of a business," Patterson said. "It's less of a pure hobby. Now they have auctions, eBay and all sorts of buying and selling."

Patterson says it was obvious as early as 1982 that Ripken would become a star and that his collectibles would eventually become highly desirable.

"He had great natural ability," Patterson said of the young Ripken. "He was a pitcher in high school as well as a position guy … Just his overall demeanor, you could tell he was the son of a baseball man.

"His memorabilia means so much to people here just because of him being a favorite son and a guy who spent his entire career in Baltimore, similar to Brooks Robinson."

Spiker from Millersville ventures more into the business side of collecting. While he started off collecting baseball cards as a hobby, it has grown into somewhat of a side business, albeit one he enjoys.

While as a collector Spiker focuses on older players, he does see the draw in collecting Ripken pieces.

"I grew up with Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and those were two of my favorites and they played their whole careers in Baltimore," Spiker said. "And Ripken, it's the same with that. And as a modern athlete, you don't see it very often where they stay with one team. He could have very easily left and he probably took less money to stay here. As far as I can remember in my lifetime, there hasn't been another player quite like him."

In Spiker's estimation, the most desirable items are game-used items, such as jerseys or bats, especially from early in Ripken's career. But he is quick to point out that it's relative.

"It depends on the individual collector and what's valuable to them," Spiker said. "It may not have that much monetary value, but it means something to them."

Rubin doesn't think about reselling his unique Ripken memorabilia. He bought a signed Ripken minor league contract several years ago through an online auction and considers himself a collector, not a seller.

For Rubin, who moved to Baltimore 30 years ago from Brooklyn, N.Y., and fell in love with the city and the Orioles, the value of Ripken memorabilia goes beyond dollars and cents and beyond hits and home runs.

"It's probably because he's such an incredibly respected player, such an impact player, out of proportion to the numbers he generated," Rubin said.

Strecker, who closely follows market trends in the collectibles business, foresees another wave of buying and selling Ripken items and has some tips for both the veteran and the amateur collector.

"Some of the most desirable items of Cal's career would be original scouting reports from his high school days, minor or major league contracts between Cal and the Orioles, any cards featuring him with Charlotte or Rochester as a minor leaguer, game-worn jerseys, baseballs from some of his historic games," Strecker said.

"Cal's autograph is a very desirable item, especially on baseballs. He has a company, Ironclad Authentics, that will provide the authentication collectors want. The prices they charge are for those folks who can afford them, but you won't take a chance on a fake.

"Less expensive items to look for, would be tickets from any game from his career, bobbleheads, copies of Sports Illustrated and other magazines with him on the cover, his rookie cards (yes, they are reasonable in the scheme of things), posters and other ad pieces. The list is really endless.

"Cal has a record of 2,632 straight games, and that alone makes Cal truly collectible. Add to that his 400-plus home runs and over 3,000 hits, and you've got one of the greats. This makes for a strong case, if you are looking for a player to collect."

Patterson has several favorite pieces of Ripken memorabilia and isn't likely to let them go, especially now.

"Cal gave me a cap and a bat during his rookie season in 1982," Patterson said. "I was doing the television then on Super TV. And in his last week in the big leagues, he updated me with another cap and bat from the current time. So it's kind of like bookends. I never got a uniform or anything like that. I have a Brooks and a Palmer and a number of other great Orioles, but I wasn't able to get a Cal.

"Being in the media has given me the opportunity to get up close and personal with the players. But there's only a few that I've asked for things. Brooks is one and I guess Cal is the other."

Issue 2.3: January 18, 2007