Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our Consignment Program: We offer our consignors affordable and fair consignment rates and the ability to sell their sportscards, ticket stubs and memorabilia through one, two, and/or three channels: our eBay store, our eBay auctions, and our website.

Contact us today to discuss your collection. You can call us at (571) 449-3470 or e-mail us at We look forward to speaking with you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mike DeNero's Neighborhood: September 2010

Mike DeNero's Neighborhood was created by superstar cartoonist Jim Hunt – check out his website at To view a synopsis of the comic strip, past months’ strips, and sketches of the four characters with whom you will soon become quite familiar (Bernie, Tony, Leela, and, of course, Mike), please visit our custom eBay page dedicated to Mike DeNero's Neighborhood by clicking here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Behold the Black Babe Ruth ... and the Puerto Rican Rival to the T206 Honus Wagner

Behold the Black Babe Ruth … and the Puerto Rican rival to the T206 Honus Wagner.

By Mike C. DeNero


Two decades ago, The Great One bought the great one. Wayne Gretzky, the most prolific hockey player ever, purchased (with Bruce McNall) the world’s most cherished baseball card for an eye-popping $451,000. After changing hands again, this 1909-1911 T206 Honus Wagner sold for a shocking $2.8 million in 2007. Rarely does a collector peruse a memorabilia magazine without seeing a photograph of this American Tobacco Company product, which, along with hundreds of other cards in the T206 set, was peddled in loose packs of cigarettes during the time when Model Ts replaced horses. Today it remains the most celebrated piece of cardboard in the business, and arguably the most valuable sports memorabile in history.

Nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman” for his outstanding speed, Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner was one of baseball’s greatest baggers. One of the original inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the mostly Pittsburgh shortstop played in the National League from 1897 to 1917, when he retired owning a supermajority of all offensive records that matter. Adding to his nifty glove-work and blazing speed, he hit over .300 in 17 consecutive seasons, led the league in slugging six times, and won five league batting titles.

Nearly a century later, however, few would argue that Wagner was a better player than, let’s say, Babe Ruth or Willie Mays. And although he was popular for his time, he never reached the cultural-icon status of Joe DiMaggio; nor as the son of German immigrants does he have a heritage-based following that rivals that of Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg (Jewish), Roberto Clemente (Latino), or Jackie Robinson (African-American). Indeed, more Americans of German heritage probably identify with Ruth or Lou Gehrig. Similarly, few would point to the aesthetics of the card as a value enhancer. Although the lithograph of a stern, ruddy-faced Wagner against an auburn backdrop does have a Mona Lisa-like aura to it (what was he smirking about?), this offset portrait of a young man, hair parted, in a buttoned-to-the-Adam’s-apple, gray “Pittsburg” (sic) jersey with wide, dark-blue collar is not to be mistaken for a da Vinci. Well, what about vintage, you ask? Consider this: a 1909-1911 T206 Ty Cobb, which graded the same as the T206 Wagner by the same grading company (PSA 8), sold in February 2010 for $25,076.40. That’s certainly not chump change, but it falls roughly $2.5 million short of the Wagner.

So what accounts for the T206 Honus Wagner’s stunning value? For many, the answer can be found in tobacco (or more precisely, not in tobacco). At some early point, probably at the behest of Wagner himself, the American Tobacco Company pulled the T206 Wagner from production. Although historians disagree as to Wagner’s motivation, many believe that the chaw-chewing shortstop didn’t want his image pasted on baseball cards used to promote smoking. In any event, today only about 50 T206 Wagners are thought to exist, and so the answer is simple: the T206 Wagner is so valuable primarily because it’s so rare.

In fact, it’s almost as rare as the 1950-51 Toleteros Josh Gibson.


Like Honus Wagner, Joshua Gibson was a professional baseball player who played most of his career in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Like Wagner, Gibson became a superstar playing at his hometown Forbes Field. Like Wagner, Gibson eventually was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (36 years after Wagner, in 1972). Unlike Wagner, however, Gibson was African-American and never played a day in the major leagues. He died of a stroke at the youthful age of 35 on January 20, 1947, just 85 days before Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers and forever smashed the MLB color barrier.

One of the biggest stars in the Negro Leagues from 1930-46, Gibson’s prodigious power earned him the nickname “The Black Babe Ruth.” Because the Negro Leagues did not consistently compile game statistics, much of Gibson’s 17-year career with the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords is hazy, subject to debate, and the thing of legend. But as Larry Schwartz notes in an article on Gibson, there was “[n]o joshing about Gibson’s talents.”

Officially, the MLB Hall of Fame claims that he swatted “almost 800” career homers. Legend has it that he hit nearly 900 dingers. The Hall of Fame credits him with a lifetime batting average of .359. Other sources, however, argue that it was closer to .385, the highest in Negro League history. The Sporting News, 30 years later to the day, claimed that on June 3, 1937 Gibson hit a home run 580 feet at Yankee Stadium. Legend has it that, three years earlier, he hit the only fair ball out of the House That Ruth Built. Stats and heroics aside, the best evidence of Gibson’s greatness is the testimony of Hall of Fame players that witnessed him play. “He hits the ball a mile,” said flamethrower Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators. Satchel Paige, a former Gibson Negro Leagues teammate before going on to dominate the major leagues, went a step further in describing Gibson. Paige said, simply: “He was the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

One cannot—indeed, should not—revisit Gibson’s legacy without recognizing the depriving effects and sickening stain of Jim Crow. Even writing or saying the term “Negro Leagues,” for instance, is an uncomfortable exercise for many (including the author). But for those who were a part of the Negro Leagues (as players or fans), it is a source of pride. And why not? They claimed one who, according to Paige and others, had no equal: The Black Babe Ruth. And while historians grapple with the accuracy of Gibsonian legend, only those who watched Gibson play know the real story.


Felix Vega, Jr. grew up a Josh Gibson fan. Vega, who was born in New York City, has a heavy build and stands two inches beyond six feet. Nearing 73 years of age, his eyes are still sharp and brown but his hair is now gray. When asked to describe his father’s appearance, Vega’s oldest son will tell you, endearingly, that his “old man is a cross between Pavarotti and Perry Mason.” After his birth, Vega’s parents took him back to their native Puerto Rico, where he has lived an active life and been blessed with a large family, including five children. Through it all, though, Vega has never forgotten the memories of his own childhood in Puerto Rico, where amidst the baptisms, first communions, graduations, and patron saint festivities, one activity predominated: baseball.

Vega grew up in Santurce, a working class barrio in San Juan. And his childhood routine mimics that of many children on the island at the time. During morning school breaks, Vega would practice pitching in the schoolyard. After school, he would study a few hours and then play baseball with his friends. After dinner, he would listen to baseball on the radio. On the weekends, his dad would often take him to the park where he would . . . you guessed it. There was another notable fact about Santurce. It is home to the Cangrejeros de Santurce (“Santurce Crabbers”), a Puerto Rican Winter League baseball team that for a few years in the 1940s boasted an American slugger named Josh Gibson.

By the time Vega was old enough to hit live pitching, Gibson was already a legend in Puerto Rico. In the 1941-1942 winter season, his batting average was .480, he belted 13 home runs, and was the league MVP. By 1948, a year after Gibson died, Puerto Rico had hosted other future Hall of Famers, including Vega’s favorite player, Willard “Home Run” Brown. That year, the talent and excitement surrounding the Puerto Rican Winter Leagues prompted the production of what are now extremely rare baseball card sets: the 1948-1951 Toleteros (“Sluggers”), a collection of the Puerto Rican Winter Leaguers.

When Vega was ten, he shined shoes to afford the Toleteros cards that he religiously bought at la tienda local. This practice continued for three years during which time Vega became the proud owner of the 1950-1951 Toleteros Josh Gibson. The card depicts the prodigious slugger, bat in hands, body torqued, a sly smile on his face, in his trademark explosive follow through. For sociologist fodder, the picture of Gibson is against the backdrop of a chain-link fence and surrounded by white borders. Within the white borders, the name “Joshua Gibson” is prominently etched in black.

Like Josh Gibson himself, there are many unanswered questions surrounding the Toleteros sets (e.g., how many cards were issued?). But looking back over seven decades of life, Vega has all the baseball answers he needs. He knows he’s the original owner of one of the rarest baseball cards known to man. He knows it’s a card of a player that many consider one of the greatest players of all time; a player who actually played in Vega’s childhood barrio in Puerto Rico.

He knows he possesses the most prized card of the Black Babe Ruth. He’s one of about 12 people on the planet who can say that.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tony & Bernie's "Big Apple" Stash - September 2010

In an effort to avoid being bested by their pal Leela, Tony and Bernie (the lovable twins from Mike DeNero’s Neighborhood) allow me to present Tony and Bernie’s “Big Apple” Stash. As the lads are twins, and are usually forced to share, why stop at toys, snacks, and sportscards? They will also take turns authoring this column, a monthly ode to their favorite vintage sportscards picturing New York legends. This month, Tony takes a stab at waxing poetic about one of his all-time favorite players. Unlike Bernie, Tony’s spelling skills are well honed, especially for a 5-year-old. Enjoy!

My Man, El Duque

by Tony

"El Duque" was the quintessential Yankee - at least that's what my daddy tells me. My daddy says that never has a more dynamic, entertaining, gutsy, and effective pitcher donned the Pinstripes than #26. Whether it be due to his unique pitching motion (or rather, pitching motions), his hop-and-a-skip over the foul line on his way to the dugout after closing out an inning, or his sheer dominance in the postseason, El Duque will live in the hearts of Yankees fans (like me and my daddy) forever.

I really like his 1999 Topps baseball card because the picture captures El Duque in all his regalia - high leg kick, ready to hurl a devastatingly deceptive, not to mention effective, pitch at a helpless batter who was cruelly given nothing but a 34 ounce piece of lumber with which to attempt to hit it. Poor batter!

Yep, El Duque was one in a billion - a showman with a flair for the dramatic that was only surpassed by his ability and heart. Because of his uncanny ability to make the art of pitching appear to be an effortless task, it is easy to overlook the fact that El Duque's journey from Cuba to the Yankee Stadium pitcher's mound was wrought with terror and uncertainty.

El Duque was Cuba's greatest pitcher - but sadly, his career was cut short after the Cuban government blacklisted him from baseball after his half-brother, Livan, defected to the United States. Finding himself working at a local mental hospital with no possibility of playing baseball again, El Duque escaped from Cuba with his wife on Christmas Day 1997. Their journey to freedom came courtesy of a small boat that landed them in Anguilla Cay, and uninhabited island in the Bahamas. They were rescued three days later.

Fast-forward thirteen years, and El Duque, who is now somewhere between 41 and 50 years old, has not pitched in a Major League game since 2007. However, don't bet that he won't return to the big leagues despite his age (whatever it may be) and injuries that plagued him over the past five years. A couple months ago, the Washington Nationals signed him to a minor league contract. He started in the GCL, the Gulf Coast League, and has moved up to the Nats' Double AA affiliate in Harrisburg, where he has (as of the date of this writing) pitched 8.1 innings in relief, struck out 11 batters, and has a cool 1.08 ERA.

Why would he toil in the depths of the minors at such an advanced age? He loves to play! As El Duque said recently to a reporter, "In Cuba, we had 14-hour bus rides with no air conditioning, no food, no music, no anything. This? This is nothing. This is fun. We get to play baseball in new shoes and clean uniforms."

I hope the Nats promote him in September -- I would love for my daddy to take me to the ballpark to see him pitch ... it would be pretty cool!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yunesky Maya, Me, and the Offending Ball

Yunesky Maya, Me, and the Offending Ball

(Sunday, August 22, 2010)

By Mike DeNero

There it was, resting in the weeds a foot behind the right field chain link fence, parked under the wooden billboards, which extended just above the top of the fence, the first game-used ball I would ever bring home from a baseball game. Moments before I found it, it had been launched there by one Seth Loman (no relation to Willy), a 24 year-old first baseman who plays for the Winston-Salem Dash, the Class A, Carolina League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The problem is that he hit it off my newest favorite baseball player, Yunesky Maya.

Maya was born and raised in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, which means that when he made it to the Cuban National Series (Cuba’s MLB equivalent) he played for his hometown team, the Pinar del Rio Vegueros (cigar makers). For being one of the league’s star pitchers, he was paid somewhere in the ballpark of $10-$15 per month (as is everyone else in the league), a salary which was drawn solely from the work he did at his day job. I am curious to know what his “day job” was, as while the island’s best ballplayers are celebrities, they generally live in poverty, as does most of the island’s population (for example, Orlando Hernandez, know affectionately as “El Duque,” perhaps the greatest Cuban pitcher ever, lived in a one room shabby pink “house” that was divided into two rooms by a makeshift wall of concrete blocks).

Maya ultimately became Cuba’s best starting pitcher, amassing a career 48-29 record and a 2.51 ERA, enough to earn him a spot on Cuba’s national team, appearing in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic – in the summer of 2009, he was expelled from the national team for “grave problems of indiscipline,” (i.e., attempting to defect) as reported in Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper.

Shortly thereafter, in September 2009, he fled Cuba and ended up in the Dominican Republic awaiting clearance to play baseball in the United States. While I do not know any details of how he defected, I know that his family remains in Cuba and, based upon several accounts I have read Cuban baseball players’ journeys to freedom, I imagine the story is not a pretty one.

A few weeks ago, my team, the Washington Nationals, signed Maya to a four-year contract worth a reported $6 million. He arrived in D.C. on July 31st, where he was introduced to the Nationals crowd during the middle of the 4th inning of the Nats/Phillies game. Although he reportedly speaks no English (but plans to learn quickly), he stated, through an interpreter, that he wanted to meet President Obama. Clearly, Maya thinks big – we like him!

Fast-forward to today, Sunday, August 22, 2010. Maya is making his debut for the Class A Potomac Nationals after pitching a handful of innings in the Gulf Coast League earlier in the week.

I arrive at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium (capacity: seemingly about 2,000 people) in Woodbridge, Virginia at 12:50 p.m. for the 1:05 start (parking in the grass, $4 bucks). Maya is finishing his warm-ups (see photos above) and is on the “bullpen” mound about five feet from the first row of seats just past first base.

Although he has a blister on his pitching thumb the size of a quarter (see photo of Maya looking at his thumb during warm-ups at left), he’s ready to pitch and appears to have pumped himself up for the occasion.

I head to my seat three rows behind first base ($12 bucks). I estimate that the “crowd” totals 1,000, but if I count the puppies and dogs (it was Bring Your Dog Day) and the team mascot, Uncle Slam, there are probably 1,050. Maya makes his way to the mound, but on his way, he stops at the foul line, bends over, and grabs some dirt. He repeated this ritual each inning – it reminded me of when El Duque would do a hop-skip-and-jump over the foul line on his way back to the dugout after retiring the side.

After Maya mows down the first three Winston-Salem Dash hitters in about five minutes, I make my way to the Ben’s Chili Bowl hut and order a chilidog and Diet Coke ($9 bucks – pretty steep prices for the minor leagues). As I walk away from Ben’s, I feel a hard thump on my backside. As I quickly turn around, I notice that Uncle Slam has provided the “coaches slap,” but since his blue, four-fat-fingered hand is so immense, it felt more like a wallop than a smack! Incidentally, a few innings later, he performed WWF wrestling moves on some local teenagers who were mulling around. I guess he let me off easy.

After I down the chilidog, which I think was actually a half-smoke, I returned to my seat to watch Maya mow down the competition in the 2nd and 3rd innings. In the middle of the third, one of the kids in the stands won a Fruit Roll-Up for being able to simultaneously rub the top of his head and belly for 10 straight seconds! An amazing feat!

In the top of the 4th, the wheels started to fall off for Maya. After a series of hard-hit balls, bloops, and walks, the Dash put a crooked number on the scoreboard – 5 runs. Maya finally retires the side, and I make my way to the funnel cake stand and order a mini funnel cake ($3 bucks) (see picture at right above).

To start the 5th inning, Maya gives up a blast just over the right field fence to Seth Loman. “Maya’s out of here and so am I,” I say to myself. As I exit the park (by simply opening a chain link fence door), I think to myself, “why not go try to find the home run ball – it’s obviously the first HR surrendered by Maya on U.S. soil.”

So, I make my way to the fence and there it is, sitting in the weeds about one foot behind the right field chain-linked fence, a heavily game-used Rawlings Official Carolina League baseball (see picture at left). As I pick it up, I realize that it is the first time I am bringing a ball home from a baseball game – I have been to nearly 100 Major League games, and have gone home empty-handed each time, though I have been close on occasion).

As I make my way back toward my car, which is parked closer to third base than first, I re-enter the ballpark (by opening the fence door again) and peek onto the field to make sure Maya has been pulled for a relief pitcher. He has, so I start walking toward home plate to eventually exit closer to where my car is parked. As I pass the Nats’ clubhouse (essentially, an air-conditioned box of a “room” connected to the back of the dugout), I see Maya standing outside the door in his uniform (minus his jersey - see picture at right) trying to make a call on his mobile phone (I can just picture him saying to himself, “Six million bucks and I still can’t find a cell phone that gets reception inside the P-Nats’ dugout!”).

I quickly snap a photo on my i-Phone (see photo at left) and after determining that his call has not gone through, I approach him to get him to sign the offending ball. Just as I reach him, another fan shoves a ball in front of him to sign. Maya obliges and I can tell that he has a quality signature, as he took his time to sign his name nicely on the sweet spot. After the fan thanks him, he takes the offending ball and pen from my hands and signs it right on the sweet spot, just centimeters away from some dirt spots and the bat mark where Loman’s bat smacked it. I thank him, shake his hand, and make my way to my car.

After the game, I learn that the quarter-sized blister on his pitching thumb prevented him from throwing two of his five pitches (the change-up and splitter). I guess if you take 60% of your arsenal to the mound, even the Winston-Salem Dash can score some runs off you.

Regardless of his performance in Class A today, I know that Maya will be successful here. His next start will be in Class AAA Syracuse and he will probably be called up to the Big Leagues on September 1st. He will be successful because he has experience, guts and high expectations for himself and he’s certainly not going to be rattled if he goes out to the mound a couple times in September and gets shellacked! I wish we had 24 other Yunesky Mayas on the Nationals.

If you would like to see some more photos and film footage from the game, as well as a transcript of Maya’s post-game press conference, please click here to a fabulous blog called Nats320 – A Washington Nationals Blog.