Baseball is a game that evokes nostalgia like no other sport in modern history. Legend has it that baseball evolved from the British sport of “rounders” and has been played formally in the US since the mid 1800’s. Over those years, thousands of people have played the game and millions more have watched it.
That level of interest in the sport has given rise to generations of collectors, eager to preserve their own memories of their favorite teams, the players they follow and the games they saw. The words “I was there when…” preface baseball stories being shared in ballparks and in front of TV sets all around the country.
My husband and I are lifelong lovers of the game and count ourselves among those avid collectors. Fortunately for people like us, there’s plenty of baseball memorabilia to collect. Ephemera (e.g. tickets, programs and game day souvenirs) are readily available at most ballparks. Players at all levels interact with fans by signing baseball cards and posing for photos in the hopes of promoting the sport.
Photographs like this one of my Grandfather’s high school team in 1911 rank high on our personal list of collectible memorabilia. (He’s the dashing fellow, second from the left in the back row.) Part of the fun of this particular photo is that it is evidence of the days when team uniforms weren’t “uniform”.
We enjoy finding mystery memorabilia like this; a photograph of an unknown player on the Philadelphia Athletics. As collectors, we know based on the uniform style, that he played sometime between 1910-1920. As baseball fans the mystery is his personal backstory.
We also happen to be collectors of advertising ephemera so the fact that many companies made use of baseball figures in their early promotional materials is a bonus for us. This “Safe Hit” produce crate label is a nice example of baseball related advertising material from the 1930’s.
Sadly, not all the baseball endorsed products were as healthy as Texas vegetables, as evidenced by this “Wiltse” chewing tobacco flannel, circa 1910’s.
Since its inception, baseball has been a game of statistics with records being made and broken on a regular basis. Thanks to computers, these stats are tracked and published daily for consumption by team personnel, sports writers and the fans.
The good news for today’s collectors is that changes in statistics mean new waves of memorabilia will follow. This 2004 I Was There souvenir program that commemorates a milestone reached by Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens, was a gift from a family member who was at the game. It serves as proof that many new memories were made on that day, not just for Roger Clemens, but for everyone in attendance.
Baseball equipment has also become highly collectible in recent years. Children’s gloves are the highlight of our collection but vintage leather gloves of any size look good when framed in a shadow box or mounted for display.
The baseballs shown below are a small part of my 91-year-old mother’s collection. She became a baseball fan at the age of five which illustrates another marvelous thing about the sport: the love of baseball lasts a lifetime.
Each spring, baseball season opens, bringing with it opportunities for the individual players and teams to establish themselves as winners and record makers. This beginning of a new season also brings renewed optimism for baseball fans. The traditional game will be played, just as it has been for 150 years, but brand new memories will result for players and fans. As the late great Yogi Berra said “It’s like deja-vu all over again.”
If you are interested in learning more about collecting baseball memorabilia, this “Top Ten Treasure Hunting Tips“ article published by Forbes in 2013 is a good place to start. In addition, sites like Keyman Collectibles, Sports Collectibles and Lelands Auctions will give you up-to-date information about pricing and what’s hot in the world of collecting.