Wednesday, July 9, 2008 Updated: July 28, 5:29 PM ET
APPRAISING YANKEE STADIUM
By Max Klinger
Don't bring your Washington Mutual check card to this auction.
Rick Reilly's latest column lists a few items worth lifting from Yankee Stadium before it gets knocked down. So we decided to ask Leila Dunbar, Director of Collectibles at Sotheby's New York for the last nine years, an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow and an overseer of some of baseball memorabilia's most expensive sales, to give estimates* for some of The Stadium's most coveted ephemera. But beware (this means you Jeter), because Leila says that while a secure history and provenance increases value, "objects that are considered stolen certainly do not."
1. The Babe Ruth Monument
Price Range: $250,000 - $2,000,000
"Ruth is still the most collected athlete today. He is credited with putting baseball back on the 'National Pastime' pedestal after the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The Yanks won their first World Championship in 1923, guided by Babe, during the opening year of Yankee Stadium. Since 1949, his monument has watched over and served as inspiration to generations of Yankee Hall of Famers, past and future. Really, its value is priceless. The bat that Ruth used to hit the first home run ever at Yankee Stadium sold for $1.25 million and the contract selling Ruth from the Red Sox to Yankees sold for $996,000, so it's possible that Ruth's monument could go for somewhere between a year's salary of a middle-of-the-road manager (think Ron Gardenhire) and a young All-Star (think Josh Hamilton). I'm sure that whatever it brought, the Babe wouldn't think it would be enough."
2. The bronzed Lou Gehrig bat atop the flag pole in center field (Legend has it that Gherig's wife gave it to the stadium after he passed.
Price Range: $150,00 - $300,000
"Gehrig's game bats have routinely sold from $50,000-$175,000. If it's a true Gehrig gamer, it would probably sell for at least the high end, maybe double. Don Larsen's bronzed glove, hat and cleats from his 1956 World Series perfect game sold for $105,000."
3. The "I'd like to thank the good lord for making me a Yankee" Joe DiMaggio sign in the clubhouse.
Price Range: $5,000 - $25,000
"Not many people remember that in 1935, after Ruth retired, the Yankees finished in second place behind the World Champion Detroit Tigers. In 1936, at just 21, DiMaggio rejuvenated New York, leading the Bombers into their second dynasty, with an amazing four straight World Championships, nine in all. Many say he redefined the Yankees as a team of grace and grit. And Ruth never married the world's all-time No. 1 sex symbol! This sign could sell well into the four to five figure range."
4. Home plate
Price Range: $10,000 - $20,000
"When I was at Sotheby's, in 2004 we sold the original home plate, pre-1973 renovation, for $115,000. As this one has seen its own share of championships, historic moments and Billy Martin, I would place an auction estimate of $10,000-$20,000."
5. The "Lead, Follow, or get out of the way!" sign that sits up on Steinbrenner's desk.
Price Range: $3,000 - $20,000
"As an 18th century advocate of American freedom against the Brits and lived in Greenwich Village, Thomas Paine could be considered one of the earliest Yankees. It's no wonder, then, that George Steinbrenner would have adapted one of Paine's quotes to use as his own declaration of independence. The sign, if still intact, could easily bring several thousand dollars to either a Yankees fan to display or a Red Sox fan to destroy."
6. The Eddie Layton Hammond organ
Price Range: $5,000 - $15,000
"For 31 years, through his Hammond B-3, organist Eddie Layton led millions of Yankees fans in rounds of 'Charge' and 'You've Cotta Have Heart', rallying them through bad seasons (think Billy Martin and Horace Clark) and world championships (think Billy Martin and Marian Rivera). This past April at Sotheby's we sold Lay ton's 1978, 1996 and 1999 World Series Championship rings for $12,500, $20,000 and $28,000 respectively. While he didn't know baseball, fans adored his style. Assuming his original Hammond B-3 is still on premises (it was replaced with a new one in 2005) it could easily sell in the four-figure, maybe five-figure range to a Yankee fan who needs their regular shot of B-3."
7. The scale used in the locker room to weigh Yankees as far back as the 50's.
Price Range: $2,000 - $10,000
"If it were just a rusty scale, it would be worth scrap. But what is going to attract buyers is the thought of all those generations of Yankee physiques (think Mantle, Jackson and Winfield) hopping on and off in their towels. No one is going to be thinking of Stengel and Sparky Lyle. It could sell in the low to high-four figures or low five-figures."
8. A stadium seat
Price Range: $300 - $2,500
"When Yankee Stadium was renovated in the early 1970's you could buy the seats through JC Penney. In fact, my grandfather, who in the 1950's had clergy passes to the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium, bought a double seat for his porch. Over the years, those seats have been re-sold routinely at auction. Singles usually sell between $1,000-$1,500; doubles $1,500-$3,000; and triples $3000-$5000. This April at Sotheby's we sold a double seat recently taken from Yankee Stadium and signed by the 2006 team, as well as a Yankee engraved presentation shovel commemorating the ground breaking for the new stadium. These items had originally been donated to Joe Torre's "Safe At Home" Foundation. They sold at our auction for $8,750, halfway in the $7,000-$10,000 estimate. My guess is that these seats will sell anywhere between $300-$2500, depending on whether their singles, doubles or triples. With a little padding though, they could go for more."
9. A piece of that famous white fašade
Price Range: $100 - $ 2,000
"Bunting isn't nearly as exotic as some of these other items, but it's easy to display. Pieces will probably sell in the hundreds to low thousands."
10. Dirt from the field
Price Range: $200 - $500
"If you are going to collect dirt, this is the place to get it. My opinion is that the batter's box dirt is the most valuable because that's the area that has seen the most players and most great moments. But, if you could computerize the sod and pick out, for example, the spot where Paul O'Neill who got the caught the ball for the last out in the 1996 World Series [Ed.'s Note: It was actually Charlie Hayes who got the last out in the 1996 World Series. Paul O'Neill caught the final out in David Wells perfect game in 1998.], then that piece of grass would probably be worth more than others. Several years ago at Sotheby's we sold pieces of the Boston Garden, including the piece where John Havlicek stole the ball in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals. While other pieces sold for $64 and up, that particular chunk, signed by Hondo, brought in $42,000. I'd start with "nickel" bags of the dirt in the $200 range and work up from there."
* Note from Leila: "Auctions are notoriously fickle arenas for sale. It is difficult to predict on any given day, what two or more people are going to want —emotion is hard to quantify in cold hard cash. If someone wants something and they have the wherewithal and they have competition, that is when prices soar. Add in rarity and the importance of the player, team, moment and/or stadium increase it can be an explosive mix. Most of these items are one-of-a-kind and they all have a strong connection with Yankee fans. Therefore, it's nearly impossible to actually what any of these historic objects would bring at auction. These are only educated guesses based on past sales."