The recent sports memorabilia auction at Sotheby's in Ne York produced mind-boggling prices for some baseball cards and a certain amount of prestige to a hobby once thought to be preserve of children.
The man behind the auction -- as a sort of auction triple threat -- was Bill Mastro of suburban Chicago. His business card, in a two-dimensional way, is the size and shape of a baseball, complete with red embossed stitches. It describes him as "private collector of all baseball cards and memorabilia" and offers to "buy-sell-trade-appraise."
Mastro, 38, assembled much of the memorabilia collection for California millionaire sporting goods dealer James Copeland over the past five years. When Copeland decided to put it up for auction, it went to Sotheby's because Mastro had a friend there. Mastro also served as Sotheby's consultant on the auction.
Copeland's collection was not something most people could duplicate, Mastro said.
"You have to have a lot of money and a lot of time and a collector's mentality," Mastro said in New York last month before the auction, "when you can't get enough."
He elaborated on the idea of a collector's mentality, saying he preferred to see items at an auction, where he had a chance to purchase them, rather than visit someone who has a collection he can never hope to acquire.
For Copeland, once the chase was over, his collecting days were over, too.
"He just got tired of accumulating," Mastro said. "He had everything he wanted."
The sale was planned for more than a year, Mastro said, before the market turned soft. "I would have been more concerned about the market four or five months ago [when the economy first turned down and there was concern about the situation in the Persian Gulf]," he said. But he believes the sports collectibles market will not be as affected by the recession and is "much more stable than most markets."
Although his specialty is baseball, Mastro began collecting with 1960 football cards.
He became a serious collector in 1965. "I needed one card to complete the 1965 Topps set," he recalled. He looked in The Sporting News ads, found what he wanted and ordered. A catalog he received with his card changed his ideas of collecting. "When I saw their catalog, I realized my stuff was worth something," he said.
"It's gone from being a bunch of closet collectors. Now everybody and his grandmother sells and collects, and it's not embarrassing."
His favorite baseball card is the rare T206 Honus Wagner, and it's the one item in the collection he said he would have bid on had he been an outsider. "It's the crown jewel," he said of the card he once owned -- and sold because he needed the money. On March 22, it was sold to hockey star Wayne Gretzky and his employer, Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, for $451,000.
* The second half of Score's 1991 Dream Team subset, 12 cards with black-and-white photographs of star players in not-so-typical baseball-card poses, is available in Series II. . . . Forty top rookies, including the Baltimore Orioles' Leo Gomez, will be featured in Score's glossy rookie card set. The cards have blue-bordered fronts, and each set includes five World Series trivia cards. . . . Basketball-card fans will have a chance to pick up a perforated sheet of NBA Hoops cards featuring eight Washington Bullets players and coach Wes Unseld. The Tom Hammonds card is the Series II corrected version; the Series I card did not have the rookie star. The promotion, limited to the first 10,000 fans at the April 21 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, is a National Basketball Association-wide one.
* The new Comiskey Park in Chicago will have its own yearbook this season, and it's being marketed as a collector's item. The first 91 copies will be numbered and distributed to special Opening Day guests -- No. 1 to Charles Comiskey II, grandson and namesake of the old park's founder, and No. 10 to manager Jeff Torborg to match his uniform number. The press run for the 76-page yearbook will be 50,000, with 5,000 reserved for mail orders. To order, send check or money order for $8 to Sherman Media Company, 320 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 305, Chicago, Ill. 60601.
* Topps has announced that some valuable vintage cards have been redeemed in its 40th anniversary sweepstakes. The biggest cards so far (and Topps' estimated value) are: 1969 Reggie Jackson ($500); 1960 Carl Yastrzemski ($350); 1966 Gaylord Perry ($350); 1961 Mickey Mantle ($300); 1952 Warren Spahn ($250); 1966 Willie Mays ($200); 1952 Bob Lemon ($200), and 1967 Brooks Robinson ($200).