Didn't go to All-Star game? Buy a chair that was there VIPs touched these limited edition seats, catalog says

September 18, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

You can still get a good seat for last July's All-Star game -- and it will set you back only a little more than $200.

For $199.95, plus $13.95 in shipping and handling, you get a vinyl-padded folding chair touted in the most recent Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog as one of the "actual guest chairs that were used to seat VIPs during baseball's annual All-Star game at Baltimore's Camden Yards . . . in a limited edition of 300."

But before you dial the toll-free order number, you might want to know that, while Major League Baseball licensed 300 chairs for the 64th All-Star game, the Orioles used only 160 on the field, according to Roy Sommerhof, director of stadium operations at Camden Yards.

A Hammacher-Schlemmer spokeswoman said if the chairs were not on the field, they were moved to other locations for VIP seating for various events. As to the very important people who may have sat in them, there was no information available.

At any rate, a customer service representative said there were at least 200 still available.

Does the chair's pedigree make a difference? Experts say it depends whether the buyer is a finicky stadium buff, who craves the chair because it touched the field, or simply a wily collector with a hunch that seating could be the next big thing in sports memorabilia.

"Fifty years from now, that chair from good ol' Camden Yards might be worth something," said Scott Kelnhofer, editor of Sports Cards Magazine in Iola, Wis.

After all, Mr. Kelnhofer pointed out, who predicted someone would pay for slices of Joe DiMaggio's wedding cake, or a toothpick gnawed by Tom Seaver, just two items auctioned last year.

There are two distinct markets in sports seating: folding chairs like the All-Star version, used for overflow seating and in arenas, and box seats from demolished and remodeled stadiums.

Stadium seats have been around for a while, said Michael B. Seitz of St. Paul, Minn., who got into the box seat business about a decade ago, but prices have really climbed in the last few years.

Seats from Wrigley Field in Chicago, for example, went for $15 when it was remodeled in 1988. Now a seat from the Cubs' home costs $300 to $400. The rarest of all, a Boston Braves aisle seat with logo on the side, was auctioned for $7,500, plus a 10 percent dealer's fee.

The folding chair is a more recent phenom, possibly created by the advent of cable television, said Harvey Hergott, vice president and general manager of Clarins, the Lake Bluff, Ill., company that made the All-Star chair. According to his theory, people saw Clarins chairs at college basketball games and began clamoring for them.

Even without a stenciled logo, one of his top chairs could cost $100 retail, Mr. Hergott said, describing it as "the Mercedes of folding chairs."

But the logos are what attract fans and collectors, while autographs pump up the value. The record was $5,600, paid for a chair signed by Indiana coach Bobby Knight and player Steve Alford, after the team's 1987 NCAA championship.

Meanwhile, Orioles fans can buy Camden Yard stadium seat replicas, offered for $250 through Mr. Seitz's company, or dream of the day when Memorial Stadium will be remodeled or torn down, providing a new bonanza in the box seat market.

But what about that folding chair? Is it worth $200?

"I sat in one," said Mr. Sommerhof of the Orioles. "It was a very, very nice chair."

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