Ripken bull market at a peak for finale

Hall of Fame, investors, fans rushing to acquire last-game memorabilia

October 05, 2001|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The end of Cal Ripken's playing days has set off a scramble for the final artifacts of a storied career.

Collectors, museum curators and fans will all be at Ripken's last game tomorrow, hoping to acquire a piece of history.

"We want to make sure his final year is documented," said Jeff Idelson, a vice president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Idelson is flying in for the game and has submitted a wish list to the Orioles and Ripken of items he would like to bring back to the Hall of Fame. He has also arranged for a photographer to document the event. A Ripken exhibit is planned for later this year.

Mike Gibbons, executive director of Baltimore's Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, will be at the game, too. The museum is the team's official repository for artifacts. "We certainly have our requests in," Gibbons said.

The Orioles and Major League Baseball are aiding the process. The team has marked the bases for the game, with first and second base getting Ripken's No. 8, and his base - third - getting his retirement logo.

New bases will be installed for each inning. Some will be given to Ripken, others to the various museums who follow him and a few will be auctioned off on MLB.com to raise money for victims of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters.

The game will be the first to use a new lineup card system that will be implemented league-wide next year. The standardized cards will be numbered and preserved to avoid the embarrassment of a few years ago, when the team went to court to retrieve a card from Ripken's record-setting 2,131st consecutive game.

Ripken will not, however, change jerseys during the game as he did in the 2,131st game. Also, the balls will not carry any markings to prove their authenticity, as the balls used in home run chases now do.

A representative of the accounting firm of Arthur Anderson will be at the game to affix holograms and serial numbers to game-used items, part of an arrangement baseball made this year with the firm for big events.

The Orioles and corporate sponsor MBNA will distribute plastic lanyards at the gate so fans can protect their tickets, which could command $200 on the collectibles market, according to Michael Heffner, a managing partner of Leland's sports auction house.

Although items related to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other legends are scarcer and command higher prices, Ripken material is among the most collected and valuable baseball memorabilia, Heffner said.

"He's well-liked and very collectible," Heffner said.

A jersey worn by Ripken in an ordinary game could bring up to $10,000. A bat sells for $3,000. "Compared to other superstars from today, that's double or triple," Heffner said.

Because he autographed so many balls throughout his career, they are worth only $100 to $150. By contrast, a ball autographed by homer king Mark McGwire, who rarely gives away his signature, can sell for $1,000, Heffner said.

Fans heading to the final game should keep an eye out for balls, Heffner said. A homer by any player other than Ripken tomorrow could be worth $2,000; if Ripken homers, the value of the ball soars to more than $10,000, he said.

The game program, which is printed in mass quantities, will fetch little over its cover price, he estimates.

Manufactured artifacts, such as commemorative mugs and officially licensed statuettes, probably won't appreciate much in value. About 50 items have been licensed for manufacture by a venture between Ripken, Major League Baseball and the players union.

"My sense is that the collectibles market is getting pretty crowded and if people are going to buy Cal merchandise, they ought to do it because they are Cal fans but not because it is an investment," Gibbons said.

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