Bubble yet to burst on sports collectibles

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Chew on this for a while: One man's glob of gum is another's wad of cash

April 28, 2002|By Andy Knobel | Andy Knobel,SUN STAFF

For years, baseball and chewing gum have been stuck together.

John "Chewing Gum" O'Brien played for the Orioles in 1899. You could look it up.

William Wrigley used money earned by selling Juicy Fruit and Doublemint to buy the Chicago Cubs in 1921.

Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, who played from 1906 to 1930, would stick his gum on the top of his cap as he stepped to the plate, then return the wad to his mouth after the at-bat.

In 1975, utility player Kurt Bevacqua won a $2,000 bubble gum-blowing contest, edging former Oriole Johnny Oates with an 18 1/2 -incher.

In 1980, Ball Four author and former pitcher Jim Bouton helped invent "Big League Chew," a bubble gum disguised as a pack of chewing tobacco.

Last season, Florida Marlins pitcher Josh Beckett crammed 48 pieces of Bazooka Joe into his mouth.

This winter, the Minnesota Twins' Doug Mientkiewicz insisted that his bobblehead doll have a pink bubble expanding from its mouth.

And now this: Two weeks ago, a Wisconsin man bid $10,000 for a piece of gum that was cracked, popped, chomped and discarded by Arizona Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez.

That's right: ABC gum - already-been chewed. Ick.

The glob was auctioned for charity by sports memorabilia salesman Jason Gabbert, who saw Gonzalez toss it into the dirt during a spring training game March 7. When the gum's authenticity was questioned by the security guard who Gabbert says retrieved the gum for him, Gabbert called for a DNA test.

The slugger wanted no part of testing - "It's not like we're trying to find out who the father of the baby is, or if I'm guilty of a crime. It's just a piece of gum," he said - but he did cheerfully agree to gnaw a piece of Bazooka in front of television cameras, seal it in a plastic bottle and have it delivered to a radio station sponsoring the auction.

"I'm hoping this craziness stops," Gonzalez said. "Fans at every park I've gone to lately have asked me to throw my gum toward them. It used to be a wristband, a batting glove, a bat or a ball. Now, it's bubble gum."

The two pieces - unauthenticated and authenticated - were bought by Curt Mueller, a 67-year-old non-baseball fan whose company, Mueller Sports Medicine, manufactures Quench, a tart-tasting chew designed to stimulate saliva.

Mueller's purchase was designed to stimulate sales. Now that he has Gonzalez's ABC gum, Mueller has announced that he will gladly mail a packet of Quench to anyone who sends him a used piece of gum.

What will Mueller do with Gonzalez's gum?

"I'll put it in my office and stare at it," he said.

Presumably while he's ruminating on his next publicity stunt.

Leaving a bad taste

ABC Radio's Keith Olbermann says Gonzalez's used gum is hardly the creepiest collectible in sports:

"Bill Veeck's wooden leg has been auctioned, so too Ty Cobb's false teeth, and, worst of all, a George Brett jockstrap."

Great expectorations

And we probably haven't seen the worst of it.

"The day is coming when Alonzo Mourning might wear a Nike-brand `neck trough' to catch his own valuable perspiration, for example," Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wrote.

"One can only imagine the riches that might be accrued by purloining and then auctioning the expectorant of a Cliff Floyd. Collectors who once had no bigger challenge than deciding whether a card was in mint condition might soon grapple with the value differential of standard (what we call Classic) spit or the more preferred, fecal-colored tobacco stream."

Calling memorabilia sales a victimless crime, Cote said he has no sympathy for people who bid for masticated gum.

"I would like to find that same buyer and offer him, from my own collection, several baseballs autographed by Babe Ruth," he wrote. "After the ink dries."

Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.

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