by Jim Thompson
As summer fades into the orange and gold of autumn, hope surfaces for the rarest season of all.
It's one that settles for a few weeks in just two cities, drawing people like pilgrims to a holy land.
Workers hang banners along streets choked with traffic, while ballpark crews rush to install extra box seats draped with red, white and blue bunting.
The media will report it, fans will watch it breathlessly and still others will commemorate it. This fifth season won't be found on any calendar, but is commonly known as the World Series.
Baseball's fall classic has long been an American masterpiece, therefore keepsakes from the World Series are some of the most commonly sought baseball memorabilia today.
Seeking everything from programs to ticket stubs, baseballs to press pins, World Series collectors focus on the brightest moment in a baseball season.
Get With the Programs
For almost six decades, Carl Goldberg rested his hopes for a Series title on the Philadelphia Phillies. When they won it in 1980, the first item he picked up was the official program - he insists there's no better way to capture the essence of a World Series.
"Publications bring you closer to the game," says Goldberg, "[while] card collecting has never done that much for me.
"You have history in your hands. It lets you know what was going on around the ballpark - even how much a hotdog [cost]."
This baseball enthusiast has a complete set of programs through 1948, but his most prized possession is a 1915 World Series prograin, the one that marks the Phillies' Series appearance that year and today costs $10,000.
Pre-1920 programs can cost from $3,000 to $30,000 for issues in good condition. Programs up through the 1950s can run as high as $5,000 and as low as $100.
These examples are mostly sought by the serious collector, but don't cross programs off your wish list because your wallet contains more singles than twenties. Numerous publications offer a terrific opportunity to start a collection with as little as $10.
"It makes it appealing for someone to get involved," says Jeffrey Miller, owner of All Sports Publications in Dresher, Pa. "It's affordable ... $15-$20 will get you almost any [World Series] program through the '80s." Miller specializes in pub- lications from the modem era - from the 1950s to the present - and notes that 1974 marked a transition in World Series programs.
"In '74 the league took over handling the publications", he says, and offered fans the same program in each ballpark. The two teams would then each insert a specified number of pages in the programs sold at their respective stadium.
In addition, Major League Baseball issued newsstand programs that lacked insert pages, thereby generating a third variation. Collectors usually seek the most limited version of a program. And naturally, the more limited the version, the higher the price.
Miller says the 1992 Atlanta Braves game-day program could sell for $50 or more because of the scarcity of that particular variation. "It was a short printing," Miller says. "People who went to the game reported they couldn't get them."
Another such example is the 1986 Mets game-day program, which reportedly sold out after Game 2, making it more scarce than its Red Sox counterpart.
As a rule of thumb, collectors should research the number of variations that exist for each Series program published after 1973. They could find themselves rewarded with a more limited version at a common price.
Having a Ball
If a program offers a sense of history, then a teamsigned ball capture's a club's identity. And the market for such collectibles has never been better.
"The team-ball market was always good, but now it's fantastic. It's great," says Mike Heffner, director of acquisitions for Leland's. "In the last 10 years, the market has done nothing but increase. It's been picking up steam, primarily in the last two years."
Perhaps because of relative scarcity, some of the team balls creating the biggest demand are those signed by baseball's more recent champs.
"For instance, some of the Blue Jays championship balls are very tough to locate," Heffner says.
The '95 Braves balls are a tough find even with selling prices between $300 and $500.
Despite the obvious appeal of owning a teamsigned ball from your favorite club's championship year, Heffner explains that forgeries - however difficult they are to produce - are becoming more and more prominent.
"There are forgeries of even newer team-signed balls," Heffner says. "As they increase in value, we're seeing more and more forgeries, and that's something that the collector has to be aware of."
Team-signed championship balls are some of the most popular items on today's auction blocks, and among the most sought after are those belonging to the glamour teams, the clubs that hold a special place in baseball history.
"The '27 Yankees, the '28 Yankees, the '51 Yankees and the '55 Dodgers. Those are all really hot," Heffner says.
Heffner points out that some nine months ago, a Near-Mint '27 Yankees team-signed ball sold in auction for almost $30,000.
"It was beautiful," he says. "It was the nicest one we've ever seen."
If you're looking for something rare, try finding a 1919 White Sox team ball from the year they threw the World Series in the Black Sox scandal.
"There's never been an authentic 1919 Black Sox ball known to exist," Heffner says. "There have been some out there that have been questionable, but never, to my knowledge, has there been an authentic Black Sox ball."
As for existing teamsigned gems, collectors must be prepared to prove their devotion, since asking prices start around $300. Where they go from there can be overwhelming.
Pressing the Point
It's well documented that the first known press pins were issued for the 1911 World Series by the Philadelphia Athletics, although why they were needed isn't quite as clear.
At the time, press pins were worn by the working media to allow them access to the pressbox. and other restricted areas.
Daniel Lovegrove, owner of Recollectics in Darien, Conn., deals exclusively in pins , and states that the origin of the press pin dates back to the World Series exploits of New York Giants manager John McGraw.
Lovegrove asserts that when McGraw could not secure tickets for his friends at the 1905 World Series, he simply walked them through the gates. But when no open seats could be found, McGraw instructed them to check the pressbox. When the media returned from their pregame interviews, they found McGraw's companions had occupied their seats.
Whether this scenario is completely accurate is unknown. But the first appearance of the press pin just happened to coincide with McGraw's next World Series trip six years later.
For security or showmanship, the press pin is one of the trademarks of baseball that spread to almost every other sport. Unlike the pins of today, those from 1911 through 1919 were quite decorative.
"In the early years they were ribbons," Lovegrove says. "They had a medallion at the bottom, and at the top was a broach."
Complete with ribbon, some of the first "pins" are valued at $10,000 or more.
"I think they're the most coveted of World Series collectibles," says Lovegrove, who explains that some years are so limited that even the Hall of Fame doesn't own a complete set. Manufactured by jewelry companies such as Jostens and Balfour, pins were limited to the number of working media that required them.
To illustrate, Lovegrove recounts the 1929 World Series at Wrigley Field.
"At Wrigley Field there was a very small pressbox, therefore they didn't issue many credentials for that Series," Lovegrove says.
The Wrigley pins of which Lovegrove speaks list for $1,850, but as with any collectible, the more modem issues are generally more affordable.
"The 1982 Cardinals I sell for $40," Lovegrove says.
Modem-day press pins through the 1950s generally sell for less thar $300. As baseball's media exposure grew, so did the production of press pins, resulting in more reasonable market values.
Another effect of modern day baseball was the surfacing of phantom pins. These were commissioned well in advance of the Series because of the long production times.
Consequently, pins would leak out for teams that never actually made it to the Series.
Lovegrove warns that although phantoms are often more limited, they should include the year, otherwise they could be issued by that team in the future.
For example, in 1981, an Oakland A's phantom press pin surfaced with no date. But it only remained a phantom until 1988 when the Athletics issued it as the official World Series press pin. Many owners stopped dating pins so they could be used for the team's next Series appearance.
That's the Ticket
What World Series memento better symbolizes the game itself than an actual ticket used to gain admission?
"Ticket stub collectors are a very small percentage," says Ken Adelson of Adelson Sports in Scottsdale, Ariz., "although they are very avid."
The most recent World Series stubs hover in the $35-$40 neighborhood, although Adelson has marked a notable short- age of the '95 Series tickets. "Last year's ticket was really hard to find," he says. "I'm getting $75 for that one."
Most collectors try to obtain one ticket from each year of their favorite team's Series trip, or one from each city in the Series.
Serious collectors who chase stubs from the early 1920s face prices that top the $1,000 mark, Adelson says. Such a quest, though, is not recommended for the newcomer.
"I wouldn't advise getting into that unless you know the market," Adelson says.
In the older market, condition is everything and every bent comer or crease lessens the value.
"It's just like a baseball card," Adelson explains. "There's a direct correlation between price and condition."
One footnote for the collector of World Series ticket stubs is that all tickets are not the same. In fact, a whole, unused ticket will garner roughly twice the value of a stub. Adelson adds that stubs to historical games will cost more than others in the same Series.
The Bill Buckner game in '86, Kirk Gibson's game in 1988 or Carlton Fisk's homer in '75 each would be accompanied by premium price tags compared to stubs from other games in those respective Series.
In the arena of World Series collectibles, items that can be attached to significant games or events usually will draw the highest demand. They will generate more emotion from collectors, who are then more likely to shop with a "must-have" attitude.
Other items associated with the grand history of the World Series include felt pennants, commemorative bats, game-wom uniforms and numerous obscure promotional items and advertisements.
All of these items offer collectors an opportunity to remember the most spectacular time of year, when a single team is crowned champion of the baseball world.
Jim Thompson is a freelance writer in Buffalo Grove, M.
Beckett Baseball Monthly - October 1996, Issue #139
Reprinted with permission from Beckett Publications, Inc. (c) 1996 Beckett Publications, Inc.