Early this year, Bryce Harper set a pair of baseball records—off the field.
Late in February, sources confirmed that he’d signed the largest guaranteed contract in North American sports history: $330 million for 13 years with the Philadelphia Phillies. After a successful seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, he hung up his #34 jersey and took up #3 for Philadelphia.
Fans were a little excited. This superstar addition certainly makes the team a strong playoff contender this year (and hopefully many years to come)! Harper could make the Phillies franchise as fan popular as the Boston Red Sox or Green Bay Packers. The Phillies sold over $4 million in tickets after the announcement, and sales for Bryce’s new #3 jersey set Harper’s second record. MLB.com reports that his jersey “is the top-selling jersey of all-time for any player in any sport within 24 hours of launch.”
Baseball, The Sport of Memorabilia
Of all the things people collect in regards to sports—cards, balls, autographs, gear—jerseys (and especially game worn jerseys) seem to be the king. And of all the sports, baseball seems to have the most sought after memorabilia.
Not only does a baseball jersey top this list of the 10 Most Expensive Sports Memorabilia Ever Sold (Babe Ruth’s 1920s Yankees Jersey), of all the items on there, baseball makes up 60% of the value!
How did this come to be? We figure there are two main reasons: deep American roots and the sheer quantity of games.
America’s Pastime: A Brief History of Baseball Collectibles
Of all the major leagues, baseball’s the oldest. Officially, 1903 is its birthday even though the National League technically started decades earlier in 1876. It had its origins before the Civil War, descending from the imported English sport of cricket.
Once there was a league and a nationwide organization supporting it, a regular fanbase could grow. Being the first of its kind with a 17-year head start on football meant that nearly a generation of Americans only knew baseball as the “big” sport. Babe Ruth was making history and sporting that million dollar jersey before the NFL was even up and running and no one had ever heard of the Super Bowl.
The other thing about baseball is that there’s a lot of games every year. Excluding the postseason, today there’s about 2,430 annually. Basketball has about half as many.
Now, when you consider that a lot of memorabilia comes from the games themselves, it starts to make sense that baseball collectibles appear to dominate the sports memorabilia market. Add to the fact that the items can be older than other sports’ (and therefore typically rarer), the overall value of baseball memorabilia (upon authentication) could also be greater.
Take all this and give people the ability to speedily source, communicate, sell, or trade the items, and you’ve got yourself a party. The internet was like a supercharger to all sports collectibles for sale (and to collectibles period). Recently, the market for sports memorabilia was estimated at $5.4 billion—with $4.7 billion of that fueled by eBay.
While it’s not certain how much of that is made up of baseball, it’s a safe bet to assume that the good ol’ ball game makes up more than its fair share.
Extra Innings: The Weird Side of Baseball Collectibles
Even top 10 lists that are about strange collectibles are dominated by baseball. Eight of the 10 items described here are baseball “memorabilia.” Among others, they include:
- Ty Cobb’s teeth for $6,500
- Luis Gonzalez’s chewing gum for $10,000
- David Ortiz’s beard for $10,000
- Nolan Ryan’s jockstrap for $25,000
- Curt Schilling’s bloody sock for over $92,000
- Mickey Mantle’s signed death threat
Don’t Get Caught Looking: Research Collectibles Insurance!
Whether over a century old, a fresh #3 Phillies jersey, or a player’s teeth—collectible memorabilia are precious things, and it’s important to protect them. Homeowners insurance often does not cover items like baseball jerseys or cards, so be sure to research and understand what options are out there for insuring your items.