This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Sotheby's Auction House in New York will be aflurry with action tomorrow. But the names on the big value items won't be Matisse or Gaugin. Tomorrow the bidding will be for rare items from the collections of Babe Ruth, Arthur Ashe, and Mohammed Ali. Some beautiful, oversized and signed photos of Ali in the ring in his prime will be on sale. Dozens of items from the Arthur Ashe Estate will be offered, including the ivory choker necklace Ashe wore in 1975 when he upset Jimmy Connors in the final of Wimbledon. But the piece de resistance at Sotheby's will be a Babe Ruth bat from 1920, his first season with the New York Yankees, the year he hit an outrageous 54 home runs. There are less than ten known autographed bats that The Babe actually used in games and this is one of them, estimated to fetch about a quarter of a million dollars. Along with this famous bat, the most important document in sports history is offered tomorrow. That's the 1919 contract selling Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees, which will probably bring more than half a million dollars.
Sports memorabilia is huge business. Billie Jean King has raised multiples of millions of dollars for various charities by donating for auction her many tennis racquets and those sequined -70's dresses designed for her by Ten Tinling. Having won Wimbledon an unfathomable twenty times, Billie Jean had an abundance of gear to give away. In her New York apartment, Billie Jean has a wooden Wimbledon bench as one of her sofas for guests. It's not too comfortable but you sure soak up a lot of history while you're sitting there.
Athletes have learned from crazed fans just how valuable their stuff can be considered. During last year's World Series, during which the long-suffering Boston Red Sox won after a painful drought that dated way back to 1918, Curt Schilling took the mound for the Red Sox in Game Two. Schilling had had a tendon near his ankle sutured by a surgeon before the game and the television cameras pushed in to extreme close-ups of his bloody sock as Schilling worked the mound. A few months after the Series, a rabid Red Sox fan and big collector said he would pay $600,000 for that sock. It wound up instead in Cooperstown, on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Nothing is too small, or too eccentric, for a sports memorabilia collector. Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez spit out a wad of gum near the dug-out one night. A fan retrieved said chewed gum and pulled in $10,000 for it. Mariners pitcher Jeff Nelson raised $2,000 for charity by auctioning off bone chips that had been surgically removed from his right elbow. And if it has a Yankees authentication on it, any item becomes valuable. Even teammates will stoop to stealing stuff from the stars on the team to make some extra cash. Yankee Ruben Rivera was caught pilfering glove and bat from his teammate, shortstop Derek Jeter, and selling them for $2,500. It's not so much the valuables such as expensive watches that make their way from lockers to the memorabilia auctions. Pitcher Roger Clemens says, -Even my underwear. I guess it's meaningful to some people.-
While the Sotheby's auction is a one-day event in Manhattan, an on-line auction on the Lelands' web site is currently in continual action until June 24. Forty-eight Roberto Clemente items are listed, including the usual autographed gloves and baseballs. But the Clemente family is pursuing legal action against Lelands to stop inclusion of two pieces of the plane in which the baseball Hall of Famer died in a crash near Puerto Rico in 1972. Bids have already come in on a propeller and a piece of metal from the DC-7 that carried Clemente on his way to deliver supplies for earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Already chewed gum. Jock straps. OK. But remnants of Roberto Clemente's plane crash? That's not memorabilia. That's a tragic memory.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.