Like everyone in the city of Toronto I was caught up in the magnificent run of the Blue Jays, which sadly came to a heartbreaking loss in Game 6. We’ve been season’s ticket holders for six years, so watching the development of this brilliantly orchestrated and very talented ball club has been extremely gratifying. Alex Anthopoulos through patience, great scouting, good drafting, aggressive moves and some good old fashioned luck did a job nothing short of spectacular.
The blue print is simple; load the organization with depth at every position enabling the kids to develop, thus then allowing the GM to make the trades he did at the deadline. Otherwise, those trades never happen.
I’ve expounded in the past that all of us Leaf fans have to pray that the good folks at MLSE are paying attention and adhere to the model. From what we have seen so far, it looks like that is the case. When things get bleak this year (and at some point they will) plop in front of your TV and replay game 5 of the ALDS to remind you of what is possible. It’s interesting to note that coach Mike Babcock encouraged the Leaf players to attend that game to experience the electrifying environment and what they could be a part of one day. Reading the player comments after game 5, it worked because to say they were overwhelmed, would be an understatement.
This now brings me to the point of today’s blog. With the terrific storyline centered on the Jays and you could make similar cases for the other three teams in the final four, why is it everything but that?
Jose Bautista hit the biggest home run of his career and third biggest in franchise history, yet all anyone wants to talk about is the bat flip. Really?
I watched in utter astonishment as Texas pitcher Sam Dyson who served up the fat pitch that ended his teams season dis Jose for flipping his bat after the epic dinger.
Is this stuff serious? That’s all you were concerned about and why you chirped Edwin in the batters box? This clown just served up a batting practice pitch to the best home run hitter in baseball since 2010 and instead of apologizing to his teammates, was worried how he got shown up?
What about game three pitcher Derek Holland wiping his butt with a Jays rally towel before game one at the Rogers Center; that’s not disrespectful to the game and opponent? Not to mention the thousands of kids at the game and now hundreds of thousands viewing on social media. Now the baseball gods took care of that jerkoff Holland in game 3 when he was lite up like an airline runway. Maybe he should have saved the towel to hide his face from the embarrassing performance he put on?
Its’ no coincidence that ALCS champs (it took 3 attempts to type that) the Kansas City Royals let their talking take place on the field. They did it with great offense and defense but our Jays gave them all they could handle, especially after Jose’s clutch 2-run shot tied the score late in Game 6. But it was not to be even after Toronto had runners at 2nd and 3rd with none out in the 9th, then retired in order to put the final nail in the Jays coffin.
What’s lost in the Blue Jays great season was the response of the fans. The message has been sent to Rogers loud and clear, which is, you make the effort, so will the supporters of the ball club. The city and country have embraced this team with open arms and despite the outcome, the future has never looked brighter for our Toronto team. The “team-first” approach was entrenched way back in spring training and while we have heard white noise before, management appears committed to the challenge this time and that’s extremely positive.
Folks we live in a society of the “me first” attitude and needn’t look any further than my favourite egomaniac, self-centered athlete, Lebron James. He represents everything that’s wrong with sports today and the classic example; the vote with fans, whether he should slap his hands with talcum powder before each game, along with what number he’d wear. Seriously? But he is the face of the game and it sells, unfortunately. Dr. James Naismith must be turning in his grave.
You don’t think fellow golfers wanted to wrap a club around Tiger Woods head when he’d make a putt and follow up with the hockey fist pump? Talk about showing up an opponent. But he was the face of the sport and was increasing the viewership along with the purses, thus everyone accepted it.
Who remembers Rickey Henderson, May 1, 1991 breaking Lou Brocks all-time stolen base record, jumping up and calling himself the greatest? Can you say selfish, egotistical and a jerk? Yeah maybe, but let me ask you this, where you thinking that the night of October 24, 1993 after he lead off the bottom of the 9th and scored on Joe Carter’s World Series winning home-run? Of course you weren’t.
I realize the sizzle is what sells the steak, but at some point the substance becomes a factor and must either make the grade or move on. Grown men play kids games that allow us to wrap ourselves in the moment, forgetting about the strains of life we all deal with on a daily basis. But like anything in life when money’s involved, the element will emerge from the most unlikely sources and unfortunately we must learn to block that out.
We as fans get to live in the moment, when nothing else matters except what’s happening on the playing surface in front of us. I will forever remember where I was the moment Jose hit both those historic home runs and that my friends is what it really is all about. Now if only the Leafs can take us on a similar ride one day, is that too much to ask?

I’ve talked about the valuations of memorabilia in the past and those of you that follow me on regular basis know, that it’s not about the money, as far as I’m concerned. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that of course there comes a time when it is about the money.

We live in a world of supply and demand, so it only stands to reason that when an item is pursued, the price of poker increases. As a recent guest on the Humble and Fred radio show (you can listen to the segment on our website under podcasts), the biggest challenge Howard (not so much Fred) experienced was trying to get an estimated value of my collection. One thing people have to understand about collectors is that the value becomes a hurdle to pursue the passion and as a result does become a factor. Confused?

My mantra is the preservation of historical artifacts pertaining to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The objective is to find as many obscure pieces as possible and research the historical significance of every item. This creates a market because someone unmotivated to hang on to artifacts will in turn offer the said piece for sale.

If we talk about valuation, it can be summed up with a old but standard cliché, “It’s only worth what someone is willing to pay.” The Paul Henderson 1972 Team Canada jersey he wore scoring arguably the most historic goal in hockey history, sold for $1.2 million a number of years ago. That exact sweater was offered to me a year before the sale for $175,000 and I thought it was too much. At the time I figured the dealer, brokering the transaction was taking a hefty commission so there probably was a lot of room in the price, but even still, too expensive. Your immediate thought is, I must be some kind of fool for passing on an artifact that was worth 5x what was offered originally. But not so fast folks. When the sweater failed to sell privately, it went to auction. The auction house created a whirlwind of interest and hype surrounding this historic jersey. I was contacted by a major Corporation who wanted to partner to bid on the piece and asked what number would win in the end. They were extremely excited to lock down the jersey, planning a National marketing campaign. The figure they had in mind was $500,000 and when I informed them it wouldn’t be enough, to say the sound of silence was deafening, would have been an understatement.

“Well Mike, how much do you think it will sell for?” he whimpered, in a voice that was barely audible and clearly disappointed.

“Look with all the publicity, some rich guy is going to step-up and either do exactly what you guys are trying to do or just own it because he can, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it sell for at least a million.”
And that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve mentioned in the past, the Gretzky canvas pennant, with Wayne standing alongside Tretiak in their National uniforms. I purchased a number of them, for what turned out to be a few dollars apiece, thinking something was wrong. Less than a year later the pennant was documented as one of the scarcest Gretzky pieces in existence, with an estimated value in excess of four figures.

The Jim Craig collection, featuring 19 pieces of his, from the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” was offered for sale at $5.7 million. The valuation was insane but who am I to judge? If some rich, patriotic American wants to own this group of items and market them, show it off, donate to a museum or just enjoy in his “man cave,” then, all the power to the chap. But really, a million dollar estimate for the flag Craig wrapped himself in after winning? The collection was put up for sale August 1 to November 1, 2015 and when I last checked, was still available.

There are so many mitigating factors involved in placing a value on historical pieces. How can you put a value on the thousands of hours a person like myself has spent walking flea markets, antique shows, card shows, travelling all over the country, scouring through boxes of items, searching for that ever elusive piece? The miles traveled to cities and places (some not so nice) only to come up empty. Long before the easy access to people, places and things of today, it was a painstaking and frustrating endeavor filled with “The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat.”

It’s equally disappointing when the first thing an interviewer or guest ask, is the value of the collection or what’s the most expensive piece in “The Room”. I do “get it” because, the world today puts more significance on anything we have or want once the value has been established and dollar figure then enables the viewer too either see the piece, item or thing as attainable or not.

That being the case, how do you put a value on a poster of Frank Mahovlich I gave a copy to his father and 50-years later relaying that story to Frank, in my room, and he’s hanging emotionally on to every word? Or Ann Barilko reading a letter written by her brother Bill, asking for a tryout with the Leafs and tears streaming down her face? The look and reaction of Wayne Gretzky spotting his “Saturday Night Live” contract in the display case I have of him; what’s the dollar figure you put on that? Listen to his expletives on our website.

Examples like these define what acquiring artifacts are really all about. Discover an item that catches your eye and then research as much information as you can about the piece. It’s surprising what will be uncovered during the process and will lead to a trail of further mystery and intrigue. When you least expect it, the “real finds” are discovered.

Passion, persistence, knowledge and unfortunately money, are qualities associated with anyone who collect anything, may it be wine, cars or even Tim Horton coffee cups (yes I know someone who does collect those). However one thing we can all relate, can be summed up in everything we do in life and quite simply put, “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.”

No truer words were spoken by Scottish rock star, Rod Stewart describing some of the personal hi-lights from the very successful Toronto Toros/Bulls reunion we hosted this past summer.
The reunion was ripe full of story lines all pertaining to the aftermath of the WHA’s 7-year run in existence. Wayne Dillon the first under-age player to sign with the Toronto Toros after a brilliant few years with the Toronto Marlboros. Bobby Hull, leaving the comfort of the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks lured by a million-dollar contract that changed hockey payrolls forever and gave the league creditability. The defection of International star Vaclav Nedomansky to North America, becoming the first player from a communist country to do so and in the process open the door for many players to follow. But his relocation was not without intrigue concerning the KGB and CIA who followed his every move. The signing of many NHL stars including players in attendance such as Paul Henderson, Frank Mahovlich and Jim Dorey.
The late John F. Bassett’s vision and genius, orchestrated a lot of these changes, reshaping the game of hockey forever. Players today can thank Bassett for breaking up the NHL boys club and leveling the playing field that has allowed them to reap the riches they enjoy in the modern game. A biography has been written and will soon be released about Bassett’s life; however, what’s fascinating is that the original book was about the history of the Tampa Bay Bandits in the defunct USFL. While researching the Bandits history, the author kept coming across the name Bassett and realized that the real story was about this Canadian entrepreneur.
So as the 30-ex players mingled and reminisced about the past, they had plenty of material to choose from. Stories circulated about the characters through out the league, missed payrolls, delayed travel, less than pro-standard dressing rooms and so on.
John C. Eaton and Peter Eby attended the reunion reminiscing about joining forces with Bassett along with other prominent businessmen in Toronto ;George Cohen, Ron Barbaro, Steve Stavro (yes that ex-Leafs owner) and Allan Flood to purchase the Ottawa Nationals from Nick Trbovich. Nick Jr. attended the event and brought some wonderful first year memorabilia that put a lot of smiles on the players faces.
Collecting for me, as most of you know by now is all about the story and if there isn’t one, then the piece has no real meaning. Nothing gives me greater pleasure sharing my collection with ex-players and relaying stories about certain pieces then in turn the said player spinning a few stories of his own. I had the chance to show Frank Mahovlich my collection during the reunion but it was a special moment we shared that I’ll hold on to forever.

You may recall one of my first pieces of memorabilia was the colour poster of Frank given as a promotion by Libby’s beans. I gave one the two posters I had to Frank’s father who was the skate sharpener at Leaside arena. He hung the photo in his skate-sharpening booth and it remained in place until he retired. His grandson Ted told me they had family pictures of Mr. Mahovlich in front of the booth and that poster in the background. I was relaying the story in some detail to Frank showing him not only the poster but also the ad promoting the give-away. The whole time I was reliving the story with Frank I couldn’t help notice the genuine interest he displayed, hanging on every word while I described the sequence of events. Its moments like this in life that just seem to unfold, unscripted and just play themselves out. Upon completing the story, what seemed like minutes of emotional silence Frank broke the ice, “Mike I got $500 for that promotion and I know Punch Imlach and the Leafs got more, but I never found out.” He shrugged as if to imply, “what can you do” and continued to stare at the ad and poster. He was truly moved by the story and we didn’t have to say anything because the items spoke for themselves. During that brief encounter it was like we travelled back to that moment, me remembering the look of pride on Mr. Mahovlich’s face as I handed him the poster and Frank? Maybe just remembering his dad.
Also during the reunion I had a chance to speak to Sue Foster, long time companion of ex Leaf and Toro, Carl Brewer. She wrote the book “ The Power of Two,” which is the story of how Brewer and herself took on the hockey establishment over the issue of players pension, eventually bringing down the powerful NHL executive director R. Alan Eagleson, uncovering massive fraud, corruption and trust. Every player past, present and future owes a debt of gratitude for what they accomplished.
Sue is soft spoken and quiet, so it was with polite interest she listened to me recount my connection to Carl. I did notice as I went into more detail about acquiring my first piece of memorabilia, a Brewer game used stick, given to me by a family member who was one Carls best friends growing up, that her face light up with delight. Sue didn’t say anything at first, but she didn’t have too. Her face was flush with emotion and I imagined her picturing Carl giving the stick to me and the joy an innocent gesture brought to a young boy who now as a 61-year-old man was fondly recounting.
“Mike that’s a wonderful story and I’m so happy you shared that with me, thank you.”
The reunion was a huge success and speaking with most of the players we shared stories, talked about different pieces of memorabilia, my favourite items and so on.
I feel very blessed to be in the position I’m in that allows me to host events such as the Toros reunion. But I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to the two special moments I had with Frank and Sue. It was with great pride I had the chance to give them a lasting memory about their loved ones and folks it doesn’t get any better than that.

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Since making Mike Babcock the highest paid coach in NHL history, I’ve repeatedly been asked what lies in store for our boys in blue and white.

A coach is only as good as the players he’s given. A good coach can massage egos, spread ice time and maintain harmony amongst a talented group of players, but a great coach extracts the little extra a player was unaware he had to give. Babcock exhibits both these characteristics.

Mike Babcock’s role with the Leafs will obviously be his biggest challenge to date with the team in need of a major overhaul. But what the hockey world will be watching from afar is how he sets the foundation for the future of the Maple Leaf hockey club. Besides having the players “buy-in,” the criteria to represent the Maple Leafs will be very clear; from the player’s level of compete, to how they carry themselves off the ice. There can be no tolerance because he gets one chance to set the standard that can always be eased but never risen.

Brendan Shanahan’s role will be to steer the ship as planned, regardless of short term successes or failures. If per chance the team is hovering around five-hundred come late December and Joffrey Lupul is having an exceptional year to date as an example, a team short on scoring makes a pitch, for the talented but oft-injured left-winger. The correct answer is, he moves the player and accumulates assets in the form of young players or draft picks, no matter what the immediate impact has on the team. Sound simple? Well trying blocking out the fans and media who now think the Leafs have a playoff shot, so let’s be buyers, not sellers, so why are you trading our best scorer?

Mark Hunter may have the toughest job of the three because he’ll be leading the mandate selecting the picks, scouring the Junior and college rinks around the world. To build a strong contending team, it has to be done through the draft; period. A Stanley Cup winner is built from goal out and must consist of an all-star goaltender, defenseman and center. You can not trade for these players. The ideal situation is building your system up with a number of prospects and hoping a few work out.

In light of the wonderful season the Toronto Blue Jays are having, I would be remiss by not offering some insights for the Leafs to follow. When Alex Anthopoulos took control of baseball operations Oct 3, 2009, the first order of business was to revamp the entire scouting system. It didn’t take long because the jays had 3 professional scouts on the payroll. The mandate was quite simple, strengthen the scouting system and cover the baseball playing countries, counties and cities including high school, college and minor pros. Accumulate draft picks, hunt down waiver wire assets and seldom used players. Young players while skilled but maybe tough to handle, became Anthopoulos specialties. Before setting foot in the locker room the said player was subject to a ‘one on one’ with the boss for the “talk.”

The talk consisted of what was expected of the player to wear a Blue Jay uniform. The past is the past and now you have a chance, live up to our standards, you will enjoy success, you don’t? You will be released and we will find a player who will. Accountability.

The recent trades that has the baseball world humming and the Jays World Series contenders can solely be attributed to the brilliance of Anthopoulos. The significance of the moves is lost in the star power of the names involved because if Alex doesn’t position himself the way he did, those trades for central figures David Price and Troy Tulowitski, never occur. The reason the Jays were in a position to make those trades was the accumulation of assets the last number of years and stocking the minor system with solid prospects. They gave away 11 prospects to make those key acquisitions but because they have depth at every major league position, that allowed the team to take a chance. If they don’t win the World Series, they still have enough depth in the system to be contenders next year and years to follow and continue to replenish the minors with assets.

The Leafs appear to be using the Blue Jay model by stock piling bottom six players, giving them a chance to play and come trade time, moved for draft picks. Last year moving Santorelli, Winnik and Franson at the trade deadline allowed just that.

The process will be slow and the roller coaster ride of emotions will be unbearable at times, but the end reward will be worth the effort. Babcock is surrounded by smart people and bringing Jacques Lemaire on board gives Mike another voice of reason to lean on. Lou Lamoriello will play that role and much more for Shanahan also guiding the direction of the plan as laid out even when things seem they can’t get any worse. And they will.
There are no guarantees in life and sports is no exception, however the one common denominator between the athlete and the fan is an old cliché, “gives us a chance to win every night.”

In summary all we can ask from the Leafs are smart decisions, patience and luck, hopeful that the end result will mirror that of our other team a few blocks away from the ACC.

We are in the process of organizing a reunion featuring the Toronto Toros team that was a part of the WHA between the years 1972-79, including the team’s tenure not only in Toronto, but Ottawa and Birmingham. The fascination with this historical time in hockey is gaining a lot of traction and the interest in the reunion is beyond our initial expectations with over 30 former Nationals/Toros/Bulls committed to attend. While the storyline is ripe with drama and historical significance spanning defections, underage signings, outbidding NHL teams for players, it’s the stories uncovered behind the scenes while tracking down the players that I’m finding particularly interesting.

Rabbi Moshe Stern was stationed in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama named Mountain Brook, also home to a number of the players on the Bulls team that had relocated here after a few unsuccessful years in Toronto. Birmingham is mostly Southern Baptists and a very religious region but also had a diverse array of different religions. Rabbi Stern was one of the Chaplains assigned to the Bulls that entailed a chapel for players before games, but another of his duties consisted of an invocation (prayer) before each home game. He would walk out to center ice before the National Anthem and recite a religious passage to the crowd and players; that was a first of its kind in any sporting arena in the NHL, WHA or NBA.

Paul Henderson was a regular to Rabbi Stern’s chapels and became so fascinated with Judaism that he inquired about converting. Rabbi Stern pointed out the history of Christianity was something that Paul had some exposure to and maybe he should consider exploring further. Henderson after some soul searching listened to the wise advice, eventually becoming a born again Christian.

Rabbi Stern recounted during those days watching games spending a lot of time explaining the rules and nuances of hockey to the locals. He helped break one habit they developed consisting of clapping after the puck was iced by the Bulls, explaining that it wasn’t a good thing because it brought the puck back into their end.
He shared a story how one day with the Jets in town for a game after the morning skate he visited the Winnipeg dressing room. His son Tzvic who was seven at the time wasn’t feeling well and thought maybe he could find a souvenir to cheer him up. Bobby Hull agreed to meet him after practice with a stick signed to his son. After the Jets skate, Hull came out of the dressing room and directed the Rabbi to wait by the ice. Rabbi Stern stood by the player’s bench and while he waited for Hull, a man in a wheelchair rolled into the rink. Bobby greeted the gentleman, then preceded to lift him out of the wheelchair, sit the man down on the player’s bench and roll his wheelchair out on to the ice surface about halfway between the blue line and the goal line. Next Hull, who had changed in to a sweat suit and skates, picked the man up, skated out to the chair on the ice, sat him down, handed him a stick and placed about a dozen pucks around him. For the next 30-minutes the Rabbi watched in astonishment as the gentleman in the wheelchair shot pucks towards the net with Hull retrieving them and placing the pucks back beside the chair. The man had a grin from ear to ear and this kind act by Hull moved the Rabbi in a very endearing way. When the whole exercise was finished Rabbi Stern excitedly said to Hull that what he had witnessed was one of the most heartfelt acts of kindness he’d ever experienced and wanted to share this with the local press because this type of human-interest story should be told. But Bobby Hull would have none of that. While he thanked the Rabbi for his kind words, he went on to say he tried to do this in every city they visited but under no circumstances did he want any publicity. He swore the Rabbi to secrecy and outside of his wife, he’d never told a soul until me 38 years later. He jokingly thought enough time had passed.

Incidentally after the gentleman in the wheelchair left, Hull took Rabbi Stern into the dressing room that was now empty as the players had headed back to the hotel. He took a stick from the rack and showed the Rabbi how he prepared one for game condition, using a blowtorch to heat and bend the blade. Afterwards he taped and signed the stick to the Rabbi’s son.

Arriving home with the signed treasure for his son and a very touching story for his wife, that brought her to tears; his daughter reminded him she was a hockey fan also and why didn’t she get a stick. At the next Bulls game, after explaining his predicament with his daughter, star forward Mark Napier came to the rescue with one of his signed sticks, and both kids still have those prize keepsakes today.

This will be the 3rd piece I’ve written after attending the 2015 National Sports Collectors Convention and sadly it’s not with a glowing heart that I left the fine city of Chicago. The once crown jewel and proud event of the hobby has become nothing more than a glorified flea market in my humble opinion. The only difference is flea markets don’t charge $22 at the door and offer a Super-VIP package for $189 ($179 if purchased in advance). Granted the super pack comes with parking, admittance to the show for 5 days and access to some VIP autographs. That’s the cost of doing business and to put on a huge event such as the National, doesn’t come without a cost, so that part I’m fine with.

The average autograph at the show set you back $80 for a flat object no larger than 8×10, if however you wanted Rod Carew as an example to sign a simple jersey, the cost increased to $250 and for an additional $30 he inscribed up to 5-words as long as it wasn’t any Legends magazines/items or Ron Lewis 3,000 hit Club Posters. Going “all-in” , Rod allowed a photo-op for an additional $80. Now Jim Craig (remember him) for $70 signed a flat object or for $80, any item and for an inscription of 5-words an additional $20 was required. To really spice up your item with Jim and have the inscription “Do you Believe in Miracles” added, that cost an extra $40 and to top it all off with a photo, it was another $30. Maybe Jim should have inscribed, “I believe in Miracles” if he thinks he’s getting $5.7 million for his 1980 Olympic memorabilia he had up for sale at the show. Roger Clemons for a bargain basement price signed a flat or baseball for only $200 but if you asked for a bat or jersey signed, that was $300. Roger looking to give some back to the fans. generously added a 5-word inscription, but only a max of 2-per item for a reasonable $100 and the bonus topper, he threw in a photo of the two of you for another $200. In case you weren’t following the bouncing ball, that was $600 to have your jersey signed with a 5-word inscription (“I most certainly used steroids,” perhaps?) and a picture of Roger. Be still my heart.

The problem here is two-fold, firstly the promoter to attract the stars to the show will have some heavy-duty costs to get the player to agree to sit and sign for a few hours. Secondly the unscrupulous dealers and cheats of the hobby will have items signed and then pass the costs off to the public thus the lofty prices to discourage that practice. This in turn has all but destroyed the pure innocence of collecting; the fan waiting for the player at the stadium, because dealers now pay kids to retrieve signatures that are in turn sold for profit.

I remember times the lineups for autographs were long and steady consistently throughout the shows day. My observation this year. while limited, didn’t see to much activity, although I’m sure the promoter made out just fine.
For the first time a lot of the vendors made a point of discussing the cost to set up at the show. On average for an out of town dealer to make any money over the 5-day show working on a 15-20% margin, would need to generate in excess of $100,000. To a player in the business operating full time, this is not an issue, however numerous vendors setting up, do so only this one time a year and really are collectors at heart so this number is significant. One dealer estimated his first $5.000 of profit barely covered the cost of the table, hotel, travel and food for the week stay, not factoring in additional costs for help with his table.

The industry as I have mentioned in previous ramblings is now mostly in the hands of the auction houses. I myself have these guys hounding me to remember them if and when I ever decide to part with my collection. I was given a VIP pass by a friend of mine at the show so I had early access to attend while the vendors where setting up. That’s the day before the show is open to the public and when most of the big deals occurred, dealer to dealer. Moving throughout the room with very light traffic I was able to speak to a lot of dealers and search the tables thoroughly seeking out that possible unknown or new find to add to my collection. Very disappointingly not only did I not uncover a new find, I spent more on cabs the first day getting to and from the show (used the rail system the other 2-days, way faster).

All was not lost however, because I still got a kick looking at all the characters moving about the room. I did speak to a number of very knowledgeable vendors, collectors themselves and swapped many tales of acquiring items and some of the good and bad guys either still in the business or long gone. The frustration amongst the vendors regarding the lack of interest, the dying local card show and the corporate culture instilled in the business driven by large auction houses like Heritage out of Dallas was very consistent with vintage dealers.

One encouraging thing I did discover this week was the Barilko sweater I mentioned a couple weeks ago was not represented as the “goal” jersey by the dealer, in fact the consigner tried to, but the dealer through some solid research discovered otherwise. This is the type of filters we need to encourage on “every piece” that is sold to the public.

Most of the dealers at the National impatiently discussed items they had for sale, because he couldn’t afford to chit chat if expenses haven’t been met, so if you aren’t willing to spend, then please move along.
And, that my friends, is a crying shame.

I thought I would expand my thoughts on the National with a few other observations.   In last weeks blog I highlighted my concern with the greed factor creeping into the auction part of the business in a more serious way. Once again please understand I’m very aware of the sleaziness the hobby attracts like anything involving money usually does.

Jim Craig as most hockey people are aware was the goaltender for the Gold Medal winning U.S. team at the 1980 Olympic games in Lake Placid. It’s commonly referred to as the “Miracle on Ice,” to some the “Fluke on Ice.”

Jim is in the process of offering for sale, his memorabilia from the games including all his equipment and gold medal. I have no issue with that as a lot of his team mates have been dining out on that victory for 35-years and its his turn. He’s asking $5.7 million for the 19 items. Lelands auction house is brokering the sale and had a very impressive display set up at the National Sports Collectors Convention. The sale is predicated on a first come first serve basis between August 1,, 2015 to November 1, 2015.

My curiosity got the best of me, so I wandered over to the display and loitered around to listen in on some of the inquiries. There weren’t many and this is my pet peeve. The auction house in desperation to secure the business has gone to great lengths to make this “miracle” sale even plausible but at what cost or promise?  Maybe they will deliver and some rich player steps up and makes the purchase. Believe me that only helps collectors like myself so all the power to them.

On the table is a beautifully laid out catalogue featuring elegantly worded descriptions of each piece in the collection along with an estimated valuation. Now keep in mind the auction house will receive a commission on the sale and in most cases the “juice” is 20-22%, in this case a predetermined fee may have been negotiated.

Leland’s used to be a big factor in the hobby but has lost its standing dramatically for numerous reasons. I personally won’t deal with them after a number of incidents in the past and I don’t hear too many nice things said about them from fellow collectors. So immediately creditability becomes a factor.

“Why would Jim sell this?” “His greatest success was not on the ice in Lake Placid or in business, it’s at home with his family. And this is for them. So that when he leaves this earth he will know in his heart that his children are secure, that is more important to him than any hockey game, including the greatest he ever played.

That is the real miracle.” That glowing epilogue of crap comes from the owner of Lelands as an introductory to the sale in the catalogue.   Newsflash, that’s the hope and dream of any father on this earth.

Listen I’m not wishing any bad for Jim and as a matter of fact met him years ago at a golf tournament and he seemed like a great guy. I hope he gets every dime, but let’s look at a few things. He played more games in one season for the National team, playing 48 games whereas in the NHL over the span of a few years he played 30. A smattering of minor-league games and you have what amounts to not much of a career in hockey, save for the Olympic year.   Million dollar plus valuations for the gold medal is possible, the flag he wrapped himself in after the Russian victory, really? His uniform, a staggering $1 to 1.5 million, or how about $250,000+ for the mask? Terry Sawchuk’s mask may get $25,000 if you could find one and do we even have to go through the exercise of talent comparison? I could go on but I think you get the idea. Again, I understand the historical significance of what the team accomplished but is Jim Craig’s goalie stick worth $3-400,000 or his equipment $150,000? That’s the beauty of the world of collecting, it’s an old cliché but it’s worth what anyone is willing to pay. Period. In fairness to Jim, he did what any of us would have done in a similar situation; go to the auction house that will get the most interest and more importantly the most money. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the negotiations and listen to the pitch from the auction house he spoke to if in fact he did shop this around.

The whole point of this rant is not to judge Jim Craig for selling his belongings or what he may profit from as a result of the sale. No, the part that disturbs me is the greed of the auction house to get business using any means possible to secure the consignment.   This may all be on the up and up, but all it does is set the bar a little higher for other auction houses to become more aggressive, promise additional perks or whatever it takes to lock down the consigner. The real loss in all of this noise is the items themselves and certainly not in this case but will clearly bring in to question the validity of the authenticity of future historical items for sale.

It will be very interesting to watch the final out come of this sale but my more pressing concern will be the after effects and further auctions in the future.

Remember, buyers beware.

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One of premier events for sports collectors is the National Convention held annually in the US. It’s an event most of us collectors get most excited about because it draws all the major dealers and collectors from across North America to one gathering to buy, sell, trade and talk about the hobby.

I’m writing this blog after returning from the third day of the show and can’t help but feel a sense of loss and disappointment from what I’ve seen so far.

This year’s convention is being held at the Rosemont Center in Chicago and as usual is held to a higher level, to showcase the event.

While the massive hall at first glance looks full of dealers, upon further inspection touring the room I found a lot of gaps, huge areas taken up by corporate sponsors, auction houses and card companies. Don’t misunderstand me because I’m guessing there are still at least a thousand dealers set up, but it just doesn’t have the same old feel it used too. The emergence of the Internet for online buying and selling has definitely taken a lot of the need to travel to shows out of the equation. The auction houses have drawn a lot of traffic with the higher end items and seem to be gaining further traction. The real eye-opener for me at this years convention is the number of auction houses set up to pry family heirlooms, collectables or generally make contact with possible consigners in the future. I lost count at fifty or more because it was only frustrating me further. I participate in the auctions, although reluctantly, because I prefer eye-to-eye contact with the end seller so that I can gather as much history and facts about the item. My immediate thought about the number of auction houses present is the competitive landscape changing in a big way and not necessarily for the better. Think of all these auction houses bidding for the right to display or offer a consignor’s items in their sale and at what cost. I see some places offering up front money, others will purchase the item outright or guarantee a certain value. All of these promises send nothing but red flags up for someone like me. How much due-diligence is actually done on a specific item or is the word of the consignor all that’s required with some limited research?

In a recent Canadian auction, a Bill Barilko sweater was offered as the one worn when he scored the famous goal in 1951 to win the Stanley Cup for the Leafs. A number of my knowledgeable friends have done some work on other jerseys passed off as such and had some real doubts about the authenticity of this one, but it was sold anyway. I informed an auction house, as did another experienced collector I know, that a Toronto Marlboro jersey advertised as a 1964 Wayne Carlton wasn’t his. In fact the number and the style of the jersey were clearly wrong. The auction house never bothered to follow up with us to see if we were on to something and sold the jersey under false pretenses anyway. This problem will only get worse.

I was listening in on conversations surrounding a few of the tables of these auction houses and in most cases left shaking my head. The current leader in the auction industry is Heritage out of Dallas and they are set up with a huge display occupying an enormous amount of floor space in the center of the convention hall. I smile as I look at the large staff in suits, wearing earpieces and a lot with an arrogance of entitlement that again had me shaking my head watching these guys act like they are the most important people in the room.   It scares me!

They maybe straight up and I have dealt with them, never encountering a problem of any kind, but I still worry. With all these mom and pop looking operations in business, most I’ve never heard, have, cautioned me to be aware. Competition is good and despite what Gordon Gekko says, greed isn’t.

My other observation is, as usual the characters walking the floor. They come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of interest wearing favourite team jerseys, shirts and hats, lugging suitcases on wheels, shoulder bags or knapsacks. Most have their thoughts trained to spot that hunted treasure or new find. Myself I must admit its more a fact finding mission because most of the show is baseball with a sprinkling of hockey but I did manage to find a 1970’s porcelain Maple Leaf skate fastened to a puck as a stand and on the bottom a bottle opener.

The dealers are a sight to be hold and they too come in all shapes, sizes and ages, all transfixed to the bodies approaching their tables with the hope of a trade, sale or purchase. It’s more nervous energy rather than anxiety and that feeling is prominent in all of us no matter what side of the table you happen to be. That’s the part of then show I love the most, the contact with a fellow collector and its irrelevant what we collect, the method to the madness is the same.

The concern that I have after my third day is how watered down this once very significant show has become. One vendor had three booths with one long table stacked with Riddell football helmets. Another had a double booth selling clothes that consisted of jackets, t-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts. There was a table loaded with boxes and cases of cards all 25 cents each. For the record, a table at the show is roughly $2,000 not including hotels, travel, food, extra staff etc. All the new junky cards seem to occupy a number of the tables and admittedly were drawing interest. The pure collector while still present is becoming less visible because most work can be done from the comfort of home on line and that is what upsets me the most. The fear is, as that core part of the business becomes less needed it leaves the door open for the business side to be all that matters. I’m not naive to realize the hobby has gone that way but there is something to be said for the shaggy looking guy with a table full of relics and an encyclopedia brain as well.

Give me that over the stiff in a suit any day.