Why Does It Have to Be So Complicated?

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My dad told me a story the other night how as a teenager in the 1940’s, he’d go to Brown’s Sporting Goods on Yonge St. to buy used sticks from the Leafs.  Browns’ had a deal with the Leafs to sell the cracked or broken sticks to the public because even though cracked, the stick was still durable enough for a kid to use.  Also because the sticks were wooden they would dry out over the summer and become too brittle for the players to use.

He wore number 15 playing for his team; so it seemed only fitting to purchase the same number worn by the Toronto Maple Leaf; at the time that happened to be Howie Meeker.   He liked the stick because it had the number 15 stamped on the handle.  It was as simple as that.  Not because Joe Primeau, Red Horner or the Metz brothers had one time, worn the number 15 throughout their careers with the Leafs or what monetary value it may bring.

My first game used stick, as most who know my story are aware, was a Carl Brewer team signed stick.  The thrill of owning a piece of equipment that belonged to a Maple Leaf was spellbinding enough to an eight-year-old, not how much it was worth.  Bobby Hull asking me if I played hockey and who my favorite NHL team was while signing my autograph book, in my eyes is priceless.  Why?

Fifty years later, I tell the story and use the same phrase he shouted back at the fan in the crowded entrance to the Gardens that evening, when asked if he was going to score three that night.

“The names’ Simpson not Sampson,” he shouted to the cheering crowd.

I reluctantly as a young hockey player attended the opening of a donut store called Royal Donut; they were our sponsor and wanted us in attendance.  Standing sulking, I soon was overcome with excitement as Tim Horton appeared from the back of the store as one of the owners.  Not only do I look back fondly at that night, but my dad still smiles at recounting the look on my 7-year old face as I spotted Tim, turned and screamed his name.  I also still have the scratchy photo and autograph from that evening of Tim Horton and I’m not even in the picture.

Former NHL Star Chris Chelios it was said, carried skates, gloves and a stick in the trunk of his car and would often pull over and join in a pick up game at a local rink.  He would also join in ball hockey games on the street.  Why?  He just loved to play the game.

Can you imagine how many guys for years to come will be telling tales of playing with Chelios the one day he just showed up, to join there game.

Its examples like these that form the basis of collecting.  The moment in time is what should resonate with the collector every time they look at a piece.  When I myself walk around my room admiring my collection I can’t help but be carried back in time looking at a piece in the collection.

The Leaf dressing door will always bring back the memory of standing outside that room the first time as a young boy waiting for the Leafs to appear.  I smile every time I look at the dented door handle remembering the door being opened with a force that banged it off the wall.  Then in a flash Johnny Bower was leading them out on to the ice for the warm-up.

Looking at the old cereal boxes, the Salada coins, the beehive pictures are all examples of items that take me back in time.  The Beatles, Ed Sullivan, frozen feet, tingling fingers, playing on outdoor rinks, flipping cards in the schoolyard, stuffing gum in your mouth, are all moments in time that take us back when things weren’t so complicated.

The world today unfortunately has lost that innocence of the athlete/fan.  Oh don’t get me wrong the fans still have that brush with greatness but it usually comes with a price tag or a plastic holder to put it in; to hold its value.

I regularly receive requests to value items and collections.  The common conversation will go something like this,

“Mike I bought a Kessel (fill in any name here) signed jersey the other night at this auction I attended, what’s it worth?”

Now before I answer, the person’s body language will determine how I respond.  If they have that look of someone who just went ‘all in’ on a million dollar poker hand and are waiting for me to flip the card; I temper the response.  The individual who casually asks as an afterthought, I can be more direct but the layered response is the same.  The cost of the sweater is what its worth, however if the player is one you admire or its for a cause you believe in, then you have no downside.

The reality of sports memorabilia today is quite simply; the items of current athletes are plentiful.  Players sign hundreds and hundreds of items for charity events annually.  Players may wear numerous jerseys throughout the season to give the piece the “game worn” appeal.  Players wear jerseys for special events regularly that are immediately auctioned or sold, once the game is over.

The cost of a hockey stick today limits the amount that end up in the hands of the public, but even so, are still plentiful.  The demand and cost obviously depend on the player and the bigger the name; the more the price will inflate.

Unfortunately today, we live in a world of extreme wealth and prosperity that lends itself to dishonesty and greed.  Having said that, while the innocence of collecting or acquiring a piece of memorabilia comes with a price, it doesn’t have to be that way.  My consistent piece of advice for collectors today is the same message I pass along time after time.  Collect the piece because you are a fan of the athlete, team or sport not because it may increase in value.

If people follow this lead I can guarantee the items hanging on the walls of the family sports cave, office, bedroom or any place so deserving, will put a smile on there faces for a lifetime.