The Tigers' 6-foot-4, 240-pound Miguel Cabrera won the 2012 Silver Slugger award and is probably the best hitter on Earth. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
The bids on Miguel Cabrera’s baseball card have already topped $4,000. In the modern world of card collecting and memorabilia, it’s probably a good investment.
If that’s too steep, an online auction house called Small Traditions also has a game-worn piece of hosiery from Kalamazoo’s Derek Jeter with a high bid so far of $51. In the modern world of card collecting and memorabilia, it’s a sock.
The Cabrera who leads the Detroit Tigers into the playoffs Friday night stands 6 feet 4 and weighs 240 pounds. The one on the card from 13 years ago is so earnest and cute that you want to pinch his cheek.
Back then, he was a 185-pound teenager with a gap-toothed smile and no idea that the card he was signing might someday be worth half the annual income of the average Venezuelan. That’s the world of collecting, where a tiny crease can slash the value of one card and a player’s foul-ups can slash the value of thousands of them.
“I write little notes to myself sometimes,” says Dave Thorn, 35, the former English teacher who founded Small Traditions in Denver 13 months ago: “ ‘It’s just baseball cards.’ ”
Some of them might be worth seven figures, like the 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner that sold for $2.1 million in April. But they’re all just little cardboard rectangles that kids clip to the forks of their bicycles to make engine sounds ...
Until their dads shriek and yank them out of the spokes.
PSA 10 Gem Mint
The Cabrera item is known formally as a 2000 Topps Traded Autographs #TTA40 Miguel Cabrera RC Rookie Card.
What makes this one special is its condition. As graded by the people who actually make a living grading baseball cards, it’s a PSA 10 Gem Mint, the most pristine condition possible. No fading, perfectly centered, corners sharp enough to cut a ballpark kielbasa.
Cabrera cards similar to the one in the auction have moved recently for $7,000 to $8,000, Thorn says, partly because only a few were signed, partly because they managed to get shipped to and from a ballplayer with no damage, and largely because Cabrera grew up to be the best hitter on Earth.
He won’t be forever, but that’s not the real gamble in spending thousands of dollars for his likeness. Poor performance might hurt the price, but a bigger risk is poor deportment.
At one point, Thorn notes, some of Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez’ cards were selling for more than $10,000. After two steroids scandals and years of clumsy, boorish behavior, they’ve dropped to $200.
Kids get back into hobby
Jeter, the future Hall of Famer out of Kalamazoo Central High, has been the anti-Rodriguez — someone who has played and carried on with grace even amid the prying eyes of New York City.
For all of that, his blue sock with a stitched-in “No. 2” has limited appeal. Among the 1,500 items in the no-reserve auction that ends at 11:11 p.m. Saturday, it stands alone as having once fit between an athlete’s foot and his shoe.
His early career coincided with what Thorn calls “an interesting time in the hobby,” when manufacturers realized that collectors would pounce on most any kind of high-priced card or special insert. Even before Jeter’s major league debut in 1995, he’d been featured on 330 cards — some of which now sell for $5,000.
Buying cards became “more akin to playing the lottery,” Thorn says. “That bothered a lot of people.”
But in a 25-year-old store in Sterling Heights, baseball seems to be returning to its grass-stained roots.
“I’m definitely seeing more kids the last few years,” says Ron Ankawi, 62, of Grand Slam Sport Shop. “I’m glad to see them getting back into it instead of messing around with iPhones.”
Not only are they looking up from the screen, they’re looking up to ballplayers. A kid can buy a favorite Tiger for $1 or $2 — for enjoyment, not for an investment — and that’s the trend.
Ankawi’s advice: “Do it for fun.” And don’t buy a sock unless your feet are cold.