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May 08, 2002

Collecting history
By Dan Patrick

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure. That has never been more apparent than the recent $10,000 bid on "ABC gum" from the mouth of Diamondbacks slugger Luis Gonzalez. This situation begs for an examination of the world of collectibles.

Gonzo's Gum
A piece of bubble gum, chewed by Luis Gonzalez sold for $10,000.
The scope of souvenirs extends far beyond bats, balls, gloves, pucks and jerseys. TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager flaunts sports memorabilia throughout his Atlanta bars, some of which border on the outrageous: Hall of Famer George Brett's jock strap, the bra of Morganna (baseball's kissing bandit), and thoroughbred Seattle Slew's, er, chippings (to name a few).

And when Dallas Mavericks' forward Dirk Nowitzki shaved his golden locks, Sager kept a sample for his collection.

You may be wondering how one gets ahold of such priceless items. When I interviewed him, Sager admitted to "forgetting" to return items used as props. For example, Sager "forgot" to return the bat with which Pete Rose set the NL record for hits.

Thankfully, there are also more conventional collectors, like "Spin City" actor Charlie Sheen, who shared his passion for sports and sports memorabilia on my radio show Tuesday. Sheen, a former standout athlete in high school, is well-known for popular roles in back-to-back baseball movies. He played Hap Felsch in "Eight Men Out" and then the fictitious Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn in "Major League."

A diehard fan and student of the game, Sheen recently wrote the forward to Steve Travers' new book, "Barry Bonds: Baseball's Superman." In 1989, Sheen spent $94,000 on the Mookie Wilson ball that went through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He refers to this possession as the "Mookie ball," but it's better known to Red Sox fans as the elusive grounder they feel cost them the World Series.

At the time of his purchase, Sheen's family members questioned his motives and his sanity. But he compares his enthusiasm for collecting baseball memorabilia to their passion for antiques. He rationalizes by viewing these items as antiques with stories. When you buy an antique, you never know who used that dresser or coffee table or who slept in that bed without doing exhaustive research. But with sports items, you know the whole story. Baseball is such a part of our society and culture that Sheen sees it as money well-spent, like buying a piece of history.

Sheen also owns Babe Ruth's 1927 World Series ring (acquired for the bargain-basement price of $225,000) and one of the two contracts that delivered Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees. He kept these items in a safe-deposit box until he could safely display them in his home. To him, they're not just valuable -- they're priceless.

In the hopes of catching a home-run ball, Sheen once rented out the entire left-field bleachers for an Angels game. Unfortunately, none were hit to left field that night.

Sheen doesn't collect things to turn a profit. He collects items because of what they represent to him and to other fans.
Sheen doesn't collect things to turn a profit. He collects items because of what they represent to him and to other fans. He thought about bidding on the Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds balls but decided against it.

He feels it's too soon to know if those records will stand very long. He certainly guessed right on McGwire.

Sheen is more interested in collecting items with lasting value that are symbolic to a particular time and era. Not to take anything away from Bonds, but it's just not clear what that 70th home-run ball will mean to this generation. But Babe Ruth resonates to this day. And Buckner's error on the Wilson hit is an indelible part of World Series lore.

Personally, I'm not a huge collector of memorabilia. The most I've ever spent was $500 for a Cal Ripken autographed jersey. I have a pair of Lenny Dykstra's size nine spikes from the year he finished second in the MVP race. He left them behind after an interview so they became mine, a la Sager. I've also got one of Tim Duncan's sneakers from the year the Spurs won the NBA championship, an autographed Ryan Leaf football (sure to be a collector's item) and a Mitch Williams-Joe Carter autographed baseball from the 1993 World Series.

I keep some of these items at my home, others at the office. Some mean more to me than others. Value is subjective. To each his own. Keeping chewed gum in a display case makes me wonder, but I guess it's better than on the bottom of your shoe.

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Memorabilia enthusiast Charlie Sheen shares stories surrounding his prized pieces of baseball history.
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