Surprise shouldn't come into it. The Donruss Company, purveyors of trading cards, purchased a game-used Babe Ruth jersey at auction last summer for over $250,000. What did we think Donruss was going to do with it? Hang it in the lobby?
The only shock is that the 2,100 packs of baseball cards, each of which will contain one square inch of the Ruth jersey, will not be on the shelves until November. With the Yankees in the World Series, you'd think Donruss would have rushed the product to market this week. By November, sports fans and investors may be more interested in stray threads and sequins from Anna Kournikova's farewell tennis dress, or perhaps polished, hockey puck-shaped relics cleverly rendered from the bones of Bobby Orr. (I know, I know, he's still alive, but don't you figure he could spare a radius, an ulna, maybe half a clavicle of a couple of phalanges if the price was right?)
As he lay dying, former Yankees star Mickey Mantle joked about how much his liver might bring on the baseball memorabilia market, and which collector might snag it. I hope everybody understood that as a joke, and that The Mick's failed organ isn't on ice somewhere, waiting for the market to come around.
Selling one-inch pieces of Babe Ruth's jersey isn't the same as peddling the body parts of former greats, of course, though some of the baseball devout are outraged. When he heard about the systematic shredding of the Ruth jersey, Jay O'Neill, a memorabilia collector who apparently has standards, asked "what's next? Cut up Washington's revolutionary war uniform for Donruss's great presidents series? Maybe include pieces of the original Declaration of Independence?"
Well, yeah...if anybody among the current baseball card buying cohort knows what that stuff is, there might be a dollar in it.
Of the marketing of lots of little pieces of Babe Ruth's shirt, Donruss President Bill Dully has said, "items like this were once only available to a couple of people, and now it's available to everyone in the United States..." A contention that ignores the distinction between "it," a whole shirt, and a postage-stamp sized bit of shirt...an unrecognizable piece of "it."
What will the certain success of this campaign say about the state of our tottering empire? The analysis is perhaps best left to sociologists and historians, but the message to each of the Yankees and Marlins currently engaged in the world series is clear: when it's over, don't leave your soggy uniform shirt for the clubhouse boy to pick up...and you might want to hang on to your toenail clippings, too.
This program aired on October 22, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.