By JEFF FIGLER
—Autograph May 2010
Who are the all-time most collectible athletes in hockey, NASCAR and golf? Unlike baseball, where Babe Ruth can stand alone as the all-time most collectible, in these three sports there are two athletes in each sport who vie for the honor.
Hockey is a no-brainer. Sure, the 2010 NHL headliners are Crosby and Olvechkin, but it wasn’t too long ago that “The Great One” and “Mr. Hockey” were the heroes of the day. In fact, “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, whose pro career spanned 1978-1999, surpassed many of Gordon Howe’s records—records that many hockey experts thought to be untouchable. Howe’s marathon professional career began in 1945 and continued until 1980, with a couple of years of retirement in the early ’70s. He made a cameo appearance with the Detroit Vipers in 1997, making him the only player in hockey history to compete at the professional level over six decades
In my opinion, Gretzky and Howe share the honors as the all-time most collectible hockey players, although most hockey followers would give the honor to Gretzky. He set 40 regular season records, as well as six All-Star records and 15 playoff records. He won an amazing nine Most Valuable Player awards and 10 scoring titles. After playing for Indianapolis and Edmonton in the World Hockey Association, he played for Edmonton, Los Angeles, St. Louis and New York in the National Hockey League. Ironically, he never wore jersey No. 9 because he didn’t think he was worthy to wear the same number as Howe. Accordingly, he wore number 99, a number that will never be worn in the NHL again.
A game-used signed Gretzky hockey stick was auctioned for nearly $1,600 a little over a year ago. His 1991-92 game-used Los Angeles Kings jersey went for almost $34,000 and his 1981 Canada Cup game-used jersey was auctioned for nearly $19,000. And, believe it or not, his 1985-86 game-used signed Edmonton Oilers jersey fetched over $88,000 in a 2006 auction. His signed gloves go for about $3,000 while his rookie cards have gone for more than $300.
Gordie Howe’s statistics are a little more down to earth. He “only” won six NHL MVP awards and was SIX times the NHL’s leading scorer. Gretzky did surpass Gordie Howe in most of the NHL statistics but not in total games played, an NHL record that probably will never be broken.
Howe’s memorabilia is very collectible, but doesn’t fetch as much as Gretzky’s. His 1977-78 game-worn jersey was auctioned for nearly $18,000, while a 1970 game-used jersey went for almost $8,000. But Howe’s cards have been auctioned for several thousand dollars, including his 1951 card, which went for almost $11,000.
Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe are indeed the two all-time most collectible hockey players.
Turning to car racing, two racers also stand out, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, as the two all-time most collectible car racers.
Earnhardt, often called “The Intimidator,” won 76 races in the Winston Cup Series, now called the Sprint Cup Series. He won the NASCAR championship seven times. Tragically, he died in a last-lap crash during the 2001 Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt’s memorabilia is in demand. Consider the following: His 1996 Daytona 500 signed race-worn uniform was auctioned for $21,600, while one of his signed race suits from the 1994 Winston Select 500 fetched almost $12,000, and another went for over $41,000. A Winston Cup signed flag was auctioned for $440 and a Dale Earnhardt pit crew jacket signed the day before his fatal accident went for over $1,200. Signed photos and cards fetch from $100-$400.
Like Earnhardt, Richard Petty, “The King,” also won the NASCAR championship seven times. In his career he won a record 200 races, including the Daytona 500 a record seven times. He won 27 races in 1967 alone, including 10 consecutive races.
Petty’s collectibles are not as numerous as Earnhardt’s but are very valuable. Much of his memorabilia is in his family’s hands, and not yet available to the public. Signed photos, magazines, baseballs, and flags are available and generally bring $100-$500.
I consider Tiger Woods the all-time most collectible golfer, despite the recent reports of his off the links activities. But there are two other golfers that are not far behind. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are the golfers I think are the next most collectible after Tiger.
Nicklaus won 113 professional titles, including 73 on the PGA Tour. His record 18 major PGA victories consist of six Masters titles, four U.S. Open titles, three British Open titles and five PGA championships.
Together with Palmer and Gary Player, Nicklaus is credited with helping golf become a major spectator sport in the days before Tiger Woods and company.
A Nicklaus-used golf bag from the ’70s went for almost $10,000 in 2008, and another hammered for close to $7,000. A Nicklaus-signed flag was auctioned for over $1,500, and signed golf balls sell for between $200-$300.
Arnold Palmer won 62 PGA tour events, including four Masters titles, the British Open twice and the U.S. Open. Like Nicklaus, his signed golf balls usually fetch around $200. Signed photos, magazines, and programs sell for anywhere from $150-$300. Signed flags bring several hundred dollars. More of Palmer’s memorabilia is privately owned than Nicklaus’ and not as much is available.
There you have it, my friends. Those are my all-time most collectible athletes from hockey, NASCAR and golf. If your eye is on the future value of your collection, these are the ones to get.
Other sports have their collectible stars, too. Tennis boasts Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, with a signed racquet from either man worth a couple thousand dollars. In boxing, there is the incomparable Muhammad Ali. Ali’s memorabilia is in high demand, and demand will continue to grow. A single-signed Ali boxing glove goes for several hundred dollars, and a signed photo of Ali telling Sonny Liston to get off the canvas is highly collectible and goes for around $300-$400.
While boxing memorabilia is becoming more popular, it still lags behind the memorabilia of other sports.