Baseball card fetches $1.27 million

Imagine what it would be worth if it weren't a worthless piece of paper.

Published July 18, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Somebody paid $1.27 million for a baseball card Monday. It was one of those ones my mom threw out when I went away to college: A Zoilo Versalles rookie card, with Zoilo wearing his Senators uniform.

Actually, it was an extremely rare 1909 Honus Wagner card that has been traded around at jaw-dropping prices for a few decades. Wayne Gretzky used to own it. It's like the Hope Diamond of baseball cards. It sold through an auction on eBay.

The card was put out by the American Tobacco Co. The problem was, Wagner, the star shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates and one of the greatest players of all time, didn't want his name associated with smoking. He was way ahead of his time on that one. He still would be today: Can you imagine current players turning down an endorsement on principle?

Anyway, the tobacco folks withdrew the card, but a few got out, and now if you could manage to hold one of them in your hands, you'd be holding some of the most valuable material on the planet -- about $211,000 per square inch.

Folks: It's not worth it. It's a baseball card. A piece of paper. It doesn't do anything. You can't do anything with it. It's too valuable to put on your wall, even though the only real value it might have would be as something to put on your wall. It must be squirreled away in a safe-deposit box. For all intents and purposes it doesn't even exist as a baseball card, and baseball cards, even when they do exist, aren't really worth much. They're just, you know, baseball cards.

The person who bought it -- who will no doubt drone on about loving baseball at a press conference scheduled for Tuesday -- bought it because he or she (probably he, I'll just go ahead and say) will be able to sell it for $1.5 million someday.

To somebody who won't be able to do anything with it either.

With $1.27 million you could buy 1,000 youth general admission tickets to every Pirates game for the next five years. The Pirates could use the business. And you could give the tickets away to some kids who really do love baseball, as a game, not as an investment opportunity. Honus Wagner would have liked that idea. And Zoilo Versalles certainly would have approved.

By Gary Kaufman

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