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Friday, March 09, 2007

Honus Wagner card sells for $2.35 million- LATIMES.com

Every person in the world wishes they were Brian Seigel right now. He has made one of the best transactions of 2007

Unnamed Orange County businessman pays record amount for 1909 card

By Bob Pool, Times Staff Writer
February 28, 2007

Call it the first home run of 2007.

Brian Seigel knocked one out of the park Tuesday by selling the world's most famous baseball card for a record $2.35 million — nearly doubling the price he paid for it six years ago.

The sale of the 1909 Honus Wagner card to an unnamed Orange County businessman was revealed in a ceremony at Dodger Stadium. Its buyer, however, remained a mystery.

Seigel didn't even have to make a pitch to sell the mint-condition slice of baseball history.

"The guy just called me out of the blue and offered to buy it," said Seigel, who heads an asset management company and lives in Las Vegas. "I wasn't planning on selling it."

He described the buyer as a businessman who lived six miles from him when Seigel lived in Tustin.

He speculated that the buyer requested anonymity because he doesn't want his business clients to know that he spent more than $2 million for a 98-year-old piece of cardboard that measures 1 1/8 inches by 2 5/8 inches.

The card — once owned by Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, the former Kings owner, and later by Wal-Mart — is encased in Lucite and mounted in a leather-covered book-like box. It depicts the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop sitting stiffly in front of a bright orange background.

The card was displayed for reporters at the Stadium Club. As an armed guard watched from a few steps away, executives of a sports memorabilia auction company who acquired a small share of the card from the new owner told of hopes to display it at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

"It's long been recognized as the most iconic and highly coveted object in the field of sports memorabilia," said Dan Imler, managing director of SPC Auctions Inc. of Mission Viejo. The card has changed hands four times in the last 10 years, doubling in value on three of those occasions, he said.

It is one of about 50 known Honus Wagner cards and is in the most pristine condition of any of them, Imler said.

SPC President David Kohler, who described it as "the Mona Lisa of baseball cards," said it has a colorful history — including its brief ownership by Wal-Mart.

The huge retailer acquired it to give away in a promotional drawing in the mid-1990s as part of a marketing campaign for a line of baseball cards it was selling. The winner, a Florida postal worker, could not afford to pay the taxes on it, however, and ended up selling it at auction in the mid-1990s for $640,000, Kohler said.

It was acquired by collector Michael Gidwitz, described by Seigel as a Chicago businessman.

Seigel acquired it at auction in mid-2000, paying $1,265,000, he said.Seigel mostly kept it in a vault at a Santa Ana sports memorabilia grading company, Professional Sports Authenticator. But it was frequently shown in public, such as at a 2003 cancer fund-raiser at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, and at collector shows.

A 1983 graduate of Cal State Fullerton, Seigel twice took the card to baseball games there.

"It was Little League day and kids and others filed through to look at it for all nine innings," said Seigel, 46. "They were blown away. I took it to a number of elementary schools, along with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle cards. I did a slide show about baseball card collecting.

"Its previous owner never displayed it. It was just kept locked up. I wanted it to be seen and appreciated. I wanted to get fun from the card."

The auction company's Imler said the high value of the Honus Wagner card comes from its limited production between 1909 and 1911. The cards were inserted in packs of cigarettes — in this case the long-defunct American Tobacco Co.'s Piedmont brand.

But Wagner objected to his picture being used to promote tobacco and ordered it removed from Piedmont and a companion cigarette brand, Sweet Caporal, Imler said."

Honus Wagner was pretty vehemently opposed to smoking. That's well-known," said Mark Roesler, who heads Indianapolis-based CMG Worldwide, which represents the Wagner estate and Wagner's granddaughter, who lives in Florida.

There is no dispute that the Wagner card is authentic, said baseball card expert Mike Berkus, a sports radio show host and director of the National Sports Collectors Convention. But the anti-tobacco claim could be questionable. Some experts have suggested that Wagner simply felt cigarettes were too feminine and did not want to be associated with them.

A 1940s Leaf Candy Co. baseball card pictured Wagner with a hunk of chewing tobacco in his mouth that was so huge "that his head was round," said Berkus, of Villa Park. "He was still alive at the time. And he didn't object to that card."

Berkus speculated that as few as 25 or 30 Honus Wagner cards still exist. Even the most tattered is probably worth as much as $150,000, he said.

Wagner, a baseball Hall of Fame member who had a lifetime batting average of .327, is generally considered one of baseball's greatest players. He died in 1955 at 81.

Pressed as to the identity of the new main owner of the card, the auction company's Kohler jokingly pointed to the armed guard, off-duty Los Angeles Police detective Lt. Michael Florio."

Actually, he's the anonymous buyer," Kohler said.

Florio cracked a giant smile. But he didn't take his eyes off the $2.35-million prize.


Senators to examine baseball deal with DirecTV- AP

March 9, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two senators plan to examine baseball's $700 million, seven-year deal with DirecTV to determine its impact on fans.

Under the agreement announced Thursday, the deal contains a provision that allows its "Extra Innings" package of out-of-market games to remain on cable television if the other incumbent providers -- iN Demand and EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network -- agree to match the terms.

But Robert Jacobson, president of iN Demand Networks LLC, said those terms for the "Extra Innings" package of out-of-market games were impossible for his company to agree to and called it a "de facto exclusive deal."

"I will review this deal to ensure it benefits consumers," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "I'm encouraged that Major League Baseball may be willing to provide broader access to their games than what was initially proposed. I will be watching closely to ensure the league works in good faith so that America's pastime is available to all fans. My concern all along has been that fans continue to have the ability to enjoy baseball on television."

The agreement also drew the attention of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I will be analyzing the commitment to see ... if the conditions for other carriers are satisfactory," Specter said. "This arrangement should motivate the NFL to reconsider broader coverage on its Sunday ticket and Thursday/Saturday programming to make such games available to other carriers beyond DirecTV.

"It may be necessary for the Senate Judiciary Committee to have further hearings on the antitrust implications of the NFL and MLB TV programming and whether it is in the public interest to allow the antitrust exemptions of the NFL and MLB to continue."

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