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Saturday, March 08, 2014

Moore: George Foster doesn’t regret giving away Fisk homer ball

Which brings me to the slew of questions I had for Foster, the starting left fielder and prolific slugger for the Machine.

“You say the auction is happening this April? Wow,” said Foster over the phone from the Reds’ spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., where he is involved in one of the many charitable groups that he runs.

So I started there: Given the mega bucks that will be involved next month in the auction for the Fisk ball, and given that Foster surely could use some of those pennies to help his love affair with philanthropy, did he wish he hadn’t given the ball away “to a friend as a souvenir” in 1999?

Foster paused, and then he said without the hint of regret, “Back then, you really didn’t look at the value of things like that. It wasn’t until sometime after that, when you started to hear of people saving dirt from the World Series, or even broken bats and different gloves and those types of things.

“Back then, it wasn’t really a big deal for us. You don’t realize the value of a ball until it’s in somebody else’s hands, because you looked at it as more of sentimental value, not monetary. When I gave [the Fisk ball] away, no value was placed on it, because it was more of a gift to somebody else from that World Series.”

Foster didn’t name that “somebody else,” but soon after the ball left his hands in 1999, it was purchased later that year by Red Sox fan Rick Elfman, when Elfman paid an estimated $110,000 for it during the first auction for the ball.

...Eventually, Foster dropped the ball into his duffel bag for no particular reason, and it remained there through Game 7 the next day and during the Reds’ trip back to Cincinnati. After that, Foster returned to his home in California for the winter with his duffel bag—you know, the one that just happened to have baseball history stuffed between sweat socks and underwear—and carried on with the rest of his life. The days became months, and the months became decades, and for the Fisk ball, there was no special trophy case at Foster’s home, no security box at the bank . . . no big deal.

It led to this: When that “somebody else” asked Foster for a souvenir from the 1975 World Series, the man who is famous for his black bat and his overall generosity gave the Fisk ball away with a shrug.

Just the way Foster shrugs over the memory now.

“You’re just punishing yourself if you worry about those types of things, because there is nothing you can do about them,” Foster said, before adding, “It’s like water under the bridge.”

Thanks to Los.

Repoz Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:20 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   1. BDC Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:39 PM (#4668243)
Back then, it wasn't really a big deal for us. You don't realize the value of a ball until it's in somebody else's hands, because you looked at it as more of sentimental value, not monetary. When I gave [the Fisk ball] away, no value was placed on it


That has the ring of truth about it, even for as recently as 1975. Sports items were often saved and displayed, of course, but the idea that every one had a commodity value and the ones involved in famous moments a huge value had not evolved. As a result, you could probably make a list of most precious sports relics that have definitively disappeared. There are at least two books (the novel Underworld and the nonfiction Miracle Ball) about the disappearance and possible reappearance of the 1951 Branca/Thomson baseball, for instance, just because it is so mysterious.
   2. Morty Causa Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:55 PM (#4668246)
I kind of think Fisk is the person who would have had the greatest claim to the ball.
   3. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:59 PM (#4668249)
That has the ring of truth about it, even for as recently as 1975. Sports items were often saved and displayed, of course, but the idea that every one had a commodity value and the ones involved in famous moments a huge value had not evolved. As a result, you could probably make a list of most precious sports relics that have definitively disappeared. There are at least two books (the novel Underworld and the nonfiction Miracle Ball) about the disappearance and possible reappearance of the 1951 Branca/Thomson baseball, for instance, just because it is so mysterious.

That's because in 1951 and 1975 people had a far greater tendency to look forward rather than backward. You also see it, of course, in stadium architecture and the relative lack back then of ersatz renditions of what had come before.
   4. GregD Posted: March 08, 2014 at 01:30 PM (#4668260)
Who is the "friend"? Pete? He is exactly the kind of person who would ask for a gift and then turn around and sell it, right?
   5. Sunday silence Posted: March 08, 2014 at 02:36 PM (#4668285)
I think it's sad to see the Reds go from world champion baseball team in the 70s to now one of a number of charities run by Geo. Foster.
   6. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 08, 2014 at 03:39 PM (#4668319)
At least Foster seems to have a pretty healthy attitude about things. No sense driving yourself crazy.
   7. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 08, 2014 at 06:53 PM (#4668392)
That has the ring of truth about it, even for as recently as 1975.

But not for 1999, when he gave the ball away. Foster had to know it was worth big money then. He probably didn't expect the "friend" to turn right around and auction it off.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: March 08, 2014 at 07:10 PM (#4668396)
That's because in 1951 and 1975 people had a far greater tendency to look forward rather than backward. You also see it, of course, in stadium architecture and the relative lack back then of ersatz renditions of what had come before.


Is this people in general, or just baseball people?
   9. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: March 08, 2014 at 08:08 PM (#4668413)
That's because in 1951 and 1975 people had a far greater tendency to look forward rather than backward. You also see it, of course, in stadium architecture and the relative lack back then of ersatz renditions of what had come before.


I generally disdain the "this generation today just doesn't get it" trope, but if I were to say one thing is true of my generation (Generation Y, millenials, etc.) it is that we generally don't look backward enough. Never has it been easier to expose ourselves to yesteryear's greatest accomplishments, and I find that very few people my age are interested in it at all. On the other hand, I'm not sure looking backward has all that much practical value beyond accumulating interesting (in the eye of the beholder) knowledge.

EDIT: I notice this phenomenon most with regards to sports and music.
   10. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: March 08, 2014 at 10:44 PM (#4668462)
Wait, Dave Grohl was in a band before the Foo Fighters?
   11. Zach Posted: March 09, 2014 at 12:38 AM (#4668482)
but if I were to say one thing is true of my generation (Generation Y, millenials, etc.) it is that we generally don't look backward enough

On the one hand, true. On the other hand, I personally would not mind if the practice of paying huge amounts of money for memorabilia/baseball cards/magic cards/anything related to Star Wars/ you name it ended immediately. There's such a thing as preserving history, but there's also such a thing as geeking out about ephemera.
   12. Select Storage Device Posted: March 09, 2014 at 01:47 AM (#4668500)
I would also like the things I don't like to end immediately.
   13. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: March 09, 2014 at 10:23 AM (#4668532)
I generally disdain the "this generation today just doesn't get it" trope

No generation ever does. Looking backwards is what old men do, not young men.
   14. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: March 09, 2014 at 10:23 AM (#4668534)
Wait, Dave Grohl was in a band before the Foo Fighters?

They were called "Wings".
   15. The John Wetland Memorial Death (CoB) Posted: March 09, 2014 at 10:51 AM (#4668541)
Is this people in general, or just baseball people?


Oh, man, don't get SBB started ...
   16. Morty Causa Posted: March 09, 2014 at 11:18 AM (#4668550)
Nostalgia for most of us begins when we're about five. Why do I have to go to school? Why can't I play outside all the time like I use to? Why do I have to always be cooped up in a classroom doing this ####? And it depends on memory. And memory is woefully adequate. We all pretend we know what the Nation's Founders meant, what Jesus means, what the Bible says, but we don't even know how last week really was--and that's now with all the electronic capabilities of preservation and recall, think of the handicap for most of mankind's existence.
   17. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 09, 2014 at 01:02 PM (#4668602)
At least Foster seems to have a pretty healthy attitude about things. No sense driving yourself crazy.

Totally agree with this perspective. Hell, in 1990 I sold a book for $750 that's now worth close to $100,000 or more, and two of the leading rare book dealers in the country had had a part in setting that 1990 price. So what are you gonna do, comb the Earth for a time machine?

---------------------------------------------------------

That has the ring of truth about it, even for as recently as 1975.


But not for 1999, when he gave the ball away. Foster had to know it was worth big money then. He probably didn't expect the "friend" to turn right around and auction it off.

Here you have to separate two distinct truths.

The first truth is that by 1999, iconic "event souvenirs" were fetching a hell of a lot of money at Mastro, Lelands, etc., even if they weren't getting then what they would be today.

But the second truth is that it's entirely possible that George Foster wasn't a subscriber to Sports Collectors Digest, and like 99% of normal Americans, didn't devote much of his time to keeping up with trends in the sports memorabilia market.

And it's also quite possible that since Foster was only an incidental and irrelevant part of that signature moment, the ball wouldn't have meant nearly as much to him as if he'd hit the home run himself.
   18. PreservedFish Posted: March 09, 2014 at 01:12 PM (#4668606)
Hell, in 1990 I sold a book for $750 that's now worth close to $100,000 or more, and two of the leading rare book dealers in the country had had a part in setting that 1990 price.

What book?
   19. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 09, 2014 at 01:50 PM (#4668632)
Hell, in 1990 I sold a book for $750 that's now worth close to $100,000 or more, and two of the leading rare book dealers in the country had had a part in setting that 1990 price.

What book?


(TMI ALERT)

Glad you asked (smile), because there's a story at both ends of the deal. The book was the first printing of W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk, which is (and was) rare enough in itself, but what made this particular copy nearly unique was that it had its original dust jacket, which (big added bonus) was also in fine condition.

In the late 80's, the Atlanta Public Library was a steady customer at my first shop in Georgetown, and I'd developed a very good working relationship with the woman who was their chief rare book buyer in their African American history section. In 1990, after I'd moved the shop to Bethesda, she called me to say that they'd been granted $20,000 to purchase books for a new wing of the library that would be housing their rare African American books. And she wanted me to come up with $20,000 worth.

By coincidence, a local big time AA collector had just told me he wanted to sell a big part of his collection as a whole, which he'd had appraised at $20,000. Yada yada yada he agreed to sell it to me for $19,000, which meant that I'd make a quick $1,000 without having to deplete my existing collection.

So I got my check, then yada yada yada and this guy then backed out of the deal. Sellers remorse prevented. I called the Atlanta woman to explain, but she said to just cash the check and come up with replacement books any way that I could, since they didn't need the books for several years, which is when that new library wing was opening. Naturally I was grateful, but where in the hell was I going to come up with that material?

But then a third bit of lucky coincidence struck: The daughter of Vachel Lindsay, the poet who'd "discovered" Langston Hughes when he was a busboy** in a Washington hotel, called to say she wanted to sell a large collection of Hughes's letters and signed books. In 1990 Hughes signatures were relatively common, but after buying them all, I was about 80% of the way of fulfilling the Atlanta order.

That's when the DuBois book comes into play. I called up a local rare book dealer friend, John Thomson (now the President of the national ABAA), who'd just bought a small but very nice collection of black history and literature. Among this collection was the DuBois book and a comic book called The Montgomery Story that was signed on the cover by Martin Luther King. He gave me the usual 20% dealer discount, and my profit was in the margin, since I just kept his original retail prices and passed them on to the library.

So where did he get that $750 price? Well, it turns out he'd gotten it from Allen Ahearn's price guide to first editions, which in the pre-internet age was a standard reference book. But what he DIDN'T notice when he'd gotten that price from Ahearn was that Ahearn had stated that for books before 1920, the prices assumed NO DUST JACKET. And anyone with five minutes of bookselling experience knows that for truly rare books of a certain vintage, the value is 90% in the dust jacket, and not in the book itself. So we both kind of blew it on that one, and the Atlanta library got themselves an incredible deal.

Fast forward to 2005, and I get a call from Henry Louis Gates, who was trying to convince Harvard to publish a complete set of facsimile editions of the works of DuBois, including facsimile dust jackets. But when he'd tried to find that book in New York, all the rare book dealers had told him that the dust jacket didn't exist. Luckily, he'd also mentioned it to Leon Litwack, a rather well known Berkeley history prof who'd seen my copy in the back room of my shop, and he passed that info on to Gates.

And here's where it really gets sad. I gave Gates my contact's name in Atlanta, and she agreed (of course) to let him come down and scan the jacket of that book and any other DuBois first editions they had in their collection. But just after Gates made his plane reservation, he got a second call to inform him that the dust jacket and the signed comic book had been put in a box labeled "paper ephemera"---and that the box was missing. And to this day, I don't think it's ever been found.

Boys and girls, never trust libraries.

**The local Busboys and Poets cafe chain was named with that bit of history in mind.

P.S. A few years later, I bought a first edition of George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London (in a nice jacket, of course) for $500 from my same dealer friend, and it's now worth in the neighborhood of $4000 if you can even find a comparable copy. So for both me and George Foster, you win some and you lose some.

   20. GregD Posted: March 09, 2014 at 02:50 PM (#4668655)
Great story! Litwack is a legend
   21. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 09, 2014 at 03:03 PM (#4668661)
Great story! Litwack is a legend

I had another great customer BITD who always said he "hated" Litwack. I was pretty sure I knew the reason, but I made him spell it out anyway: Turns out that when he was in grad school out in Berkeley in the late 60's and early 70's, every other time he's go to one of the better used shops in the area (Moe's, Bolerium, Black Oak, etc.), the owner would inevitably tell him that Litwack had "just been here an hour ago" and had bought up every one of his better new arrivals. Knowing how Litwack used to inhale books from my shop and the other two or three good used shops in the DC area, and hearing similar tales from other big time rare book dealers, it didn't seem like an apocryphal story. I've got a pretty damn good AA collection myself, but Litwack's has to be one of the 2 or 3 best private collections in the world.
   22. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: March 09, 2014 at 03:11 PM (#4668665)
No generation ever does. Looking backwards is what old men do, not young men.


That's a fair point, and I probably am being too hard on this generation. This is a personal problem as I find it very irritating when people discuss "the greatest ____ of all-time," and then make no effort to include subjects from "all-time." The recent article about Ozzie Smith's Mount Rushmore of shortstops is a great example. I don't care if someone labels something "great" or whatever, but don't use "all-time" unless you really mean it. Likewise, I have many friends who have no use for sabermetrics, and I love to talk baseball with all of them. However, when one of them starts talking about how Brandon Phillips is worth more money than Joey Votto, because "count the RBIzzz, man," then I get a little frustrated.
   23. BDC Posted: March 09, 2014 at 04:36 PM (#4668706)
That's a great story, Andy, not TMI at all.
   24. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 09, 2014 at 05:06 PM (#4668721)
Enjoyed the story about the book, Andy.

I still disagree about Foster and 1999, though. By 1999, the baseball memorabilia boom was well into its second decade, and the average man on the street knew such items were worth big money. It's hard to believe a former player, someone who was probably a regular on the autograph circuit, didn't know the baseball had major value. It seems like he doesn't want to throw the "friend" under the bus, which is both understandable and laudable.
   25. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 09, 2014 at 05:08 PM (#4668722)
To give you a rough idea of just how volatile those rare book prices can be, I hadn't checked on that Orwell Down and Out for about a year, when a copy roughly comparable to mine was listed at about $4000. Just for fun, I went to abebooks a minute ago and found but this one listing. ####### unbelievable, though I doubt it could ever catch up to what that DuBois could ever go for, if anyone could ever find another copy with its dust jacket. (smile)

   26. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 09, 2014 at 05:22 PM (#4668725)
Enjoyed the story about the book, Andy.

I still disagree about Foster and 1999, though. By 1999, the baseball memorabilia boom was well into its second decade, and the average man on the street knew such items were worth big money. It's hard to believe a former player, someone who was probably a regular on the autograph circuit, didn't know the baseball had major value. It seems like he doesn't want to throw the "friend" under the bus, which is both understandable and laudable.


Yeah, that admirable reluctance on Foster's part might well be part of what's going on here. But there are still two counterpoints to consider.

First, while Foster might have been part of the autograph circuit, his signature never had any real value, and as a result it's unlikely that he would have been showing up at venues like "The National", which is where the truly unique items most often get offered. Even icons like Mantle and Dimaggio, who essentially started the whole Icon Signings schtick back in the early 80's, usually were doing smaller shows whose promoters wanted to goose up the attendance. The shows that featured the very best stuff didn't really need all that extra buzz, and even when they were going after players, it wasn't the Fosters whom they went after, especially considering that Foster's career didn't end in a blaze of glory in New York and Chicago.

And the second point might be somewhat arguable or even pedestrian, but unless Foster was one of those players throwing away his money in retirement, the few thousand dollars that such a ball might have gotten back then might not have seemed as big a deal to someone who earned over 10 million bucks in his career as it would have meant to you or me.

Truth is, there may be no simple explanation for what Foster did. Only Foster himself really knows. I'm just throwing out a few alternatives to the ones that were being offered.
   27. GregD Posted: March 09, 2014 at 05:43 PM (#4668737)
've got a pretty damn good AA collection myself, but Litwack's has to be one of the 2 or 3 best private collections in the world.

Does he still come in?

The last couple of times I saw him, he still had a lot of the fire but was visibly slowing down.
   28. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 09, 2014 at 07:03 PM (#4668769)
Greg, I closed my shop at the end of 2006. Just before that Leon had had a minor stroke, and then he retired from his full time position at Berkeley in 2007. But I'm almost certain that he's still up and about. and at least somewhat active on the lecture circuit. If you ever run into him again, please say hello from Andy of the Georgetown Book Shop. He's one of my all time favorite public figures, and an absolute prince of a man.

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