Imagine if the New York Yankees never had a player named George Herman Ruth. Or even Lou Gehrig, DiMaggio or Mantle. Your answer probably would be, “Well, they wouldn’t quite have the aura of the New York Yankees.”
If none of those Yankees from the Pinstripe Mount Rushmore ever played, imagine the impact on the franchise by Derek Jeter. What an absurd idea, one might say. Jeter never hit 60 home runs in a season or 714 in his career or played in 2,130 consecutive games. He didn’t have a nick- name like the Bambino or the Iron Horse.
Jeter did have a scout who became a Hall of Famer quit over him. Hal Ne- whouser quit the Astros because one of the most unaccomplished franchises in baseball passed on Jeter as the overall top draft pick in 1992 for outfielder Phil Nevin. The Yankees watched Jeter fall to seventh and risked Jeter choosing them instead of going to college.
The rest is history. Fourteen All-Star games and five world championships lat- er, Mr. November has a list of accolades that place him in his own orbit, even for a Yankee. For all the granite that fills monu- ment park, Jeter is the franchise’s hit king and its only 3,000 Hit Club member; and appears poised to land at No. 6 all time between Tris Speaker and Honus Wagner. (Bonus trivia: Only Jeter and Wade Boggs hit home runs for their 3,000th hits.). He’s also played more games in a Yankee uniform than any other Yankee.
The House that Jeter Built doesn’t quite have the same ring as you know what, but it’s safe to call him one of the greatest Yankees ever. Yet, 50 years from today, Ruth and Gehrig memorabilia will remain more desirable than Jeter. Gotham’s great- est shortstop played during the Sweet Spot of the memorabilia industry. Ruth and Gehrig signed for friends and fans alike. Everyone since pretty much signs for money.
Steiner Sports has Jeter items for hefty prices. A Jeter-signed 2014 All-Star Game program is available for $999.99. A signed All-Star Game ball, a limited edition of 222, is $649.99. Like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, Jeter has one distinctive and legible signature. Steiner and MLB.com have capitalized on Jeter-signed items for years.
Marty Appel, the Babe Ruth of Yankees publicists and author, doesn’t believe memorabilia in Jeter’s era will ever com- pare to items or signatures from players before the memorabilia craze blossomed in the 1980s.
“I think Derek will be as appreciated as legendary Yankees of the past, but his memorabilia is much too plentiful,” Appel said. “Still there will always be things that are unique and head-turning. The lineup card from his first game in 1995, things like that. Did he write down notes about what he would say after the last game at Yankee Stadium in 2008? That would be great. But there’s a short list of one-of- a-kinders.”
Richard Albersheim, a dealer and authenticator in Las Vegas, agrees. “I believe it’s hard to compare Jeter to Thurman Munson, Gehrig, or let’s say another Yankee great of recent memory — Reggie Jackson. “Gehrig and Munson died prematurely. Taking away their awesome stats, there’s some romanticism attached to their early demise.”
Albersheim said he believes Jeter’s earlier material that can be positively authenticated (game-worn jerseys) will continue to increase in value. “When I say this, can you photo match the jersey? Do all the tagging and letters and numbers match up?” he wondered. “I believe that as collectors in their 20’s and 30’s age and accumulate more wealth, this material will just continue to rise. Much like stars’ cards from the 1970s, Jeter’s early auto- graphs (pre-Steiner) should keep seeing appreciation, too (i.e., Mickey Mantle).”
Albersheim also sees great potential with milestone games and those from his multiple World Series. “Jeter has already sealed his legacy, but remember he’s had autograph and equipment deals for years. His authentic material is more common than you may think. I guess it really depends on the supply of his items in years to come.”
Heritage Auctions of Dallas and New York in February sold Jeter’s 1996 World Series bat for more than $150,000. “I think it was a good investment,” said Chris Ivy of Heritage. “As with anything, rarity and significance are going to fuel value, so rookie/championship/milestone material has enormous potential from an investment standpoint. And any Jeter game-used stuff should enjoy a slow, steady climb, though all of the modern stars have released far more jerseys, caps, cleats, etc., than any of the guys playing before memorabilia became a multi- billion dollar industry.”
Ivy added that fans most certainly will want to have his autograph in their col- lections, but today’s high prices leave little room for appreciation. “There might already be as many Jeter autographs out there as the other four top Yankees com- bined, and Mantle and DiMaggio aren’t rare either,” Ivy said.
At 40, Jeter has many signing years ahead of him, “so his autograph will only become more and more common,” he added. “I don’t think any star alive for the modern age of mass production in autographs could possibly see the kind of value climb the same as the guys who passed away prior to it.”
Les Wolff, a New York dealer, says Jeter fits into his philosophy that “vintage items in any sport will be worth more money in the future.” He said the product being manufactured is a nice autograph today, but he agrees that Jeter items from milestone or championship games, and rookie signatures or those from his minor league years will carry more history.
“I have autographs of Jeter photographs and cards from his rookie year and from his minor league experience with Colum- bus, when he wore number 13, that I think will carry more meaning and more value for collectors,” he said.
Wolff acknowledged that mass-pro- duced and signed Jeter-items currently carry a premium reserved for the retail market. The Yankee captain will soon enter the lull years between retirement and his induction in Cooperstown. “His signed items won’t climax in price until he gets elected into the Hall of Fame,” Wolff said. Then, his signature will be subject to supply and demand.
Wolff worries about the markets being created for today’s stars and future hall of famers. “I’m not sure who will com- prise the next generation of collectors,” he added. “Young fans are interested in playing video games and playing with smartphones.”
He agreed with bloggers that young fans are more likely to want “selfies” with celebrities than their autograph. “Many collectors from the past 25 or 30 years are selling or thinking about selling autographs,” Wolff said. “But I ask them about the condition of the signature and the autograph surface. The oil in baseball hide is having its effect on the signature. Collectors need to take more care to protect their autograph collections.”
Stephen Koschal of Florida sees Jeter as popular a Yankee as fellow Yankee captain, the late Thurman Munson. The demand for Jeter’s autograph is strong, Koschal said, and as a result, he’s seen evidence of forgers trying to tap into the Jeter market as well. He recalls how fans brought balls and uniforms for Jeter to sign at spring training. He also foresees prices rising after he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, with signed, game-used items leading the way.”
Dealers and authenticators, like col- lectors, resort to platitudinous language when describing the great Derek Jeter. Here goes: He’s earned a place at the table of the larger than life baseball greats. Fans love and hate him for his greatness. He’s one of the best of all-time.
Danny Tuliebitz of World Champion- ship Collectibles, LLC, echoes others by saying, “I don’t think Derek Jeter can attain the kind of status that Lou Gehrig attained. He’s definitely more the status of a captain like Thurman Munson because of his play and popularity.”
Jeter’s captainship certainly keeps him on par with such Yankees as other captains, Gehrig and Munson. As a player with the full-blown media glare, including social media, Jeter falls short of rarified status of Ruth and maybe even DiMaggio and Mantle. Perhaps if he had had more vices, more dietary indulgences and sexual escapades, would he have that extra Ruthian dimension. The 3,000-plus hit mark and first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame could draw him closer to getting his bust placed on the Pinstripe Mount Rushmore.