It can certainly be a fun thing to collect, but before you spend big bucks, educate yourself on sports collecting.
I recently chatted with Dwayne, a collector friend with an extensive collection of autographed baseballs, as well as autographed photographs, footballs and other sports memorabillia. Dwayne has been collecting for many years, traveling to sports card shows, writing countless letters and talking to the old time players for hours on the phone. He was kind enough to share some tips and answer my question about collecting autographed baseballs.
How and where to start?
As with other collectibles, collect what you like and what you enjoy. In ten years from now you don't know what an item might be worth, but if you like it, it won't matter. Remember these are collectibles, not investments!
But if you want to collect something that will most likely keep its value, collect the top players. Get the best you can, the stars of the game -- the top one or two percent of the game.
I get a lot of autographs by mailing out baseballs to players around the country. I don't try this method for the top players, the Reggie Jacksons of the game, but with the lesser known players and to older players from years ago. Sometimes they will call me back and ask for a donation to charity for ball players, or a donation to foundation they have. Other times they might ask for a donation to them. At that time I decide whether it's worth that money to have the autographed ball. Overall I get about a 75% response rate from ball players.
Another tip is to send baseballs to yesterday's stars that are now coaching. Send the balls during spring training in care of the team. About 90 - 95% of the former players, now turned coach, have been returning the balls to me. Of course if they're already known for not signing, they probably won't, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
What to send:
- Medium blue Bic ballpoint pen -- the best is the old clear barrel stick pen. The ink seems to hold better than anything else. The first balls I had autographed were done with Sharpies, the ink stayed on well, but ink-bleed has occurred on some of them.
- Ball -- although it would be nice to send official league baseballs, they can be costly. So I have bought blemished baseballs from Rawlings*. It doesn't say Official League ball on it, but they do have a very small mark near the number that shows it is a second. These wind up costing me about $3. each when buying by the case. I like these because the leather is the same as the official balls and holds the ink best. The autographs on these balls might not be "worth" as much as on an Official League ball, but it doesn't matter to me. I collect for the joy, not for the potential value.*
- Postage -- Always include a return envelope with postage, the player then only has to sign the ball with the included pen, stick it back into the envelope and mail it.
- Hats -- I've also started collecting autographed baseball hats and hang them from the ceiling. I send inexpensive team hats to the players, along with a silver Sharpie for black hats or a black Sharpie for other colors.
It's good manners and nice to thank the person for their time with a note enclosed with the ball. And I don't think it would hurt if you mentioned something personal that you remember about his playing days. Something that meant a lot to you. I've read of instances when an autographed picture was requested in a rude manner, why would anyone want to sign if it wasn't even requested politely. Remember treat someone like you would like to be treated, after all you are the one asking a favor!
*I get numerous requests for the best place to find these blemished baseballs and I recently asked DeWayne more about the baseballs. Here is his answer about the best types of baseballs to use.
The best for future selling is ROMLB. They are kind of expensive, but you can get them a little cheaper if you buy three dozen from JR's advertisement in Sports Collector's Digest or just go on the Internet and buy a few dozen from one of the wholesalers. Those also seem to hold the ink the best.
They have now come out with a official signature ball from Rawlings that is about half as much, and I have a few signatures on these. It's too early to see if they will hold the signature as well. If you are just collecting for collecting sake and will probably never sell them you can get some seconds of Rawlings official balls (you rarely see seconds of ROMLBs though). My experience with the seconds is that the ink will bleed in a little more. You can buy these seconds for about $79 to $99. for 3 dozen). Whatever ball you use, keep it out of direct light ( sunlight or incandescent light) as much as possible. They now have some ball cubes that claim to keep the UV rays out and will keep the ball from fading. They are more expensive and only time will tell if they will work.