A Holiday Present from the World of Sports

This is a sports story, in some aspects … but it’s more of a holiday story actually. It’s about a present that has a connection to the world of sports, so it qualifies on both counts.

I have a friend who, for purposes to be detailed, will remain nameless. He recently did a small favor for a man he had never met, nor previously known, and that man shall also go unidentified in this holiday tale.

My friend, like myself, is a sports memorabilia collector. As I also do, he dabbles in the field of obtaining items related to sports history, with the heavy side of our amateur buying and trading focused on the recent pasts of our Detroit professional teams. I suppose my casual collecting has largely consisted of items relating to Boomer-years Lions nostalgia, and I’d estimate that his dealings mostly center on baseball and the 1950s and ‘60s era of the Detroit Tigers.

It was in that casual — I repeat that neither of us buy or trade for reasons of profit — area of baseball memorabilia pursuit that my friend came across a real ‘find,’ an item of game-used Major League Baseball equipment dating to the 1950s that had been, oddly, offered for sale on eBay recently. I use the term “oddly” because it was a rare piece with a big league background that should have been more properly presented via an auction house, or best offered to bigtime private collectors. (Like my friend and the man for whom he did a favor, this item will also remain unidentified so as to protect private interests in this story. You can see that while I may be a bit of a pain in the rear as a storyteller, you must concede that I am at least consistent.)

The item, then, would have likely drawn high bids in private offerings; instead it was hidden in plain sight on eBay, surely an unlikely place for high rollers to look for unique pieces of Major League nostalgia. Thus it was that my friend secured the piece for a bargain price, winning it with an almost absurdly low bid. Similar finds would likely draw bids of at least a thousand dollars; this sold in the very low hundreds.

Pleased, and surprised, by his purchase, my friend attempted to trace the history of the item. It had belonged to a well-known baseball star and — as stated — was game-used at a high level of Major League competition, including likely World Series involvement. My friend investigated the history of both the item and the player who had used it in the ‘bigs.’ He discovered that the player had died in recent years. And his search revealed the address of a son of the player currently living in the western states, whom my buddy contacted in hopes of obtaining more information.

When he telephoned the son and told him of the purchase of his father’s possession, the guy was crestfallen. The historic item had been in the possession of another offspring, and the son was shocked to learn the piece had been publicly peddled and lost; indeed that it had been discarded at an absurd price. The item, not surprisingly, was of priceless value to the son and the rest of the family. Apparently the sibling who sold it had anonymously used a contact to make a quick-buck offering of it on eBay…very much against the wishes of the rest of the late ballplayer’s dismayed family.

Well, I said this was a holiday story, more than it is a sports yarn. My friend deeply felt the disappointment evident in the son’s voice. As I said, he is not a professional dealer of sports memorabilia, even though he easily recognized the potential profit evident in his purchase of the Major League piece. And I’m sure I know my friend well enough to know that what followed would have happened regardless of any business considerations on his part.

Shortly after contacting the late player’s son, my friend called him back and said he could not maintain possession of the item. When he offered the piece to the guy, saying it belonged back with the family, the son leapt at his proposal. With terrific gratitude, he purchased the item — with my buddy insisting that he pay nothing more than the ‘bargain’ price he had spent himself just days earlier.

I also said this was a holiday story about a present. Obviously you could say that my friend gave a present of matchless value to the baseball player’s family, sending their father‘s possession back where it belonged, with no mind to his own profit or gain. To him, it was but a small gesture that just happened to occur around this time of the year, a reflex gesture on his part.

But to my mind, on hearing this tale, I recognized that it’s a story about a holiday present for me.

Because at my age … while it may be too late to concentrate about gifts received at Christmas, and childish to obsess about the value of presents that change hands at the holidays … this story consists of an eye-opening gesture that allowed me to grasp the recognition of my own priceless present … to realize the unmatched value of having a friend of such class, and heart, in my life.