While prices in the baseball collectibles market soar like a Mark McGwire moon shot—Big Mac's 50th home run ball fetched $46,000 last week—a set of items autographed by Mickey Mantle went unsold last month. Why? Maybe because they aren't quite Cooperstown material.
Among the curios made available by the Gallery of History, a Las Vegas auction house, were Mantle-signed baseballs inscribed, F—-YOU!, WILLIE MAYS SUCKS!, and MARILYN MONROE TOLD ME JOE D. SUCKS!...I AGREE.
"They didn't sell," says Garrett Williams of the Gallery of History, which set minimum bids at $2,000. The balls aren't forgeries, insists Williams, and Wayne Miller, the lawyer for Mantle's estate, tacitly agrees.
"We're not disputing their authenticity," Miller says.
Dog Bites Man, Man Stops Puck
Your typical NHL goalie is a big, brash millionaire who sports a mask painted with fangs and answers to nicknames like Dominator and Cujo. Then there's quiet little Arturs Irbe of the Carolina Hurricanes, who works for a base salary of $550,000, peers out of a white mask marked only by a small Hurricane swirl and whose moniker, Archie, wouldn't even be intimidating at Riverdale High.
Through Sunday the 31-year-old Irbe had the NHL's best goals-against average (1.47) and highest save percentage (.945). The league's player of the month for October, he is starting to register on fans' radar even though, at 5'8", he's among the NHL's shortest players.
In 1993-94 Irbe played a then NHL record 4,412 minutes for the San Jose Sharks and carried the team to the seventh game of the Western Conference semifinals. A cool customer from Latvia, he could have been describing both his persona and his results when he said in '94 that he'd been playing "like wall." Soon after that season, however, he was bitten by his dog, a Newfoundland lab named Rambo. The bite severed an artery in his right hand, and Irbe struggled with nerve damage even after it healed. San Jose let him depart as a free agent in 1996. He caught on with the Dallas Stars in 1996-97 and played sporadically for the Vancouver Canucks last season before becoming a free agent again.
When he signed with the Hurricanes in September, Irbe was expected to back up Trevor Kidd, who stands 6'3" and has all the swagger of his surnamesake, Billy the. But after Kidd allowed seven goals in Carolina's first 3½ periods this season, Irbe took over. He's the main reason the 6-5-3 Hurricanes were leading their division last week. Teammates say his easy manner sets the tone for Carolina's buttoned-down style. In fact, Irbe may be the only NHL star who takes a sewing kit on road trips. He's the guy you'll see quietly mending his gear in the visitors' locker room.