SI Vault
 
SI's 25 Lost Treasures
July 11, 2005
In an age when Ty Cobb's dentures have gone up for auction and even checkers has its own hall of fame, you might think every sports collectible had already been collected. But the whereabouts of some key items remain a mystery. A fortune awaits those who can find these Holy Grails
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 11, 2005

Si's 25 Lost Treasures

In an age when Ty Cobb's dentures have gone up for auction and even checkers has its own hall of fame, you might think every sports collectible had already been collected. But the whereabouts of some key items remain a mystery. A fortune awaits those who can find these Holy Grails

View CoverRead All Articles

JOHN L. SULLIVAN'S TITLE BELT

In 1887, Boston fans presented bare-knuckle boxing champion and native son John L. Sullivan with a solid gold title belt encrusted with 397 diamonds, known as "the $10,000 belt." The Boston Strong Boy declared that the token would be "held and handed down to the generations of my future relations," but he later chipped out the diamonds and sold off the stripped belt. According to boxing historian Bert Sugar, the prized item made the rounds at pawn shops but hasn't been seen in a century. The Smithsonian has a Sullivan belt, though no one knows whether it's the original or a replica made in 1901. ESTIMATED VALUE: $500,000.

BLACK SOX CONFESSIONS

At the heart of the prosecutor's case in the People v. Edward Cicotte et al. were the signed confessions of three White Sox players--Cicotte, Joe Jackson (far left) and Lefty Williams--who had admitted to fixing the 1919 World Series. But before their trial on conspiracy charges started in '21, those confessions mysteriously vanished from the Illinois State Attorney's office; the prosecution's case collapsed, and the players were acquitted. (Known as the Black Sox, they, along with five teammates, remained banned from baseball for life.) Three years later, when Jackson sued the team for back pay, the lawyers for owner Charles Comiskey countered by producing Jackson's signed statement; it was the last time any of the confessions appeared in public. "The documents were probably destroyed because they implicated a lot of corrupt politicians and gamblers," says RM Auctions director of memorabilia Simeon Lipman. "But you never know what could be tucked away in a briefcase." ESTIMATED VALUE: more than $1 million.

POLO GROUNDS WAR MEMORIAL

After the Giants' final out in 1957, 11,000 New Yorkers ran on to the field to pillage--their beloved team was forsaking the Polo Grounds for San Francisco. In deep center, three teens pried loose a plaque that memorialized third baseman Eddie Grant, the only major leaguer killed in World War I. Police nabbed the kids, but the plaque was never turned in to the precinct. ESTIMATED VALUE: $20,000.

FRANCO HARRIS'S TD FOOTBALL

Is there a more famous NFL play than the Immaculate Reception of Dec. 23, 1972? Losing 7--6 to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC divisional playoff with 22 seconds remaining, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw heaved a desperation, fourth-down pass from his 40-yard line. The ball ricocheted off at least one player and was inches from striking the turf when running back Franco Harris snatched it and raced 42 yards for the game-winning score. "It was pandemonium," recalls Harris. "Fans rushed on the field, and the ball was knocked out of my hands. No one paid attention to the ball." Jim Baker begs to differ. "I saw Franco circle around after the catch and hand the ball to the referee," says Baker, 58, of West Mifflin, Pa. "Immediately afterward, the Steelers kicked the extra point, but they [the Three Rivers Stadium crew] never put the net up. That same ball went through the posts, bounced off a concrete wall and I grabbed it. I have the Immaculate Reception ball." Harris, however, is not convinced. "It's too hard to verify," he says. "I would love to have the ball, but listen, it's gone." ESTIMATED VALUE: $80,000.

HONUS WAGNER'S BASEBALL CARD

Collectors call it the "Mona Lisa of baseball cards." Between 1909 and 1911 the American Tobacco Co. gave away a card packaged inside each of its products. Known as the T206 series, it included legends of the day such as Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Honus Wagner. But because he either wanted to be compensated for his image or didn't want to promote smoking to kids, Wagner threatened to sue the company. Production of the card was halted after a few hundred were printed; now only about 50 are known to exist. Five years ago a T206 Wagner in near-mint condition fetched $1.265 million, the highest price ever for a baseball card. The dream find for a collector: a Wagner card in similar condition still tucked into an unopened pack of cigarettes. ESTIMATED VALUE: $1.5 million.

Continue Story
1 2 3