NEW YORK — Rather than leave a 56-year-old uniform hanging in a closet at his Idaho home, Don Larsen decided it should be used for education.
He’s auctioning off the Yankee pinstripes he wore in 1956 when he pitched the only perfect game in World Series history, and will use the proceeds to pay college tuition for his grandchildren, one in college and the other a high school freshman.
“I’m not getting any younger and I want to see them get an education before I leave,” the 83-year-old Larsen said. “They’ll be appreciative later, more so than now, I’m sure.”
Similarly, Bob Knight is selling his NCAA championship rings and other mementos to fund education in his family. “I have two grandsons,” the Hall of Fame basketball coach said, “and my wife has a niece and nephew, who would get good use out of this.”
In fact, a slew of sports memorabilia is on the market, coincidentally or not, just ahead of possible tax increases that could eat up some of the proceeds.
Also up for auction in coming weeks are baseball star Ozzie Smith’s Gold Gloves, Evander Holyfield’s boxing championship belts and an original of the agreement Pete Rose signed when he was banned from baseball for life in 1989.
“Sounds like a bunch of guys with full expectations that the Bush tax cuts are going to expire by year’s end and not be back for next year,” said Steve Gill, associate professor of accounting at San Diego State’s Lamden School of Accountancy.
And starting Jan. 1, there will be a new Medicare tax on income from investments for higher-earning people. The IRS hasn’t issued rules yet, so money from the sale of collectibles may be subject to the new levy.
“The 3.8 percent Medicare tax would probably be the thing that immediately popped into my mind in terms of what folks may be thinking about,” said David Boyle, Americas director of personal financial services for the accounting firm Ernst & Young.
Some athletes used to give away the shirts off their backs or leave them in the clubhouse at season’s end. Not anymore.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would have saved all my uniforms,” baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra said.
These days, polyester double-knit has replaced wool flannel uniforms, and the 10,000-plus outfits sent to the 30 big-league clubs by Majestic Athletic are highly desired by fans. But it is gear from decades ago that is more prized.
“It’s just a more honest period of time. Things were clearer. Things were simpler,” said Brandon Steiner, whose Steiner Sports Memorabilia is auctioning the Larsen jersey and Knight collection in an online sale that will end Dec. 5.
Retired athletes and auction houses took notice in May when a circa-1920 Babe Ruth jersey was sold by SCP Auctions for $4.4 million to Lelands.com, which had a buyer lined up.
“Now not everybody is going to have a $4.4 million piece of memorabilia, but they might have something that is worth between $25,000 and $250,000,” said Ken Goldin of Goldin Auctions, which is selling the Rose agreement. “So different deals are being cut with the auction houses to bring that particular memorabilia to market while the players perceive it to be a good time to do so.”
Larsen threw his last big-league pitch in 1967— when the average major league salary was $19,000. That would cover only a small slice of the price of top memorabilia these days.
In the same auction as the Ruth jersey, a 1934 Ruth Yankees cap that was owned by pitcher David Wells sold for $537,278, about $507,000 more than Wells paid for it.
The baseball that rolled through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series sold in May for $418,250. Two years ago, the bat Kirk Gibson used for his game-winning home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of the 1988 World Series sold for $575,912.
Those were bargains compared with a rare 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card that sold for $2.35 million in 2007, then resold six months later for $2.8 million to Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, who allowed baseball’s Hall of Fame to display it.
“Sports people are nuts,” Knight said. “Look at how much they would pay for Babe Ruth’s cap or Honus Wagner’s card. I guess these are people who want to own things, things that are the results of what someone else did in sports.”
Wealthy sports junkies view a 1952 Mickey Mantle card the same way others look at their 401(k).
“While the stock market is up and down, and while real estate is up and down, the memorabilia market has really gained a lot of steam over the last couple years,” said Goldin, whose Rose auction runs through Nov. 17.
Instead of being auctioned online, Holyfield’s collection will be sold Nov. 30 at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif., which also sells rock ‘n’ roll and Hollywood memorabilia.
“People look at these items not just as fans. They look at them as an investment. It’s a way to diversify their portfolio,” owner Darren Julien said. “We’re very popular in Asia and Russia, and that’s where a lot of the money is coming from. Items that used to sell for $8,000 to $10,000 can bring $200,000 to $300,000 now.”
Holyfield, like Larsen, said he didn’t consider the tax implications of selling items now rather than after the first of the year.
“This is something new to me,” the former heavyweight champion said.
But the auction houses say the tax issues come up in the planning.
“As players get older, they certainly don’t know what’s going to happen with an estate tax, and I guess they figure they’d rather have it sold now than after they’re passed and lose an unknown percentage,” Goldin said.
And it extends beyond the sports sales.
“We’ve had other people, not just athletes, but we’ve had other celebrity personalities talk to us about that because it is an issue,” Julien said.
In Gill’s calculation, tax changes next year could push the rate on proceeds from these sales from 28 percent to 33 percent. In addition to the Medicare tax and the possibility of higher tax brackets, there could be a limitation on itemized deductions for higher-income people.
“I might just hurry up and sell it right now,” Gill said. “Anything you would be selling in the near term, hurry up and sell in December.”