— Back in the 1960s, two famous New York ballparks – Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and the Polo Grounds in Manhattan – were demolished.
For the most part, memorabilia from the homes of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants (such as section signs and souvenir boards) were either shipped to Cooperstown or driven to the dump. Some seats and other mementoes are in the hands of private collectors, but there was no frenzy for what was then mostly considered detritus.
Compare that to what is happening today as two more New York ballparks bid adieu.
Thousands of seats from Shea Stadium – which will close Sunday, unless the Mets eke into the playoffs – are already being sold online for $869 a pair (all the orange-colored and blue-colored seats have been snatched up). The New York Times reported that sections of the outfield wall and the two 100-foot-high foul poles will also go on sale.
Over in the Bronx, the Yankees – partnering with Steiner Sports – are already selling scoreboard parts and shower stall doors affixed with the team logo, according to the New York Daily News. Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 at a cost of $2.5 million. Considering the shower doors themselves are being offered for $10,000 apiece, no doubt the bundle of materials that comprise The House That Ruth Built will be worth at least 10 times its construction price.
Doug Allen is president of Mastro Auctions outside of Chicago, which has offered baseball collectibles from Ted Williams’ bats to Bill Veeck’s wooden leg. He believes seats will go for a higher price at Yankee Stadium than its cross-borough counterpart, even though they were installed somewhat recently, during the massive overhaul after the 1973 season.
"If you offer a pair of seats, it's probably worth thousands of dollars at first," said Allen. "Then there are the significant seats – the ones from George Steinbrenner's skybox, which is right off his office."
Allen predicted the most expensive item from Yankee Stadium – aside from the pitching rubber and home plate from its final game this past Sunday – could be Derek Jeter's locker, which reports say could fetch $25,000 or more.
In both stadiums, some of the most sought-after items – such as Thurman Munson's locker, which was closed after the Yankee catcher was killed in a plane crash, or the two dozen plaques in Monument Park – will be unavailable to the public. But there are still hundreds of collectibles, from ticket signs to concession stands to the letters that spell out the ballpark names, which will bring in millions of dollars for both franchises and the city. Even the most bizarre items – urinals, anyone? – will attract buyers.
"I'm very surprised those items are always popular," Allen said. "Some guy says he's got the hot tub from the training room, and others who see it in his house are like 'Who cares'?"
According to Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, memorabilia sales from old parks have been a lucrative business as of late. In 2007, the city of Detroit brought in more than $2 million selling remnants of Tiger Stadium, and the St. Louis Cardinals sold thousands of seats from old Busch Stadium and other memorabilia for more than $5 million (including Albert Pujols’ locker at $21,503).
Memorabilia sales from demolished stadiums really took off once the Internet arrived, bringing with it a global buying audience. Less than a month after County Stadium in Milwaukee closed in 2000 following a 47-year run, the team’s web site welcomed a slew of visitors. Close to 10,000 plastic and wooden seats were purchased for $100-$150 apiece. Bidding wars erupted over the 2,000-item online auction, where a clubhouse mailbox was sold for more than $200 and the Brewers' washer and dryer were delivered to a happy bidder for about $100.
Though Allen said anything related to baseball is the No. 1 collectible in the world, other
sports stadiums haven't fared poorly after their demise. The Boston Garden's center-court leprechaun logo was purchased for $331,000 during a Sotheby's auction eight years ago, while parquet-floor panels drew bids for tens of thousands of dollars.
How about when Cowboy Stadium faces the wrecking ball after the 2009 season? Allen doesn't hesitate to point out a popular item. "The goalposts," he said. "Someone will figure out how to break them into 1,000 pieces and sell them to collectors."