Sports memorabilia appraiser hopes to find Rocky Mountain relics in Summit County
Appraising business has ’exploded’ during pandemic with people at home digging through attics
DILLON — A few years back, Michael Osacky was assessing a photo signed by Babe Ruth, something he estimated to be worth $4,000 to $5,000 — of legitimate value, but nothing all too extraordinary.
Then the owner of the photo instructed Osacky to look at the bottom, right-hand corner. The date written on the photo read “Aug. 16, 1948” — the day Babe Ruth died. The photographer’s owner then proceeded to provide a paper trail of proof confirming the photo was the last the baseball god ever signed.
“He took out a bunch of papers,” Osacky said. “And on this guy’s wife’s side of the family, there was a priest — Babe Ruth’s priest. The guy showed documentation over many years of Ruth and the priest talking. They were friends, and it was documentation about dinner, how one of them has a tooth ache. So what happened was when Babe Ruth was about to die, he spent a couple months in the hospital (and he told the priest), ‘I think this is it. Today’s the day.’ So he signed it — incredible. The value went from $4,000 to — I told the guy, ’It’s worth what someone will pay.’ It’s a one-off unique item. It could be up to $250,000.”
When Osacky comes to Summit County next week for his 40th birthday, odds are he won’t find a relic on the level of that Babe Ruth score. He probably won’t dig up a 176-card collection of Cracker Jack baseball cards from 1915 worth $80,000.
Alas, you never know. And he’s excited to check out some Rocky Mountain relics for the first time.
While the world of sports has been upended by the pandemic, Osacky said the business of appraising vintage sports cards and memorabilia has been doing just fine. Based out of his home in Chicago, the 39-year-old founder of Baseball in the Attic has had to work to meet demand. While people all across the country have dusted off boxes in their attics during the pandemic, Osacky, the lead appraiser for Professional Sports Authenticator, has fielded requests from all across the country.
“That’s a market rocketing recently — unopened boxes,” Osacky said.
Three of them have come from Summit County. When Osacky saw the three requests from Summit County families come in to assess and appraise their vintage mementos, he was elated. Growing up in suburban Chicago, Osacky fell in love with skiing as a child when the local retail ski shop’s youth club would make the two-hour drive north to the Wisconsin border to ski some small hills. He’s loved skiing ever since, including trips to Breckenridge where he said he loves to stop by Giampietro’s for pizza and Crepes a la Cart for sweets.
Osacky’s passion for skiing even predates his love affair with sports memorabilia. He started down the niche career in 1997, when on his 17th birthday he received a shoebox full of old baseball cards from his grandfather.
“It got me in the hunt of not only trying to find more of them but understanding their values,” Osacky said. “If I have two of the same cards, why is one worth $10 and one $100. The condition: How are the corners, the centering? Are there any print defects, paper loss?”
“I have to travel to see things in person,” Osacky added. “I have to touch them, smell them, turn things over. If it’s a glove, I have to look inside. It’s really important for me to be on-site, in person to inspect these collectibles.”
The most common items Osacky sees are cards, as many people who reach out to him have thousands upon thousands in storage. During his stop in Summit County, he’ll be looking at a complete set of cards from the late 1950s and early 1960s as well as an unopened set of basketball cards from 1961. But perhaps the most intriguing item is a singularly signed baseball by New York Yankee legend Lou Gehrig.
“Which is interesting because it’s very rare to have a Lou Gehrig single signature,” Osacky said. “Usually, when it’s a Lou Gehrig signed ball, it’s a team signed ball.”
As for winter sports memorabilia, Osacky said he most often assesses Winter Olympics posters. It’s rare, but he once did appraise an Olympic gold medal for an American slalom gold medalist. Citing customer privacy, he declined to say which Olympian, though he said the champion had it appraised for insurance purposes.
“That’s the fun part of my job,” Osacky said. “I never know every day what I’m going to see.”
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