Lorie Lafferty knocked it out of the park when she cracked open a box of baseball cards in Spokane Valley last month.
The longtime collector and physical education teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School saw the signature loop of the autograph belonging to George Herman “Babe” Ruth, the Hall of Fame New York Yankees slugger whose memorabilia continues to fetch top dollar in an otherwise dying market.
“He’s looking at the ball going over the fence,” Lafferty said from Spokane Valley Sports Cards on Friday, pointing at the upturned eyes of the man known as the “Sultan of Swat” featured on the card. Beneath his gaze is an authenticated, penciled autograph of the Babe inserted within the card, the only of its kind in a recent run of Diamond King cards produced by Italian company Panini.
“It was like the pull of two lifetimes,” said shop owner Alan Bisson, who missed out on the card that’s now drawing intense interest on eBay by the luck of the draw.
Modern card collecting is a tad different from the swapping of bubble gum add-ons kept in shoeboxes under the bed, Bisson said. He and Lafferty shared the $82 cost of a box, containing multiple packs, with other collectors. They then cast lots for which of the cards inside would go to whom, a ritual avid collectors refer to as “busting” a box. Each collector claims the rights of players belonging to a specific division. For Lafferty, it was the American League East, home of the two squads Ruth played for from 1914 to 1934: The Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. (Ruth would play a final season with the Boston Braves before retiring in 1935.)
With Panini touting Ruth treasures in this, the first run of Diamond Kings in a decade, Lafferty knew she had a chance at something special. Panini took over the sports card giant Donruss in 2009.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d get something like this,” she said.
Lafferty said she first started collecting in Ken Griffey Jr.’s rookie season, 1989, when she bought a card of the Seattle Mariners’ up-and-coming superstar for her kid brother. She bought a pack for herself, and “I was hooked,” she said.
A collecting career that spans three decades has yielded a few rare finds, including a 1-of-23 collectible from superstar Michael Jordan, but nothing like the signature of the man who redefined the home run and held the career record until “Hammerin’ ” Hank Aaron surpassed him 38 years later.
“He transcends the sport,” Bisson said. “Everybody knows, even if they don’t know baseball, they know Babe Ruth. That’s cool.”
Lafferty said she’d like to keep the card, but the allure of a big payday from a major collector was too much. She put it up on eBay, where the top bid stood at $6,400 on Friday afternoon. Bidding ends Sunday evening.
Spokane Valley Sports Cards, one of two shops operating on Sprague Avenue, holds collector meets on the fourth Saturday of every month, and Bisson’s stock is much smaller than the larger stores. That makes the discovery of a rare card from a busted box so much more special, Bisson said.
“You see those big stores in New York, that open thousands of boxes a day, you expect that,” Bisson said. “But not here.”
Lafferty will return to the shop’s next trader’s night later this month to try her luck again. While she doesn’t expect another find to rival the discovery of Ruth’s autograph, the allure of discovery is too great.
“This is so much fun when you’re winning,” she said, after splitting a box of NFL cards with another collector Friday and taking home many of the valuable cards. “It’s not so much fun when you’re not winning.”
Watch the auction
Lorie Lafferty said she’d love to keep the Babe Ruth autograph, but needs the money collectors are willing to pay to have it. You can watch the online auction for the card on e-Bay, where the bidding stood at $7,000 on Saturday morning.
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