Baseball Hall of Fame May Bring Immortality But Not Extra Riches

The All-Century Team Display Exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The All-Century Team Display Exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. (Ezra Shaw/)

(Bloomberg) — The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce the 2021 Hall of Fame class on Tuesday. Assuming anyone is elected this year — hardly a given based on a tracker of public ballots — the picks will receive the greatest honor the sport can bestow.

But for collectors of sports memorabilia and the inductees themselves, there’s no guaranteed financial windfall that accompanies a plaque in Cooperstown, New York.

Sure, being able to add “HOF” to a signature can up the price anyone can command for brandishing a pen or sitting for a selfie, but much of the gains in the memorabilia market come long before a call from the Hall.

“For the modern athletes entering the Hall of Fame within a decade of the end of his career, the boost isn’t particularly significant,” said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. “The Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter market hasn’t moved much because their material is relatively prevalent and their eventual enshrinement had been a certainty for years already.”

Collectors looking to capitalize on a potential Hall of Fame induction are wise to start acquiring items well before players eventually hang up their cleats, according to Ivy, just as the biggest gains in a stock are usually reserved for venture capital investors who got in well before, say, Uber Technologies Inc. became a household name.

“Picking up on Jeter material in the mid-’90s or Jordan material in the late ’80s would have been a wise investment,” Ivy said. “That is why we are seeing such strong numbers for Trout, Giannis and other current stars of today.”

For those new inductees who are looking to cash in on the speaking circuit, induction into Cooperstown might have little bearing on the fees they can command, said Richard Schelp, the president of Executive Speakers Bureau.

“It’s a very hazy area — what factors into the value or the fee being charged is how good are they as a speaker,” Schelp said. “Fees can go up by 10% to 15% or more, but it’s all part of the package that the particular person delivers.”

Johnny Bench and Brooks Robinson, two of baseball’s all-time greats listed on Executive Speakers Bureau’s website, have fee ranges listed between $20,000 and $30,000 per engagement.

As you’d expect during Covid, where public interactions are few and far between, both Bench and Robinson are available for virtual events with undisclosed fees. And while the pandemic has put a damper on the celebrity speaking circuit, Schelp says that it’s proved to be more robust than he anticipated.

Still, former sports stars have been in less demand than those who can deliver “heavier content” in a Zoom session.

Of course, those players who now find themselves knocking on Cooperstown’s door are less likely than their predecessors to want or need to cash in on the fame it brings.

The top five vote getters on public ballots as of Jan. 22 each made more than $100 million during their stints in the big leagues.

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