On August 28th, 2022, ESPN broke the story of the all-time record sale of a sports item at auction to that point. A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card, graded 9.5 Gem Mint by SGC, sold for $12.6 million, a sum which includes a buyer’s premium. Here is the actual auction page on Heritage Auctions for this Mickey Mantle card graded by SGC.
This particular card was held by Anthony Giordano since 1991, when he purchased it ungraded from “Mr. Mint” Alan Rosen. In 1986, Rosen had purchased untouched 1952 Topps baseball card sets from a truck driver named Ted Lodge, which ended up being a total of 5,500 cards for $125,000. Naturally, these untouched sets included, according to a quote from the auction page itself, seventy-five Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps #311 cards. (This number has been reported as much lower by other news articles, and even by Rosen himself, so it’s unclear what the true number actually was.) Lodge’s father apparently had been a driver who actually drove Topps’ trading card products in the 1950’s. This explains why this card is so pristine.
There’s actually a YouTube video where Al Rosen tells the story at a convention. Apparently, there was even more than the 1952 Topps sets, with many more vintage baseball card goodies. It was a baseball card collector’s dream come true.
Credit to Giordano, he held onto the card for 31 years, turning down multiple multi-million dollar offers. As the story goes on ESPN, his sons reportedly forced him to grade the card and move it through Heritage Auctions. This, of course, was a sound financial move, considering the windfall he received. While 2022 has been a record for sports card sales, this Mantle dwarfed the previous record for a sports card, a T206 Honus Wagner baseball card which sold for $7.25 million through Goldin Auctions. However, that same card was purchased for $6.6 million in August 2021, so while it was a nice profit with just a one year hold, it’s nothing to the degree of massive profit with the Mantle card.
Now, $12.6 million is an absolute truckload of money. It’s extremely difficult to put that into perspective. But, there are some ways to do this. In 2022, the average personal income in the United States is $63,214, but the median income is much lower at $44,225. Naturally, being that this sale came in 2022, this is the number to go by. By these figures, this Mickey Mantle baseball card, rare as it is in such pristine condition, would take an average person in the United States one hundred and ninety nine years and four months to earn enough to purchase. For the median? That’s two hundred and eighty four years and about eleven months to earn that figure.
Obviously, the average American isn’t going to ever earn $12.6 million in a lifetime. But, considering it would take 285 Americans who earn the median income in 2022 to pool the resources to match that amount… that’s extremely staggering!
Next, let’s look at the actual dollar values here. Giordano purchased the ungraded card for $50,000 in 1991 US Dollars. With inflation, fifty thousand dollars is an amount equivalent to $108,726.51 in 2022. That means Giordano, not considering shipping fees, insurance, and other various expenses related to the sale of this card, made a net profit of roughly $12.5 million.
The return on investment? Over a 31 year span, that’s roughly a 19 to 20 percent annualized ROI, but a massive twenty five thousand percent ROI! (For reference, I used this return on investment calculator.) Granted, you could probably earn a similar annualized ROI with a high yield short-term investment, but this is considerably safer. No one’s forgetting who Mickey Mantle is any time soon! Also, keep in mind, he’s been offered millions of dollars for it before, when it wasn’t even yet graded! It’s likely he sold it at the perfect time, and now the Giordano family is set for potentially generations, if that money is properly invested and managed.
I’m absolutely thrilled for Anthony and his family, and his sons were probably perfectly justified in finally pushing him towards making the sale. But, to be perfect honest, Anthony isn’t happy at all. He doesn’t have his card anymore. To be fair, though, um, that’s a lot of money, especially for a 75-year-old with grandchildren. Financially, this is an extremely good move. Also, that means he got to keep his 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle.
Anyway, this now begs the question, who the heck shelled out that level of cash? Like many of these high profile auction sales, the buyer was anonymous. But, what else could you buy with that level of cash?
The average home price in the U.S. in 2022 is $348,079. So, you could instead buy 36 average U.S. homes with that money, paid in full with cash. Considering the rising cost of rent in the country, if I were to spend $12.6 million, I’d be purchasing real estate, for sure. You could also by this gorgeous villa in Spain for that sum, too.
As I’m writing this post in mid-September, you could buy eighty-four thousand shares of Apple (at about $150 a share) or one hundred thousand eight hundred shares of Amazon (at $125 a share). Heck, you could buy thousands of shares in pretty much every top performing stock of 2022 and make a pretty penny on the returns.
I’m not a financial adviser, and nowhere close to it. This is obviously very raw divisional arithmetic here, and isn’t considering capital gains and other taxes, etc. My point is that investing that degree of capital into a baseball card is ludicrous. Yes, it’s a piece of history, but wow. It shows just how out of control the sports memorabilia market has become.
Sure, the stock market has been down a lot; we’re in a recession, but there’s still money to be made if you have an excellent financial adviser. Show me one single financial adviser that would agree with the prospect of shelling out $12.6 million for this plastic-encased cardboard rectangle. Every single financial adviser ever would have given Anthony Giordano the same advice as his twin sons, unless they didn’t know how to do their job properly.
My personal theory is that these cards and memorabilia are being bought up by the uber-rich in order to offer them up as crowd-sourced investments, where they still own 51 percent of the asset, but let hungry investment hopefuls help maintain cash flow while holding such a monstrous red line on their balance sheet. Or, maybe an uber-rich Yankee fan just wanted it this card that badly. I’m really leaning towards my former theory, though.
What do you think of this monumental sea change in the baseball card market? All I can say is, Anthony Giordano raised a couple of really intelligent sons.
Photo credit: Heritage Auctions