The Bronx Bombers are Steiner’s oldest and best partners—Steiner has had an exclusive license to sell “game used” Yanks merchandise since 2004. Mounted pinches of Yankee Stadium infield dirt sell for between $20 and $149. Some “collages,” as they are known, include a photo of the park or a player. The $59.99 Derek Jeter version is Steiner Sports’ most popular item. “People joke about that, but we’ve heard it so much we are immune,” says Steiner executive vice-president Sean Mahoney. “The reason it’s so popular is it’s affordable.”
In fact, the dirt collages are in greater demand than ever. Sales were up five times this past April over last year, thanks in large part to a new time-line edition commemorating Yankee Stadium’s farewell season. Steiner expects its total sales to rise 20 percent this year, and that projection is partly based on the higher final-season prices they’ll be getting for the balls, bats, jerseys, and dirt they would have sold anyway. (Memorabilia prices, one collector who’s also a Goldman Sachs executive director explains, are relatively impervious to economic downturns: Items with sentimental value are the last things to get sold—when people need cash, they get rid of securities first, keeping the Mickey Mantle–glove market relatively unflooded.) Whereas in past seasons game-used balls could be had for as low as $129, this year they typically go for $300 to $500. The company already has plans for what it is billing as “The Greatest Yankee Auction Ever.” The event will be held online in November and will feature a thousand lots made up of things like collections containing one baseball from every home game this season, which Steiner expects to sell for between $20,000 and $30,000.
Before the team began gut-renovating the stadium in 1973, it sold some memorabilia informally. Sportswriter Bert Sugar paid a small amount to make off with everything he could fit into a truck.
The real payday will come from the liquidation of the stadium’s hardware. Industry pros and collectors guess that even the most quotidian items—bricks, on-deck batters’ weights, fungo bats, etc.—will sell for hundreds of dollars. Anything that distinguishes itself will go for much more. Mike Heffner, president of the memorabilia company Lelands (which ran the scavenging of the Boston Garden), guesses he could sell the dugout phones for $2,000, A-Rod’s locker for $50,000, the YANKEE STADIUM façade lettering for $50,000 as well, and the white frieze atop the scoreboard for $250,000. (Heffner points out that the uniqueness and grandeur of an item can be tempered by the logistical inconvenience of owning it, which is why he thinks a small, self-enclosed, relatively easy-to-display locker would go for as much as the iconic façade lettering, for which “you’d need an 80,000-square-foot house.”)
Heffner might get his chance. The City of New York owns the seats, dugouts, flagpoles, and other “permanent” structures at both Yankee and Shea stadia. With so much money to be made, concerns besides Steiner have been angling for a piece of the action. A multiparty negotiation between the city, the teams, Steiner, and other vendors is ongoing. In the past, the city has been criticized for the favorable terms on which it rents out the stadia to the teams—the Mets paid $550,000 a year in Shea rent for 30 straight years at one point; in fiscal 2007, the Parks Department collected more in Yankee Stadium parking fees ($3 million) than it did in rent ($2.3 million). More recently, the city has been attacked by watchdog groups for giving the teams big breaks on the new ballparks—one critic estimated the municipal government’s contribution to the new Yankee Stadium at over $415 million (the city says it’s $280 million). Asked roughly what share of the auction loot the city would be looking for, New York City Economic Development Corporation president and chief negotiator Seth Pinsky said acidly, “The percentage will be between 0 and 100, and the dollar amount will be above zero.”
The competition among prospective vendors is intense. Take the urinal issue, for example. Heffner is deeply skeptical that the employees of Steiner Sports have enough experience in the area. (He does, oddly enough, from previous stadium sales. It costs $500 to pay “union guys” just to take each one out, he says, so if you flood the market, you can end up losing a lot of money fast.) Bidders are also trying to come up with creative ways to add value before selling. Heffner points out that a seat signed by Derek Jeter will be worth more if its seat number is 2, just because that happens also to be his jersey number. Mitch Adelstein, founder and president of the Florida-based firm Mounted Memories, entered the bidding for some of Shea’s remains. “What’s overlooked is the visitor’s side,” Adelstein says. “Think about who was in those locker rooms—Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron. If the locker-room bench is the same as the one that was there in 1964, we would cut up the bench into pieces. We might cut them into one-inch-by-one-inch squares, frame them with a picture of Roberto Clemente, and talk about how Clemente was on the National League All-Star team in 1964.”