The lengths to which some sellers are willing to go to create artifacts speaks to one of the problems that auctioneers will face. Shea Stadium, built in 1964, isn’t really that old; Yankee Stadium was entirely renovated in the seventies, which means a lot of the items with the most historical notoriety are already on the market thanks to people like Bert Sugar. Some serious collectors are not particularly enthusiastic about this season’s sale: For them, the Yankee Stadium façade should start with the word new. “I’m not so sure the collectors I know are going to be interested in this stuff,” says Stephen Wong, author of Smithsonian Baseball: Inside the World’s Finest Private Collections. “They’re not really into new things.” Reached by phone in Los Angeles, director and collector Penny Marshall—who owns a seat from the original Yankee Stadium—initially expressed interest in a contemporary companion. She balked when told that one seat could cost $1,000 (which doesn’t necessarily mean that all 55,000 will go immediately for that amount). “That seems high,” she says, “since they’re fucking plastic.”
Prospective auctioneers are confident, however, that Yankee fever will outweigh these concerns. Consider 59-year-old Denver resident Bruce Hellerstein—a successful tax accountant who painted his basement to look like Yankee Stadium, which he considers the greatest sports arena “going all the way back to the Roman Colosseum.” Hellerstein wants an original ticket booth, the prospect of owning which he described as “like, totally awesome” when we spoke. (“My wife just laughed” when he mentioned the booth to her, he said, “so on the record, I don’t want it.”) Many players have already asked for their own keepsakes. Steiner’s Mahoney says Andy Pettitte requested outfield fence paneling. (The company divides the paneling into pairs—with, say, the “3” and “1” of the distance demarcation on one strip and the “8” on another—to get the most money possible out of it.) Mariano Rivera will probably want a pitching rubber. Kevin Millar, the Orioles first baseman who played with Boston during the 2003 and 2004 seasons that included some of contemporary Yankee Stadium’s greatest games, advocates a more direct approach. “I’m going to take something,” he says. “I might take a chair, a hanger, or some shit. Something’s going to be taken.”
If there is any doubt that maybe, possibly, the harvesting of Yankee Stadium will not yield huge dividends, it is at the Steiner Sports booths that all those doubts go to die. An hour before the first pitch at a recent game, the stadium sale’s target demographic had already gathered in bunches around a booth on the left-field line in the lower level. A signed, framed Joba Chamberlain photo was on sale for $450. One sign touted a raffle: WIN A GAME-USED FINAL SEASON DIRT COLLAGE! A wiry, weathered fan in an old Yankees sweatshirt bent down to inspect a plaque in the case. Along with a photo of A-Rod, it featured a sprinkle of dirt about the size of a tin of Carmex lip gloss.
“How much?” he asked the youth at the counter.