It was a sign of the escalation of the baseball card and memorabilia bubble in early September 1989 when the San Francisco Chronicle sent Steve Rubinstein to the All-American Sports Memorabilia Show at the Moscone Center and he came back with this report:
A pair of dirty socks was selling for $150 in San Francisco last weekend.
Not just anyone’s dirty socks, but baseball star Jose Canseco’s dirty socks.
“They come with a certificate of authenticity,” said salesman Curt Wenzleff. “They haven’t been washed. They are just the way they were after Jose took them off in the locker room.”
Dirty socks are the latest item to be offered up as memorabilia. Most of the items at the show were more mundane fare – baseball cards, balls and bats – although an autographed bottle of Ted Williams brand root beer was fetching $75 and a dirty batting glove worn by Reggie Jackson was on the block for $150.
Wenzleff said he had considered washing the green-and-yellow socks before placing them on the market but decided it was too risky and might decrease their value.
At the far end of the giant hall, baseball players were greeting their fans and signing autographs, cash up front.
Nineteen players sat at tables, felt-tip pens in hand. You buy a ticket for the player of your choice and stand in line.
Baseball is as American as the free market system. Reggie Jackson and Jose Canseco each charge $15 to sign their names. Will Clark, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson and Steve Carlton are $10 apiece. Orlando Cepeda is only $5.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the man at the microphone, “may I remind you that Rickey Henderson must leave soon. In a few years he is going to be in the Hall of Fame, and the value of his autograph is sure to rise! And Roger Clemens, a future Hall of Famer for sure – there’s an autograph that can only increase in value!”
Kids wandered around, pockets full of tens and twenties. On everyone’s mind was the Pete Rose scandal, and its effect on the game.
“It’s real bad,” said Grant Hower, a 12-year-old fan from Larkspur. “I’ve got two Rose autographs. Now that he’s kicked out of baseball, they might be worth a lot less. I sure hope not.”
I wandered back to the booth with Canseco’s socks, to see if anyone had snapped them up. They were still available. Perhaps, I told Wenzleff, no one believed they were authentic. Wenzleff suggested I give them a sniff.
I sniffed. They were the real thing, all right.
It was a rare opportunity for a shrewd buyer, Wenzleff said. Only four pairs of Canseco’s dirty socks were on the market. Canseco is making no more of them available. When they’re gone, that’s it.
No, Wenzleff said, there is nothing odd about selling dirty socks, considering that he once sold Canseco’s dirty jockstrap. He wouldn’t say how much it fetched but he did reveal that it went to a misty-eyed woman who was very pleased to have it.
“Look,” the sock man said, “we couldn’t sell this stuff if people didn’t buy it. Someday, some player is going to come up with a limited edition autographed snot rag, and you know what? A fan will pay $100 for it, easy.”
Canseco also started his own 1-900 number late in the ’89 season.