Ex-NFL player selling baseball card worth millions in effort to free up cash


Evan Mathis won the big prize in his 12-year NFL career, a Super Bowl victory with the Denver Broncos to cap off the 2015 season.

He’s about to strike it rich once again, and not because of anything he’s done on the football field.

Mathis, who retired after the 2016 season, is selling one of the many baseball cards in his collection. But this isn’t just any card — in fact, vintage memorabilia experts believe the card could go for as much as $5 million.

The item being sold is a 1952 card of Mickey Mantle produced by Topps. This was the first baseball card set produced by Topps, and Mantle has become the most sought-after card in the set.

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“Just that image of the young Mickey Mantle, over the years it’s been a centerpiece of the hobby,” Mathis told The Associated Press. “I guess it’s kind of like the Mona Lisa of the sports card world.”

Mantle’s card was part of the “high-number” series of the 1952 set, meaning it was released later in the year than the first portion of the set. But by the time the high-number series hit store shelves, football season was starting, and kids weren’t as interested in baseball cards.

Topps had so many cases of unsold 1952 high-number series cards still taking up space in its warehouse in 1960 that set creator Sy Berger loaded hundreds of cases of the cards onto a barge, where they were unceremoniously dumped into the Atlantic Ocean.

While the card itself isn’t considered rare, few are in as pristine condition as the one being sold by Mathis. This one carries a grade of 9 on a scale of 10 by third-party grader PSA. Only three cards have ever been graded a 10, and only six have received a 9.

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Mathis is selling his Mantle card through Heritage Auctions. He said he will use the proceeds from the sale for land and a new home for him and his wife in Alabama.

Heritage estimates the card to be worth $3.5 million, which would set a record for the most expensive price ever paid at auction for a baseball card. The current record is $3.12 million, for Honus Wagner’s 1909-11 T206 tobacco card, which sold in 2016.

Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions says the card Mathis is selling has three qualities rarely found in ’52 Mantle cards — centering, strong corners and print quality.

“The fact that this one came out of the factory in strong condition, survived for many decades in that same condition, didn’t get put in (bike) spokes or thrown away by mom is pretty miraculous,” Ivy added.

Marshall Fogel — a veteran memorabilia collector in Colorado and owner of one of the ’52 Mantle cards to receive a grade of 10 — believes Mathis’ 1952 Mantle card is worth even more than pre-sale estimates.

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“Over $5 million. Easy,” Fogel said. “The ’52 Mantle is the King of King cards. If it’s a 9 or a 10 (grade), you’ve got something that is investment quality and it’s very desirable.”

Mathis has been collecting since he was a young boy. He said at one point in his childhood, he amassed 50,000 cards.

“They have always been a passion of mine,” Mathis told Forbes. 

About 5 years ago, he started buying and selling high-end cards.

“I cannot keep as much as I buy,” he added.

The auction will close through online extended bidding on April 19.

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Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. A native of Milwaukee, he currently resides in Phoenix.
Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. He has more than 20 years of experience in print and broadcast journalism. A native of Milwaukee, he has resided in Phoenix since 2012.
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