For a true baseball fan, there is nothing like a piece of game-used baseball equipment. More than a baseball card or other forms of printed memorabilia, a game-used item offers collectors a direct connection to a favorite player or that famous, one-for-the-ages game. Unlike the card, it was there.
Some objects are collectible categories in their own right, such as game-used gloves, bats, baseballs, and jerseys. But other game-used collectibles are more modest, such as a wrist band from the dugout, with the player’s number scrawled on it with a Sharpie, or a pair of batting gloves, with their residues of dirt, pine tar, and sweat. This stuff has seen serious action—it’s as close to being in the game as a fan can get.
There are several approaches to collecting game-used baseball equipment. You can focus on a team, trying to acquire items for each player in a starting lineup—the Florida Marlins in 1997, the Arizona Diamondback in 2001, the Boston Red Sox in 2007. Or you can collect by type—a display case full of batting gloves makes a nice conversation piece. But most collectors want items used by their favorite slugger, pitcher, or fielder, whether it’s Hall of Famers like Rod Carew or Ryne Sandberg or current stars like Hideki Matsui and Tim Lincecum.
Because game-used items are used, they will not be in pristine shape. In fact, signs of wear can be indications of authenticity. A game-used bat, for example, will often have rack marks on it, indicating the mild wear that comes with a bat’s storage. Cleat marks in a bat—caused when a player knocks a bat against his shoes to dislodge mud or dirt from between his cleats—are another potential sign that a bat’s claimed pedigree is credible.