Blue Jays bargains

By Pete Williams

My $5 Jays sign

My $5 Jays sign

The Toronto Blue Jays staged a “garage sale” on Saturday. This had nothing to do with the turmoil in the big-league organization, just a way for the spring training operation in Dunedin, Fla., to raise money for charity.

It was an impressive display of flotsam and jetsam from the last 20 years laid out on tables in the team’s spring training dining room. There were media guides, yearbooks, and photos dating back to 1991, thick 25th anniversary books from 2001, and plenty of T-shirts, trading cards, and even uniforms.

The Jays re-branded in 2005, parting ways with the logo, color scheme, and maple leaf that had gone virtually unchanged since the team’s inception in 1977. The well-worn jerseys for sale for $20 apiece had gone through multiple owners. Most had no nameplates – a few had no numbers – but some sported familiar vintage Jays’ names such as Iorg, Mulliniks, and Upshaw.

It speaks volumes about the crash of the sports memorabilia industry, to say nothing of the economy, that there was only modest traffic at the garage sale. Fans seemed most interested in jerseys of the minor league Dunedin Blue Jays that simply read “Dunedin” across the chest.

A few memorabilia dealers, hoping to piggy-back on the sale, set up in the parking lot. One dealer was hawking 3,500-count boxes of trading cards for $50 a box. The boxes promised loads of rookie cards from the last 20 years.

Though the cards were priced at less than 2 cents a card, there were no takers. Nor was anyone interested in bobble-heads, an autographed Alex Rodriguez helmet and assorted other memorabilia. It seems the Great Recession has wiped out whatever lingering interest there is in the so-called hobby.

The Jays were selling unopened, shrink-wrapped 20-pack vending boxes of 1998 Fleer Ultra baseball cards for just $2. The suggested retail price of the cards was $2.69 a pack back in ’98 – or about $54 a box. I picked up four boxes at a 97 percent discount. (Merry Christmas, kids!)

I had ignored the massive Blue Jays signs leaning against a chain link fence in the parking lot, but my ears perked up when a guy offered $5 for one. When his bid was accepted, I bought the last one (above), a hulking, plastic-and-plywood creation that weighs about 50 pounds.

These apparently last hung in the Blue Jays clubhouse in 2004 before the rebranding. (Interesting trivia question: When the Diamondbacks and Rockies move their spring operations from Tucson to Phoenix, which MLB team will be the only one left in its original spring training home? Yep, the Blue Jays.) That means these signs were there during the era of Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter, if not earlier.

I’ll probably hang the sign in one of the boy’s bedrooms, a colorful reminder of a time when the Blue Jays and the sports collecting hobby were relevant.

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