One morning, about a dozen years ago, a rabbinical scholar woke up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, a long fly ball away from the site of Ebbets Field, the home of the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 to 1957.
“There was terrible ruckus in [the scholar’s] building,” Adam Rothschild, senior auction coordinator for Steiner Sports, told me. “He went into the hallway where he could clearly hear commotion from an old man upstairs. Then he went down to the street. He stopped and looked in the alley as a downpour of documents filled the sky. He saw folders and files, papers, letters and books flying out of his neighbor’s window. As the papers fell, he walked into the alley and collected them.”
The elderly man probably had been the Brooklyn Dodger’s accountant.
The rabbinical scholar sat on his small treasure trove of documents before finally reaching out to Steiner and consigning it to their auction ending November 10. It turns out that one man’s trash may well be collectors’ gold. “The legend of Ebbets Field and what happened on that diamond is so important to baseball and American history that the lot of pieces could sell for much, much more than $10,000, but we really can’t put a firm estimate because there is no comp in the hobby,” Rothschild said.
The consignment’s highlight is the final lease of Ebbets Field to the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1932 to their heartless decampment to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Along with the lease are the board meeting minutes and team financial records from 1933 to 1939. Those include player salaries and payments for equipment and to other teams and umpires. There are also the minutes of the 1924 Board of Directors meeting when Charles Ebbets was elected President of the Dodgers the last time. He passed away the next year.
If this strikes you as esoteric memorabilia, that’s because it is. It doesn’t display well or feature players’ photos; just legal minutia and rows of numbers. But what it does have is rarity. “We have checked with both the Dodgers organization and the Hall of Fame, neither has a copy of this document, further supporting our findings that this is the only known copy of the lease to still exist 86 years later,” Steiner notes in its catalog description.
And there is a strong precedent for such material commanding big bucks. Papers from the mid-1850s laying out some of the original “Laws of Base Ball” sold for $3.26 million in an SCP auction in 2016, setting a new record for the highest-priced sports documents . Because they include the game’s first ground rules, they constitute the Magna Carta of baseball and, thus, are far more valuable than the Dodgers pieces.
A better comparison might be the Philadelphia Athletics team ledgers and player records from 1915 to 1950. The 2,000+ pages detailed the team’s business dealings and player salaries. The hammer price in 2017 at Love of the Game Auctions was $12,300.
But with all due respect to the Philadelphia A’s, they aren’t in the same league as the Brooklyn Dodgers. The two most collectible baseball teams in history are the Yankees, with 27 championships, and Brooklyn.
Of course, the biggest draw for the Dodgers is that Jackie Robinson stepped on the home field on April 15 1947 to become the first black player to appear in a major league game since the 1880s.“The event was not only a major turning point in American sports, but also one of the early steps in the Civil Rights movement,” Steiner explains.
The Brooklyn Dodgers’ mystique runs deep for many reasons. “Dem Bums” were the borough’s heart and soul, tying tougher disparate multi-ethnic neighborhoods. The players all lived throughout the borough in houses next door to their fans, and their wives and families shopped at the same grocery stores and worshipped at the same churches.
And Ebbets Field was a little jewel of a park with a grand marble rotunda at the entrance and seats close enough to see the players’ faces and hear their voices. My late father was a Cardinals fan dating back to the Gashouse Gang in 1934, and he loved telling me how much he enjoyed going to games there with his Uncle Joe Seideman in the late 1930s and 1940s. On nights he couldn’t attend but stayed at Uncle Joe’s home on Montgomery Street, Ebbets Field still cast its spell. Uncle Joe’shouse was so close to the ballpark that my dad was lulled to sleep listening to the crowd’s roar.
In 1973–when I was 12 years old–my dad and I caught a game at Fenway Park. “This is it!” he declared, recalling its cozy similarity to Ebbets Field.
Brooklyn’s historic treasure suffered a different fate. The Dodgers’ odious owner Walter O’Malley partly based his decision to move the team on Crown Height’s “deterioration.” (Code: too many blacks).
Today Crown Heights is yet another hip neighborhood for millennials. For the past 32 years, I’ve lived in Brooklyn where I have witnessed its revival.Filing this post from my home 1.7 miles away from the site of Ebbets Field, I often wonder how grand life would be if it still stood.
This article originally appeared on Forbes