ARGENTA – They are stored in boxes in the garage, covered in dust in the attic, stashed in the damp, dark corners of our basements.
That’s where many people have items they’ve always wondered about. Is it trash? Or is it a treasure?
That’s the allure of the PBS weekly television show, “Antiques Roadshow,” where people can bring those items to be appraised by experts.
Mark and Tammy Allen of Argenta are faithful viewers of the show and in the coming weeks they’ll be watching with a heightened level of interest. There’s a fairly good chance that “Antiques Roadshow” episodes filmed last summer in Kansas City will include the appraisal of items Mark Allen pulled from a box being stored at a farm in LeRoy.
That’s where he and Tammy have kept a most unlikely trove of treasures – old baseball uniforms worn by members of the Decatur Commodores and purchased for $1 at a public auction held after the Commodores final season in 1974.
The purchase was made by Tammy’s brother, Toby Williams, now an investment banker in Japan, but only after all of the other bidders passed on a chance to own a collection of baseball jerseys and pants that were in horrible condition.
“They were wet, dirty, muddy and bloody,” Mark Allen said of the uniforms that had been gathered out of the team’s shower area.
Unlaundered and stinky, Tammy’s mother, Genevieve Williams, suggested they be washed and cut into cleaning cloths. She even delivered on the laundering.
At the time, no one suspected these somewhat tattered uniforms had any real value. While a few of the Decatur Commodore minor league players graduated to the major leagues, it was not a pipeline for future Hall-of-Famers.
Ah, but that’s where the story line took a reverse pivot. It turns out future Hall-of-Famers were already wearing these uniforms as members of the San Francisco Giants. And in an effort to cut costs by supplying the minor league teams with hand-me-downs, the Giants passed along worn uniforms to the Commies.
It wasn’t until years later that the Allens decided they needed to get that box out of storage inside a semitruck on a family farm in LeRoy. And it wasn’t until several years ago that Allen dug into the box (some had been nibbled on by mice) and began to connect the dots.
“Going through them, I was like a kid in a candy store,” said Allen, an avid memorabilia collector whose home includes a room of mostly St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns items.
Turns out Allen was able to prove that one of the wool uniforms had been worn in the major leagues by Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal. A pair of Marichal’s pants had cleverly been altered by the equipment staff to include the addition of a crotch panel that accommodated Marichal’s trademark high leg kick.
Another jersey had been the game-day uniform of Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey. And another had been the battle gear of Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry.
There was even a jersey that had been worn by one of the game’s all-time greats, Willie Mays, and another by Bobby Bonds, although the Mays jersey was in such poor condition Allen didn’t even bother bringing it to the “Antiques Roadshow” appraisal he and his wife secured tickets for last August in Kansas City.
Some 6,000 people were issued tickets for the show, and every one was expected to bring an item for appraisal. “Doing this was on my husband’s bucket list,” Tammy said.
Tammy Allen brought a large framed pencil drawing of an Indian chief done by Blue Mound artist Ralph Bullard. It appraised at about $200, which was approximately what her father paid for it nearly 40 years ago.
Most of the items are given an appraisal and the visitors are sent home with their treasures or their trash. But about 60 are selected for a video appraisal and about 45 of those will be included on shows to be aired March 31, April 7 and April 14.
Allen’s jerseys were among those 60 and the appraisal by sports memorabilia expert Leila Dunbar nearly knocked Allen over.
Impressed by the provenance and convinced of the historical accuracy that linked the uniforms from San Francisco to Decatur, she appraised the Marichal jersey at $20,000.
The McCovey jersey she valued at $10,000. The Perry jersey was appraised at $7,500.
Marichal’s pants – the alternations of which tell their own story – were appraised at $2,000.
Allen didn’t bring the entire box of uniforms. But he showed Dunbar a list of the names of the major leaguers who had worn uniforms before being donated to the Commodores and she appraised the collection of nearly 40 pieces at a minimum of $120,000.
“When she said that I could hardly say anything,” said Allen, a Decatur firefighter for 29 years. “My mouth dropped and I just kind of stood there.
“She said, ‘Yeah, that’s a pretty good investment for a buck, isn’t it?’”
What raised the value of the Marichal jersey was it’s unaltered state. The cream-colored jersey has “GIANTS” stitched across the breast. Marichal’s name is stitched in black thread inside the collar. It has all the stains and smudges a game-worn uniform should have. And since Marichal wore this jersey more than 50 years ago, it was in remarkably good condition.
Allen learned more about the uniforms through a phone call to former Decatur resident Frank Coppenbarger, the onetime Commodores’ equipment manager and now director of team travel and clubhouse services for the Philadelphia Phillies.
He learned that once the jerseys were received from the Giants, those cream-colored jerseys that said “GIANTS” across the front were left intact and worn by Commodore players as home jerseys.
The gray uniforms that said “San Francisco” across the front were changed. The lettering was removed and “Decatur” was stitched into place. Those became road jerseys.
And Commodore players who inherited the hand-me-downs wrote their own names in permanent markers on the shirt tail or elsewhere inside the collar, presumably so they could be sorted after being laundered.
Some jerseys contain five different names as the hand-me-down process went from player to player to player.
After the buoyant news of the appraisal, Allen still had to inform his brother-in-law, who is the rightful owner. And if Toby Williams didn’t erupt in joy, it was for good reason.
“You have to understand the relationship between my husband and my brother,” Tammy Allen said. “Mark is very capable of practical jokes. My brother had to call my mother to ask if she was getting this same story.”
For now, Toby Williams isn’t exploring options to sell his rare baseball memorabilia. “He’s just holding onto them for now,” his sister said.
Included in the appraisal were some black-and-white baseball cards purchased from a vending machine in the 1930s. Those were appraised at $10 to $15 apiece.
But it’s those uniforms that has Allen beaming these days.
“He’s absolutely loving this,” his wife said.
Mark Allen has learned he will never turn up his nose at something that on first blush appears to be nothing but trash.
“No one saw the value in a big box of old dirty uniforms,” he said.
He pauses for effect, then smiles, his eyes glistening.
His visit to “Antiques Roadshow” has convinced him that sometimes a dollar’s worth of trash can be an unexpected treasure.