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Former Bronco Evan Mathis auctioning off Mantle rookie card "to buy family dream home"

The Mickey Mantle rookie card from 1952 was always the Holy Grail of modern-era baseball cards. Mike Klis tells us why...
Credit: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY SPORTS
Denver Broncos guard Evan Mathis (69) talks with the media after the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium.

KUSA – It was about the time mom started cleaning out the attic and throwing away all those boxes of baseball cards that Baby Boomers became aware those small, cardboard items had become outrageously valuable.

Two in particular. No one but Bruce McNall and then Wayne Gretzky for a time had a Honus Wagner card, but few keepsakes outside diamonds were more valuable. And for some reason, the Mickey Mantle rookie card from 1952 was always the Holy Grail of modern-era baseball cards.

Evan Mathis, the eclectic and erudite former left guard for the Broncos during their Super Bowl season of 2015, explained why.

“Legend has it Honus Wagner had the card’s production stopped because he didn’t want his image being used to promote tobacco and set a bad example for children,’’ Mathis said via an e-mail interview with 9NEWS about his baseball card collecting hobby. “Another possibility was that he wanted to be paid for the use of his image. Either way, something led to his T206 card being very short printed. The combination of these legends and the short supply has kept the demand for the card well above the supply.

“The 1952 Topps set is the most important post-war set for many reasons and it put the wheels in motion for what cards would become over the years. The prominence of the set has always brought attention to it. Because it’s the key card in the set, the Mickey Mantle has always been the face of the hobby.’’

Mathis owns a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA Mint 9 card that he is selling through Heritage Auctions. The card is valued at $3.5 million. Mathis, who retired after the 2016 season and after making $21.4 million in earnings with six teams in 12 NFL seasons, invested his money well for retirement.

“I am continuing to love my life and live out my dreams,’’ he wrote. “I spend all of my time with my family or doing something card related. When people ask me what I do for a living I just reply, “I sell baseball cards.”

He’s far more diversified. He also collects cards from Garbage Pail Kids, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, 3 Stooges and Star Wars, to name a few.

He is selling his rookie Mantle card for the most honorable of reasons.

“To pay for my family’s dream home,’’ Mathis wrote.

In his lone season with the Broncos, Mathis was a missing piece. He was signed late in the preseason, then played -- improbably considering the severe bumps and bruises he suffered to his lower extremities -- all 19 games, starting 16, including all three in the postseason. Including Super Bowl 50.

There is the Mantle card that will fetch millions. And there is his Super Bowl 50 ring that is priceless.

"The Super Bowl ring is in a league of it’s own,'' he said. "The sentimental and emotional attachment to that far outweighs the 52 Mantle 9. If I weigh my options for each, I can either have the 52 Mantle or a lot of money but with the ring, I wouldn’t be able to be compensated enough to make up for what that means to me and the years of hard work and luck that it took to get it. .

He wouldn’t say what he paid for the Mantle card, but he described how he came in possession of the valuable piece of merchandise.''

He would not say what he initially paid for the Mantle card, but he tend offer how he obtained it.

“I have a lot of friends in the hobby who I exchange pictures with of stuff we have acquired or items we’ve come across that we think are special,’’ Mathis said. “A couple years ago, one of those friends sent me a picture of this particular card as he had just acquired it. My jaw hit the floor as my mind raced for a way to somehow make the card mine.

"A motto I’ve followed in collecting is, 'You can’t go wrong with the best of the best.' So I kept telling myself that as I traded most of my card collection and made payment terms to get this monster of a card.’’