A rare signed 1955 Topps Baseball card featuring the great Greek-American baseball player Harry Agganis is now up for auction with Robert Edward Auctions.
The card, which is one of only two known signed cards of the baseball great from Lynn, Massachusetts, was signed by the beloved player just before his untimely death from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 26.
Agganis’ memory is enshrined in Boston, the city in which he played football and baseball, with a statue of him at Boston College in front of the sports arena that is named after him.
Beloved hometown boy commemorated all over Boston
A street that winds through the Boston University campus is also named after the first baseman who hit his first home run for the Red Sox the day he graduated from BU, on June 6, 1954 — before he left the field to attend commencement ceremonies.
The signed card is one of only two known to exist because of his early passing in 1955.
The card is now up for bid as part of Robert Edward Auctions’ 2021 April 2-18 event.
No one knows for sure exactly how many cards Agganis may have signed before he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on June 27, 1955. Some say it could have been less than five total, but authenticated cards that have been verified as signed by Agganis are very few.
As Brian Dwyer, the president of Robert Edward Auctions, explains “The window for him to sign before he died had to have been less than 90 days.” Dwyer believes that bidding for the card will likely open at $2,500.
Steve Grad, a baseball card expert and the principal authenticator for Beckett Authentication Services, says “That’s a tough autograph on that card, and very sought after.
“The Golden Greek” was world-class athlete in both football, baseball
“I believe I authenticated minimally one, and possibly a total of 2-3, when I was at PSA/DNA. There are probably five that I’m aware of. It’s hard to say what is still sitting in someone’s shoebox in the attic.”
Agganis, who was given the nickname “The Golden Greek,” was an all-sport star, playing three sports at Lynn Classical High School. He was an All-America quarterback at Boston University — and the first football All-American at BU — after turning down a scholarship at famed Notre Dame University.
Everyone who knew Agganis thought that he was headed for a career in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns made him their first-round pick in the 1952 NFL Draft.
But the Greek-Amerian athlete was so preternaturally talented that he was able to turn down the Browns and their $25,000 bonus — a fortune at the time — to sign with his hometown Boston Red Sox to play first base, choosing to live closer to his widowed mother.
Turned down pro football contract to play for Red Sox
Boston had offered him the princely sum of $35,000, but he loved it the best of all sports he had ever played, saying it was his favorite. He just happened to come from Lynn, Massachusetts, right outside Boston, the home of the most iconic baseball team in America.
Agganis was born to Georgios Agganis and Georgia Papalimperis on April 20, 1929. the family originally hailed from Longanikos, Sparta, Greece.
After reaching the majors in 1954, he played in 132 games while stepping to the plate nearly 500 times, hitting .251 with 11 HR and 57 RBI as a full-time first baseman. That would prove to be the highlight of Agganis’ short baseball career.
During his all-too-short time with the Red Sox, Agganis played in a total of 157 games, earning a batting average over .250, hitting 11 home runs and 54 runs. He was already a legend in the brief time he played; ever since, baseball aficionados and New England sports fans of every stripe wonder what else Agganis would have accomplished had he been fortunate enough to have a full athletic career and live a normal life span.
Harry Agganis still beloved figure today
People in New England who were alive at the time of his passing — especially Greek-Americans — still speak the name of Harry Agganis in hushed tones, remembering where they were when they heard of his death.
The athletic phenom was hitting over .300 in late May of 1955 when he began to experience chest pains and run a high fever. On June 2, Agganis was hospitalized for two weeks with pneumonia.
After he was discharged, he returned to the Red Sox to play for one week — hitting .313 with 10 doubles in 25 games — before being hospitalized again, the second time after suffering from a viral infection.
The beloved player appeared to be showing signs of improvement when he suddenly passed away.
Death at age 26 hit New England hard
The loss of Agganis hit New England, and in particular, the Greek -American community, very hard. Many to this day believe he was the best athlete to ever come out of the greater Boston area.
Agganis’ popularity of course extended far outside of Boston, and there were plenty of autograph seekers in the mid-1950s who wanted him to sign their cards.
Grad, the authenticator at Robert Edward Auctions, says “I know from my roots in Chicago of several area collectors who were active and collecting in-person autographs at team hotels in the early 1950s.
“Agganis traveled to Chicago twice during the 1955 season, playing his last game against the White Sox at Comiskey Park. One of the collectors I knew back in the 1980s and early ‘90s would tell me stories about getting players at their hotels including (Jackie) Robinson and (Mickey) Mantle in their rookie seasons.
“He collected signed Topps and Bowman cards back in the 1950s, so it’s likely someone like that would have gotten (Agganis’) signature in person on that card.”
But very few have ever come on the market. Grad says “When this card came into the office, I was quite surprised. It’s not every day you see his autograph, let alone on the pinnacle of signed-card collecting. I can’t remember the last time one was sold in auction.”
For Mike Knight, the collector who is putting the card up for auction, it has been a journey in itself just finding the card and purchasing it several months ago.
He began collecting autographed 1955 Topps Baseball cards almost three years ago.
One day about six months ago, he recalls, he started cold-calling as many shops as he could around the country to locate more of these cards. A few of the shops did have a signed ’55 Topps card or two, but they were of little interest to him.
Knight explains “I spent hours and days calling shops from several states.”
Impossible to estimate worth of card due to rarity
He hit the jackpot in a shop in Kansas when in response to his query about cards, he received the answer that they had one such card.
“Who is it?” he asked the man on the other end of the line.
The shop owner was well aware of the value of his card but eventually sold it to Knight.
As he explains, fortunately, Agganis’ autograph on the card already had been authenticated by Beckett Authentication Services.
“I was shocked to say the least as I always thought this would be the one card I wouldn’t have as part of the set,” he recalls.
“I knew the others (I needed) could be found and I had seen all but the Agganis.”
Dwyer, the president of Robert Edward Auctions, says he expects the Agganis baseball card to generate what he terms “serious interest,” but added that because it is so rare, there is no established market value for it.
“As with anything as rare as this, it’s extremely tough to estimate pricing when there is no data in the marketplace. But it wouldn’t shock us to see this break into five figures.
“This is a card that we’ve long heard collectors describe as a hurdle to completing the 1955 Topps set in signed form,” Dwyer pointed out, adding “and until now we’ve not seen a legitimate signed example.”
For more information on Agganis and the foundation set up in his memory, please see the Agganis Foundation’s website, here.