Ex-ballboy to strike it rich with old jerseys
MADISON, Wis. — Patrick McBride couldn't have known how much 25 words would change the course of his life. He couldn't have known a newspaper essay contest to work as a batboy in 1969 would lead to one of the greatest memorabilia finds in Wisconsin sports history.
At age 15, he wasn't contemplating the long-term ramifications of his work. He was too busy pinching himself at the prospect of being surrounded by professional athletes.
"I'm working on a book right now about my experience," McBride said. "I'm calling it ‘The luckiest boy in the world.' "
McBride's run of luck began with the essay contest. In 1969, local businessman Bud Selig convinced the Chicago White Sox to play 11 games in Milwaukee to help return baseball to the city following the Milwaukee Braves' departure. The local paper encouraged those interested to submit a 25-word essay on why they wanted to be a batboy.
The winning essay belonged to McBride. It read:
I would like to do a small part toward bringing baseball back to Milwaukee, and I'd hope the spirit I would show would be contagious.
One year later, the Seattle Pilots baseball team permanently moved to Milwaukee as the Brewers, and McBride stayed on as a batboy. Because the Green Bay Packers played two or three games per season in Milwaukee, McBride worked those games as well. He also parlayed his work into a ballboy gig with the Milwaukee Bucks — a particularly fortuitous move.
Over the years, McBride acquired uniforms, autographed balls and equipment, storing them all in his closet, where the items collected dust and were lost to history.
This week, more than 40 years later, some of that history will be sold for a considerable sum.
McBride will auction off Lew Alcindor's 1969-71 game-worn Milwaukee Bucks home white jersey — his last before becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He will also auction off Oscar Robertson's 1970-71 NBA championship season jersey and Abdul-Jabbar's first set of game-worn goggles from 1974. Collectively, the three most buzzworthy items in McBride's collection could generate more than $300,000.
The final day of the auction will be Feb. 23 in New York City as part of Heritage Auctions' Platinum Night Sports event.
"I finally decided I had them long enough," said McBride, the dean of students at the University of Wisconsin medical school, who has a 26-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter. "I'm getting older and it's time to do something for my kids, so I decided it was time to move them on."
Chris Nerat is a consignment director in the sports department at Heritage Auction who flew from Dallas to Madison to verify McBride's memorabilia last fall. Nerat, a Wisconsin native, said what makes the Alcindor jersey such a rare find is that only two home white and two road green jerseys existed. Back then, players wore the same set of jerseys for an entire year. And the only other home white Alcindor jersey from that era is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
"It's a big deal," Nerat said. "You've got guys like LeBron James. You've got guys like Michael Jordan. But they didn't play long enough ago for the jerseys that they wore to actually be worth a six-figure amount.
"There's very few known authentic Michael Jordan jerseys because the ones that he wore you could even buy in the stores or from the team. You couldn't buy a Lew Alcindor jersey like this one in the store. It's easier to authenticate something like the Lew Alcindor than it would be to authenticate a Michael Jordan jersey."
Nerat estimates the Alcindor jersey will sell for at least $150,000 and could go for somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000. He anticipates the Robertson jersey could hit $100,000 and that Abdul-Jabbar's goggles could sell for close to $25,000.
"Nothing like this has ever come to light," Nerat said. "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn't own one of these jerseys. And Oscar Robertson doesn't have a Bucks jersey from that year.
"That's a widely known fact. If one of those guys even wanted it, they'd have to bid. It would be pretty standard that a lawyer or a doctor would win something like this. But a museum or something of that nature could also win it."
Other items in the auction, apart from McBride's memorabilia, include Mike Eruzione's game-worn jersey from the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 Olympics semifinal against the Soviet Union. Nerat estimated the jersey could sell for more than $1 million. Online bidding already has begun for all items, but the final day is expected to bring the most significant action at the auction house in New York.
McBride's passion for his ballboy job and willingness to work without a paycheck allowed him to obtain the items in the first place. He stayed on his first two years earning money strictly off tips.
The ballboys were in charge of setting up the court and locker room, polishing shoes, cooking food and doing laundry and janitorial work.
"It was a lot of hard work," McBride said. "In those days, they broke every child labor law in the state. I'd do anything to be working there. Long days and nights, but it was fabulous."
At age 17, McBride was rewarded for his work when he became the youngest equipment manager in professional sports history after his boss died of a heart attack. He held the position until he graduated college in 1976.
Once he took over as the team's equipment manager, he approached Milwaukee Bucks general manager Wayne Embree about hanging on to a few of the team's jerseys. The uniforms had been stored in an equipment room, and McBride realized they might be worth something down the road. He also later pulled Abdul-Jabbar's first pair of goggles out of the trash after they broke — foresight he hopes will pay off soon.
McBride intends to fly to New York this week to say goodbye to the history he helped preserve.
"I thought, ‘Hey, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing,' " McBride said. "I've hung onto this stuff for over 40 years. I really want to see what happens. It's supposed to be pretty exciting. I don't want to miss this."
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