New ‘All Star Dealers’ Reveals Reality of Sports Collectibles

Richie Russek of Discovery's "All-Star Dealers" surrounded by sports memorabilia (Photo: Discovery)

Here comes yet another “family business” reality series complete with an outspoken patriarch and family members who work with him, but it’s not about fabricating rifles or motorcycles (“American Guns,” “American Chopper”), stuffing dead animals (“American Stuffers”) or pricing objects people bring into a pawn shop (“Pawn Stars”).

This one’s called “All Star Dealers” and it’s TV’s newest addition to the exploding field of reality shows dealing in some way with antiques and collectibles. This one, though, seems to represent a subcategory not yet seen in the genre – the buying and selling of sports memorabilia.

Meet Richie Russek, 60, and his two sons, Michael and Darren — Long Island, N.Y.- based mavens of sports collectibles whose small but surprisingly far-flung firm, Grey Flannel Auctions, is the focal point of “All-Star Dealers,” which premieres for a 13-episode, first-season run on Discovery Channel on Tuesday (Jan. 24) at 8/7c. Plans call for two half-hour episodes to run back-to-back in the 8-9 p.m. hour (7-8c). Tuesday’s premiere will feature basketball greats Dennis Rodman (in the first episode) and James Worthy (in the second), both of whom will assist the Russeks in authenticating some NBA-related memorabilia for auction.

The other day, XfinityTV spoke with Richie on the phone and he told us what we’ll see on the show, and also gave us some advice on what to do if we stumble across any sports-related items we might think are valuable that have long been hidden in our attic or basement. Here’s what he had to say:

XfinityTV: Will there be a prominent guest-star from the world of sports in every episode? Not in every episode, but it’s really great because [having such guests show up] really shows what my life and my sons’ lives and business lives are all about. I’m going to show Rodman a few items to see if they are actually real and if he remembers them as having been his and worn by him.

What will each episode be like? We’re going to have different items, I think it’s like three items, on each episode and the first thing we have to do is get the item, so they either get sent to us or I might go, or my sons might go, anywhere in the country to pick them up as we do all the time. Then, two, depending on what the item is, that’s where our team of experts really come in. And then the last thing is you’ll get a final price – what it sold for – either at auction or if I just sold it. So it’s really like “CSI” meets ESPN.

What’s the single most valuable piece of memorabilia that has ever passed through your hands? The single most valuable piece of memorabilia: A few years back, we sold Babe Ruth’s uniform – a jersey and pants that were attributed to “the called shot” in 1932. [This is the legendary incident involving an infamous gesture Ruth made while in the batter’s box, when he pointed to the location in the outfield where he intended to hit a home run. And then he did just that.] We really believe that this is the uniform he wore against the Cubs in 1932 with his famous “called shot” and that went for well over a million dollars – something like $1.2 million for dirty laundry!

What advice can you give people who think they might have a valuable collectible on their hands? People misunderstand what’s worth what and a lot of people get very disappointed. I’ll give you an example: They have a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle and it’s just signed by him and it’s really not in good shape and they think it’s worth thousands of dollars. And if the ball is dirty or has spots on it or the signature’s faded, that $400 ball is going to turn into a $100 ball. The real answer is, people need to contact us and not have predispositions about an item’s value because we really know, and we’ll be able to ask them the right questions and then tell them what we think it will sell for. [Not everyone goes away disappointed, though.] We shock people with the money we get for items they had in their attic that they had no idea were so valuable. It’s so much fun! I mean that’s the thing about my business: it’s a treasure hunt!

One last thing, Richie, if you don’t mind: We happen to own a 1954 Roger Maris baseball card — his rookie year when he was with the Cleveland Indians. Unfortunately, someone hand-wrote “1954” on the back of it when he was a child, and one of the corners is creased. What’s it worth? It’s all condition . . . kill that card — it’s worthless!

“All-Star Dealers” premieres on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 8/7c on the Discovery Channel.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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