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Honus Wagner hits a home run for Baltimore nuns

Updated at 10:45 a.m. Thursday

The top bid on the Honus Wagner card has reached $180,000, according to the Heritage Auction Galleries website. Bidding ends at 10 p.m. CT on Nov. 4.

Updated at 6:53 p.m. Wednesday

The card is battered. It has even been laminated.

But Honus Wagner's century-old baseball card is expected to fetch a group of Roman Catholic nuns in Baltimore anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 at auction. That's $100,000 to $200,000 that will go to School Sisters of Notre Dame ministries in 35 countries.

honus.jpgThe nuns inherited the card when the brother of a nun, who had died in 1999, died earlier this year. The card, which he had owned since 1936, is one of about 60 Wagner cards that are known to exist and is part of the epic T206 series that was manufactured between 1909 and 1911. A near-mint-condition T206 Wagner -- the "Holy Grail" of baseball cards -- brought the highest price ever for a baseball card, $2.35 million, in 2007. At one time, it was owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

"It just boggles your mind," Sister Virginia Muller told The Associated Press. "I can't remember a time when we have received anything like this."

Unfortunately, the card is not in pristine condition. The fates were not that kind. The upper-right corner of the card is creased and three of its white borders have been trimmed. And...it has been laminated. But even in poor condition, a T206 Wagner card is prized by collectors, said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, which is auctioning the card.

"The T206 set is known as 'The Monster' among collectors. It's just really tough to complete the entire set," Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auction Galleries, told the AP. Heritage is handling the sale. The card is "one of those that's always sought-after, always desirable, and there's not a big population of them. Even in a lower grade, they do have quite a bit of demand and command a strong price."

The auction ends Nov. 4, and the highest bid as of Wednesday afternoon was $65,000. (You can bid on the card here.)

"The money that we receive from this card," Muller said, "will be used for the many School Sisters of Notre Dame who are around the world, who need support for their ministries for the poor."

As with anything 100 years old, the reason for the rarity of the Wagner cards is shrouded in a mystique and aura of its own. Baseball cards at that time were packaged in smoking- and chewing-tobacco products. Wagner, according to a 1912 Sporting News story, was concerned about his image (even then it was an obsession for athletes; he was believed to be a tobacco user) and demanded that the American Tobacco Co. cease production of the cards.

However, some baseball historians, including Keith Olbermann, have concluded that Wagner had previously endorsed tobacco and suspect that he, along with others who did not participate in the T-206 set, simply wanted to be paid. "Were they all anti-smoking," Olbermann has asked, "or did they wise up to the fact they weren't getting paid, or paid enough, for the use of their pictures?"

In 2011, it's a debate that is unlikely to be settled. What is certain is that, thanks to card's former owner and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, this card will do a lot of good.

(A tip of the cap to Jack Toomey for his assist with this story.)

By Cindy Boren  | October 27, 2010; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  MLB  
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