The "Mona Lisa" of baseball memorabilia - an almost mint condition 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card - arrived in Los Angeles yesterday in the company of an armed guard but without its new owner, a mysterious Southern California collector who shelled out most of a record $2.35 million for it.
The tiny scrap of colored cardboard, barely 21/2 inches tall and not quite two inches wide, made an auspicious arrival at a Dodger Stadium news conference.
As SCP Auctions officials removed and opened a small red case to reveal the card's cover - one featuring a youthful and handsome Wagner in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform - camera flashes popped and heads craned for a better look.
The previous owner, Brian Seigel of Las Vegas, told the Associated Press he sold the card to a Southern California collector who approached him, unsolicited, last year. They closed the deal last week.
Seigel, the CEO of an asset management company, paid a record $1,265,000 when he bought it in 2000. Previous owners have included hockey great Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, former owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who paid $451,000 for it in 1991.
Jeter's card. Derek Jeter drew quite a crowd for this at-bat, with President Bush waving in the stands and Mickey Mantle studying from the dugout.
It made for a perfect picture on Jeter's new baseball card. Of course, the game never happened. The Topps Co. created the card through digital manipulation.
"We saw it in the final proof and we could have axed it," Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi said. "But we decided to let it run, we wanted to print it. We thought it was hilarious."
The card will be changed when Topps issues a complete set at midseason, Luraschi said.
Sheffield won't talk. Detroit Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield told USA Today that he doesn't plan to cooperate with Major League Baseball's steroids investigation, joining Barry Bonds as players who have said they will not cooperate.
He backtracked later on, though, saying he would let the players' union make the decision on testimony.
No call for Hall. The Veterans Committee again failed to elect any candidate to the Hall of Fame. Former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo came the closest to the required 75 percent. The nine-time all-star was picked on 57 of 82 ballots (70 percent). Players needed 62 votes for election.
Former Phillie Jim Kaat, a 283-game winner and strongly backed by Hall member Mike Schmidt, drew 52 votes. Gil Hodges, who hit 370 home runs, got 50 votes, and three-time AL batting champion Tony Oliva had 47.
Noteworthy. The Minnesota Twins and reliever Jesse Crain agreed to a $3.25 million, three-year contract. . . . The independent Camden Riversharks re-signed infielder/outfielder Brad Strauss, outfielders L.J. Biernbaum and Dwight Maness, infielder Matt Demarco, and catcher Randy McGarvey.