The man who sold the most valuable sports card of all time

Anthony Giordano got a record $12.6 million for a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle

August 31st, 2022
Art by Tom Forget, Photo via Anthony Giordano

$12.6 million is a lot of money.

Most people, if they all of a sudden come into that large amount of cash, will feel good about it. They'll be happy. Their kids will be happy. Their kids' kids will be happy.

But what if, to get it, you had to part ways with something that maybe made you even happier?

"Nope, I don't feel good," Anthony Giordano told me over the phone. "I don't have my card anymore."

After holding onto it for 31 years, Giordano recently sold his 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle for that high price through Heritage Auctions. It was the largest amount ever paid for a sports card at auction -- topping the Honus Wagner sale of $7.5 million in early August. It's also the most money ever paid at auction for any sports memorabilia period -- more than the $9.3 million coughed up for the Diego Maradona "Hand of God" jersey.

Giordano, of course, doesn't totally discount the money part.

"Yeah, the money part of it is great and all," the 75-year-old New Jersey native said. "But I think the best part of the whole thing was just the journey that I was in with it. The experience for my sons, my grandchildren and my family. It was phenomenal."

Anthony Giordano with his extended family after selling the Mantle card. (Photo courtesy Anthony Giordano)

A '52 Topps Mantle has always been one of the rarest, most sought-after baseball cards of all time. The legendary Yankees center fielder is one of the more recognizable names in baseball history and the backstory on the card itself is wild (it includes thousands of them being dumped into the Hudson River in the 1960s). So, whenever one of the versions -- in high-quality condition -- appears on the market, it's huge news.

The story of how Giordano's card got to him is a long, twisting tale.

In the late 1980s, a homeowner in Quincy, Mass., named Ted Lodge found thousands of cards in his attic -- his father had been a Topps delivery driver and had apparently forgotten about a collection he stashed away up there. Lodge called up famous card dealer Allan "Mr. Mint" Rosen -- a guy who looked more like a professional wrestler than a sports card expert -- to see if he could help him with a sale. Rosen, doubtful of the man's story, brought cash, but also brought a policeman to the house, just in case this was all a big setup.

But when Rosen got there he found gold: Christy Mathewson cards, Bill Dickey cards and nearly 40 Mantle '52s. Rosen paid for 5,500 of the cards, including 12 Mantles -- one of those being the pristine piece of cardboard that would eventually wind up in Giordano's hands. You can hear "Mr. Mint" tell the story below:

Rosen sold the said Mantle for $6,000, but thinking he could maybe sell it for more, almost immediately bought it back for $40,000. And then, in 1991, at a Father's Day card show at Madison Square Garden, a child approached him inquiring about the '52 Mantle propped up in his display.

"My son Ralph walked by and he saw it and he came and got me," Giordano recalled. "I was at another table looking at cards and he said, 'Dad, you gotta come and see this card. It's a '52 Topps. It's phenomenal. I don't think we'll ever find another one like it.'"

A collector most of his life and a huge Yankees fan, Giordano had been trying to gather a Mantle card from every year he played. The '52 was, of course, the hardest to track down. The card was listed at around $57,500, but Giordano told his son to go back over to Rosen and get the price down.

"I said to my son, 'See if he'll take $50,000 for it,'" Giordano said. "Ralphie goes over to him and says, 'Mr. Rosen, I like the card, would you take $50,000 for it?' He said, 'Son, this is not $57.50 cents I'm asking for it, this is $57,500.' My son said, 'Yeah, I know.'"

Rosen, perhaps surprised that a kid had $50,000 on hand, asked him where the money was. Ralph said his dad had it, the elder Giordano came over, and a deal was made. Rosen had also mentioned to the Giordanos that it was the finest known example of this type of Mantle in the world. Anthony had him write a note saying just that to pair along with the card.

It was, at the time, the largest amount paid for a '52 Mantle. It made the news, although Giordano remained anonymous as the buyer. Only his close friends and family knew it was him. Giordano felt it was a good investment at the time, while others, including some famous celebrities who heard about the deal, thought it was ridiculous.

"I think it was, I forget who, I think it may have been Howard Stern," Giordano remembered. "He called me a moron."

Giordano and his twin sons became gatekeepers of the Mantle card for more than three decades and they made sure to keep it extra, extra safe.

"It was in a vaulted room," Giordano said. "Fully alarmed so nobody could get it."

The trio was tempted to sell it a few times since the early '90s. Giordano said he had someone fly out to his home five or six years ago willing to write him a check for $2 million. The three took a vote and a majority two thought it should not be sold. His one son, who voted yes, thought future generations might eventually forget who Mickey Mantle was, and the card's value would drop. The elder Giordano thought that was wrong, saying he still knew who Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig were, even though he never saw them play.

But that son's line of thinking did end up being the reason he decided to sell this year.

"My oldest grandson, who's 16, when my son asked him, 'Do your friends know about Mickey Mantle?' and my grandson said, 'No,'" Giordano told me. "They know who Mike Trout is. They know who Aaron Judge is. But as far as Mickey Mantle, they had no clue who he was. I thought, 'You know, the timing might be right.'"

Giordano also thought it might bring some joy and fun to the baseball-card collecting world, when other aspects of life have been so depressing the last few years.

The card was graded at 9.5 out of 10 -- "gem-mint condition," nearly flawless to the naked eye. That, along with the “finest known example” note from a card-dealing king like Rosen, had Heritage Auctions thinking this sale would definitely break records. And it did. The first day it was up it had bids of more than $6 million.

And on Aug. 27, it sold to an unnamed buyer for $12.6 million -- $12.55 million more than what Giordano bought it for in 1991. A fairly good investment. Let's hope someone told Howard Stern about it.

Depending on the market -- which is very hard to predict -- Giordano thinks the card could be worth more in the future. But he hasn't really had time to think about all that; his life has been busy with all this newfound attention. He's gotten calls from numerous publications and documentarians have been following him around for a future film about his journey with the card.

"I said to my boys, 'I know how the Kardashians feel,'" Giordano laughed.

As far as the money? He says he'll spend it on his family and, obviously, on more memorabilia. Mostly Mantle memorabilia. He still has a fairly valuable 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle Card and told a story about another Mantle item he just missed obtaining.

"While this auction was going on, there was this pack of cigarettes from the '50s that Mickey was on," Giordano said. "I'd never seen it in the 40 years I've been collecting. I put a high minimum bid on it. It's going on the last 10 minutes of the auction and my son called me and asked me to pick my grandson up. I go get my grandson and I'm with my grandson and I forget about the auction. I lost the stinkin' pack for like $10! I'm just a collector. I enjoy it."