When Eric Bell won two tickets to the 1998 MLB All-Star Game at Denver’s Coors Field, he came for the bear, not the baseball.
“I’m not really much of a sports fan,” Bell said recently, recalling that decades-past game.
Bell’s eyes were laser-trained on obtaining one of the game’s coveted handouts — a Beanie Babies-brand stuffed bear named Glory, featuring white fur adorned with red-and-blue stars and an American flag emblazoned over its heart.
The All-Star bears sent collectors into a frenzy, coming during the peak of the Beanie Babies fad — considered one of the world’s first internet sensations. Their manufacturer reportedly posted sales of $1.4 billion in 1998 as collectors bought the toys not just as playthings, but actual financial investments.
Following Denver’s first MLB All-Star Game, people paid hundreds of dollars for the Glory bears that the 50,000 fans who filled Coors Field procured for free.
When they couldn’t acquire one lawfully, some people stole Glory. A Denver police officer was investigated for walking off with several of the Beanie Babies, according to Denver Post archives, while felony theft charges were considered, but not filed, against a volunteer worker who police said tried to abscond with 27 of the stuffed toys.
Bell wasn’t sentimental about Glory. He saw the mania surrounding the All-Star Beanie Babies and knew if he could secure one, he was looking at a cash cow in bear form.
“As soon as that thing was in my hot little hand I was trying to figure out who would buy it and for how much,” Bell said. “I called all the collector-type places I could find in the Yellow Pages. I asked what they would pay for this extremely valuable bear. I found one that offered 300 buckaroonies. I said, ‘How soon can I get this to you?’”
This year, the All-Star Game is back in Denver. Cory Little, a spokesman for the Colorado Rockies, said fans can expect some giveaways throughout All-Star Week, leading up to Tuesday’s game. But he didn’t think anything could match the Beanie Baby craze of 1998, which this newspaper described as a “near riot” at the time.
“They have beautiful souls”
So did all the hysteria pay off for fans who snagged a piece of Glory at the ’98 game?
That depends, said Lori Verderame, an appraiser of Beanie Babies.
Verderame, a long-time appraiser with a Ph.D. in art history, has been busy with virtual appraisals of Beanie Babies during the pandemic as homebound folks cleaned out attics and basements, unearthing bins of bygone bean-bag heirlooms worth unknown sums of money.
Most people who held onto Glory past her glory days now have a bear worth anywhere between $50 and $500, depending on its condition, Verderame said.
On eBay last week, Glory sales listings ranged anywhere from 99 cents to $3,000.
Attributes that can increase Beanie Babies’ value include misspellings on the collectibles’ trademark heart-shaped tags or the particular country where the toys were made, Verderame said. Other considerations that Verderame said can impact the price include whether the doll is still pristinely packaged, exudes an odor, suffers from “pellet deterioration” or features accompanying memorabilia — 1998 All-Star Game ticket stubs, perhaps?
Claudine Darling, a self-proclaimed “Beanie Baby Queen,” keeps her Glory in a protective case with a commemorative All-Star Game card on display in her home on Southern California’s Coronado Island.
Darling said she has collected hundreds of Beanie Babies and inherited Glory over the years. She hopes to sell the All-Star bear to the right owner.
“As I look into their eyes and take their pictures, I am reminded they have beautiful souls and I know from here to there, their lost souls will soon return to good homes that have been looking for them and will cherish them,” Darling said.
“Crazy how obsessed people were”
Back in the late 1990s, local publication Westword celebrated Glory in its own special way.
Patricia Calhoun, the longtime Westword editor, recalled the Beanie Baby fanaticism that surrounded Denver’s first All-Star Game.
“It was crazy how obsessed people were with that Beanie Baby,” Calhoun said. “Particularly someone in our office who wanted that Beanie Baby money to retire.”
Someone in the paper’s office did, in fact, get their hands on one of the bears, which ultimately went out in a literal blaze of glory.
The edgy alt-weekly published an online series with text and photos depicting staffers torturing the bear. They stuck needles in the doll, boiled it, ran it over and even photographed Glory involved in decidedly NSFW activities.
For the grand finale, the paper’s staff blew up Glory with what Calhoun believes was a firework.
“We just tickled ourselves endlessly,” she said. “The remains of the Beanie Baby are still in our former web editor’s apartment in Chicago.”
One can only wonder how an appraisal for that particular Beanie Baby would pan out.
For Bell, selling Glory was one of his best decisions. The day after the All-Star Game, he was off on vacation.
“That precious bear paid for the car rental,” Bell said. “They didn’t have the car we ordered so they substituted a convertible. Luck was all over me as we cruised the Redwoods. Thanks be to Glory.”
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