- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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As Mike Trout memorabilia gets hotter and hotter, some 3,500 former major leaguers' paychecks grow bigger.
That's because Trout is one of a select group of players to have signed an exclusive autograph deal with Major League Alumni Marketing, a company owned by the Major League Baseballs Players Alumni Association.
In recent years, the organization has delved into the autograph business as a way to invest in the future like a college invests to grow its endowment. When it sees a potential to get into the business with a player at a value price, it has made the jump. Trout continues the group's hot streak of players on its roster, which includes Josh Hamilton and Clayton Kershaw.
Trout put himself on the company's radar last season, as the goal was to identify a possible rookie of the year candidate for this season. Between Bryce Harper and Trout, the latter was going to be the more economical option given the publicity Harper had received.
"We're [owned by ]a nonprofit organization," said Matthew Hazzard, director of memorabilia for Major League Alumni Marketing. "We're scratching the walls to make ends meet. We knew they were both five-tool guys, and we decided to go for Mike. Now it's possible he gets us the rookie of the year and the MVP award."
Interest in Trout was understandably low in the beginning. In January, Hazzard said the company did a signing with Trout. Approximately 25 of the 250 pieces were sold to retailers, with the rest momentarily gathering dust. A mysterious illness that had him sit out spring training obviously didn't help move the product.
The demand started to pick up after Trout robbed Baltimore's J.J. Hardy of a home run in late June, a highlight that was played over and over. Days later, Trout's hot bat got him voted into the All-Star Game by the players.
"The demand for his autograph literally went from zero to astronomical," Hazzard said. "We did a signing in late July, and we sold out all 1,000 pieces he signed before he signed them. And the demand was probably four or five times that. We couldn't meet the needs of everybody who wanted his signature."
Trout has a public signing at a collectibles show in California this Saturday, and the autograph tickets were sold out weeks in advance. The show is charging $70 for a Trout signature on an 8x10 photo, $90 on a baseball and $110 on a bat or jersey (the item itself is not included).
That's a bargain compared to what his autographed cards are selling for on eBay. Many of his signed rookies have sold for more than $2,000, and at least one card went for more than $3,000 last month.
Trout became the youngest player in baseball history to hit 20 home runs and steal 30 bases, a club he joined last night on his 21st birthday. The outfielder's continued success has kept the phone ringing.
"It's amazing he's getting as much publicity as he has, doing what he's doing on the West Coast," Hazzard said. "We get calls from guys in Raleigh, N.C., looking for a Mike Trout autographed ball."
It's not known how much Trout is making for former players yet. The 3,500 players who stand to benefit are those who have opted into the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association licensing program, which means that organization has the right to sell their name and image, and the profits are split among all members. But it has been communicated that some of their fortunes are tied to Trout's future success.
Major League Alumni Marketing has had some misses. For instance, Dallas Braden perfect game merchandise didn't sell well. But the hits have more than covered for the strikeouts. Especially Trout, who is making those who signed him look like geniuses.
Said Hazzard: "We thought he was going to be good. Obviously not this type of good."