Ben Foster had known about his family's baseball card collection for over a decade but had mistaken the rarest and most valuable piece of the collection as a random, worthless piece of junk mixed in with the good stuff.
Back in 2009, Foster found a metal lunch pail in an unfinished back room of the law office where his father, Hayes, had worked. At the time, he didn't think much of the collection, which his father had received as a child. But a decade later, he decided to start going through the collection and researching the cards inside.
Most of the cards were from the 1950s, with many of them not worth much at all. But beneath those '50s-era cards were some from the early 20th century, including the extremely sought-after T206 series, among which is the Holy Grail of baseball cards, the Honus Wagner T206, which routinely brings in well over a million dollars at auction.
One card from the box was immediately dismissed as junk. It was from a 1910 series that featured players from their days playing in the minors. And one was labeled, "Jackson, New Orleans."
Ben Foster says that he and his father discussed whether or not the "Jackson" in question was the Jackson -- "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the famed Chicago White Sox player who was accused, along with his teammates, of throwing the 1919 World Series. Jackson turned in a career performance during the series, calling into question whether or not he deliberately tried to sabotage the outcome, like his teammates.The older Foster said that it couldn't have been Shoeless Joe, noting that New Orleans didn't have a major league team, and concluded that Jackson wouldn't have played for the Crescent City's minor league team at that time. The younger Foster took his dad's word for it, and the card went back into the pile to be forgotten about.
However, Ben later learned that Jackson did indeed play for New Orleans' minor league team -- the Pelicans -- that year. After doing some research, he realized not only that the "worthless" card was indeed Shoeless Joe, but also that it was potentially worth a ridiculous amount of money.
A while later, the card -- having been inspected, verified, and graded (3.5 out of 10 in condition) -- was up for auction. The Foster family watched the event online.
"My family was keeping up with the auction at home in North Carolina. My mom would call every 10 or 15 minutes freaking out about how there wasn't another bid, and then another would come in. We were keeping a close eye on the auction page and refreshing constantly, and when the bids finally stopped, we were thrilled with the outcome," Foster said.
Thrilled indeed: when the gavel banged, the card had sold for $492,000.
"It's one of the rarest cards in the hobby," said auction house Heritage Sport.