Locker expected to be top item at auction
Nancy Angus, executive director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, left, and Drew Parish, marketing manager for the foundation, pull apart the pieces of Mario Lemieux's locker. The proceeds from auctioning the locker will go toward raising money for an Austin's Playroom project at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
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How much would you pay for Mario Lemieux's last locker?
Now, imagine for some reason it's attached to the locker of that other emerging icon of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby. Now how much?
Well, now you'll have your chance.
To pay for its most expensive Austin's Playroom yet, the Mario Lemieux Foundation is holding an online auction starting Monday, featuring your standard -- albeit highly sought after -- hockey memorabilia: autographed jerseys, sticks and hats from Pittsburgh Penguins and other hockey greats.
But one item clearly stands out.
The tan wooden locker from Mellon Arena where Mario Lemieux sat in the years before his retirement in January 2006 is up for sale to the highest bidder.
That alone makes it a special piece of hockey history.
But as every viewer of Penguin post-game interviews knows, after Mr. Lemieux retired, his locker and nameplate remained as both homage to the team's icon and to ensure he had a place to store his gear if he decided to join the team for a skate.
The locker was never reassigned. The year following Mr. Lemieux's retirement, the team moved its budding icon, Sidney Crosby, to the stall right next to it -- so Mr. Crosby had, essentially, two lockers, all the better to accommodate the crush of reporters who interviewed him after every game.
When the Penguins vacated Mellon Arena, rather than just sawing Mr. Lemieux's locker from a wall of a dozen lockers, the team sawed Mr. Crosby's locker, with Mr. Lemieux's attached.
The result is so much history wrapped in two lockers that the late Steelers commentator Myron Cope might have given it a "Double Yoi!"
The history was all too apparent to the Heinz History Center, which has long had an eye on at least half of it: Mr. Lemieux's locker.
"When the Pens made the move from Mellon Arena, it was something we requested for the sports museum here," said Anne Madarasz, director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum in the history center. "But we learned that it may be going to another use."
The history center had a long list of Mellon/Civic Arena items it hoped to acquire after the Igloo was shuttered earlier this year, "but this was at the top of the list," Ms. Madarasz said.
"Other than game-worn uniforms or sticks and pucks, things like this related directly to a person and place in time are extremely rare," she said. "We've all seen him sitting there after games over the years. It was his spot."
The dual locker is perhaps even more intriguing, she said.
She struggled to think of any similar Pittsburgh sports icons who could have had some similar piece of memorabilia available.
"Did the Steel Curtain all have their lockers together?" she offered.
Maybe if Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell had their lockers next to each other?
"That would be a neat comparison," she said.
Even though the locker is up for auction, the history center still harbors some hopes of obtaining it.
"We'd love whoever wins it to donate it to the sports museum and get the tax write-off twice," Ms. Madarasz said.
Whoever bids might have some competition from at least one well-funded source.
"I would definitely consider" bidding on it, Mr. Crosby said this week while on the road with the Penguins.
Auctioning the lockers off "is a great idea, and it's for an amazing cause. I think everyone ends up happy there," he said. "I would love to have a piece of the Mellon. It's a piece of history, and something I was a part of, too. That's an arena I played in, my first game and things like that."
So how much will it sell for? It's so unusual that no one really knows.
"It's definitely unique. These are two icons of the sport and two icons of the Penguins, so that together will make it highly sought after," said Chris Ivey, director of sports auctions for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas. "But there's not a deep market for it. There are not a lot of locker collectors."
He pointed to the auctions of some old lockers in the past as examples: $2,700 for one from Cincinnati's old Crosley Field in 2004; even Babe Ruth's locker from old Yankee Stadium sold for only $9,200 in 2004.
But none of those were the attached lockers of two giants of their sport, he said, "and I think it would be worth several thousand dollars at least and maybe more because it's for a charity."
The lockers currently sit unceremoniously in pieces in the hallway at the Lemieux Foundation with one small defect: The nameplates for Mr. Crosby and Mr. Lemieux were missing and new ones had to be created.
"We don't know what happened to the originals," said Nancy Angus, the foundation's executive director. "It's a mystery."
Bidding begins at 9 a.m. Monday through the foundation's website at www.mariolemieux.org.
First Published November 7, 2010 12:00 am