It may seem out of left field, but when NAR regional vice president Vince Malta isn’t selling homes in San Francisco, he’s collecting baseball bats hit by legendary players like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. The unlikely combination is a result of deep-rooted family traditions; Malta is a third generation REALTOR® who has been in the business for 35 years, and joins his father and grandfather before him as a passionate fan of the game.
“I’ve always loved baseball since I was a child,” said Malta, CEO at Malta & Co., Inc. in San Francisco. “I got into bat collecting because I thought it was very interesting to collect a piece of history.”
And that’s where this hobby could have ended, with a few prized bats and the satisfaction of holding baseball history in his hands, if not for Malta’s real estate mind working overtime to analyze the way the bats were being sold.
“I started doing some research and it seemed like there were a couple of experts who knew about baseball bats but were also selling them,” he said. “So they wound up authenticating the very bats they were selling. In real estate, we call that a ‘conflict of interest.’”
Worse still, some of the bats for sale weren’t exactly priceless memorabilia worthy of glass display. But it would take years of conducting research and scouring decades-old factory records before Malta could decipher the legitimate from the lies.
“I bought a game-used Jackie Robinson-autographed bat and thought, ‘wow that’s really cool,’” Malta recalls. This cool factor quickly thawed when he returned to the bat years later, armed with extensive knowledge about its production and make. He analyzed the model, concluding the bat was rendered in 1973; a fine year for the Oakland Atheltics to defeat the New York Mets in a seven-game World Series thriller, but for Jackie Robinson—who stopped playing baseball in 1956 and passed away in 1972—using that bat would have been, well, impossible.
“People were telling you things and giving you stories about the bats that just weren’t accurate,” Malta said. “I think the bat needs to speak for itself.”
It’s a dictum that can resonate in real estate as well as baseball—an agent can stage a house with all the shiny bells and whistles, even provide anecdotes about how much fun the home owner’s children had playing in the spacious backyard, but in the end, the property must speak to the buyer.
However, it still helps to have those words interpreted by someone in the know.
“There will always be a person out there who will sell you something,” Malta said. “You need a facilitator with knowledge guiding you through the process.”
To Malta, this is why authenticating bats can’t be an act of whimsy; it must be a serious practice—as complex as a real estate transaction—determined by things like labeling, wood type, and the hitting characteristics of the player who purportedly used the bat at that time.
Even the National Baseball Hall of Fame staff keeps extra copies of Malta’s book, “A Complete Reference Guide Louisville Slugger Professional Player Bats,” on hand. The publication is widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive manual for collectors of Hall of Fame players’ bats. The Guide was a labor of love for Malta, who worked in conjunction with Jack Hillerich, grandson of John A. “Bud” Hillerich—maker of the first player-customized baseball bat—to gain access to Louisville Slugger factory records.
Since its release in 2007, the book has established Malta as one of the foremost authorities on bat collecting. More than just a baseball textbook, it weaves the history of the sport throughout its pages, in a narrative enriched by Malta’s own experiences meeting the greats of the game. “Many of the players are so warm and personable,” Malta said, listing Ernie Banks and Brooks Robinson among those he enjoyed speaking with.
But some of his most frame-worthy baseball encounters occurred on the job. At an NAR meeting in 2005, while sitting with his wife, 13-year-old son, and 1984 Hall of Fame inductee Harmon Killebrew, (an invited guest at the event), Malta’s wife casually mentioned to the right-hander that her son was having a tough time at the plate. Immediately, Killebrew stood the struggling young player up and began to give him a batting lesson. “It’s all in the hips,” he instructed, as REALTORS®—and the Maltas—watched in awe.
“We still have the picture of Harmon Killebrew giving my son tips,” Malta said. “I love that players are so open and such great ambassadors of the game.”
As an ambassador of homes, it’s easy for Malta to see the connection between his favorite sport and the real estate profession. “We provide a valuable service,” he said. “People can consider what we do like baseball bat authenticating: We make sure they get what they expect.”