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Brokering baseball cards: A Q & A with ACE alum Michael Osacky

Published September 29, 2016
Michael Osacky

Michael Osacky is a 2002 graduate of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. With a degree in commodity, food, and textile marketing, what led him to become a certified vintage sports memorabilia appraiser and writer?

On Wednesday, Oct. 5 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Osacky will be at the Champaign Public Library to discuss the vintage sports memorabilia industry.  Afterward, he will provide a free verbal appraisal to all attendees who bring in their vintage sports collectibles.

Here is a short interview with Osacky about how he got into the biz, tips on selling and buying, and some of his more memorable appraisals.


How did you get into the business of being a certified vintage sports memorabilia appraiser?

MO: Growing up in Chicago’s northern suburb Buffalo Grove, I liked riding my bike to the local greeting card shop or grocery store to buy the current sports cards. Then in 1997, when I was a senior in high school, my grandfather bought me a shoebox full of old baseball cards for my birthday.  These cards weren’t like anything I’d ever seen. They were from the 1950s and 1960s.  It made me want to try to find more of these kinds of cards and learn about the history associated with these professional ballplayers.

What were your career goals when you were majoring in commodity, food, and textile marketing at the University of Illinois?

MO: My plans were to be a commodities trader on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in Chicago. I pursued that career for a while immediately after graduation.

Are there any aspects of commodity trading that you use in appraising sports items?

MO: The commodities degree taught me the art of negotiation.  When trading futures and options, you have to understand if something is a buy or a sale at a moment’s notice and voice your opinion.

The same is true when buying baseball card and memorabilia collections.  I bring cash with me and I only have that moment to make a deal.  I am not returning so I have to offer the highest possible price that’s fair for both parties.

A lot of people probably come to you with a signed ball or baseball card that they think is worth a fortune. How do you break it to them that it’s a forgery or worthless?

MO: I am in this situation all the time.  Some of the well-known baseball cards such as the T206 Honus Wagner are frequently reprinted.  I am blunt and honest.  Sometimes the truth hurts but I am always 100 percent honest.

Do you appraise only baseball-related items or are you also knowledgeable about other sports memorabilia?

MO: I appraise all sports from 1870 to 1970—baseball, football, basketball, hockey, horse racing, you name it. And I appraise all items—cards, programs, autographs, advertising pieces, whatever.

Describe one of your more complicated or interesting appraisals. How do you determine the value and if there is a market for the item?

MO: I appraised a world championship Chicago Bulls basketball collection.  Being a Chicagoan and a Chicago Bulls fan, it was such an honor to be called in by the player and his family. The family didn’t want to sell. They needed to know how much the collection was worth for insurance purposes. Insurance companies won’t sell a policy without getting a third party like myself to appraise the item or collection.  The appraisal was complicated because there was a lot—Michael Jordan autographs, team-signed basketballs, championship rings, pendants, jerseys, and a lot more.

What’s the most valuable item you’ve ever appraised?

MO: I have appraised six-figure collections.  However, the single most valuable item I have appraised is a 1915 Cracker Jack Baseball Card Complete Set of 176 cards.  Cracker Jack distributed cards inside each package.  The cards are vibrant as they were 100 years ago.  The set was appraised at $60,000. It had been passed down through the family.  The couple thought the cards were worth about $2,000.  They were in total shock and disbelief when they heard $60,000.

What are some of the goofier items people have brought to you for appraisal?

MO: I’ve been asked to appraise a plastic cup from a Cubs game. On one occasion a few years ago I was on WGN radio. Someone called in and asked what a jock strap, worn in a game by former Major League Baseball player Joe Garagiola, was worth.  The host of the radio show put everybody on mute while we laughed uncontrollably.  The host finally just said, “Ok next caller.”

What about those baseball cards that came inside a package of gum—are those worth anything at all?

MO: Most people are familiar with getting cards from the five and dime store in the 50s and 60s.  However, the idea of pairing bubble gum and baseball cards actually originated in 1933 with the Goudey Gum Company.  The cards from the 50s and 60s are worth money depending upon the condition and the player.

What sorts of things should people look for in our attics and basements?

MO: The older the better.  Anything pre-1970.

What’s your advice for a novice collector?

MO: Buy what you know and love.  Don’t buy for investment purposes.  If you like old programs, buy old programs and learn everything you can about them.

What about selling/buying from online auction websites?  What should buyers watch out for?

MO: There are so many reprints and forgeries online.  Additionally, the FBI has arrested several auction house owners over the years.  As of this interview, they are all in prison.

In addition to professional sports memorabilia, you also appraise college sports stuff.  Are there any Illinois items that have made it to collector status—or you predict will?

MO: It’s possible.  Maybe a game worn Red Grange helmet or jersey. 

For more about Osacky, visit or read some of his posts in Parade Magazine.


Diplodia ear mold at harvest: What can be done now?

Published September 29, 2016
Diplodia damaged kernels
Diplodia damaged kernels

URBANA, Ill. – Corn producers in western and west-southwestern Illinois should be on the lookout for symptoms of Diplodia ear mold during harvest. An informal survey of several grain elevators and farmers in Western Illinois reported up to fifty percent kernel damage in some locations. Factors such as planting date, the timing of rain events after fertilization, and hybrid susceptibility can result in a range of damage within the larger region and even within a farming operation, according to University of Illinois Extension educator Angie Peltier.

“Diplodia ear mold can cause lightweight kernels with a dull grey to brownish color and sometimes small black fruiting structures call pycnidia,” Peltier says. Infected kernels are prone to breakage and can result in poor test weights, poor grain quality, and fine materials in the hopper or grain bin. Peltier recommends adjusting combine settings to maximize grain cleaning and minimize breakage.

Elevator and ethanol facility personnel suggest that the threshold for accepting damaged grain can vary depending upon the local market and end-use. The price at which a farmer can market grain begins to decrease for every percentage point of damaged kernels above five percent.

“Some grain elevators will set a damage threshold above which they will not accept the grain. I have heard anywhere from above 15 to 50 percent damage, depending upon the end use and how quickly the grain will leave the elevator,” Peltier says.

Stenocarpella maydis, the fungus that causes Diplodia ear mold, metabolizes the starches in corn kernels leaving them lighter weight than non-infected kernels. The ethanol manufacturing process uses bacteria to turn corn starch into simple sugars, eventually fermenting them to yield ethanol. Diplodia-damaged kernels can yield less ethanol and may explain why elevators that supply ethanol plants may have a lower threshold for damaged kernels than others.

One positive is that unlike Aspergillus, Fusarium, or Gibberella ear molds, Diplodia ear mold is not associated with a mycotoxin. Regardless of whether infected kernels are in the field, in the combine hopper, semi-trailer, or grain bin, the fungus will continue to grow and metabolize starches unless the grain is cooled and dried to below 15 percent moisture. Unless properly dried, the fungus can colonize uninfected kernels that are damaged during harvest or storage operations.

With on-farm storage, many crop producers have the option to hold onto their grain to market it at a later time.

“I recommend storing diseased grain separately and for only short periods of time to reduce the chance of additional losses,” Peltier says.

It is important for producers that encounter Diplodia ear mold to be in communication with their crop insurance agent. While the high yields expected this year may offset lower grain prices overall, those farmers with low sale prices due to a lot of dockage may be able to recoup some of their losses.

For additional resources on drying and storing grain, and for more general information on Diplodia, visit the Bulletin.

Additional Images:
  • Diplodia damage

ACES hosts eight Fulbright Scholars from Lebanon

Published September 29, 2016

The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) hosted eight Fulbright Scholars from Lebanon for a 10-week training program in rural and economic development during summer 2016. The scholars' visit and program was coordinated by the ACES Office of International Programs.  

The junior faculty level scholars benefited from research mentoring provided by University of Illinois faculty as well as instructional training for teaching provided by the University of Illinois’ Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL). They also attended cultural events and interacted with campus administration and community groups to gain a fuller understanding of American society and of our institutions of higher education.

The scholars, who departed September 14, said they now consider themselves “ambassadors for the University of Illinois.” They created a video as a thanks and tribute to their time here at Illinois.

This year’s mentors were: Dr. Arnab Chakraborty, Dr. Mindy Mallory, Dr. Atival Livny, Dr. Nick Paulson, Dr. Ben Crost, Dr. Dave Rosch, Dr. Noah Isserman, and Dr. Bruce Lichtfield.

The College of ACES previously hosted Fulbright scholars from Libya during the summer of 2013 and Fulbright scholars from Lebanon during the summer of 2015. 

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has given over 318,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, scientists and other professionals the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.


U of I research studies calcium requirements for weanling pigs

Published September 29, 2016


  • Requirements for standardized total tract digestible (STTD) calcium in weanling pigs have not yet been determined.
  • The requirement for STTD calcium for 11 to 25 kilogram pigs is likely around 1.35 times the requirement for STTD phosphorus.
  • Pigs regulate calcium balance primarily in the kidneys, by downregulating genes for proteins involved in transcellular uptake.

URBANA, Ill. – Two recent studies from the University of Illinois have helped determine how much calcium growing pigs require, and illuminate the mechanisms by which they absorb it.

Calcium must be fed in adequate amounts and in the right balance with phosphorus to optimize pig performance. "We can use different measures to determine requirements for calcium," says Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at Illinois. "Different amounts may be needed to maximize growth performance, mineral deposition in bone, or calcium and phosphorus retention."

Stein, in conjunction with other researchers from the U of I and AB Vista Feed Ingredients, conducted two experiments to determine responses to graded levels of calcium in diets fed to pigs from 11 to 25 kilograms. In both experiments, pigs were fed diets containing different levels of standardized total tract digestible (STTD) calcium, ranging from 0.32 percent up to 0.72 percent. All diets contained 0.36 percent STTD phosphorus.

Pigs fed diets containing 0.48 percent or more STTD calcium had the greatest concentrations of bone ash, bone calcium, and bone phosphorus.

However, on measures of growth performance, average daily gain started to decline at 0.54 percent STTD calcium, and gain:feed ratio started to decline at 0.50 percent STTD.

The optimal levels of dietary STTD calcium for retention of calcium and phosphorus were at or above 0.60 and 0.49 percent respectively.

Taken all together, the different measures point to an STTD calcium requirement of 0.49 percent or less for growing pigs from 11 to 25 kilograms.

"Based on these results, the requirement for STTD calcium for 11 to 25 kilogram pigs is likely around 1.35 times the requirement for STTD phosphorus," says Stein, adding that further experiments need to be conducted to verify this value.

The researchers also studied the expression of certain genes involved in transcellular transport of calcium at the different levels of dietary calcium. Transcellular transport requires more calcium channel proteins, calcium binding proteins, and energy than passive paracellular transport, so the latter is preferred if enough calcium is available to be absorbed that way.

As the calcium levels in the diets increased, the mRNA expression of genes for the calcium channel proteins TRPV5 and TRPV6, calcium binding proteins CALB1 and S100G, and the vitamin D receptor protein VDR decreased in the kidneys.

Expression of genes for TRPV6 and VDR, as well as plasma membrane protein ATP2B1, also decreased in the jejunum as dietary calcium increased.

"The main site for regulation of calcium balance appears to be in the kidneys," Stein says. "When dietary calcium is adequate and luminal levels of calcium are high enough to allow for paracellular transport, transcellular uptake in the kidneys and jejunum is reduced."

Funding for this research was provided by AB Vista Feed Ingredients, Marlborough, UK.

The paper, "Requirement for digestible calcium by eleven- to twenty-five– kilogram pigs as determined by growth performance, bone ash concentration, calcium and phosphorus balances, and expression of genes involved in transport of calcium in intestinal and kidney cells," was published in the August issue of the Journal of Animal Science. It was co-authored by Caroline González-Vega, Yanhong Liu, Joshua McCann, Carrie Walk, and Juan Loor. The full text can be found online at





Borlaug Graduate Student Fellowships in Global Food Security: Experiences of ACES Awardees

Published September 28, 2016

A panel presentation sponsored by the ACES Office of International Programs featured three recent recipients of Borlaug Global Food Security graduate research grants. The three panel members, all graduate students in the College of ACES, shared their experiences and advice for applying for these coveted fellowships.

The panel included: Liana Acevedo-Siaca (Crop Sciences); Anna Fairbairn (Agricultural and Consumer Economics); and Alex Park (Crop Sciences).

The U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security graduate research grant program supports exceptional graduate students who are interested in developing a component of their graduate research in a developing country setting and in collaboration with a mentor from an International Agricultural Research Center (IARC), or a qualifying National Agricultural Research System (NARS) unit. The grants have a maximum value of $15,000 for students applying for 6-month long international research stays; $20,000 for 1-year long international research stays; and $40,000 for 2-year long international research stays. Currently this program is only open to U.S. citizens.

Visit the application website for more information on how to apply:

The three awardees offered valuable advice for applying for these fellowships:

  • Allow 2-4 months to prepare your application, and especially allow time to identify an onsite mentor. The annual deadline generally falls in mid-April. 
  • Do your homework to find ongoing Feed-the-Future projects in the country you have identified. Ideally align your proposed project to these existing projects.
  • Be strategic about your onsite mentor (required for application).
    • Use your contacts at Illinois to help identify onsite mentors.
    • Make sure your project aligns with the potential mentor’s existing work.
    • Look for a higher ranking mentor to help you work through bureaucracy. 
  • Strongly consider first applying for the Summer Food Security Institute: Many of the students who attend the institute end up being awarded graduate research grants. The application deadline for each summer is generally Feb. 1.
  • Speak with Purdue, who administers the program, early on in your application process if you have any questions. They are very transparent and helpful.
  • Know that you can break up your visits and research. For example, a one-year grant can be planned for two visits that are six months each.
  • Work out your budget early in the application process. Examples of items the Borlaug support is generally used for include:
    • Airline tickets
    • Research and residence permits
    • Health insurance
    • Travel for advisor
    • Lodging and accommodations
    • In-country travel expenses

In total, six ACES graduate students, including the three who participated in the panel, were named as 2015 U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security. Their projects were previously summarized here:


International Summer Immersion Program completes seventh year

Published September 28, 2016

Twelve students from China’s Zhejiang University successfully completed the 2016 International Summer Immersion Program (ISIP) on August 12.  

The six-week ISIP program coordinated by the ACES Office of International Programs included a research apprenticeship with an ACES faculty member as well as a series of educational seminars and cultural field trips. The program culminated with a poster session, where the students had the opportunity to showcase a research project, and a celebratory luncheon and certificate presentation.

The students, many of whom hope to return to the University of Illinois for graduate study, left with new skills, fond memories, and strong friendships.

Fangying Qui, a participant, said, “The ISIP program will benefit my future educational and career prospects. I worked with Prof. Margarita Teran-Garcia to study childhood obesity and the difference in recommended dietary guidelines in China compared to America. I both my academic communication and professional skills.”

Yuefan Wu, who worked with Dr. Yilan Xu, said, “The program not only taught me how to think critically but also educated me how about research can make changes possible.” 

In addition to the research work, the students enjoyed an active social program that included cultural activities in Springfield, Chicago, St. Louis, and on campus.

In the past seven years, more than 130 students have graduated from this unique program. Its quality and value have been repeatedly recognized by faculty and students at our key partner universities. At Zhejiang University, the program has repeatedly received the “Best Summer Group Program” award.  

OIP is thankful for our ACES faculty mentors and their graduate students without whom this program would not be possible:

Crop Sciences: Dr. Matthew Hudson, Dr. Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, and Dr. Alexander Lipka

Agricultural & Consumer Economics: Dr. Yilan Xu

Agricultural & Biological Engineering: Dr. Xinlei Wang and Dr. Luis Rodriguez

Animal Sciences: Dr. Megan Dailey

Food Science and Human Nutrition: Dr. Hannah Holscher, Dr. Margarita Teran-Garcia, Dr. Hao Feng, Dr. Keith Cadwallader, Dr. Yong-Su Jin

The College of ACES’ longstanding relationship with Zhejiang University dates back to 2002 when an ACES delegation first visited the University. Currently ACES have several ongoing collaborations with Zhejiang, and this program continues to facilitate strategic partnerships with this university and other universities. Past programs have included students from South Korea’s Chungnam National University, and next year’s program may expand to include students from Mexico and Ghana.

For more information about the ISIP, visit:

Too early to sell the 2017 soybean crop?

Published September 26, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Soybean prices during the last five months of the 2015-16 marketing year averaged much higher than during the first seven months of the year. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, the average daily bid price at central Illinois locations was $8.67 during the first seven months and $10.28 during the last five months of the year. Those daily prices ranged from $8.40 on March 1, 2016 to $11.58 on June 30, 2016.

“Through the first half of the 2015-16 marketing year, the soybean market traded on the basis of prospective year-ending stocks of U.S soybeans of 450 to 460 million bushels,” says Darrel Good. “The 2015 U.S crop was very large, following an equally large crop in 2014; the 2016 South American crop was expected to be record large; U.S. exports were expected to be 150 million bushels smaller than in the previous year; and U.S. producers were expected to expand planted acreage in 2016 following the weather-induced decline in 2015.”

As it turned out, Good says the South American crop was 225 million bushels smaller and U.S. exports were 250 million bushels larger than projected in March, U.S. producers increased soybean plantings less than expected, and the USDA’s Sept. 1 Grain Stocks report to be released on Sept. 30 is expected to show marketing-year-ending stocks of only195 million bushels. If confirmed, year-ending stocks will have been below 200 million bushels for two consecutive years following early year expectations for stocks to exceed 450 million bushels. Ending stocks have exceeded 200 million bushels only once since 2008.

“Soybean prices have now receded from the summer highs, with central Illinois bid prices currently averaging about $9.30, still about 75 cents higher than prices a year earlier,” Good says. “Prices have declined as new-crop soybeans have become available and have alleviated some of the tightness in old-crop supplies, resulting in a much weaker basis than experienced earlier in the month. In addition, early yield reports tend to confirm USDA’s forecast of a record-high U.S. average yield this year, with some potential that the yield will exceed the current forecast of 50.6 bushels per acre.”

With consumption during the 2016-17 marketing year already projected to be record large, Good says an increase in the average yield forecast (without an unexpected decline in the estimate of harvested acreage) would likely result in an increase in the current projection of year-ending stocks of 365 million bushels. 

According to Good, two additional factors point to the potential for additional weakness in soybean prices as the 2016-17 marketing year unfolds. First, is the likely rebound in South American production in 2017.

“The USDA expects a modest increase in soybean acreage for harvest in South America next year,” Good says. “Although an increase of only 1.5 percent is currently projected (mostly in Brazil), normal yield levels result in a projected 3.5 percent (220 million bushels) year-over-year increase in South American production. If that large crop materializes, the pace of U.S. exports would be expected to experience the normal sharp seasonal decline beginning in the spring of 2017.

“A second factor that could contribute to lower soybean prices is an increase in soybean acreage in the U.S. in 2017,” Good says. “Although it is too early to form solid expectations about U.S. acreage, low prices of other commodities relative to soybeans would be expected to result in some switch away from those crops to soybeans. In particular, the large increase in corn acreage in 2016, prospects for relatively large year-ending corn inventories, and the relatively high cost of producing corn would be expected to result in fewer corn acres in 2017.”

Futures prices for the 2017 corn and wheat crops are higher than prices for the 2016 crop, but those prices are still low relative to prices for the 2017 soybean crop. The USDA’s Winter Wheat Seedings report released in the second week of January 2017 will provide the first indication of acreage response to current price levels.

Good says the size of the 2017 soybean crop will still largely hinge on the average yield. “It will be interesting to observe if three consecutive years of above trend U.S. average soybean yields will alter early expectations for the average yield in 2017.”

Although the potential for larger South American and U.S. soybean crops in 2017 are widely recognized, prices for the 2017 crop remain well supported. November 2017 futures are currently trading only about 3 cents below November 2016 futures and July 2018 futures are 19 cents below July 2017 futures. Bids for 2017 harvest delivery in central Illinois are near $9.15.

“With so much production uncertainty over the next 10 months, a strong pace of Chinese buying, and the recent history of smaller than expected year-ending stocks, it is not completely surprising that the market is not yet reflecting the potential for a growing surplus of soybeans during the 2017-18 marketing year,” Good says. “The question for producers is whether or not current prices offer a pricing opportunity for a portion of the 2017 crop. The answer is more likely to be yes for those who intend to increase soybean acreage in response to current price relationships.”