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VIDEO: Priceless Roger Maris memorabilia stolen from West Acres in targeted heist

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The Roger Maris Museum at West Acres Shopping Center housed the S Rae Hickok Award, which was bestowd upon Roger Maris in 1961. The belt, traditionally given to the pro athlete of the year, was stolen early this morning during a targeted heist. Photographer: Colburn Hvidston III, The Forum4 / 9
The Roger Maris Museum display at West Acres in Fargo features artifacts and memorabilia from his baseball career. David Samson / The Forum 5 / 9
Photo of New York Yankees teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris at the Roger Maris Museum at West Acres in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum6 / 9
Workers repair a glass plate enclosing the Roger Maris Museum at the West Acres mall after it was broken into the morning of Tuesday, July 26. Dave Olson/The Forum7 / 9
The Roger Maris Museum sits open after a break in Tuesday, July 36, 2016, in West Acres Mall, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor8 / 9
Orange cones mark a door that was damaged early Tuesday, July 26, at the West Acres shopping center in Fargo. Dave Olson/The Forum9 / 9

FARGO -- A quick-working bandit swiped memorabilia from the Roger Maris Museum inside West Acres mall Tuesday morning, July 26, including a jewel-encrusted belt Maris won as the country’s best pro athlete in 1961.

The little-known but once-revered S. Rae Hickok Belt and the plaque honoring Maris as the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1960 were the only items stolen in the early morning break-in, police and a mall manager said.

Police said the burglar smashed the museum’s case and an exterior mall door to snatch the MVP plaque and the Hickok belt, which was awarded to the famous Fargo native after he broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961. The bejeweled golden belt could be worth as much as $140,000, according to the website of the sponsor of the annual award.

"I'm deeply disturbed. I'm appalled," said Chris Heaton, property manager of West Acres mall, which houses the museum visited by 6.5 to 7 million visitors a year.

Mall surveillance video shows a person wearing all black breaking into the southeast entrance of the mall and going straight for the museum. After smashing the glass there, the bandit took the belt and headed back outside, jumping into the passenger-side door of a vehicle, Deputy Fargo Police Chief Joe Anderson said at a Tuesday news conference.

It's unclear if an accomplice was involved or if the burglar drove away, said Anderson, who added the video is still being scrutinized for clues.The mall, which has the Maris items on loan from the his family, said it was not ready to release the video to the public.

At 2:17 a.m., a vehicle pulled up outside the Roger Maris entrance of the mall, Heaton said. An individual ran up to the entrance, shattered it with a blunt instrument, ran to the nearby display case, shattered it with the same instrument, grabbed the items and exited through the same entrance. The time from entrance to exit was about a minute, Heaton said.

Heaton said the mall has security workers on duty all night every night. They were at the museum within two minutes of an alarm sounding, but the thief had already fled, he said.

Anderson said police were called about 2:48 a.m. The Maris family has been notified of the theft, Heaton said.

Workers were busy early Tuesday repairing a glass plate at the museum, much of which is devoted to Maris' record-breaking 1961 season. The museum has been in the mall for 32 years. It is unenclosed in a hallway.

"True to Roger's wishes, the museum is visible, accessible, and free," Heaton said. "It speaks to the great amount of respect people have for Roger Maris that this is the first security issue we've had in 32 years."

The museum includes items from the baseball great's childhood in Fargo as well as his major league career.

Heaton said he didn't have a value estimate for the belt or the rest of the museum's collection but said for him and many others in the community every item is priceless.

"We feel violated this morning," Heaton said.

The award, named for a manufacturer of men’s belts and other accessories, was given annually to the top American athlete from 1950 to 1976, before being revived again in 2012. Recipients are based on the votes of sportswriters across the U.S. and make for a who’s who list of all-time sports greats, from Mickey Mantle and Joe Namath to Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer. Recent winners have twice included LeBron James and, in 2015, Steph Curry.

“To me, it’s the top award an athlete can win. It’s tops. Every player considers it the top award,’’ Maris said at the Hickok Belt ceremony Jan. 22, 1962, according to “Jewel of the Sports World: The Story of the Hickok Belt Award,” a book by Scott Pitoniak published in 2010.

According to the website for the Hickok award, the original belt design included a 4 1/3-carat diamond as well as an 18-carat gold buckle and was worth from $10,000 to $15,000. The website said such belts are now worth $90,000 to $140,000.

In his book, Pitoniak estimated that creating an exact replica of the belt in 2010 would have cost nearly $220,000.

Phil Castinetti, who owns Sportsworld, a sports memorabilia business in Saugus, Mass., and describes himself as “the biggest Yankees fan you could talk to,” said he sold a Ted Williams Hickok belt about 10 years ago for about $7,500, though it’s possible that belt was an understated version that is given to 12 monthly Hickok belt recipients, the pool from which the athlete of the year is chosen.

Eric Atkinson, a memorabilia collector who was at Castinetti’s store Tuesday, said the less ostentatious belts sell these days for between $7,500 and $10,000, though he said the larger, more showy versions can sell for much more.

A Forum story from 1962 that mentioned the Maris belt was valued at $10,000.

Castinetti said while it can be difficult to sell a high-profile piece of stolen sports memorabilia, it’s not impossible.

“It’s sellable if you get a private collector,” he said. “Maybe they’re stupid thieves and they’ll try to put it on eBay, or something.”

First years of S. Rae Hickok award

Year…..Winner……………..Sport
1950.....Phil Rizzuto...............Baseball
1951.....Allie Reynolds...........Baseball
1952.....Rocky Marciano…….Boxing
1953.....Ben Hogan................Golf
1954.....Willie Mays................Baseball
1955.....Otto Graham..............Football
1956.....Mickey Mantle............Baseball
1957.....Carmen Basilio..........Boxing
1958.....Bob Turley..................Baseball
1959.....Ingemar Johansson...Boxing
1960.....Arnold Palmer............Golf
1961.....Roger Maris...............Baseball
1962.....Maury Wills................Baseball
1963.....Sandy Koufax............Baseball
1964.....Jim Brown..................Football
1965.....Sandy Koufax............Baseball
1966.....Frank Robinson.........Baseball
1967.....Carl Yastrzemski........Baseball
1968.....Joe Namath...............Football
1969.....Tom Seaver...............Baseball
1970.....Brooks Robinson.......Baseball
1971.....Lee Trevino................Golf
1972.....Steve Carlton.............Baseball
1973.....O. J. Simpson…….....Football
1974.....Muhammad Ali...........Boxing
1975.....Pete Rose................. Baseball
1976.....Ken Stabler................Football

Dave Olson
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