Thursday, August 19, 2010

In Between Naps - August 2010

One of Rob Dewolf's passions is collecting cards of Cleveland Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. A former minor league baseball player who advanced to Triple-A in the Padres organization, Rob's current job in the newspaper field requires him to get up at 4 a.m., six days a week. Hence the name of his column, which happens to be when he finds time to write about various aspects of the hobby. Rob lives in central Ohio with his wife and daughter.

Local Shows Were About More Than Cards, Cash

by Rob Dewolf

As we celebrate the coming of another “National,” let us also pause with a moment of silence for a long-departed friend of the hobby: the local, monthly card show.

This week the 31st National Sports Collectors Convention will take place. Tens of thousands will flock to the Baltimore Convention Center. Enough money will be spent to make Congress blush.

Hall of Famers from three major sports will be on hand to trade their autographs for a fee, while card companies and auction houses will have smiling representatives stationed behind their tables in an effort to generate goodwill and business -- not necessarily in that order.

Cities that have hosted previous Nationals include Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, Anaheim and Detroit. At one convention, 10 T206 Wagners were on display.

Needless to say, the National is a big deal where lots of big deals are made.

So like many, I celebrate its annual arrival. But I do so with a trace of regret.

Regret that the National pretty much has become the one "card show" I attend each year. Why? Because there simply aren't that many card shows anymore. Certainly not like the ones that helped lay a foundation for my love of sports collecting.

Growing up in northeast Ohio in the 1970s, I was a typical kid collector. Bought packs of cards at the Quik Stop on Route 62 and Monty's gas station on Wales Road. Traded doubles in study hall and put together multiple sets of whatever was in season. Discovered through hobby publications like The Trader Speaks and Sports Collectors Digest that my card transactions didn't have to be with just friends and classmates.

Buying cards via the mail certainly expanded my cardboard horizons, but it wasn't until the Canton Sports Card Collectors Club was formed and started hosting monthly card shows at the Nazir Grotto hall did the final piece fall into place. Attending these shows with Bob and Bill, two other "serious" card collectors at my school and the ones I hung out with most often, was something like a regularly scheduled epiphany. Here was a place we could go and pay fifty-cents admission to see tables and tables of baseball cards we could buy -- right then and there! No having to ask our moms to write checks, then mail the payments and wait weeks for our purchases to arrive. And no settling for just the current offering from Topps. We were able to choose from a cornucopia of T cards, Goudeys, Bowmans and 20-year-old Topps cards.

Heaven had opened a branch in Canton, Ohio.

And it got better. It didn't take long for Bob, Bill and I to figure out that we could just as easily be behind the tables as in front of them. Why not? We were buying regularly through the mail and amassing fairly impressive "inventories." Bill, thanks to stories about his collecting in a couple community newspapers, was able to buy several large collections. Bob, the truly innovative thinker in our trio, saw the wisdom in purchasing large lots of 1940s and '50s cards through the mail and breaking them down to sell individually at shows. I know: It sounds simple now. But at the time it was an impressive display of business acumen.

So there we were, three high school freshmen -- the only "dealers" in the room who depended on their parents to drive them to the show -- sharing two tables. The night before we would meet, usually in the basement of my house, and lay out our respective merchandise on the floor, within a 3-by-16-foot space marked off by masking tape. If you don't think a lot of painstaking thought was spent on deciding whether to place a binder of 1960s minor stars or a box on 1970s high numbers at the front of your selling space, well, you've never been a teenager who only recently discovered that good money could be made without sweating your butt off mowing lawns or shoveling snow.

The Sunday afternoons spent wheeling and dealing usually were capped by a half-mile walk down the street to the Spaghetti Tree. After packing up our unsold wares and safely hiding them in one of the dusty rooms down a dark hallway of the Nazir Grotto, the three of us would wait for our ride home while gorging on pizza, pasta and enough Pepsi to gag Denny McLain. Most of the time we weren't even hungry; it simply felt great to spend some of the money we had just earned … BY SELLING BASEBALL CARDS!

The joy ride continued for a few years, and the thrills were numerous (including arriving one day to find that Bob Feller also had paid the requisite $5 fee to set up shop, but that's a story for another time). In my mind, the beginning of the end came when the first Beckett guide was published. While heralded at the time, it also laid the groundwork for monthly card shows to become little more than tables covered with monster boxes full of cards of Mike Greenwell, Tommy Glavine, Gregg Jeffries and the like.

But before rookie-card fever hit the hobby, followed by the modern card entering a coma in the 1990s, the local card show was the place to be.

Sure, they still exist in some form in some locales. In fact, there's a fairly successful one held every couple of months about a half-hour from my house. I've debated about going but have thought better of it. I know I'll compare it to its predecessors, and that wouldn't be fair.

Plus, there's not a Spaghetti Tree within miles.

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