Hobby Pioneer Larry Fritsch Dies

Larry Fritsch and son Jeff The man who may have been the first full-time sports card dealer in America and built one of its best collections, died Saturday.

Larry Fritsch, who built a baseball card collection with few rivals and later turned his hobby into a full-time national mail-order busines, has died.

The 71 year-old Wisconsin native passed away Saturday at a Wausau, Wisconsin hospital.

For many, Fritsch served as an introduction to the hobby. He was one of the early pioneers who began selling baseball cards for a living years before they carried much monetary value as collectibles. Fritsch began running ads in national sports publications during the 1960s and on May 1, 1970, launched Larry Fritsch Cards, Inc. as a full-time sports card business.

The dealership was built on Fritsch’s lifetime love of sports and cards. An athlete himself in his younger days, he purchased and traded fanatically from the time he was a child, accumulating a collection that included virtually all of the hobby’s most important and rare cards.

Fritsch’s business became a success, operating primarily through mail order. His ads in publications such as The Sporting News brought him thousands of new customers who faithfully ordered complete sets each spring. Fritsch’s office and moutainous stock was in his hometown of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, a small city located in the central part of the state. While open to the public, Fritsch Cards preferred to service customers through catalogs it began publishing and distributing around the world. Fritsch’s son, Jeff, would become the General Manager of the company in later years and Fritsch Cards continued to boast of a stock of over 65 million cards, ranging from 19th century material to the most current sets.

Fritsch didn’t just sell other companies’ offerings, however. He began creating his own sets of cards in the 1980s, including "One Year Wonders", Midwest League team sets and a set honoring the All American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s.

In the 1980s, with the card business booming and interest at an all time high, Fritsch opened a Baseball Card Museum in Cooperstown, New York to display his card collection. It later closed and the property was sold.

Fritsch made major contributions to the hobby’s knowledge base, using his collection and knowledge to supply information regarding obscure and rare cards and sets to publications such as the Krause Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

Monday night, on his MSNBC show Countdown, host and long-time collector Keith Olbermann paid tribute to Fritsch during his "best persons in the world" segment.

"Whether I was an 11 year-old kid or an ESPN sportscaster, he always treated me the same," Olbermann said. "He made a very nice income but he never stopped loving the cards more than the money."

His obituary appeared in his hometown paper this week.

Editor’s Blog: Thoughts on Larry Fritsch

Beckett blog writer Pepper Hastings remembers a friend

Steve Bloedow says Fritsch always had a story