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Rich Klein: Piecing Early Beckett Almanacs Together Was No Easy Task

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In the department I currently work in, we are very slow for now. One advantage of that extra time is that I use some of the downtime to flesh out these Rich’s Ramblings.  Recently, I was in an AOL instant messaging conversation with a fellow worker.  She told me I was a fast worker but we agreed to be careful of what we ask for.   And with those words I was reminded what I went through on the first edition of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Cards and Collectibles. I still remember at a “company lunch’ in 1995 when Dr. Beckett announced we would be doing that book.  I recall thinking what an experience the next year would be. And yes, I was proven to be correct.  Also, if you purchased that book, I’m really sorry as the future versions were much better but the production of that book was an experience in itself.

Richs Ramblings

1996 Beckett Almanac

You see, I probably came as close to understanding what Dr. Beckett went through in creating any of the price guides he authored back in the 80’s. Because our goal with the Almanac was to get a type card and a checklist, we were pulling that book together from all sorts of sources.   I always remembered seeing Jim at some old Willow Grove show where he was all happy because he had picked up several types along with checklists and that was his goal in getting “artwork” to go with the data.

So my goal, in those early days of doing the Almanac was the same, have a type and a checklist so we could proceed. Since we were using many old-school checklists, in many cases the names we had were either just last names or first initials plus last names. In the early days of checklists, that was considered quite sufficient while today, not so much.  To show just how much the impact of creating checklists like that can ripple over time, we discovered recently that a 1959 Topps card listed as Ted Gray since the very first edition of the Sports Americana book was actually Dick Gray. Yes, still a common no matter who was really on that card.

The hours I put into the first Beckett Almanac were astounding.  Over a three-month period I literally worked 8 AM to 8 PM Monday through Friday and noon to 6 on the weekends.   I truly poured everything I knew into that book and when the sales figures came out it was like a punch to the stomach with how few books we sold.  I will tell you the numbers really picked up with the second edition and stayed strong as long as I remained at Beckett.

Dr. James Beckett Rich Klein

Dr. Jim Beckett and Rich Klein

The hours I spent were similar, I think, to what Dr. Beckett was spending in the early days of his company.  And when I first arrived in Dallas, during any book’s crunch-time, Jim would still spend a week or two pulling an all-nighter to price cards after running the company during the day. Also, for many of those books we would actually put pricing surveys into the magazines and then use many of the responses and ship books to   dealers for their consideration and pricing cards. One thing I learned was anyone who “pre-ordered” a book would always receive a survey the following year as they were considered pre-existing customers no matter how “off” their prices seemed.

So yes there were always things to learn each year when we did those books.  In one of our meetings with Dr. Beckett, I still remember how he stated he was disappointed in himself that he did not know or price accordingly Del Shofner’s rookie card.  Shofner was a star NY Giants receiver during the early and mid-1960’s and his RC should have been more than a common card.

Every year I was at Beckett, we learned more with every book we did because the books and the data were also a continuing process and even if we improved even a small amount, that advance would always serve us well.  Remember, just like anything else, the creation of the data is two-pronged, meaning it is the hardest part and the easiest to second guess.  And although today many of the checklists are provided directly from the card companies, there are still issues which arise or are actually incorrect but today the process is much smoother than it was in the 1980’s and hopefully that trend will always continue.

And, I just want to remind my readers that I’m the admin for a small but growing site on Facebook called Sports Collector . Please come and join our group.  As always, feedback and ideas are welcome at  [email protected].

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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