Rich Klein’s Ramblings: Of Favorite Players, the Merkle Ball and Bagels

by Rich Klein

The other day I was looking at an online message board and there was a thread about a very early issue of Beckett Baseball in which there was a photo spread featuring Roberto Clemente cards. The person who authored the thread was showing the difference in pricing between 1985 and today but my memory went more towards remembering how Clemente was Dr. Jim Beckett’s favorite player growing up. And whenever you have a favorite player and publish a magazine you can use that venue to honor said player. That is why the very first issue of Beckett baseball featured two players on the front cover (Dale Murphy and Roberto Clemente).

Seeing that spread about Clemente also reminded me about one of my favorite Jim Beckett memories. Even when I was a dealer I would see Dr. Beckett quite frequently in the New York metropolitan area as he usually combined attending the large Gloria Rothstein shows to go with trips to visit with Random House (which was publishing the House of Collectibles series) as well as other meetings he would have in the area. That continued for several years after I moved to Texas so there would be quite a few shows we would both attend.

At one show, circa 1992, there was an old unopened box for sale which contained a Clemente item from his playing days that Dr. Beckett had never seen. I brought him over to the box and I’ll never forget how excited (and a bit nervous) he was at finding it and being able to own another item from his youth. I’m glad to say that we did catalog that item in the Beckett database and I presume Jim still owns it today.

Sometimes your favorite player is not a Hall of Famer or a future Hall of Famer. For example, Beckett Media’s Chris Olds makes no bones about Nick Swisher being his favorite and he is so into collecting Swisher material that he even collects tough items of Nick’s dad, Steve Swisher, the Cubs catcher of the 1970’s.   I was shocked to see that even with a career average of .216, Steve was actually selected to an All-Star team. I would imagine  his ultimate collectible would be the game jersey he wore while on the bench during the 1976 All-Star game. Of course, Nick Swisher has had a far better career and has a lot more really tough cards, many of which are in Chris’ collection.

Growing up, my two favorite players were Jimmy Wynn and Cesar Cedeno. Yes, I was an Astros fan early in life and even with some of the personal issues each player had, they were always high on my list. Both players, with just a bit of difference in where they played and some other circumstances could have ended up in the Hall of Fame but instead they will always be remembered as simply above average players. The amazing thing is even with a limited budget today I could still build nice collections of these two guys as for the most part they, just as with Steve Swisher, avoided the parallel card era and are considered ‘commons’ by most.

We’re always interested in stories about favorite players and the reasons why these are your favorite players so if you have any stories we’d love to feature them in a future Rich’s Klein Ramblings.

And on a side note:

If you read the recent article in Sports Illustrated about Johnny Evers, there was mention of the famed Merkle ball from the 1908 pennant race.  It was noted that Paul Reiferson had at one point owned the Merkle ball before selling it through a major hobby auction house. I remember Paul as a young man but I remember his dad Steve a lot more.

Steve still sets up a display at the National Convention and the best part of knowing him is that no matter where the show is, he always knows where the best deli/bakery near the show is and always brings in bagels, cakes or other goodies. I remember in my early Beckett days when Wanda Marcus was still promoting large shows in Arlington, Texas I said I would bring in the bagels on Sunday morning since the best place for bagels was on my way to the show and it would be nice to take care of my old dealer friends. Steve had spent several months in the Dallas Fort Worth area and knew exactly where I had gotten the bagels from. I had made sure to get the bagels from the best Jewish-style deli in Dallas instead of a chain such as Einstein’s Bagels.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]