Rich Klein’s Ramblings: The Craziest National of Them All

by Rich Klein

The last column I wrote on this subject generated more email than anything else I’ve written for this site.  I’m thankful to each and every one of you who wrote and let me know how much you enjoyed my trip down  memory lane.

We ended the last part discussing some of the National Sports Collectors Conventions from the 1980’s and for those who may not have been around in the hobby back in those days, the National was always run by “local’ promoters. Many of the promoters of those shows are still in the hobby today. Among those still active to some extant are Mike Berkus (who was one of the founders of the National back in 1980). Mike knows and loves the hobby and now runs the National, as he has done so for more than a decade, with John Broggi. Once upon a time, I actually worked two days a week in John’s store for about a year. I learned so much about the hobby from John as he both kept up with the newer cards (Granted in 1987 it was a bit easier to keep track of those products) and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of old Topps and Bowmans.

It was thanks to John that I actually opened some of the packs from Alan Rosen’s famed Paris, Tennessee find in which most of the packs were from 1954 and 1955 but a few were from the 1960 Topps set. I only opened some of those 1960 Topps packs and when a gorgeous Mickey Mantle came ouf of one of those packs, my first thought was that it’s back to 1968 and I’m opening packs looking for Mickey. When it came out of the pack, I almost dropped the card on the floor just because the card was so sharp.

I have a lot to thank Papa John for, because with his teachings, as well as what I learned from the late great Tom Reid and of course, my dad, I try to channel the best out of all these people.

I mention John Broggi because collectors know that the show will take place as scheduled, on-time, with tons of cards available for buying/selling or even trading.   There is something to be said for just knowing an event will take place because less than ten days ago, I ventured to a nearby show that had been posted on Craig’s List. My ffirst thought was ‘what an interesting way to promote a show’.   It spoke to the rise of social media, I thought.

The promotional flyer from JMV Entertainment listed 10-11 a.m. early bird admission for $5 and after 11 — admission would be $2. Being that I saw no reason to pay for an early bird admission, I arrived at 11:02 and paid my $2 to walk into the show floor.  The dealer population was, shall we say, sparse.  About 15 minutes later, it got worse.  The promoter was telling the dealers something to the effect of “my credit card was declined.  The show is closed  and here is your money back”.

That was a first for me, but after I posted on some message boards I discovered it wasn’t a new concept  to other people who had attended this promoter’s shows.

That scene in a strange way reminded me of the 1991 National.  It was the absolute peak of the NSCC and perhaps the baseball card hobby as a whole.  Card collecting (and speculating) was read hot.  I remember flying out to the show and running into Tom Reid at the airport.  I let him buy me a couple of drinks to make the flight go smoother. We got to the show early, attended some of the seminars and thought it would be a a nice, peaceful time at corporate trade show night.

Instead, that night was perhaps the scariest night I have ever had at a show.  Every nook and cranny was filled with people.  It was a madhouse of buying and selling, but mostly selling.   I remember meeting up with a couple of  dealers from Arkansas who frequently came down to Dallas for decent sized shows and we all disappeared into the cafeteria to escape. The dealers I remember sitting with were Burney Lightle and Mark Shreve.

There are some stories about that convention but I would dare say there has never been a show in which more money on an overall basis changed hands. Some estimates put the weekend crowd at more than 100,000 people.  Many simply came for the promo cards that were trading furiously for a profit seconds after they were acquired by waves of collectors who gained entry. I never remember to ask Mike Berkus, but I should ask him what it was like being at the eye of that hurricane. I do remember the late Jack Petruzelli during the show and he was the calmest person out there. He realized there was nothing he could do, but hope that everyone would survive the weekend.

Fortunately, most of us did survive but the saddest story that weekend belonged to Dan McKee’s father.   We talked about Dan last time as one of the people hanging out at the National with hobby legends such as John Rumeriez. Dan got the love of the hobby from his dad, and at the 1991 National, his dad had an incredible display. We use the word had here as the elder’s Mckee’s entire table was stolen during the National one night. I don’t even know if any of those items were ever recovered.

Beyond that, I remember little about the show other than I was just trying to survive. My fondest memory of that event was the softball game (remember, this was 20 years ago and I could still move a little bit).  Our team was coached by Lou Dials, the Negro Leagues great.  Now understand, my defensive skills were so limited that I asked to be a DH and for whatever reason Mr. Dials put me at catcher and uttered these words – “Catcher, you lead off”.

Somehow, out of my muscle memory I actually went 5 for 5.  Our team won, and yes, those may have been my last hits on a softball diamond. (Actually not, but it sounds better that way).

Next time, unless I get sidetracked while rambling. some happier stories about Baseball Hobby News, including talking about my good friends Frank and Vivian Barning, Mike Gallela, Ernie Montella, Max Silberman, etc.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]