by Rich Klein
Last time in Ramblings we took a detour through the happy times and discussed 9/11. The effects of that day are still fresh in so many minds. Everyone has different memories of that weekend. I spoke to my good friend Ted Straka the other day, and we were both amazed that 10 years had passed at this point. He is still happily married and still active in the business. I mentioned how I ended up driving back to Dallas. I had not yet returned my rental car so I kept possession and just drove that and on Friday 9/14 returned the card to Hertz at American Airlines.
Ted’s flight ended up landing in Chicago and through a few contact he had with hobby people who knew collectors in Chicago he was eventually able to rent a car and return to the tri-state area. About two months later, if I recall correctly, he and his bride went on their honeymoon and nothing eventful occurred during that trio.
Thinking about Ted, reminded me of the first time I went to Chicago. The first time I went to Chicago was for the 1983 National Convention. My good friend, Mel Solomon, had arranged the flights so I was just along for the ride so to speak. Mel, in order to save some money, had us take not a non-stop but a flight which had three or four stops along the way. I remember Detroit, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo (there might have been one more) and was wondering about why for the few dollars we just did not fly non-stop. You do have to remember that this was before the days of sites such as Priceline, Expedia or other mega travel sites.
After an uneventful flight, in which I think the highlight was picking up newspapers to read in all those cities, we arrived in Chicago. We got there about noon on Thursday, and the show set up would begin later that day. For more modern collectors, it can be difficult to understand the National, which is now a week-long event used to be compressed into 3-4 days. At the set-up Thursday Night, I sold a ton of Milwaukee Brewers cards much to my surprise and that sale paid for my trip. After that dealer to dealer sale, I was as the expression goes, “playing with house money” on my little part of Mel’s tables.
So, with a nice amount of cash in my pocket and having paid Mel for all the expenses, we started Friday morning at the show. If I recall correctly, the show opened at 9 AM and for the next 12 hours, we were constantly busy. The sheer volume of business was amazing and the non-stop nature was even more stunning. I have never had a day which had such a length of continuous business. (The only day I ever had which came close was a one-day show in Virginia Beach in 1989).
The day kept going and going and I still can’t describe what the feeling of constant business was like. I always like to say, that we were making the market on Dale Murphy rookie cards and no matter what I raised our buying/selling price to during the show, the market kept along with us. Of course, when you are buying over “book” and selling over “book”, then anything is possible. The 1977 Murphy rookie card was what I would later call: “The card of the show”. What that meant was the market was truly a moving target and usually in the upward direction. A great example of the “Card of the Show” was the 1985 Topps Mark McGwire Rookie during the 1987 San Francisco National. Let’s see…hobby booming, local hero on way to 49 homers as a rookie, big show while on his hottest streak of the season… yeah those factors could make for the “Card of the Show.”
The most amazing aspect of the Friday of the show was not just how great the day was. That night, and I don’t remember everyone who was there: Frank and Vivian Barning, Bruce and Bonita Paynter, I do remember were there. What was done after that show, with everyone on the verge of exhaustion from the amazing day of sales, was the blueprint for what would become the National bylaws.
The most important aspect of the bylaws at that time was the contiguous state/400 mile rule. In the early 1980’s the National had fallen into what many people thought was a rut of being in the Midwest. After 1980 in LA, the next three were all in the Midwest.: 1981 in Plymouth Michigan, 1982 in St Louis and 1983 in Chicago. If certain rules were not adjusted, the “Midwest Block’ was always gong to vote to stay in that area. (A side note, now almost 30 years later, is that in my personal opinion only, the National should create a foothold in Chicago and not move — especially to Cleveland). I still remember Frank saying: “This is the greatest day in the history of the hobby”.
So we as a group spent Friday night discussing and writing down the ideas so we knew what the game plan was. Somehow, I was selected to write down everything, which if anyone has seen my handwriting knows can be a mistake. However; my penmanship held up and someone was able to use either a typewriter or a early computer with printer and by the meeting the next night the key ideas of that Friday Night were in place.
Saturday was a good day, but not as good as Friday and then on Sunday it was time to pack up to rejoin the working world. I had bought a large group of books at the auction because no one else wanted them and had actually sold enough of the books on Sunday morning to turn a profit on that deal. That was how good the National business was in those days. Somehow, we convinced Mike Gordon to drive back those books and Lew Lipset always tells me he can never forget me or forgive me because those books were on his lap for most of the drive back.
The next time I went to Chicago was for the 1989 National — and that was as good as a show as 1983. More details on that soon. Please keep those emails coming, I love hearing from everyone who reads these stories.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]