by Rich Klein
Last week, I wandered into the local Barnes & Noble store located at Stonebriar Mall in Allen, Texas after finishing up a walk within their confines. If you have lived in Texas in the summer, malls such as Stonebriar are a great place to walk. Not only is it fun to people watch, but also nice to walk in a climate-controlled atmosphere. Personally, walking outside when the temperature reached 100 degrees or more (only 68 times this summer in the DFW area) is not amongst my favorite activities.
When I was in the Barnes & Noble I wandered over to the collectibles section and saw a book entitled Got 'Em, Got 'Em, Need 'Em: A Fan's Guide to Collecting the Top 100 Sports Cards of All Time. The book was written by Canadians Stephen Laroche and Jon Waldman. And then it occurred to me, despite reading several hobby "bulletin boards" and trying to stay involved, I had never heard of that book and wondered how could such a book escape me in today's card-trading world and wondered how different today was from 25 years ago. Twenty-five years ago, a collector would have found out about a book such as this from one of the printed hobby publications of the time.
Let's see, 25 years ago, the hobby was just beginning what would be the boom period which lasted until August, 1994 when the MLB players went on strike and the whole hobby changed. Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, as it was then called, was just beginning the explosive growth that would lead from the very first issue in 1984, for which Dr. Jim Beckett handled everything, including the shipping of the magazines to the early 1990's when more than one million copies of the baseball magazine were being distributed each month.
Sports Collectors Digest was then in the fifth year or so under the realm of Krause Publications and was the place to go to see where the hobby's heavy hitters would be and what interesting items would turn up for sale. The third major publication of the time was Baseball Hobby News. Now Baseball Hobby News (BHN) may have only been the third biggest publication of the time, but had an extremely loyal following during its run, which ended in 1993.
From 1979 through 1990 I spent most of my hobby writing and freelancing time working with-- and for-- Baseball Hobby News, getting to know many of the people who wrote and worked for that newspaper. I have known Frank and Vivian Barning for more than 30 years and much of my long-term success in this hobby has come from lessons I learned from them as well.
One of the most important lessons was to enjoy what you do. Frank (and Vivian) were great at discovering hobby talent and letting them do what they do best. In my case, what ended up being what I did best was contribute answers to the Baseball Card Price Poll. The one month I remember most of us was the month when the question involved "games of chance" at a card show. That weekend, I attended several card shows in Northern New Jersey (now five card shows in a year would be a monster year) and wrote up the results of each of the games I played. Some of the "gambling" was very fair, other was, let's say extremely rigged in favor of the dealer. That was one of the best fact based responses I ever did for BHN and that was published almost verbatim.
One of the other great aspects of Baseball Hobby News was that as the saying goes: "They know how to find talent in the card industry". At one point, at least three of us working at Beckett (Theo Chen, Mike Payne and myself) had all been major contributors to BHN. I remember the first time I met Theo was at a Willow Grove show circa 1987 after which we went to dinner with Frank, and other important hobby people. The only other hobby person I remember was the late Rich Hawksley, and the reason I remember he was there was that we went to a diner and I gave a detailed instruction to the waitress of what I wanted. Rich listened and when the waitress asked what he wanted, said, "Whatever he just ordered is fine by me". I asked him why and he said, "Well, I'm too tired to worry about it, so you just took of that for me."
But the other advantage, in a way, that Baseball Hobby News had was that Frank and Vivian were still active dealer/collectors. Since they were not doing a ton of pricing information, the activity of buying/selling served two purposes. The first was that it paid for their traveling, show fees, and everything else involved with setting up. The second and equally important aspect was selling was a great way to get a feel for what collectors were looking for. In retrospect, that turned out to be a brilliant way of keeping involved in collecting. And, oh yes, the Barnings continued working on what was, until the collection was sold, a remarkable T-206 collection and other vintage card sets. Frank, by the way, has a blog these days where he writes about travel and baseball, among other things.
Some of the other people associated with BHN also deserve to be mentioned. One of my favorite people from those days was the late Max Silberman. Max was the first subscriber to BHN and also turned out to be a long-term columnist as well as a long-term trading partner of mine. You can read Frank’s tribute to Max here.
I will also say that one of the times Max came out of the hospital I called him to see how he was doing. Now understand this man was going through health issues that would have overcome most of us several years before the ultimate passing. Max, in recounting the story of his hospital trip, had me in stitches talking about all the events that occurred to him while in the hospital. I apologized for laughing but true to form, Max said "That's OK, it was even stranger if you were the person involved!"
Max was one of my favorite Philadelphia people but he is among many of my friends then and now from the Philadelphia area. So many of them I would see at either the Willow Grove show or the National for all those years that I still believe that many of them will attend the next show I go to. I can't wait to talk more about Max, Mike Gallela, Ernie Montella, Phil Spector and the rest of the East Coast Gang. Gosh, there are so many people I can talk about, that these storied have become the best part of my week and thank each and every one of you who has written to tell me how much you have enjoyed these stories. More soon!
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]