by Rich Klein
One of the reasons people do not like to say anything bad about people who have passed on is that they are not around to defend themselves. Thus, when the word came out about Richard McWillam’s death from blood alcohol poisoning, it ignited a flood of memories about some of the hobby’s most flamboyant and often polarizing personalities. Now, understand I never formally met the man but my lasting memory of him was at the 2006 Chicago National when I saw McWilliam and a couple of the Upper Deck big wigs at the hotel bar celebrating their success with MLB in leveling the playing field as it came to rookie cards and other assorted matters which was giving UD some nice product mixes at that time.
For all that though, Richard McWilliam was a hobby titan who led his company through some of the best times in hobby history as well as being very aggressive in forging relationships with some of the biggest names in sports. I think any knowledgeable collector knows any UD signed item of people such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are authentic. So although Upper Deck has gone through some serious changes in the past few years and was faced with a pile of legal battles, much of their continued success has come because of what Richard McWilliam led them through years ago.
In a strange sense partnered with McWilliam as a larger than life hobby figure no longer with us is Lud Denny, the man behind Pro Set Trading Cards in the late 1980s and early 90s. The article I did on Mr. Denny last year generated one of the largest responses I have ever received including one reader telling me about stashes of Pro Set cards he’s hung onto. We weren’t sure what had happened to the big man who made so much noise in the football card market more than 20 years ago.
Finally Chris Olds, erstwhile Beckett editor, was nice enough to forward me a story about Lud's daughter and how she took care of him in his final days. To quote her, "My dad was a big fan of women's breasts". One person who knew Lud told me in an email about one of Lud's meetings that included a "guest" who showed up to join them at lunch.
The last story I had about Lud came from the owner of my local card store. Somehow in his younger days, he met Lud who was preparing brisket for some former Dallas Cowboys as part of the process of selling some land for a housing development. The description of what Lud was barely wearing as he stood over a meat smoker is a visual I did not need to imagine. Lud was one of a kind and his importance in the card hobby cannot be over stated as he was just as much a visionary in his time as a manufacturer as Al Rosen was in those days as a card dealer.
And there has probably been more written about “Mr. Mint” than any other card dealer. I have known Al for more than 30 years and his public persona and his private persona can be very different. Due to strange fluke, we actually sat next to each other on planes going back from the National for three consecutive years. Each year I learned a lot from Al and also he was never a braggart in those conversations. Instead, he was soft-spoken and articulate about the hobby. In addition, Al liked to put on the act so when he was going full steam ahead the best reaction would be to let him be and enjoy the show. However, no one could work a room for hobby stuff like Al did in the glory days of the hobby. He knew what he could sell to his court at the time (John Broggi, Dick DeCourcy, Brian Morris, Joe Esposito, Paul Lewicki and countless others).and at what levels so they could make money as well. Overall, I'd argue that Al has done as much good for the card hobby as anyone and if he ever really retires, the hobby will miss him very much.
And in a strange hobby twist a few years ago, Al became one of the designated buyers for Kit Young. All that was making Al's role more formal and getting Kit more cards to sell. What is amazing is how far Kit Young has come in this business. When Kit started, he gained notoriety for "running the market" on 1955 Topps Double Headers. Each month, he ran ads for those cards in The Trader Speaks and raised his buy prices and eventually began selling the cards at a tidy profit. I always kid him about those cards and his standard line to me is "That was before I learned this business. I'd be more dangerous doing that today." And in many ways the hobby owes Kit a lot as well as he helped create the Hawaii Trade Conference which has now moved to Las Vegas and is focused on card shops, manufacturers and distributors. In his way, Kit Young has also been a larger than life figure and a very important part of hobby history. And he's also a nice person who has done a ton of good for the hobby both as a dealer as well as a hobby leader.
What are some of your stories about meeting larger than life hobbyists?
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]