Rich’s Ramblings: Women in the Hobby

by Rich Klein

Recently, my mother-in-law came back to live with us. There are several reasons, including last winter during an ice event in Dallas when she basically got trapped in her apartment for 10 days. That length of time is enough to make anyone claustrophobic. In the Klein household, I’m now outnumbered four to one (Wife, Mother-In-Law, two female dogs). Some people would look for the nearest exit.  Instead I started thinking about women I have known in the hobby.

Most of these women could be considered pioneers in so many ways. The baseball card hobby has always been primarily a man’s game and women are not always treated with the respect they deserve. Let’s talk about a few of them from the hobby’s colorful past.

We’ll start with Mary Houston, who I worked with at Beckett.  Before she came aboard, Mary published the Minor League Monthly Price Guide.  It’s been more than 20 years and the workings of “prospecting” have changed.  Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a collector prospected based on the minor league team set he was in. Collectors would buy the team set in the hope that their chosen prospect became a star. The biggest flaw with team set prospecting is you would have to purchase 25 cards just to get the player you wanted. Nowadays, prospecting is player based thanks mainly to the Topps-produced Bowman line, which is geared toward young players. I always thought back in those days that pack-based prospecting made more sense and I still do think the same way today.

However, Mary was the first price guide editor of Beckett Focus on Future Stars and in the developmental phase we would discuss which players in team sets should be listed. During the early days, we would have weekly meetings and go over checklists to determine what players should be listed for the various team sets. One has to remember that Mary had a slightly different perspective than I did in looking at who should be listed. Our most famous discussion at Beckett was a heated one (you have to understand that neither of us always kept an “inside voice” in those days) involving a minor league set featuring Chicago White Sox prospects. Mary wanted Tom Dress listed because he had thrown three no-hitters in the minors that year. I wanted Greg Hibbard listed as he had won 14 games in the majors. I got so frustrated that I yelled during our meeting, “Mary, you’re wrong, NO ONE cares about a 27-year old minor leaguer! Use the guy who pitches, you know, IN the majors”. Well Mary, I have to apologize all these years later.  We were BOTH wrong.

Eventually Mary left Beckett and I am not aware of her whereabouts today. Any word on her would be greatly appreciated.

It would not be fair to discuss Mary’s role in creating her own publication without mentioning another lady who did a great job for more than 13 years as one of the driving forces behind Baseball Hobby News. Vivian Barning was another leading voice for women in the hobby and we did talk about her some in the Baseball Hobby News (BHN) remembrance a few weeks ago in this space. A side note on the BHN article was that the article inspired Frank Barning to resume his hobby memories in his Barnstorming column available on the web. I told him how honored I was to be the inspiration for him to return to hobby writing. If you read old copies of Baseball Hobby News, they still hold up today in terms of hobby relevance.

Vivian Barning came from the New York Metropolitan area and so did the next lady we will discuss. If anyone remembers the force of nature Gloria Rothstein was, then you have some really good memories. Around 1982, Gloria started promoting shows. The primary venue was the White Plains Convention Center.

For a New York area show, that is actually one of the best possible locations. The show is reachable by automobile and is also located within walking distance of a train stop from Manhattan. Thus, most New York area hobbyists could get there and for dealers, there were no excessive union costs associated with that show. In fact, to set up at the show, there were two guys with huge dollies who would bring your material to and from your table for $10 each way.  At least that was the gratuity Gloria suggested for those men.

One of my favorite Gloria memories involves an radio interview she did with WFAN Radio (“The Fan”) in New York. My old friend Mike Gordon was there as well and other than being introduced we never heard from him again during the interview. The interviewer was so taken by Gloria’s story that he spent the entire two hours just chatting with her.  My favorite question and answer in the interview involved something to the effect of “What has been the biggest change you have seen since you started the show?” Gloria’s response had to do with the professionalism of the dealers and she added this comment: “After the first night of the first card show I ran, I was overwhelmed by the aroma which reminded me of a men’s locker room. I immediately went to the supermarket and bought a couple hundred bars of Dial soap and left a bar of soap for each dealer for the next day.”

One aspect to remember about Gloria was she liked to seem really tough but in reality, she was incredibly fair. She tried many different locations in the New York Metropolitan area for shows but when those didn’t work, she did not tell dealers they’d have to stay until the show closed. In fact, she always granted early release if the show was not going well.  If you gave a good reason in advance, she was also OK with packing up a bit early. Gloria eventually had her son Dean run the shows until he sold out to Jimmy Ryan who now runs several shows in the New York Metropolitan area. Gloria passed away a few years ago, just about one year after the loss of her husband Sam.

Another woman I like to talk about is Audre Gold. We have discussed in past Ramblings how her husband and I had won several SABR team trivia titles. I actually met Eddie through Audre after meeting them at a baseball card show in Manhattan. For the next 20+ years I stayed in reasonably constant contact with the Gold family and always admired how Audre ran her business. In AU Sports, there was no doubt the boys knew the game but Audre knew the business. Audre was very passionate about cards, and her passion about the business of cards relates in a story about being so intent on a hobby discussion she actually followed someone into the men’s room because she was so intent on making her point. She did not even realize it was the men’s room, because she was so focused on the business aspect. However, Audre also realized she was the mother of two children and always did what she could for them as well.  Both were collectors, although Steve sadly passed away not long ago.

One of the great joys and sorrows of my life was at the Boston SABR National in 2002, when my good friend Al Blumkin and I celebrated Eddie and Audre’s 45th wedding anniversary. The illness that ravaged Eddie and would eventually kill him was very obvious but Audre actually passed on before Eddie. By the end of 2002, they were both gone. Some people say it was the cancer and the other stuff  that got Eddie, but those that knew him believe it was his broken heart after Audre passed that took away his spirit for living.

While this is still a male-driven business, there are still women out there who like and want to be part of the hobby. A leading example of an important woman dealer is Lisa Stellato.  For more than 20 years, Lisa has been a leading voice in the hobby and  I still see her at the National each year. And, if you need to know, Lisa is a really good person to tell you about the current state of the hobby. There are many male dealers who could learn quite a bit from talking to Lisa about both cards and hobby trends. She is just one of several female dealers still out there and I hope more join the hobby.  We need to show we are more than just a men’s only club.

If you have any stories about women in the hobby you’d like to share, please contact me and we’ll discuss those in future Ramblings.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]