Jacob “Jake” Smucker feels blessed. The lifelong Lancaster County, PA resident spends much of his time with his nine kids and their families, which includes an incredible 45 grandchildren. But it’s his love for baseball and baseball cards that have helped feed the Amish man’s soul since he was a kid.
Now, the 70-year-old farmer is sharing some memories and parting with his collection through nearby Wheatland Auctions. It includes some quality vintage rookie cards and Hall of Famers like Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
Yes, even some members of America’s Amish community are avid collectors.
Smucker grew up working long days on his family farm. He remembers first seeing a television at age 12 when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the 1963 World Series. He was amazed by Sandy Koufax, who won two of the World Series games against the Yankees, pitching two complete games and striking out 23 batters in 18 innings. He fell in love with baseball so much that he was able to sneak a radio into his home, which was not allowed in his Amish community, so that he could listen to baseball games on KYW Radio out of Philadelphia.
When he was young, he would trap pigeons and sell them for a quarter, which he would use to purchase packs of cards, and always encouraged his mom to buy cereal boxes with baseball cards on the back. He thinks his mom was upset with him when he went to explore Florida at age 18, and while he was gone, she got rid of the cards. Eventually, Smucker brought some of those former greats back into his collection.
Last year, word spread about the Uncle Jimmy Collection, the remarkable accumulation of cards, autographs and baseball memorabilia that had been consigned and sold by an auction company not far away. The consignment of six signed Babe Ruth cards and thousands of other pieces that had been collected by the late Jimmy Micioni had made international news last year and even resonated in Smucker’s Amish community. Smucker decided the time might be right to part with his own collection.
“I realized that I could help fund some hunting trips with the family if I sold my cards now. I am not getting any younger and we love to hunt,” he explained.
Wheatland Auctions owner Chuck Whisman drove up to the Smucker farm to meet the family and develop a plan to auction the cards. Several of them, including a 1953 Bowman Mickey Mantle, 1953, ‘55 and ’56 Topps Jackie Robinson, a 1956 Ted Williams, his Pete Rose and Nolan Ryan rookie cards and others are in Wheatland’s current online auction, which ends Sunday, May 23. Several carry strong grades and there are some modern Dodgers cards too.
Smucker wasn’t just a baseball fan and collector. He’s considered one of the best Amish baseball players to ever take the field. He started playing in seventh grade and his community even had baseball teams of high school age players. “I was competitive, and could outrun anyone and would always play kids older than me. I played for the ‘Amish Rookies’ in our county Amish league in the late 1960s. I was the catcher and leadoff hitter and we had a pitcher with a curve ball that would drop off a kitchen table. I also pitched and still remember having 21 strikeouts in a game.”
He even remembers when his Amish Rookies team got to play a game against the best high school team in the county, Conestoga Valley High School, and won easily. He says since players on the Amish team spent most of their days working on the farm they were faster and stronger than most high school kids back then.
He transitioned into Lancaster County softball leagues and remembers once having a batting average of .800. At age 70, he still plays in whiffle ball games on the family farm.
He never lost his love for the Dodgers and even went to a game in Philadelphia several years ago where he was able to get an autograph from Matt Kemp.
“My dream was always to visit Dodger Stadium. I met someone from California years ago who wanted to try to help me get out there to a game, but it never happened. I sometimes dream about sitting in the dugout.”
“One thing the Uncle Jimmy collection highlighted for me was the power of the story of a collection of baseball cards, especially collectors who grew up as baseball was undoubtedly America’s Pastime,” Whisman said. “Jake fell in love with baseball and collecting baseball cards of the players he idolized, and it has lasted a lifetime just like it did for Uncle Jimmy.”