He’s been retired for nearly 20 years, but reading Mike Cramer’s newly released book makes it pretty clear. There aren’t many people in the history of sports collectibles with a more interesting story to tell.
Cramer went from traditional kid collector to Alaskan crab fisherman to minor league card maker to one of the biggest wholesalers of cards in the world to shop owner to big time card manufacturer—all in one lifetime—and that doesn’t begin to cover everything.
Cramer’s story—largely centered around his dedication, hard work and unbridled love of cards—is a fascinating read.
You think you know how to hustle? Trust me, you couldn’t hold a candle to what Cramer did before and during his time as the sole owner of Pacific Trading Cards. Cramer spent much of his adult life aboard crab boats in the Bering Sea, even while he was becoming one of the country’s top card dealers.
This guy convinced his newlywed wife to help move cases of cards onto a boat on his wedding night.
You can pick up a copy and read it yourself but here are just a few notes from the book that shed light on some of the things that folks who’ve been in the card game a while might not know.
- By age 15, he had accumulated about 500,000 cards, all stored in a 1,007-square-foot house. He started dealing cards while still in high school
- He owned a complete T206 set (minus the ‘Big Four’) as a teenager.
- Cramer is the dealer responsible for bringing about 60 cases of unsold 1964 Topps Giant All-Stars to the market. He bought them from a Southern California toy wholesaler in 1976, along with pallet full of older Topps cases dating back to 1959—both sports and non-sports. That deal is one reason why the beautiful ’64 Topps Giants were very reasonably priced for many years.
- The following year, he struck a deal with a local Topps representative that led to an ongoing deal to buy thousands of Topps’ leftover boxes and cases in the ensuing years. Trucks carrying cases began showing up, forcing Cramer to rent numerous storage units. He calls it “the single greatest buy in the history of trading cards.”
- Cramer knew nothing about making candy bars when Ken Griffey Jr., was a promising rookie outfielder. He made a deal with Griffey’s agent, found a chocolate maker, learned how to get them wrapped and boxed and found outlets to sell them. Pacific wound up selling nearly one million Griffey Jr. bars.
- Cramer eventually landed NFL, MLB and NHL licenses for Pacific. NFL licensing directors each had a personal investment in a trading card printer owned by Pro Set, which Cramer believes held up Pacific’s initial licensing efforts. Those people ultimately resigned and Pacific got its deal with the league, which led to more league licenses.
- Cramer shot a large portion of the photos for Pacific’s football card products, flying to NFL cities each Sunday for seven years. He helped select the photos used for cards and wrote many of the backs himself.
- 1993 Pacific Prism –the one card per pack product—was a quick sellout and opened the door for similar products released later. Prism eventually wound up at Panini America where it has become one of the company’s most popular releases in multiple sports each year as “Prizm.”
- He created its “crown” logo in 1994 after Cramer and his wife saw the Spanish crown everywhere they traveled in Spain.
- Cramer was in talks to buy Donruss after the Finnish owner of Leaf had put the company up for sale. Pinnacle had already made an offer. An investment firm headed by former NFL kicker Danny Villaneuva agreed to partner with Pacific to make the deal and move Donruss’ packaging equipment to Washington. However, Leaf closed the sale with Pinnacle and bought the Donruss brands. Pacific did come away with most of the Donruss factory equipment, which Pinnacle didn’t want. Pinnacle filed for bankruptcy in 1998.
- In 1999, Cramer flew to Northern California for the annual East-West Shrine Game, where he shot dozens of photos of Michigan QB Tom Brady. As a sixth round pick, Brady wasn’t invited to the 2000 NFLPA Rookie Photo Shoot. Cramer says he overruled Pacific’s football product team and put Brady in its 2000 sets using the photos he’d shot. The 2000 Pacific Football flagship set was released in May of that year—the earliest NFL product to hit the market for ’93 and so it’s the #403 Brady that stands as the first NFL trading card ever produced of the future seven-time Super Bowl champ. The company also signed Brady to an autograph deal, getting a total of 700 cards signed.
- Cramer says after the company lost its NHL license, he sold the Pacific brands to Playoff in 2004 but the company had no cards left to sell when it closed its doors and dealers who advertise his company’s cards as being from “the Pacific auction” are wrong. The company did sell its unpublished photos, packaging equipment and office furniture.
Cramer’s hard work—both on a series of fishing boats in the dangerous Bering Sea and in cards—made him a lot of money so the book wasn’t done for that reason. A bout with cancer and some down time because of it led to him deciding to put his eventful life down on paper.
“I always thought I could do anything I set my mind on,” he wrote. “My determination and perseverance were the biggest factors in succeeding with my desires. I just wouldn’t quit until I figured it out and made it work.”
We should all be glad he finally took us along for the ride.