A lot has changed since August of 1980, and the first National Sports Collectors Convention at the Airport Marriott Grand Ballroom in Los Angeles. Collectors are having their cards graded in mass quantity, there was no eBay, you can’t read an article about the hobby without seeing the word “breaks” and the National itself has grown into a massive almost week-long event about the same time each summer.
There are three dealers that have experienced and seen all of these changes firsthand. This trio, are the three dealers that haven’t missed one National- Cleveland 2018 was their 39th consecutive.
For John Rumierz, B.A. Murry and Pat Quinn, it’s not only been a “long strange trip,” but they know exactly where they’ve been the last 39 years, come late July and early August. The National. The question everyone wants to know is will they be back for the “Big 4-0?”
“All us dealers, we all knew each other,” said Murry as he greeted this writer with a handshake. “It’s like being part of a family.”
Apparently a loving, but a semi-dysfunctional family, I would soon find out.
“You talk to this man,” yelled Rumierz, as he leaned across one of his tables in the adjacent booth.
Come in the West Entrance of the IX Center and look left and the first space you will see is Rumierz’s. Look next to Rumierz and you will see Murry. These two along with Pat Quinn of Sports Collectors LTD are the Cal Ripken Jr., Brett Favre and AC Green of the sports collecting universe.
These three have earned their prime spots on the show floor, with almost four decades of Nationals, an estimated one year of their lives spent packing for, traveling to and from and attending Nationals.
“It’s amazing we are the last three left,” adds Murry, serving as the unofficial spokesperson for the group. Maybe a few years ago there were ten that had been at the National shows. Then there were nine, then eight and I remember when there were seven. Then five and four, and here we are three!”
Murry said they’ve had to adapt in different ways to last this long, in a tough business. He figured out he had to learn this “eBay thing”early on, and he recently celebrated 20 years buying and selling on the eBay marketplace. Now in his 70s, Murry, a life long hobbiest said he doing as much buying anymore, he’s trying to sell and one can tell he enjoys talking to anyone stopping by his booth.
While Murry seems to enjoy talking about how the industry has changed he’s a walking encyclopedia and historian when it comes to the National.
“That first one, we had to be a part of it. Gavin Reilly organized the show with Mike Berkus and Steve Brunner. We all enjoyed being active and trying to grow it as a hobby. At the conclusion of the first show, we all wanted to know where next year’s would be. Back then, a hand vote was held to determine the next city. It was decided, Detroit, because there were some people there from Detroit that wanted the show. Then I helped bring it to St. Louis.”
That show–and others of the time–were smaller and focused on activities and socializing. Murry says it was maybe the “informalness” of those early shows that served as the glue to keep the National and the hobby together.
“The biggest change is that it is much more corporate now. We used to make quick decisions and changes. That couldn’t be done now, and I understand that because there are many more factors to consider and of course, money.”
Murry remembers the 4th National in Chicago. Held at the Holiday Inn in Rosemont, had 173 dealers at and almost 250 tables. It might’ve been the turning point for something bigger and it was time to form committees. Murry said he served on those early committees where everyone was looking out for each other.
“Booths were getting larger and business was brisk.”
Rumierz, Murry and Quinn still have three of the best spaces on the exhibit floor, but for how many more years? They don’t do many shows, but then there’s the National. Rumierz is in his 60s, Murry in his 70s and Quinn is almost 80.
The big question that was posed to Murry, is would he be back for No. 40?
“We’ll see,” smiled Murry as he turned to show a new customer some autographed St. Louis Cardinals items.
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