The late Larry Fritsch helped thousands of fans build their sports card collections, while building the foundation for a still-thriving business.
by Joe Milliken
In the storied history of sports card collecting, few if any dealers carry the distinction, credibility and longevity of Larry Fritsch Cards based in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
Founder Larry Fritsch passed away late last year, but the company continues to operate under the principles established by a man who became synonymous with the growth and popularity of what was once considered strictly a kids’ hobby.
"It was sad news for the hobby when we heard that Larry Fritsch passed away," a collector wrote on the Fleer Sticker Blogspot web site in December of 2007. "Larry was a true hobby pioneer, becoming a dealer in cards well before anyone thought you could make a living selling baseball cards. He leaves an incredible legacy and will be greatly missed."
A collector since 1948, Larry Fritsch bought his first card at the age of 11 – a 1948 Emil Verban card at the local Cramer’s DX gas station – and was immediately hooked. A huge sports fan who loved the cards depicting the athletes he followed, Fritsch bought countless card collections and kept Topps and Bowman busy in the 1950s, buying boxes to create sets.
In 1963 Fritsch started out as a part-time dealer with a small mail order business, helping other collectors to fill sets and track down specific cards. By 1970, the hobby had become his full time occupation.
"We believe he was the very first mail order dealer," said Jeff Fritsch , who now oversees the family business. Fritsch Cards’ advertisements were a staple in major sports publications like The Sporting News and Steet & Smith’s long before collecting was considered even remotely mainstream. Reaching out to sports fans simply seemed logical and Fritsch found he had plenty of company as a "grown up collector".
Fritch became one of the premiere authorities on card collecting and was an advisor to several card companies and related businesses. "He worked as a consultant with Topps and various card checklist publishers like the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards," Jeff said. "His knowledge of cards helped make the organization of checklists more complete."
Larry first started attending shows around 1972, mostly purchasing cards to build his inventory, then began selling at Midwestern regional shows in the 1980s and early 90’s. "At one point I believe we were one of the three or four largest card dealers around," Jeff added.
"The doors of our first and present store front opened in 1973, with building additions in 1975 and 1990. We currently stock about 60,000 individual cards."
Fritsch Cards takes on the challenge of filling specific want lists from virtually every set imaginable. "We believe one of our biggest assets is the variety and deep selection of cards we offer, from 19th century Old Judge to 2008 Topps sets," Jeff explained. "From vintage cards to collectors sets, we stock a little bit of everything."
Fritsch Cards also offers a comprehensive catalog and web site, which lists many of the cards and specialty items they have in stock. Singles, sets, unopened vending boxes, factory sets and vintage sports cards make up much of the inventory. They also offer reprint series of sports and non-sports card sets, including baseball reissue sets.
Fritsch Cards also helped create cards through the years including 1980s Midwest League sets, and also sells a three-set card series from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGBL), with a total of 421 cards available in the three sets.
Fritsch Cards has attempted to make sure the "fun" side of collecting isn’t forgotten in the emphasis on the "profit" side. "Collecting has become less of hobby, where people were collecting mainly for the fun of it," Jeff Fritsch lamented.
"More and more people are now buying and selling cards and collectibles as a profit motive only, as in the case of "E" cards – where people do not even physically hold the card that they buy. The card is held by a third party and simply bought and sold electronically."
In recent years, some of the incredible unopened wax and vending boxes in the Fritsch warehouses were consigned to Mastro Auctions and drew intense interest for their unquestioned pedigree and history. You can also find Fritsch Cards on eBay.
It’s founder’s legacy secure, the company continues with eight full and part-time employees working at the location in central Wisconsin, servicing collectors as one of the largest mail order card companies in the world.
Joe Milliken is a freelance writer (www.jemwriting.com) and is also the Sports Editor at The Message For The Week, based in Chester, Vt. (www.messagefortheweek.com).