On the baseball field, Willie Mays could do it all. In the baseball collectibles field, a California resident had them all.
A collector in his late 60s just struck a deal to sell what is likely the ultimate collection of Willie Mays cards and memorabilia. This collector – a financial planner who prefers to be known only by the name, “Mac” – passionately and aggressively chased down virtually vintage Bowman and Topps card of the Say-Hey Kid, including obscure food issues, stamps, stickers, stand-ups, foreign issues, posters, coins, punch-outs, tattoos, rub-offs, decals, scratch-offs, pennants and test cards. That included the cards he collected beginning in 1954 as kid growing up in Chicago.
Eventually expanding beyond the cards from Mays’ playing career, the collection included autographs, game-used cards, holograms, parallels and high-end, low-serial numbered cards. There were nearly 1,500 different Willie Mays cards — and that doesn’t include the nearly 400 pieces of memorabilia he also housed in a room that could be described as a shrine to the Hall of Fame center fielder.
The deal was made with Dave Hobson, who runs BaseballCardBuyer.com. Hobson doesn’t just do deals over the phone. His website touts the slogan “Have gum, will travel,” and “I’ll head your way and I’ll pay.”
Hobson’s excitement was palpable when he called to speak about the Mays collection, owned by Mac, who has lived in Riverside, California, since 1981. He had visited Mac on July 1-2 and now was driving, halfway on a cross-country driving tour. His mission was to look at vintage baseball card collections. His latest baseball card buying trip started from Columbus, Georgia, and included a trip to his elderly parents’ home in Sun City, Arizona, after he met a buyer in Tucson.
“It’s the first trip I’ve done out of state this year, because everything else has been dropped at my doorstep,” Hobson said.
Not this time. But pausing as he passed through Memphis, Tennessee, Hobson – who was headed to Seymour, Tennessee, and then to Charlotte, North Carolina to view other vintage stashes – was glad he made the trip out west.
“It was a pretty awesome collection.” Hobson said. “He was a Mays freak.”
Hobson’s adventure began a few weeks ago when he was visiting his parents in Arizona. Hobson gets plenty of referrals, and when he spoke to Mac he was intrigued by the conversation and the scans he saw.
“I had a conversation with (Mac) and his daughter,” Hobson said. “He was a nice guy, very professional. He had done his homework. He sent me pictures of a lot of his graded cards.
“I told him I could move his collection and made a proposal. So I didn’t hear back from them and I was literally walking out the door of my parents’ place when he called back.”
Hobson decided to head west – “I buy vintage, that’s my bread and butter” — so he steered his car onto I-10 and headed 317 miles to Riverside. The five-hour trip proved to be worthwhile.
Hobson was ushered into Mac’s collectibles room and was treated to a shrine built for No. 24.
“It looked like an auditorium, or a museum,” Hobson said. “I asked him, ‘Do you give tours?’
“It was wonderfully displayed, like a mini-Cooperstown.”
Some of the cards Hobson saw were true relics, like a 1952 Coca-Cola test playing card of Mays that included his biography. Or a 1954 Stahl-Meyer Franks card that still “reeked of hot dogs” when Mac bought it. Mac had every Venezuelan Topps card of Mays, and the 1969 and 1970 Transogram cards — including the statue.
Then came time for the negotiations, and Hobson wondered if Mac was really interested in selling the cards or was just putting out feelers to see how much he could fetch.
“He told me, ‘If you didn’t know your stuff, you wouldn’t be sitting here,’” Hobson said.
Mac knew his stuff about Mays because he has been following him for more than 60 years. As a kid growing up in Chicago, Mac’s “childhood rival” announced one day in 1954 that he was going to be the biggest fan of the Cubs’ new star shortstop, Ernie Banks. Not to be outdone, Mac announced that even though he was a Cubs fans, he was “gonna be the biggest Willie Mays fan ever.”
“And he never stopped,” Hobson said.
“When I would walk to school, I would stop at Hackett’s Market, a little store,” Mac told Hobson. “From kindergarten to second grade I’d buy Dots and Root Beer Barrels. But as a newly declared Willie Mays fan in 1954, I would buy baseball cards.
“And when I opened that pack with the 1954 Mays, with that big smile on his face, I told Dorothy Hackett that I loved her. She was 65 and I was 8.”
In Riverside, Mac became known as “the Mays guy” at local and regional card shows. It was not unusual for him to plan trips to obscure places in hopes of finding rare Mays issues. He had particularly good luck in upper Midwest states like Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — far away from major-league franchises, but apparently a gold mine for collectors.
He’d tell his family they were going on exotic vacations to British Columbia and the Dominican Republic — which was true — but Mac’s real motive was to uncover those hard-to-find Mays cards, Hobson said. That’s where he’d find 1960 O-Pee-Chee posters (in Canada) and Topps Venezuelans (in the Dominican).
Both men came to an agreement, although neither would disclose the amount. Hobson mentioned some percentages but did not reveal his numbers. He did say, however, that he was “pretty excited about the ungraded stuff” that Mac had. Some of the material will be graded and offered on eBay.
Hobson said the trip was worthwhile. He spent two days and part of a third at Mac’s house. He purchased a valuable collection and even got a home-cooked meal.
“I had dinner there,” Hobson said. “His wife’s a great cook, she made lasagna.”
Mama mia, that’s a good way to cap off a good deal.