If it’s not the greatest book ever written about the sports card hobby and industry, there has certainly never been another one like it.
Former Pacific Trading Cards President and CEO Mike Cramer has written a book that chronicles his life as a collector and how he built a sports card manufacturing company and became one of the most important people in the history of the hobby.
Cramer’s Choice: Memoir of a Baseball Card Collector Turned Manufacturer, is due out in September.
“I was having lunch with Bob Uecker and I told him some stories about some of the things we went through in the sports card industry, and he told me I should write a book,” Cramer said. “He was the first one to give me the idea.”
As time went on, he heard the suggestion more and more. Finally, it was sharing stories and memories with his grandchildren that really drove him to move forward with the project.
“I realized that if I didn’t write the book, all of these stories would be lost when I am gone,” he said.
While many of the books on the sports card industry focus on the most popular cards and sets of all time, Cramer took a deep dive with his book. He provides a unique history of sports cards and details the manufacturing process. He also tells the story of how he went from being a collector and crab fisherman in Alaska to being one of the most innovative and powerful business people in the history of sports cards.
“It’s a story about sports cards, and about Pacific, but it’s also a story about the American dream,” Cramer said. “Pacific wasn’t built by a bunch of investors putting money into a sports card company. This company was built from scratch, out of a shoe box.”
Cramer was and still is a hard core baseball card collector. He began buying vendor cases of Topps baseball cards decades ago. While he was off fishing in Alaska, his wife, Cheryl, was at home running a small business where the cases would be opened and sets would be collated. Long before the hobby boom and before shows like the National existed, the Cramers ran a mail-order business and ran classified ads for complete sets in publications like the Sporting News.
“Cheryl was really the one that made everything work,” he said. “I was off crab fishing and making money so that we could buy more cases. I detailed that in the book and I made sure that she was recognized for everything she did. She had a staff of people she hired to build sets and she fulfilled most of the orders and kept everything going. Without her, there never would have been a Pacific Trading Cards.”
From Collector To Manufacturer
Before long, Cramer realized he could produce his own cards. He began by making baseball cards for the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. By 1980, Cramer Promotions was producing Big League Greats cards of Major League Baseball Legends. He also produced packaging equipment and became an expert on the manufacturing and packaging of sports cards.
“As a collector, I can’t tell you how exciting it was to actually make and produce my own baseball cards,” he said.
Collectors that have been in the hobby since that era may also notice that their nine-pocket plastic sheets were also produced by Cramer Promotions.
“We were the first to make plastic sheets to put cards in binders,” he said. “We were also the first to come up with the white cardboard boxes that you could put together to put cards in. We came up with those boxes when we were doing a big mail order business.”
Cramer said that the entire journey of his manufacturing background is included in the book. He also said that although the accessories like boxes and plastic sheets are a huge part of the business, he had to pick and choose what he was going to do.
“What would you rather do?” he asked. “Would you make plastic sheets, or make actual baseball cards? We were a small company and we could only do so much, so we had to stick to our main business. Eventually, Rembrandt came in and now there are companies like Ultra Pro and some others who have a big business with supplies. We just didn’t have the resources to keep doing that.”
Within a decade, Pacific would be producing NFL cards. Their first foray into Major league Baseball was a Spanish language baseball card license. There were also sets for TV shows like I Love Lucy and Saved By the Bell, college sets, draft pick sets, and eventually NHL hockey cards.
“There was a lot that we did, and I had forgotten how much we actually did until I went back and talked to a lot of our former employees when I was writing the book,” he said.
Cramer said that reconnecting with former employees and other industry people was one of the most enjoyable parts about writing the book. Everyone had particular memories, and everyone shared different stories.
Another factor that added to Cramer’s urgency to write the book was his health. Cramer was diagnosed with cancer and has spent much of the last year recovering from chemo and treatments. He is not back to 100 per cent, but he says he is close. Writing the book during that time was cathartic for him.
“When I was sitting there getting chemo and getting treatments, that was a perfect time to do a lot of the writing,” he said. “You’re just sitting there doing nothing for long periods of time, so it was perfect for me to use that time to write.”
After completing the first draft, Cramer had to decide how he was going to get the book into the market.
“After I wrote the book, the next step was to shop it around to a publisher,” he said. “McFarland Publishing was interested in it, and they sent me a contract.”
Late last week, Cramer saw the artwork for the cover of the book for the first time.
“They did the artwork and they picked the title for the book,” he said. “It was really exciting to see it – it made it feel more real.”
The Ramirez Corked Bat Card
Cramer is not only excited to share his stories and his passion for the hobby in the book, but he also gets to set the record straight on a couple of things.
“In the book, I tell the story about the Manny Ramirez corked bat card,” he said. “There were a lot of people thought it was a publicity stunt, but it was far from it. Believe me, I didn’t need the headache that it caused.”
Cramer sourced the bats from the team, and the bats were then sent to be cut up. The pieces were sent to Great Western Press, where the cards were printed. The cards were sent back to Seattle and were packaged at Pacific’s offices.
“We found out that a card with a piece of cork got out and that a dealer had it,” he said. “We immediately stopped production and went through the memorabilia cards. We found a few more so we were able to pull them.”
Some speculated publicly that the Ramirez cork card cost Pacific their baseball license.
“That’s not at all what happened,” Cramer said. “That was fake news in the hobby. The whole story is in my book.”
Cramer also addressed the closure of the company in the book.
“You will hear some people say that Pacific went bankrupt, but that’s not what happened,” he said. “The NHL had a lockout in 2004-05, and they were our only major license. Rather than trying to keep going on a smaller scale, I decided that it was time to sell the company and the equipment and the brands and retire.”
Cramer is happy with the legacy that Pacific has, and he is hoping the book adds to it.
“We were ahead of our time in a lot of things,” he said. “When you look at the products on the market now, they are doing the same things that we were doing 20 years ago. We were the first company to do parallels, and we had some products with a lot of parallels. Our designs were cutting edge. Some of the brands we did are still being made and are still popular.”