by Rich Klein
Somehow in my National Convention journeys, trivia knowledge always seemed to play a role. Yesterday, I discussed some of the 1990’s computer trivia games that were at those shows and how “well” I did with those games. But believe it or not, there is actually a story of a barroom trivia machine and a 1980’s National Sports Collectors Convention as well and how that played an interesting role in my life.
But I digress. Before we get there, I will also point out that the National used to include events such as softball, card flipping and trivia contests, and I think even table-top baseball game tournaments among other events. All of these would take place during the show and added to the event’s lustre for a bunch of baseball loving dealer/collectors.
While I understand the world has changed and these events are no longer part of the National (as well as the demise of seminars before the show) these were still events which helped the National to be more than a money making event but one in which you could make friends. During the 1980’s I would usually come home with one or two trophies depending on how well we did at softball or how well I did at trivia. Now, it’s easy when the National was at Atlantic City to drive home but taking these trophies on flights always made for interesting packing experiences! Of course in today’s flying world that would probably just add another $25 to my trip (Thanks, American Airlines).
These events were run by my good friend and long-time trading partner Tim Turner and his running mate Jack Petruzzelli. Sadly, both of these fine gentlemen are no longer with us and I miss them both. In the trivia contests, my main competition was always Eddie Gold and Mike Lawrence. Mike would actually have a book of his own trivia questions and if you answered them you could get a discount of what you purchased at his table. I don’t remember ever getting any of his answers correct. One year, I think it was in Atlantic City in 1988 we all tied and had to go through a round-robin, which we all tied again. At some point I think we all agreed to just agree to share the title and try to settle this in 1989.
A few years earlier in 1985, I was getting my sea legs wet as a National dealer as this was the first National I set up in my own name and had to fly to. At the time I was working for a start-up company called Sports Information Data Base. SIDB was owned by W.Michael Gillepsie and the Executive Editor was Bill Shannon. Both these men are also no longer with us. Bill perished tragically in a house fire a few years ago. He was so beloved that when a tribute was done for him at the BBWAA dinner I was told many of the writers showed incredible emotion as they realized how much he would be missed.
Bill, among all his skills, put together a great young staff at SIDB, which got $5 million as start-up capital. Among the employees at my title level at SIDB were (in no particular order) Jordan Sprechman who is now one of the official scorers for both New York baseball teams,. Ron Blum who writes about Baseball and Soccer for the AP, Tom Cosentino who has been a successful PR maven for many years and was even the PR guru for the Ted Williams Company, Bob “Rocky” Reisert who did agate for the AP for many years, David Fischer who has written and edited many sports books and tons others who I missed. We even had an “intern” named Rob Skead who has made quite a name for himself in the children’s book world featuring historically accurate stories. If I missed someone, please forgive me after all these years. It was among the best working experiences of my life. A high ranking consultant was Dick Lally who later wrote several books with Spaceman Bill Lee among his other ventures.
Higher ranked editors included Larry Schwartz who later worked at ESPN and Kevin G. DeMarris who spent many years afterwards with the Bergen Record. Again for anyone I missed, please let me know and we’ll add your name(s) to these lists. We had other people with tons of experience and there was rarely a night that went on that we did not have fun in one way or another. We even had someone occasionally recreate horse racing calls. You name it, we had fun.
However, the party came to an end just about nine months after we began as the money ran out. Those last couple of weeks before the money we ran out we had someone secured a contract with Merit Industries to write questions for a barroom trivia game they were rolling out. (Here is a similar machine to the one referenced).
Somehow, I became the primary trivia writer for these games and the challenge was to write questions with five answers. Eventually if I could not think of five answers, I would ask the question out loud and whatever responses I got became the other answers. I loved doing this so much that I literally worked from 10 AM to 2 AM most days. In fact, one of my co-workers Gerald Gorman (who claimed to be a relative of the 1950’s pitcher named Tom Gorman and did share his eyebrow look) once said something to the effect of “Rich, keep writing those questions to keep the company alive”. That whole experience was incredible and I have never had so much fun while working so many hours.
After a hiatus, the owners of SIDB started working out a deal with Mead (yes, the paper people) and we were all called back to work. It took a couple of days to get our sea legs back under us, but within a week we running on all cylinders and gathering all our data. Please note that our companies idea were so far ahead of their time that in many we presaged the baseball references of the world. Needless to say, that idea was so far ahead of its time that when Mead pulled out we did not survive. The official fax that Mead sent was sent over literally while I was in the air for the 1985 National. The only way I found out was that our former PR guy Burt Schultz (who had sold me his original 1933 Goudey collection for $300 including a Lou Gehrig which could only charitably be called poor) left me a message which I received only because I forgot something in the hotel room and went back to retrieve the item. Remember– 30 years ago that was the best way of communication as cell phones were a dream for most of us.
As you can imagine, I spent the rest of the show in a haze because all my great plans went out the window and I was not a happy camper for the rest of the show. Nothing like having no job when you get back home to make for a bad road trip.
One of the few fun times at the show I had was at some bar/restaurant near the show had the trivia machine for which I wrote the questions. I went over to the machine to have some fun to make sure I could still set the record for the game (we had one of those machines in our offices) While I went over to the game, some obnoxious teenager from Long Island started saying how good he was and he had never lost and would bet anything on his winning. Well, with no job money coming in after the last paycheck I decided to let him play me in trivia on the machine. After destroying him, collecting his money and asking him if he wanted to try again I advised him to be more careful in making wagers in the future. You see, I also knew how to show who wrote the games and when the SIDB mention came up I handed him a business card and said “By the way, I wrote 90 percent of those questions”. And why did I have so many SIDB Cards on me? You see the company was going to pay for my trip to the National as I was going to do PR and talk to people to get the word out. Of course, talking about a company that would not exist in three months is usually not going to be a formula for success.
Anyway, that finishes the National Convention trivia machine tour and we’ll return to our normal nostalgia in the near future.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]