When I was growing up, football rosters had only 40 players and thus the specialization term was not as prevalent as it is today. Many football players were termed “triple-threat” players meaning they could run, throw and kick. There was nothing unusual about a position player staying on the field to kick the ball on fourth down. Donny Anderson of the Green Bay Packers and later the St. Louis Cardinals was always his team’s punter and even into the 1970’s that continued with Danny White, the Cowboys quarterback and punter. In terms, of the trading card hobby, one could say Mike Cramer as a triple threat.
Cramer, who launched Pacific Trading Cards, a company which produced both NFL and MLB licensed cards among other properties, was an avid card collector in what passed for the organized hobby in the early 1970’s. He was very active in the days when cards were more inexpensive and he built up a prodigious collection.
One of his particular passions was Zee Nuts (A West Coast Regional issue which had more than a quarter century of history) and his collection was at one time considered among the top 10 in the country. During the time he ran Pacific, he even splurged and purchased a T206 Honus Wagner card so he could complete his set. Mike was truly the only long-term card collector who ended up owning his own card company.
But there was even more to Mike Cramer than his card company. To ensure that he always had a way of understanding what collectors wanted, his company ran a small store front by their offices. In their opinion, the best way to hear about collector interests was to actually sell cards and hear reactions from their customers. This may sound strange but if one thinks about this, it does make sense as the store was a retail store with retail prices. The store was the ultimate test group and in some ways mirrors what Topps used to call their test stores when they wanted to introduce new products in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There is a reason some issues are called “Topps Test Issues”.
In addition to that, Mike Cramer was also an accredited NFL photographer. That’s right, almost every Sunday during the NFL season he would travel up and down the West Coast to go and shoot photographs for usage in his football sets. He used his own photographs as well as photos taken by other long-term hobbyists who were also photographers (if I recall correctly Jack Wallin was one of them). That not only reduced the out of pocket outlay for Pacific but since Cramer was also familiar with the art process, Pacific was able to save money on this very expensive procedure.
I walked into their store on my show and store trips to the Seattle area and I always made sure to walk around the Pacific offices which always reminded me of the Beckett offices. Tons of interesting sports collectibles were displayed and workers could put up their own items where they worked. Mike, and his company, did many interesting things, including a security guard for their booth at the 1996 National to “protect” their newest idea. Many of their ideas later became more standard including the usage of die-cut cards such as the very popular Christmas Ornament insert set. The hobby does owe Mike Cramer and his company a lot of thanks for some of the innovations and ideas they pioneered.
And as anyone knows me, I need to tell at least one funny story about Mr. Cramer. On one of my trips to Seattle I went out to lunch with Mike and his brother Marty. We went to a local Applebee’s which at the time had a 15 minutes (or less) guarantee for your lunch. When we go there, I made a double or nothing wager with them about whether or not the meal would take longer than 15 minutes. I will say any Applebee’s I ever went to in Dallas at that time we always had slow service and sure enough the Seattle area one was just as bad. Thus our meal was free for all concerned. Also on that trip on the way back, I had screwed up the checking in process for the flight and somehow by doing that ended up in first class (for the first time ever) on the long four plus hour flight back to Dallas. Now that was an truly enjoyable experience especially compared to today’s cattle flights.
I hope Mike and his family are still doing well in retirement and that he still has the collecting bug.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]