The following story appeared in the May 1979 issue of The Trader Speaks. It was written by Bill Heitman, who penned a column called ‘So This is Real Collecting’.
My preference in baseball cards has always been pre-World War II cards. Funny, because I was born well after the War, and, by all rights, I should love Topps and Bowman and not care too much about the others.
I never saw Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Grover Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Lou Gehrig, nor Irving Lewis play. But it’s those players’ cards that I pursue. I wish I had seen them.
Last summer at Anaheim I ran into Joe Sencay. Joe was just a young boy in the ’30’s—he had collected baseball cards—Play Balls, Goudeys, Batter Ups, DeLongs—even, Rittenhouse Candy. When World War II came,
Joe went into the service and packed his cards and photos in an old suitcase.
In the summer of 1978, 35 years or so later, Joe opened that suitcase. He had read of a baseball card convention in Anaheim, and decided to go. As I, Lew Lipset and Pat Quinn sat in the coffee shop with Joe, it seemed as if Joe was magically transported from 1941 to 1978, and was suffering the shock of coming back to earth after 35 years or more in outer space. He’s learned fast.
“First was my amazement at prices of old cards. What I had paid a penny for years ago was $50 or more today”, Joe says in astonishment. He raises the number one issue in the hobby—rising prices. I couldn’t help but think back at the 10-cent price I paid for a 1952 Topps Mantle. More than it was worth. “Today, old cards are like antiques where value is based on scarcity and desire of ownership.”
I agree, Joe.
Over the months, I’ve watched Joe slip back into the ’30’s. Put baseball cards in his hands and he’s a kid. He’s driven the two hours during Friday rush-hour to my office just to look at cards. It’s always fun to have him. “I’ve noticed some collectors becoming obsessed, emotional, and literally ‘hooked’ into collector fever.” How about “mania”? And he’s seen the “good” guys and the “bad” guys. One of the “bad”, as he says, got a lot of stuff from him in Anaheim. $5 for a $75 card. Joe learned quick.
Joe was shocked over the prices of Hall of Famers compared to others. “To me, each card originally sold for a penny and was an equally important number in completing a set.” Again, I agree, Joe. But—things have changed. Chick Hafey worth more than Riggs Stephenson? Ridiculous. Riggs was even a better hitter.
Joe’s favorite thing about collecting, like mine, is the collectors themselves. Through the mail and on the phone, he’s met some good people. Next on his list he likes “getting that last card checked off in a set.” The ’50’s and the ’30’s weren’t so different!
After five months of collecting, Joe Sencay is back. He’s reliving those 35 years. Joe is always welcome. Welcome back, Joe.