“100% Cash for Vintage Baseball Cards (1900-1967) – $250,000 to Spend.” The ad ran in The Star for a week in mid-February, with pictures of Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle cards. “Call now to schedule a private appointment.”
So I did.
That Saturday morning, I pulled out my dusty old JC Penney boot box and peeked inside. I had collected cards for years as a kid. I had 2,095 cards in that box (I kept a running tally inside) and based on a quick look, at least 1,000 of those (mostly Topps, of course) were ’67 or earlier.
All were carefully organized — first by year, then alphabetically by team and then by last name. There were no doubles, as I got rid of those playing flips in the summer. I had meticulously compiled this collection over the years. Maybe today would be the big payoff. Maybe today I could get a big chunk of that $250K. Would it be $5,000? $10,000? More?
Midday Saturday I drove to the hotel and walked into a small conference room. Paul was standing behind one table fiddling with his PC, while Gary was seated at another, munching on a small bag of chips. It was just the three of us, and it was all very cordial and low-key. Both were accountants — one from Minneapolis and the other from Cleveland — and they made five or six trips like this each year.
Gary asked what I had. I popped open the box, showed him the tops of three long rows of carefully organized cards and explained how they were organized. He asked what I wanted for the entire box, but I said I had no idea — I had never shopped these before. He said he could give me a pretty good idea of value if he could flip through the stacks for just a minute or two, and I said go ahead.
And so it began. His first words after 30 seconds — “Hmm, these cards are pretty worn. Mind if I take a closer look?” He pulled out groups of 50 cards or so at a time from the first row and rifled quickly through them. “I don’t see a lot here.” I mentally reduced my payday by half. Then on to the second row, which “looked a bit better.” Maybe my reduction was premature. He finally finished and looked up.
He paused. It was the moment of truth. “Well, I’ll give you $500 for 20 cards that I pick, or I’ll give you $600 for the box.”
So, to sell or not? I had owned these cards for a lifetime, but did I really need to keep them? Would my wife and two adult daughters want this box when I was not around?
And then I recalled Liz’s advice as I pulled out of the driveway: “Do not sell those cards.” It was like that famous scene at the end of the movie “Field of Dreams:” “Do not sell this field, Ray.”
I put the top of the box back on. The Topps cards stayed put for another day. There were no hard feelings. We shook hands but before I left I asked him what grade he would give my years-in-the making collection. He paused barely a second. “C-”. Ouch.
So, the 20 minutes ended with no big payday and a grade of slightly below average.
But it was all good. The box still contained gold. Baseball cards, old 1985 Sports sections with Joe McGuff columns, and an April 14, 1986, SI, with a big picture of the ’85 World Champion Royals standing in front of a batting cage — Biancalana, Brett, Sabes, Balboni, Wilson, Sundberg, Lonnie Smith, McRae, Motley, White and, of course, Dick Howser.
No, there would be no big payday today in Kansas City, but in Surprise, Ariz., pitchers and catchers had just reported.
Play ball, baby. Play ball.
Scott McCandless lives in Fairway.