Monday, July 25, 2011

The National...Thoughts, Part 2

(With the National Sportscards Collectors' Convention coming up, I'm sharing some of my past memories here. This was published in a newsletter I used to write back in 2005.)

(Last year, I showed some of the content of this program. I bought this at the 2005 National.)

The 2005 National Sports Cards & Collectibles Convention was held from July 25 through July 31 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois (near Chicago's O'Hare airport).  Over 700 dealers and vendors set up tables for an estimated 35,000 collectors.  Among the exhibitors were card manufacturers (Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck) and many long-time hobby names – Kit Young, Mastro, Mr. Mint, etc.

I was in Chicago for the events, and brought my wife and daughter along.  We flew up a couple of days early to take in the Chicago experience.  I had booked the Chicago-O’Hare hotel in Des Plaines through Priceline well in advance, and was pleased to discover the hotel offered a free shuttle to the airport and the convention center.  From the airport I was able to take the Blue Line train into downtown Chicago and ride the free trolleys to many of the attractions. 

Before the show, I was able to take in some of Chicago’s sights.  The Lincoln Park Zoo was a great place to spend a few hours with my daughter.  My wife took in the Navy Pier and Magnificent Mile.  I became very familiar with the Blue Line from O’Hare to The Loop.  We quickly discovered that all trolleys running through the downtown area were free and rode them from the Zoo to the Shedd Aquarium, around Soldier Field and back up to the Sears Tower.                                                               

(Yep, I even kept the ticket I used to get around on the train. That was worth its weight in gold. Though more now, it cost $1.75 for one way...which was great since I didn't need to rent a car for the week.)

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Chicago's a great town to visit, but it’s also a great baseball town.  Two big league clubs play in the city, and both have been playing for as long as their leagues have been around.  In addition, fans of both the Cubs and White Sox are among the most loyal and rabid anywhere.  They are also long-suffering.  For all the talk of the Red Sox’ championship drought that ended last season, both Chicago teams have gone longer since their last World Series win.

Chicago is important to baseball fans as the home of two major league clubs, but many fans don’t realize that one of the first big league dynasties was in Chicago.  The first Chicago White Stockings joined the National Association in 1871 but suspended play after the Great Chicago Fire destroyed their ballpark.  Chicago would not field another team in the NA until 1874.  The ace of those early White Stockings was George Zettlein, a Civil War veteran and perhaps the greatest pitcher of the NA's short existence.

When the National Association fell apart after 1875, a new group of owners hoped to avoid the pitfalls that snared the earlier league.  The National League was founded in 1876 by Chicagoan William Hulbert and one of the clubs to play the initial season was a new group of Chicago White Stockings.  The new Chicago Nine were led by Albert Spalding and Adrian “Cap” Anson.  Mike “King” Kelley, Ned Williamson, John Clarkson and future evangelist Billy Sunday helped to bring five NL pennants to the Windy City between 1880 and 1886.  They tied the informal World Series against the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 1885.  The White Stockings became the Colts in 1890 and officially called themselves the Cubs in 1903. The Cubs are the only team from the first National League season still in existence. 

When the American League was established in 1901, a club was formed in Chicago.  The White Stockings name was utilized but changed to White Sox to sound more “modern.”  Both teams were dominant through the first decades of the century; the 1906 Cubs set a mark for victories that would stand for 92 years (and even then, the ’98 Yankees needed more games to break the record) but lost the series to their cross-town rivals.  Their double play combo of Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance was immortalized in song, much to the chagrin of third baseman Harry Steinfeldt.  The short-lived Federal League fielded a team in Chicago called the Whales, which won the last FL pennant.  The White Sox assembled the finest squad in the game during the World War One years.  The Chisox won the 1917 World Series easily but after the 1919 team was discovered to have thrown the series, a long period of mediocrity began.  That 1917 title was the last one won by any Chicago team.  The Cubs’ last trip to the Series was in 1945 and the Sox haven’t been there since 1959.

The 2005 Chicago White Sox have the best record in the league as of this writing, but in today’s game that doesn’t assure them of success in the postseason.  Just ask the players from the 2003 Cubs.

(Note from Chris: the White Sox did win the World Series later that year)                                                                                         
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For the past few years, National promoters have tried to find new ways to attract visitors from outside the core hobby collectors who always make the effort to attend.  In an interview with SCD's Ross Forman recently, show manager Mike Berkus explained that the National committee was looking for ways to make the show more “regional” in order to attract people in the area.  This year, they brought in several members of the 1985 Bears for autograph sessions including William “the Refrigerator” Perry, Otis Wilson and Mike Ditka.  Another tactic used this year was to bring in autograph guests from outside the sports world.  This year’s “celebrities” included Larry Thomas (Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi”), "Laugh-In" star Ruth Buzzi and Penny Marshall (better known as Laverne and the director of “A League of Their Own”).  Also on hand was legendary jockey Laffitt Pincay, Jr.

Berkus explained that they were beginning to notice that the “traditional” hobby signers like Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford weren’t generating a lot of interest.  In fact, Joe Namath’s session in Cleveland last year only attracted 63 ticket sales (though the $250 price attached to the ticket may have contributed).   Because of the lower turnout, it has been getting harder to make any profit after paying the signers’ appearance fees.  He also explained that the "old days" of getting free autographs with admission are gone for good.
                                                                                                                                                
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Friday was Kids’ Day and all collectors under 14 were admitted free.  The show hosted several kid-friendly activities including a Pokemon tournament and a Pack War contest.  The neatest thing I saw, however, was called Flipzz.  It was a game where kids flipped specially-designed cards at a cardboard target.  There were three holes they could toss their cards through.  I considered busting a wax box of 1988 Topps and showing the kids how we used to flip cards back in the 1970s, but I went on to other tables and let the kids have fun without an adult trying to show them how to do it.

During my four days on the show floor, I noticed that some sellers were griping about the “low turnout” or the small amount of money they were getting.  At the same time, other sellers told me they were moving a lot of stuff and having a great time.  As a person who enjoys talking with dealers (and also tends to buy more from the sellers who take the time to talk), I observed that the sellers who weren’t as personable tended to be the ones who were doing most of the complaining.  It’s just something I noticed.  In any case, the attendance picked up nicely when the weekend rolled around: most hobby sources have reported the show was successful.

At the same time, I was amused to hear some sellers bellyache about how loud the kids were at the Pokemon contests held on Friday.  I disagree with the assertion that kids shouldn’t be allowed to act like kids at hobby functions.  In fact, I was glad to see the show’s organizers trying to get more young fans drawn to the hobby.  If they feel they need to use Pokemon and goofy games to draw in more collectors, then I’m all for it.  Our hobby is big enough for everybody but it won’t last if new collectors aren’t welcomed.

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On Saturday, I was checking out dealer tables when I heard some commotion from other attendees.  “Look…it’s the murderer!” from my left caught my attention, so I looked over to the side of the hall to see O.J. Simpson.  Another collector hollered out “Guilty!” loud enough to be heard, but it seems Simpson has gotten used to ignoring those types of outbursts.  A few minutes later, two of the show’s security police came to escort Simpson away.  There was no trouble; O.J. walked with the men to an exit.  I heard somebody mention that perhaps Nicole’s killer might be in the convention center and the guy with him replied, “He certainly is...they just walked him out.”

The next day’s Sun-Times had a story on A-3 saying that he had been there to sign some items for Justin Communications at $100 an autograph.  Since Simpson was not cleared to make an appearance (and the show’s promoters insisted he wouldn’t have been welcome even if he had gone through the proper channels), he was asked to leave.  This is a big violation of the show’s rules, so the seller who invited him was also told to vacate his table.  The story didn’t say whether he bothered to get back any of his table fees.

While I realize that Simpson was acquitted of the charges of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman a decade ago and is free to go on with his life, he has been convicted in the court of public opinion with a lot of fans.  (The seller who tried to sneak him in) was na├»ve to think that such a controversial figure in the hobby could be able to make an appearance without attracting attention. 

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I was able to hook up with long-time buddies who are in various hobby groups.  I am a member of three such groups and one of them (OBC) makes its presence known around the floor because all members wear a baseball cap with the OBC logo.  I spent a lot of time looking at the tables of long-time dealers like Kevin Savage, Bill Henderson, William Chappelle, Wayne Jonson and Kurt Tourdot.  Dick Zimmerman of Atlanta got me down to two stickers to complete my 1972 Sunoco Steelers set, and then sent the last two to my house for free after the show.  I made a special visit to the table set up by Sports Memories of Oklahoma City (the owner, Roger Neufeldt, is a reader of this newsletter and I had to meet with him in person).

On the day the show opened, I was met by Brett Hardeman of Old Cardboard magazine.  Brett presented me with an "Old Cardboard" baseball cap, which I wore the rest of the day.  My daughter took it from me when we left the show and wore it around Chicago that evening.  I managed to meet with Brett later in the week with his father, Old Cardboard editor Lyman Hardeman and we spoke for a few minutes about future collaboration.

Speaking of magazine articles, I saw another one in print for the first time at the show.  SGC (the grading company) debuted its inaugural issue of SGC Collector Magazine with an article about the Federal League.  I wrote the words, but the four cards of Federal League players from the 1915 Cracker Jack set included (from the collection of Anthony Nex) really made the piece stand out.  The magazine is intended to focus on collector interests rather than investment hype and card value, which I find refreshing.  Hopefully they can keep that focus.

I bought a lot of cards at the show.  I was able to complete my 1973, ’74, ’75 and ’76 Topps sets during my stay in Chicago.  I also added nearly 40 cards to my 1952 Topps collection and got to within 13 cards of finishing up the 1955 Topps set.  It took me several hours to put away all the cards I brought home.

Among the items I bought at the show were historical hobby items.  Longtime hobby dealer Mike Gordon was selling some items I’d treasure.  One of the books on his shelf was Lew Lipset’s Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards, Volume 2 (and I’m still looking for volumes 1 and 3 if anybody has any leads).  Along with that informative book, I also picked up the programs for the National conventions of 1983 and ’84.  The programs were worth their weight in gold because they offer an insight into the hobby I remember as a kid, before the big boom of the 1980s.  Each feature informative articles about the history of the hobby by writers like Bob Lemke, Frank Barning and Chris Benjamin.  Pictures of Dr. Jim Beckett, Mike Berkus and a very young Keith Olbermann show them as they were all those years ago.



(This picture from 1984 -- taken by Frank Barning of Baseball Hobby News -- shows Mike Gordon in the top right. Lew Lipset is in the lower right, with TCMA founder Mike Aronstein sitting beside him).


I took those old National programs to Bill Henderson’s table and he was quickly lost in nostalgia.  He even located the tables he set up for both of those shows and talked about Dr. Beckett, Lew Lipset, Bruce Paynter and some of the hobby icons he’s dealt with since setting up for his first show in 1976.  They will likely provide some inspiration for future newsletter articles and web site content.

2 comments:

  1. Nice photo which I took. Photo credit: Frank Barning, Baseball Hobby News.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for stopping by, Frank. I was a reader of your paper back in the 1980s and still have some issues sitting around. Feel free to stop by and comment again if you like.

    And I've updated the entry to reflect the photographer.

    ReplyDelete