Hobby Musings: An Ode to the Oddball

Hobby Musings: An ode to the oddball – Right before 2020 started, I had decided this was the year I would finally see about trimming down my sports memorabilia. Having been collecting for over 20 years, I found I had accumulated quite a large number of items. So many in fact that I found myself forgetting about things I had. As such, I was determined to get my collection more in check.

What I didn’t realize is that 2020 would bring the coronavirus pandemic and a lot of additional time at home. Throughout this year, I’ve found myself spending more time with my collection than I had in years. While this has led to a rediscovery of the treasures of my collection, it’s also resurfaced the more non-traditional pieces I have.

Oddball sports memorabilia items have been around since the beginning of hobby time. Everybody has something, or many somethings, in their own collection that would be considered quirky by others. Whether it’s something that was bought on a lark or acquired by pure chance, these items can hold as much favor and “value” for a collector as a prized autograph or high-end rookie card.

Going through everything, I found that that a number of the odder items in my collection came courtesy of through-the-mail opportunities. When I was younger and didn’t have as much income to use on my hobby pursuits, I tended to send autograph requests via snail mail quite often. While I had my fair share of great successes, I also came away with quite a few rejections. From time to time though, the rejections for the items I had requested to be signed would yield a success of a different type.

One such example came when I wrote to former Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly. I had hoped he would sign a card for a smaller set I was trying to do. While the card came back unsigned, I did get something even cooler. In addition to an advertisement with prices for Mr. Mattingly’s autograph, a bar coaster from his restaurant had been enclosed. I was pretty excited to see that it had his signature on it.

I also came across handwritten letters and responses from players I had mailed, including Hall of Famer George Kell. While most people had included shorter responses in their letters back, Mr. Kell took the time to write a long note back that included his signature and HOF inscription. The Hall of Famer was consistently noted as one of the best baseball TTM signers before his passing in 2009. Some of my other HOF responses included former Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell and Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr. I also found a card I had received from Enos Slaughter. While the Hall of Famer noted that he was charging for autographs, he took the time to add his signature to it.

While these items are cool and brought back a number of fond memories, they may not hold a candle to my interesting John Candelaria autograph. Many years ago, I randomly had a 1985 Topps card of him in my collection. One of my gym teachers knew the former Pirate and asked him to sign the trading card for me. Unfortunately, the Candy Man took that to mean signing the penny sleeve instead of the card itself. Thankfully, I was able to get the card signed years later, but I held onto the sleeve for the fun of it. While this isn’t the only time this has happened to me in collecting, I still remember how confused I was at the time that a player would sign a penny sleeve instead of the card.

Beyond autographed items, I also found a “treasure trove” of magazines and programs I kept. One was an SI for Kids featuring Yao Ming on the cover. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember why I had kept it until looking inside. SI for Kids featured collectible cards inside in a connected nine-sheet that you could separate. Looking inside the magazine, I found that this particular issue included a card of a high school basketball player by the name of LeBron James. Mystery solved.

I also found that I had magazines from the inaugural games for the Pirates and Steelers at PNC Park and Heinz Field respectively. More interestingly, I discovered a New York Mets yearbook from 1967 that I had completely forgotten I had. While it’s not from their miracle 1969 World Series season, it does include a rookie pitcher by the name of Tom Seaver.

These were just some of the many oddball items I rediscovered in my collection. Whether it was the album full of minor league cards from my brief time collecting them or the custom trading cards I’ve had made over the years, I’ve found that it’s been a lot of fun looking over all these things. While it’s been years since I’ve acquired many of them, the fact that I could recollect exactly how I got them is a testament to how much fun it was getting and still having them.

Whether you’re someone who’s been collecting for years or even only a short time, I highly recommend taking the time to really go through your collection every couple of years. For one thing, it’s a good way to keep track of what you have and re-evaluate things as need be. Most importantly though, it provides a chance for reflection and can remind one about the enjoyments about this hobby. At a time when the issue of money and rising costs in the sports memorabilia world is on virtually everybody’s mind, remembering the fun aspect of it is just as important as ever.

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Hobby Musings: An ode to the oddball
Kelsey Schroyer