Klein’s Korner: Celebrating Three Hobby Visionaries – We are approaching the National Sports Card Convention, which to me, along with the annual SABR convention ranks as the best week of the year. At the SABR convention it’s a solid 3-5 days of baseball talk on all levels from modern analytical discussion to talk about how great was the 19th century Boston Beaneaters infield. And yes, they were known as the Beaneaters in those days. For our hobby purposes, the simplest thing to say is, if you have never been to a National, do whatever you can need to do to attend. I’m sure quite a few of my fellow employees at COMC will be there and the fine folks at GTS will also be there to display some of their wares and meet many hobbyists.
Another great aspect of the National is one can catch up with friends who they might see on a once a year basis and hang out either during the show or for dinner afterwards. Last year one of those dinners featured three of my favorite people in the hobby. When I thought about that recently, I realized it made perfect sense for the three of them to dine together as they have more in common then they even realize. The three hardy souls at that dinner were Dr. James Beckett, Rob Veres and Tim Getsch and the question is, what do they have in common? What they have in common is all three of them were visionaries in their way and created ways which helped push the hobby along.
They are also lucky in that their roles are well known but sometimes visionaries are too far ahead of their time. Back in the 1980’s, I worked for a really fun company called Sports Information Data Base. And if you have not heard of SIDB, don’t worry because unless you were among the employees no one else remembers them either. The simplest way of explaining their purpose is to look at Baseball Reference and Retrosheet and imagine a marriage between the two. However, while the vision was good, the expense was too much and the technology would not be available for another 15-20 years to be a success. Great concept, wrong time.
Another example of great concept wrong time involves autograph authentication at shows. In the New York/New Jersey area circa 1989 there was a nice man whose idea was to hire himself out to the promoter and be the witness and authenticate any signature at a card show. Today, of course, such an occurrence is expected but in 1989 not so much. In fact, I’m sure I said, along with everyone else, we know we got those autographs at a show, why do we need someone to verify what we got with our eyes. I would guarantee all three of the major authenticators do witnessing on a regular basis.
So what did our three hearty souls do to expand the hobby? We’ll begin with Dr. Beckett whose tag line in the first monthly magazine was he was working to bring order out of chaos. What Jim did, along with some help with Dennis Eckes who would keep him from going too academic was to make the combination of a priced checklist normal. I was collecting cards in those days and working on what we would now call a 1962 Topps Master set. One of the last cards I needed for the set bedeviled me because the card was on the Topps checklist as #318 “Action Card 8”. Well, if you have that card, it’s easy but if you are looking for “Action Card 8” good luck because you assume it might be a common. Well imagine my surprise when I discovered and had to pay something like $3 to buy Mickey Mantle in action. That is why I always ID the player name and not the card title both in my Beckett days and today. The 1968 Topps #490 may say Super Stars on the front but the players are named and include Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. What’s more important, Super Stars or Mickey Mantle? Creating checklists are fun but you learn a lot with every set and the twists and turns. Where would we be today without what Dr. Beckett wrought? Today, Jim enjoys the hobby as much as ever and plays with cards both old and new. He still loves seeing cards he has never seen before and still enjoys the simplest task of opening packs.
Next up is Rob Veres. Now what Rob did is unique to him in terms of scope but not in terms of concept. Rob, with a major assist from his father Steven (who would be so proud of my desk at work) about creating a system in which you could ask for any card and have it within 2 minutes. I can go to Rob’s site today, find a listing of cards of someone like Gene Larkin and order up a couple of hundred to have them out the door as quickly as possible. Rob can do that with both sports and non-sports cards. In addition, Rob has always been very astute as to sharing what he does with the hobby and is very much still a very active buyer and seller. In fact, and this is a real joy for me because I have not seen Rob’s set-up in more than a decade, it will be fun to see Rob’s major National set-up in which cards will be available by attributes and in perfect order.
The third person is Tim Getsch who as you know owns the company I now work for. Tim was able to create a system in which cards are received from collectors like you and me. They are beautifully scanned, then organized and finally made ready to send out to customers who want those cards. Obviously the system is more detailed than that but for our purposes what Tim was able to do was create an affordable system for collectors to buy and sell cards (and other items as appropriate) without having to handle customer service issues or constant post-office trips. What Tim did was take his knowledge as a computer programmer and a hobbyist and create a system which works and ships out millions of cards annually. So what Tim did was also what EBay did on a different level which is to equalize the playing field for all collectors in terms of buying and selling cards. The amazing part was when Dr. Beckett first saw the Check Out My Cards table at the 2007 National. He immediately realized Tim had found the solution to something he himself had always wanted to do. Thus he helped arrange the contract between Beckett and COMC so COMC could license the checklist data to further help them get off the ground.
Thus all three of those people took the hobby forward and in a new direction, and as pointed out, sometimes other people in all fields know the new direction but the time may not be right for that advance. So, my question for this month is: what is the next advance in the hobby and who will be our leader to get us there? As a note, it is possible we don’t even know the next step forward or who will lead that brigade. But smart people always need to look forward, as my hobby mentor Frank Barning once pointed to me in an email. Sometime around 1996-97 he said something to the effect of Beckett will win the hobby cataloguing battle with Krause because they are well ahead in adapting new technologies and that is our future. By that time, Frank was writing his column totally from emails received from collectors and not even using letters anymore. Frank knew the next step. I hope for the next hobby step we see it coming and don’t do like we did in 1989 to that person who understood about autograph authentication long before the rest of us.
Rich’s vast experience and knowledge of the hobby has been well documented through the years. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on collecting in Klein’s Korner. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
Rich Klein is a free-lance writer living in Plano TX with his wife and two dogs. He has been involved in the hobby since the 1970’s and has written within the hobby for more than 30 years. He spent more than 15 years working in the price guide department at Beckett Publications and is currently a catalog maintenance expert at COMC. All views expressed in Klein’s Korner are solely those of Mr. Klein and are not related to GTS. He can be reached at Sabrgeek@aol.com.