By Gary Herron
It’s not the first time you’ll read a story like this – and it surely won’t be the last: A longtime collector passes away, leaving behind a magnificent collection his widow – or children – need to find a home for.
When former Rio Rancho (N.M.) police officer Larry Tatum passed away at the age of 65 in September 2013, he left his widow, Lea Stoffer-Tatum, with a huge collection of baseball cards. Now, she has decided it’s time to say goodbye to her husband’s vast card collection, which she has somehow found time to catalog.
Many of the cards have been graded, including the oldest: a 1909 T-206 Sweet Caporal card of the legendary Frank Chance. That was given a 5.5 by the grading company; recently on eBay, a Chance card with that grade had reached $499 in the bidding.
Anyone interested in buying the collection, which she wants to sell as a package deal – she has no plans of breaking the vast collection into various “items” and going through all the time and effort on eBay – should plan on a five-figure transaction.
“It’s ridiculous – there’s so much there,” she said, and a visit to a small room in her home bears that out. “I have had people ask me about buying individual cards but I have refused.”
She does have a life of her own, you know. And Lea seems pretty sharp on what her late hubby had and what it’s worth, having purchased price guides, and knowing who the stars are.
By the numbers: She has a 137-page list of the individual cards, an eight-page list of boxed cards – totaling 644 boxes in all.
Basically, it’s like a plot in the TV show “Strange Inheritance,” in which Jamie Colby, the show’s “narrator,” visits folks who have been left with unusual items and sometimes helps them decide what to do with the stuff.
People collect the most unusual things; then they get old and, barring having family members enthralled with that collection of old thimbles or stuffed raccoons, need to dispose of what was once a prized collection.
Many times, cars and trucks, guns, coins, silver and gold are either retained by family or quickly sold. That’s not the case with something as “personal” as baseball cards.
Lea estimates the collection has at least 24,000 cards, plus autographed photos – the Al Unser Jr. piece is not for sale – bats and baseballs. And it’s not relegated to strictly baseball cards; Lea has found some nice Walter Payton and Brett Favre football cards, and a handful of basketball cards, such as former stars Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Shaquille O’Neal.
“He had very little before we got married,” Lea said of the collection, “because he had little disposable income before the two were wed.
“We started going to estate sales and he started buying baseball cards,” she said.
She chuckled as she remembered the two at a yard sale – maybe an estate sale – when Larry happened upon the April 13, 1962, issue of Life magazine he had long sought: It had a two-sided insert with Post Cereal baseball cards of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
“I found it. I found it,” she had heard him call. “What?” she had asked. “The Mantle card?”
“Shhh,” was his reply, before plunking down the money to buy the issue, which the owner hadn’t realized had that extra appeal.
Not a sports widow by any means, and a native of South Bend, Indiana, Lea became a Brooklyn Dodgers fan initially after her father, who had been a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, saw his favorite Cubs player dealt to the Dodgers. Being a Dodgers fan came in handy when she moved to Los Angeles in 1972, and her employer, the United Way — thanks to its contacts — provided her the opportunity to attend countless games, including some during the Dodgers’ run to the 1988 World Series.
After moving to New Mexico in 1989, she remembered, Larry got a baseball cap autographed by one of her father’s all-time favorites, Sandy Koufax, when he was in town helping coach the Albuquerque Dukes pitching staff.
Anyone interested in accumulating an awesome collection of baseball cards should contact Lea by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary Herron is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest.