For any sports fan, John Mangini’s room – his “man cave” – is a dream hotspot. It’s a mini history museum.
It features nearly a dozen Honus Wagner cards, 20 Babe Ruth cards along with Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams cards and memorabilia. There is also a fabulous original photo of Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente posing at Three Rivers Stadium not long before he died in a plane crash.
The room is a sight to see for all card and memorabilia enthusiasts.
“Mangini’s Collection” – as he refers to it – mostly highlights baseball’s greatest players. But it also mixes in football, basketball and hockey cards along with signed bats, signed helmets, miniature bats, the first baseball card price guide framed, 7-Eleven cups and Wheaties boxes.
“I just come out here and hang out,” Mangini said. “I had a bean bag in here at one time and I would sit and read Sports Collectors Digest and look at my cards, just relax. But I just kept adding more and more things, now there’s not too much room to sit. I have two desks in here. I just have piles and piles of stuff.”
The climate-controlled room in Mangini’s North Charlestown, S.C., home has screening on the windows and thick black curtains on top of that. No light, even how hard it tries, is penetrating into the dark dungeon. Mangini has surveillance cameras set up in the room along with a top-notch security system installed in his house. Just for added peace of mind, there’s a lock on the door knob. Better safe than sorry.
It’s Mangini’s fortress of solitude. He makes it a point to stop in the room on a daily basis. It makes him feel good.
“I still buy a lot, so get a lot of mail. I work from home and if I’m on a call or I’ll just venture in and look around,” said Mangini, who, of course, had to have his phone interview with Sports Collectors Digest take place in his favorite room of the house.
Mangini, who is a project manager for Advantage Engineers, has never counted how many items he has on display in his room. He usually just says, “a few hundred.”
With a collection of over 100,000 cards, how has Mangini decided what to prominently feature in his room?
“I don’t know, just cards that speak to me, I guess,” Mangini said. “Some that mean something, some of the nicer ones. Some of them aren’t worth much at all, but some of the ones that I like. Also, things that display well.”
Collecting from an early age
Growing up in the Pittsburgh area, Mangini, who is now 50 years old, was a big fan of the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins. He idolized Clemente and picked up as many items as he could along with Willie Stargell. His favorite football player was Lynn Swann, and he also collects items of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert and “Mean” Joe Greene.
Of course, Wagner is a big-time name Mangini loves to collect. His cards include an ungraded 1909 Colgan’s Chips along with the original Colgan’s tin; a 1909 E101 (PSA 1.5); 1914 Polo Grounds; 1951 Connie Mack All-Stars; 1939 Centennial of Baseball Stamp; 1948 Leaf; 1910 Orange Border Pirates Championship team; 1913 T200 Fatima Pirates team; and 1948 Exhibit.
Mangini tends to collect his favorite players and teams, but he also likes variety.
“I’m really into the history of players and so forth,” Mangini said. “If they were a good player or if they had some significance in a sport then I have them.”
Mangini’s mom told her son she started buying him cards at age 2, but Mangini remembers opening packs for the first time at 5.
He spent his early years living in the country. The best way to get cards was to head to the local flea market.
“My friend and I would walk a mile through the woods every Sunday to that flea market because it was the only place you could buy the vintage baseball cards and the old players,” Mangini said. “I remember picking up a pack fresh ’67 Mantle for $15. That was the most I ever spent on a card back then. My first Koufax was $7.”
Mangini kept collecting into his 20s. When he got married and had just moved into a house, his parents were moving, too. They wanted their son to take the 100,000 cards from the basement.
“My wife came home from work and there were just boxes throughout the whole living room,” Mangini said. “The look on her face was priceless. I wish I had a picture of it. She’s like, ‘What is this?’”
Mangini had a big room in his basement to display his items. When he and his family moved to South Carolina, Mangini placed his cards in a climate-controlled storage facility for about a decade. About four years ago, he pulled out his collection. The family bought a new house and Mangini’s wife suggested using a spare room to display his cards.
What is in the room now is an impressive collection.
Some of his blue-chip cards include: 1910 Ty Cobb orange borders (SGC A); 1953 Bowman Color Mantle (PSA 3); 1953 Topps Robinson (PSA 3); 1888 Scrapps Tobacco Charles Comiskey (1.5 SGC).
Mangini has another Comiskey card: an 1888 Allen & Ginter. The front is in absolutely pristine condition, but it was glued to an album at one time and there is some adhesive on the back but no paper loss. However, because the back is a little rough it warrants getting graded a 1.
“But, man, it looks like it just came out of the tobacco pack,” Mangini said. “So, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve seen 5s that don’t look half as good.”
He also has an extensive Ruth collection: 1932 Abdulla & Co. (PSA 3.5); 1933 Eclipse Import Ruth (SGC A); 1920 W519; 1923 W572; 1924 Mrs. Sherlock’s bread pin; 1932 Sanella Margarine; 1933 Ray-O-Print (both versions); 1929 Churchman’s; 1935 Goudey 4-in-1; 1948 Exhibits; 1954 Baseball Scoops; 1952 Look n See; 1948 Sport Thrills; 1934 Goudey Premium; 1934 Quaker Oats Premium (has two with an original envelope); 1950 Menko; 1948 Topps magic photos; 1939 Centennial of Baseball stamp; and 1950 orange back.
Mangini, who also has signed baseballs of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and others, enjoys picking obscure cards. Some of his favorites are the Wagner Colgan’s Chips with tin, Ruth 1932 Abdulla & Co., and a 1936 World Wide Gum Dizzy Dean (PSA 5).
“It’s such a hard card to find,” Mangini said.
Another favorite is his 1915 M101 Buck Weaver (PSA 5) and ’34 Butterfinger premium of Dizzy Dean in perfect condition.
Mangini isn’t big into getting his cards graded. He picks up cards that have great eye appeal.
“I have some fantastic cards that are not graded 10s or 9s but they look great,” Mangini said. “Then I’ve seen cards graded 7s that I wouldn’t want. They don’t even look good. I’m more about the card than the grade. So, all my cards hand-picked.”
Mangini doesn’t collect just vintage cards. He’ll buy new products, but take a look at his collection and it is evident vintage is king.
“To me, card collecting is kind of like music,” Mangini said. “Maybe you’re into rock one month, the next month you’re into R&B and the next month you’re into something else. Mostly vintage, but I do get into new card kicks.”
Dream to open a museum
With such a magnificent collection, Mangini wants fellow sports cards and memorabilia collectors to enjoy it as well.
It’s been Mangini’s dream for a while to open a museum. However, over time, the museum idea has morphed into something more unique. The new plan is a sports cards café.
It would be a place where children could come and hang out, where it’s sports and trading card focused.
There would be a café where fathers could bring their sons and daughters that would have a stadium feel. Food options would include stadium type goodies such as nachos, hot dogs and pizza. TVs would fill the room and run old World Series and All-Star Games as well as Super Bowls. There would also be TVs for live MLB and NFL games. All the dining tables would have cards enclosed in glass on the top of the table and have sports trivia readily available.
Along with a separate room for a smaller museum, there would be a room for private parties, Cub Scout troops, school field trips, little card shows and athlete autograph signings.
“I kind of have it all in my head but what I want to do is definitely going to need some investors,” Mangini said.
Mangini would like the café to be built in north Charleston. It’s an area where Mangini said has a graduation rate of only 50 percent. Mangini wants to help give kids a place to go after school to hang out and stay out of trouble.
“It’s just about showing off these things and merging them with the history of sports,” Mangini said. “Obscure people that maybe people don’t even know hold a major record – like John Owen Wilson with 36 triples in a single season. That will probably never be broken but you never hear about it.
“It’s kind of the history of sports through cards is what I’m kind of thinking.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.