(EDITOR’S NOTE: John Newman, the host of the popular podcast, Sports Card Nation, joins SCD as a guest contributor. Look for his “The Hobby is The People” column in each issue of SCD.)
We all have someone to thank who is responsible for getting the ball rolling on our hobby journey. For me that person is my grandfather Pasquale.
Flashback to Brooklyn, N.Y., 1979. We went to the corner store and I spotted a box of 1979 Topps Baseball on the front counter. My sharp eye resulted in my grandfather buying me two packs. Those were the good old days of 25-cent packs.
I opened the first pack in the store and the fourth card was “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson, the toast of New York City. As a 7-year-old, I was hooked.
I spent all my money each week on cards, and then asked for more money. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. My buddies bought packs, too, but they were more enamored with the gum than the cards. Their sweet tooth resulted in lopsided trades where I acquired more cards and they got cavities. I got cavities, too, but soda was my weapon of choice.
When I was 13, I was almost a daily visitor to a card store called "7th Inning Stretch" owned by Rudy Bachstein. One day Rudy pulled me aside and said, “Johnny, you are here so much you might as well just work here.” We agreed on a half-cash, half-credit deal, which frankly was full credit as the majority of my money went back into the hobby.
I was a shy kid but I could make monster boxes in record time. Rudy hated making storage boxes and soon I was his right-hand young man on the card show circuit. I learned the ropes quickly and soon had a collection my buddies were envious of.
My friends tried to convince me that I should do shows on my own. At first I resisted, remembering how I was important to Rudy, the shop and the shows. Eventually I succumbed and my dad helped me get my New York State Tax number.
I dreaded telling Rudy I was going to try my own thing. I went to the store and nervously told him of my decision. Needless to say, he wasn't excited. I think he was thinking about all the corrugated storage boxes he would have to make himself.
I contacted the show promoter and reserved a table. At first he thought I was calling for Rudy but I had to explain that this table would be for me.
In 1987, I was 15 and when show day came, I had decent inventory but my social game lacked. I couldn't drive so my dad helped me load the car, drove me to the show and helped me set up. He walked around a little bit, bought a Brooklyn Dodgers card or two and said I'll be back to pick you up after the show.
It was funny how many collectors thought I was “watching my dad's table.” Others asked, ”Where's Rudy?” They had weird looks on their faces when I pointed to the corner of the show where he was setup. Somehow, even with my social skills lacking, I made $1,500 that day.
I was living with my Grandma at the time (my grandfather had passed when I was 12), but I saw my dad almost every day. When he picked me up, he waited until we were in the car to ask how I did. I grabbed the bulge in my pants pocket and said, “I think I made one thousand, five hundred.” At my young age I didn't know the "fifteen hundred" lingo yet.
When I told my grandma, her response was “you can't walk around New York or school with that kind of money,“ and my first bank account was born. I still have that separate account but at a different bank. After about a year of dirty looks and glances, Rudy apologized and we actually started setting up at shows together.
In 1992, another dealer I got to know real well on the show circuit, Angelo Barnello, discussed being partners in a card store. By chance, a location we liked opened up and after a dinner meeting we shook hands and signed a lease. I was a store owner at 20 years old. We had to scramble for showcases but I already had direct accounts with Fleer, Score and Donruss. Once we got the store up and running we locked in with Topps and Upper Deck.
After a rough first year, we decided to stick it out. Thankfully we did as the next five years we did really well. In 1997, with the rise of eBay, I decided to sell my half to my partner and just do shows and transition to online sales.
In the years that followed I continued on the same path. I wrote some pieces for Tuff Stuff magazine and a few other hobby publications that don't exist anymore.
In 2017, I was working four days a week with Fridays off. My friend Dan Tortora, who worked for ESPN in Orlando, started his own sports broadcasting company in Syracuse. He asked me to come to the studio on Friday and bring some sports cards to discuss the parallel between sports cards and the hobby. It was called “Collector's Corner.” It was supposed to be a one-time show but listeners and viewers loved it and Dan asked me to do it permanently. But after a 15-week run, my work schedule changed and my short radio career was over.
On trips to NYC, my then 16-year-old son Jordan and I would binge on episodes of “Fat Packs” with Eric Norton. Jordan asked me, “With all your experiences in the hobby, did you ever think about doing a podcast yourself?”
After a few months hemming and hawing, I launched the “Sports Card Nation” podcast in November of 2018.
It's been an incredible hobby journey and I've met some great people along the way. When I decided the show needed a tagline, it came to me instantly: “The Hobby is the People.” Without everyone in my hobby life, I wouldn't have made it here, and I'm sure the people in your hobby stories are important to you.
The hobby and our stories continue. I'm blessed to add to them each week by meeting and speaking with new collectors and hobbyists.
I remember reading Sports Collectors Digest in the 1990s. I'm honored to be a small part of this long-standing publication
A lot has changed in the hobby since I started in 1979, but Sports Collectors Digest remains a viable stalwart of the hobby, as it has since 1973. And somehow, I'm still kicking around the hobby as well.
— John Newman is a collector, dealer and the host of the Sports Card Nation Podcast. Catch his Hobby Quick Hits on Monday and his guest interviews on Friday on your favorite podcast platform. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ sportscardnati1