By DAVE STREGE
A blurb in a newspaper article stating that Nolan Ryan’s rookie card was worth $1,200 sent me quickly to my cigar box full of old baseball cards. I just knew I owned that card.
After shuffling through a couple of stacks of cards, I discovered Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan staring up at me from a card with sharp corners and edges (though admittedly far from perfect). Somehow it had avoided the fate of a clothespin and bike spokes, unlike some of my other cards. Instead, this card sat in the darkness of my cigar box for years as it gained value. I had struck gold, or at least I thought I did.
I held it in my hands as if it were crystal, and then it bit me. The collecting bug. You know the story. I was hooked and reeled in by a desire to own every Nolan Ryan baseball card from rookie to retirement.
My mission took me to local card shows and introduced me to the National and the world of sports memorabilia and collecting. Seeing the vast amount of sports collectibles suddenly made me realize I had been a sports collector all along.
My first collectible was a business card from my father when he was a cigar salesman. On the back, Casey Stengel’s autograph. My dad ran into him somewhere on the road and obtained his John Hancock.
It survived my youth, as did the 20 black-and-white drawings by Robert Riger that were packaged in an envelope titled Equitable Sports Hall of Fame. They were from 1961 and handed down to me at an early age from … somewhere.
For The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, Riger sketched Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe, Carl Hubbell, Bob Cousy, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Red Grange, Don Carter, Johnny Weissmuller, Althea Gibson, Elroy Hirsch and Lefty Grove, to name a few.
As a sportswriter in Southern California, I collected press pins from seven NCAA Basketball Final Fours. Someone at one Final Four asked to buy my press pin at the end of the event, so I figured it could be worth more someday. Hmm. Perhaps I should have taken the $100 offer back then.
While at the Orange County Register, I had the privilege of spending several days with legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden for a story on his fantasy basketball camp. One interview took me to his modest condominium in Encino, Calif., and his den. Talk about memorabilia. That den was a treasure trove. As I was preparing to leave, Wooden opened a filing cabinet drawer and pulled out a folder filled with copies of his famous Pyramid of Success. He then signed it. I didn’t ask for it, but I graciously accepted it.
More recently, a friend had given me a large photo of Arnold Palmer walking off No. 18 at a PGA Championship and I had the photo for years. Always thought it would be cool to have him sign it. Then my brother, a writer for Golf Digest, informed me that Palmer regularly answers his mail and signs autographs, and he gave me the address. So I packaged it up and sent it off. Sure enough, it came back signed, “To Dave Strege, Best Wishes, Arnold Palmer.”
I’ve also got an old “Join Arnie’s Army” pin, a media gold medal from an Olympics, a Reggie Jackson Topps rookie card, an unopened box of 792 “picture cards” in the Topps 40 Years of Baseball set of 1991, and a plethora of other baseball cards and pins.
So I suppose it’s fitting to call me a sports collector, and it is upon this backdrop that I introduce myself as the new editor of Sports Collectors Digest. I realize Bert Lehman left big shoes behind and I’ll do my best to fill them.
Finally, yes, I did eventually collect all of Nolan Ryan’s Topps baseball cards, along with specialty cards and a very cool Topps Stadium Club commemorative Nolan Ryan medallion.
How about you? Might you have a cool story about how you got started collecting? I’d love to hear it.
Dave Strege is the Editor of Sports Collectors Digest. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org