By Mark Del Franco
Avid card collector Chris Morris recently paid a visit to Brookfield, Connecticut-based Remember When Sports Cards and purchased two vintage baseball cards. A frequent customer to the store, Morris had his eye on Stan Musial and Whitey Ford, both from the 1953 Bowman color set.
After a few return visits, Morris and shop owner Tom Balash finally agreed upon a price and the deal was complete. To celebrate the transaction Balash threw in something extra: a 1990 Collect-A-Books featuring Roberto Clemente.
According to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, the Collect-A-Books were issued by Collectors Marketing Corp., a division within the Impel Corporation. The 1990 Collect-A-Books set consists of 36 cards that measure 2-1/2-by-3-1/2 inches. They were in the style of the 1970 Topps Comic Book inserts. Each book is made up of eight pages containing pictures, stats, biographical, and personal information of the ballplayer. The cards also typically contain a photo of the ballplayer interacting with fans.
Morris then left the store and didn’t immediately revisit the cards. When he recalled the Collect-A-Books Clemente, Morris took the card out of its protective sleeve, studied its contents and got the surprise of his life.
Incredibly, pictured on the last page, was a May 1965 photo taken at New York’s Shea Stadium featuring Clemente flanked by an 11-year-old Morris, his identical twin brother Tim, his father and a childhood friend, in front of a banner declaring, “We Love Clemente.”
“It was late at night,” Morris recalled in astonishment. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I wept with happiness.”
The story of the 51-year-old photo is legendary within the Morris family. A lifelong Pirates fan, Morris remembers that the homemade sign they brought to Shea that night wasn’t exactly embraced by his old-school father, who was mortified at the use of the word “love.” Witnessing the sign’s effectiveness, however, the father quickly changed his tune as their group was led on the field and a photographer snapped their picture.
“The sign worked big time as we got right down on the field,” Morris said.
And as the game ended, a young Morris resigned himself to the fact that all he would have of the encounter were his memories.
“On the way home, dad had asked if it’d be okay if we never saw the picture,” he recalled. “The photographer was asking a lot for the picture – $50 – which, if you knew dad, was a hell of a lot of money.”
A few days later, Morris’ dad came home with two copies. In fact, one of the two copies still hangs in his office. But never in his wildest dreams did Morris expect to see his family – along with his idol – on a baseball card of all things.
“I had no idea that ‘Collect-A-Books’ cards even existed, nor had I any idea whatsoever of its fan page,” he said. “Even when (shop owner) Thomas had given it to me, I was out the door and didn’t even bother peering inside for weeks.”
The story takes on added significance when you factor that the card was given to Morris near the anniversary of both his brother’s and father’s passing. One can’t help but wonder if the timing was more than coincidental.
“The card came into my possession one day before the 16th anniversary of my sobriety,” Morris added. “That’s an easy date to remember because that was about the date when I took (identical brother) Tim to the hospital for liver failure. He died two months later.”
For his part, shop owner Balash suggests the timing was more than coincidental.
“It was like his relatives reached out and touched him all of these years later,” Balash said. “It’s one of the most unique things I’ve witnessed in my 35-plus years of selling sports card memorabilia.”
Mark Del Franco is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.