By DARRELL BERGER
The first Plymouth (Mich.) baseball card show I attended may very well have been that 1979 edition. I may in fact have entered only minutes after that photo of George Kell (see Oct. 25 story) was snapped. In the parking lot as I was entering, Kell was leaving. I stopped to get his autograph, fumbling for something he might write on. I found an envelope, which he was happy to sign, and which I still have.
“They tell me my card is worth a dollar, “ he said. It is always a bit of a shock to hear a voice coming from a human being that one has heard for decades on radio and television. He was just as cordial in the parking lot as he was in the broadcast booth.
That show was my first exposure to shows with a national focus: dealers from all over the country. I had only recently returned to collecting, and my previous experience was limited to a half-dozen local shows around Boston.
I returned every year for most of the 1980s, scheduling my annual summer visit to my parents in Toledo to coincide with the show. It was here that I purchased cards that enabled me to complete a number of sets, including the green variations in 1962 Topps. I had been curious about these variations since I first discovered them in eighth grade.
As a Tigers fan, nothing could be better for me than a national show with a Detroit flavor. I was able gradually to acquire a complete run of Tigers yearbooks, and a number of pin backs including my favorite, a little pin with a cartoon Tiger that said “Iffy Club.” Iffy the Dopester was the pen name of a Detroit Free Press writer who became so popular he developed a fan club in 1935. The name was derived from “If the Tigers could win the pennant again.”
Just as Kell was the guest that day, in other years I acquired the autographs (and a bit of conversation) from Hal Newhouser, Billy Rogell, Al Kaline and Lance Parrish, all included for the price of the entry ticket.
Lions and Pistons collectibles were plentiful, too. I bought a game used Eric Money Pistons jersey and eventually acquired at least one card of all my favorite Lions, which began with the Alex Karras’ years and ended with Lem Barney’s.
It was a time when one actually could comparison shop, and condition was in the eyes of the beholder. I loved getting fair-good 1953 Bowman commons for a buck or less. Of course, I could go on and on about the prices compared to today, but as I’m sure almost anyone reading this would agree, we would trade the high prices on the cards we have since sold to return to the days when trading was easy, kids and adults enjoyed shows together, and grading was something you did to your driveway.
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Darrell Berger has written "Then Roy said to Mickey" with former Yankees outfielder Roy White and "Straight Talk from Wild Thing" with former Phillies pitcher and MLB Network commentator Mitch Williams, both published by Triumph Books.
He is a native of Toledo, Ohio and a graduate of Vanderbilt University. He is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Orange, NJ and a tour guide at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls, NJ. He has been a featured speaker at the New York City Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), speaking on "Baseball Players as Human Beings."
He was the book reviewer with "Baseball Hobby News" for over 10 years, where he also contributed a monthly column, "The Diamond Mind." His three favorite baseball personalities are Ernie Harwell, Bill Veeck and Casey Stengel.
He may be reached at DBerger361@gmail.com