Sunday, March 6, 2011

The mysterious card from Friday

As I was going through the dollar Yankee box, I came across two somewhat familiar sights on one card: first, the familiar borders of one of Jim Bouton's Big League Cards, and second, the fella on the left in the picture on the card...

Yep, that'd be the Mick, along with a guy named Ken. Such an odd find that I had to grab it, even at a buck. It gets better, though: Ken's business information (from 1985) was on the back of the card! When I was in front of a computer next, I did a little Googling and found out that Ken's still in the travel business, running things at Leisure Travel in Berkeley Heights, NJ. I left him a message yesterday, and a little while ago, I got a pretty remarkable call back. Ken seems like a great guy with way more stories than we could fit into a 10 minute phone call, and even in that phone call, there were a lot. I'll try and get you the highlights before they fade from my senile old brain.

The picture itself was taken, as I suspected, at the first Yankee fantasy camp, which Ken helped Mickey and Whitey Ford set up. Ken's been involved with or attended a ton of fantasy camps since, along with handling travel for the Hall of Fame inductions, the Baseball Writers' dinners, a bunch of Steiner signings, the National card shows, the late supercollector Barry Halper (a good friend of Ken's) and others, which sounds like a dream job to me. 

Anyway, back to the card: as the story goes, Ken didn't want to just have a picture of himself, and Mickey was coaching first base near where he was, so he had him come over to be in the picture. He also has similar Big League Cards of himself with Al Jackson from the first Mets fantasy camp, which took place before the Yankee camp where the Mantle card was created (Damn it, even on stuff like this, it's murder to get a guy's rookie card!), as well as Duke Snider from a Dodgers fantasy camp Ken attended. He knew Duke well, and Duke was one of his favorite ballplayers to talk to. Bob Feller and some others were mentioned fondly, and Ken said that while he's handling travel for some current ballplayers and still handling it for a bunch of the greats, he misses a lot of the guys who aren't around anymore like Duke and Bob.

Ken's been using the baseball card I got as business cards on and off ever since that first Yankee camp, so there are probably a bunch of them floating around. He has no idea how this one ended up at Sports Nut Cards, but he travels all over NJ (he's still playing in adult baseball and basketball leagues) and spends a good amount of time at the shore, so anything's possible. I'm going to stop by the store tomorrow and ask the owner if he remembers where he got it. 

Aside from his own cards, Ken says that he doesn't have a lot of baseball memorabilia. He's dealt with ballplayers for years, but never felt comfortable asking them for autographs and such, so he keeps the sort of things that he's given and that's about it. While he doesn't currently collect cards, he does have a complete '53 Bowman color set, which he collected as a kid. He also mentioned having a parking receipt from Ebbets Field, presumably from a Dodgers game his folks took him to. (Man.)

When I told Ken that I paid a buck for the card, he said "I would've given you one for free!" A little late for that, but the stories were well worth a dollar. Thanks for sharing them, Ken!

Now, a question for the group: have any of you ever run into (or made) any outstanding custom Big League Cards, particularly those with sports legends on them?

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