By Ted Waddell
LIVINGSTON MANOR Nothing would light up the eyes of a couple of local baseball card collectors more than finding a 1909, 1910 or 1911 Honus Wagner baseball card tucked away in a forgotten attic or overlooked in a cardboard box filled with old cards memorializing heroes of the diamond from games that will never fade away into the mists of time.
Barry B. Foster, who graduated from Livingston Manor Central School in the 1960s, and Doug Edwards, a contractor from Parksville who was awarded his diploma from LMCS in 1976, share a passion for collecting baseball cards and related memorabilia.
Like almost any aficionados, whether it’s the art fly fishing or the excitement of baseball cards, they have a few stories of the ones that got away.
Growing up in the Manor, Foster started collecting baseball cards at the age of 8. Before he headed off to serve his country in the U.S. Army several years later, he had tucked away about four shoeboxes full of cards from the 1940s and ’50s, including 38 Topps® 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie cards.
While he was overseas, Foster’s mom figured it was a good chance to clean house and she gave the shoeboxes filled with cards to the local junkman. Nearly six decades later, these very same Mickey Mantle rookie cards are worth between $12,000 and $15,000 each.
Back in the days when Edwards was a kid, he and his buddies used clothespins to bend baseball cards around the frame of their bicycles, and when the wheel spokes hit the cards, it made the bikes sound like motorcycles. It was just the ticket for the boys to impress the girls and outrage their parents. But like any boy growing up in a small rural town, that was the point.
“It goes back to when I was a little kid,” Edwards said of his passion for collecting baseball cards. “I took Mickey Mantles and Willie Mays [cards], and strapped them to my bike. In the halls of the school before class, we used to flip cards to see who could get them closest to the walls, but that bent up all the corners.”
But at least it wasn’t a Honus Wagner card, of which there are thought to be less than 20 remaining in the world. If it was in excellent condition, one of those Wagner cards would carry a price tag of $1.5 million or 100 Mickey Mantle rookies cards.
Edwards took a break from collecting baseball cards for a while, especially the mass-produced cards of the late-1980s through the 1990s. Today, those cards are for the most part only worth a few pennies or, at the most, a couple of dollars.
Now that baseball card companies like Topps® and Upper Deck® have re-evaluated the market and started to issue numbered limited edition and special packs containing random autographed cards or swatches cut from uniforms, he’s back in the game.
“They did the right thing, they’re smart,” Edwards said of the corporate switch to less, but more desirable, types of baseball cards.
Just the other day, Edwards stopped by Foster’s business, Hot Corner Collectibles on Pearl Street in Livingston Manor, to show him three Mystery Cut Cards produced by SP Legendary Cards. Sets of these packs of cards can contain a “mystery” card. Once the buyer scratches off a hidden number code, they call the company. In short order, a special card arrives in the mail with a guarantee of an autograph and/or swatch of a uniform on the card.
A recent such card bore the signature of Babe Ruth, and was valued at $100,000. Edwards said he recently traded a couple of baseball cards to Foster for a card with an autograph and uniform swatch from current New York Yankees All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter, a card now worth about $350. But when Jeter is someday elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, the card’s value is expected to skyrocket.
“For me, the ultimate baseball cards are the old Hall of Famers, like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Honus Wagner,” Edwards said.
“I’m just hoping that I can pass them down through the generations, maybe to my grandchildren,” he added. “I’m not looking to make any money. I’m just doing it as a hobby I like the game of baseball.”
Three decades ago, Edwards sat in Foster’s English and social studies classroom at LMCS.
Edwards fondly recalled his days learning from Foster in the classroom.
“He taught me just about everything,” Edwards said of Foster. “Most importantly, how to be an honest, decent guy.”
A few years ago, Foster returned to his hometown and set up shop at Hot Corner Sports Collectibles. The store is billed as “the last stop before home,” a reference to third base.
The first autograph Foster ever got in person was from Joe DiMaggio while watching a game with his grandfather at Yankee Stadium.
“It hooked me,” Foster said of receiving The Yankee Clipper’s signature.
And, yes, he still has the DiMaggio card.
Today, Foster’s store is packed with more than 200,000 baseball cards, from the affordable to the pricey, as well as other types of sports-related memorabilia. Last year, he gave away about 20,000 baseball cards to local kids, in Foster’s words, to “get them started in the hobby and keep ’em off the street.
“I really love baseball,” Foster said. “To see Roy Campanella on a card when we were kids in the 1940s and 50s, who would have ever thought a card could be worth so much.”
So far, the closest Foster’s come to the ever-elusive Honus Wagner card is a picture of a shop-worn card, which is poster-sized and tacked to a display cabinet. Foster has it just in case he forgets what the most sought after baseball card in the world looks like.