Sunday, December 27, 2009

A nephew's discovery ends a Mets memorabilia hunt that started years before he was born

My nephew Zach gave me the coolest thing for Christmas – a complete set of 1994 pre-paid phone cards saluting the 1969 Mets.

You have to realize that I like quirky, oddball Mets collectibles. Back when there were big card shows, I’d look for a dealer – I think his store was called something like “Wizards of Odd” – who carried all kinds of off-the-beaten path collectibles.

There were baseball cards on every table, but this was the place to go to see the Tom Seaver lunch bags and super balls.

I love the items that were available only one or two years, then replaced by another product attempting to be the next Starting Lineup figures or other in-demand collectible.

They can instantly bring me back to a specific point in time, and fun because they usually were limited – and soon forgotten by all but folks like me.

Phone cards fall right into that category. Baseball cards were hot, hot, hot, and only so many companies had the license to produce them.

This led to a whole industry of unauthorized cards, which usually inspired Will and I to stand in front of a dealer’s table and openly mock his illegal merchandise. The “Cardboard Crusaders” had little patience for such nonsense and were not shy, given the moral authority offered by our weekly column in the Flint Journal.

But there were other ambitious businesses that searched for new ways to sell items that were kind of like baseball cards, but not really.

Pre-paid phone cards appeared in the mid-1990s. They were plastic cards with photos on the front. But instead of statistics on the back, there were instructions to call certain phone numbers, enter a PIN that was concealed under a scratch-off section, and call a number of your choice for a pre-determined amount of time.

This particular set commemorated the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Mets championship team, using paintings by Ron Lewis, which appeared on postcards and other items tied to the anniversary.

They were licensed by The Miracle of 1969 Enterprises, a group formed by the 29 surviving players and the widows of Gil Hodges and Rube Walker to market the anniversary.

According to a 1993 New York Times article, Art Shamsky organized the group with a goal of each earning a profit of $18,000 – the share each earned by beating the Orioles in the World Series.

Some of the proceeds also were targeted for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the whole enterprise was blessed by the Mets and Major League Baseball.

I have no idea how much they ended up making, but I remember seeing the logo on all kinds of products.

What I like about the 32-card phone card set is that it includes everyone on the team, including Hodges and coaches Walker, Yogi Berra, Joe Pignatano and Eddie Yost.

It’s not to difficult to find items commemorating Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, or even stars like Jerry Koosman. But you don’t often see something saluting Bobby Pfeil and Jack DiLauro.

There’s also a card with the anniversary logo and a special album to keep them all together.

I’d guess these were pretty easy to find back in the New York area, but I was out in Michigan for the anniversary. I’ve stumbled across individual cards at some of the big shows, but never the whole set.

Not that Zach realizes any of that. But he knows Uncle Dave likes the Mets and has a whole room dedicated to Mets stuff. He discovered the set at a coin shop at his home near Peoria, and was excited to add something really cool to his uncle’s Baseball Room – ending a search that started eight years before he was born. Good stuff.


Anonymous said...

I don't know how easy they were to find in the New York area. I remember seeing (and buying) a couple of different postcard sets and a baseball card set commemorating the 1994 anniversary, but I never saw phone cards.

Shannon Shark, Mets Police Chief said...

Great stuff as always, just threw you a link.

arnold said...

That sounds like a great collection you have, very unique. I believe I bought some items from this "Wizard of Odd" at a show in Manhattan about 15-20 years ago. I was collecting Ryne Sandberg stuff and he had things that no one else had. It was fun looking at his table.