Sports Collectors profiled in California newspaper

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Babe Ruth gave one of his baseball bats to the young son of a promoter in Fresno during a barnstorming tour.

The boy cut several inches off the bat so he could use it for his Little League games. That story is more valuable to Stockton attorney Albert Ellis than the bat itself and why it’s among his favorite pieces of sports memorabilia.

“I have a picture of Ruth giving the boy the bat and the bat,” Ellis said. “It has great provenance from the late 1920s and a great story to go with it.”

Ellis, 55, considers himself a sports historian, and his trove of collectibles connects him with the games, the players and their stories.

“With every great piece of memorabilia,” Ellis explained, “there’s a great story that goes with it.”

Like the story behind the baseball Ellis has that was dropped from a blimp as a promotion during a fair in San Francisco. Late Yankees great and Stockton resident Frank Crosetti, who was playing for the San Francisco Seals at the time, stood beneath the ball and grabbed it after the ball smacked him in the mouth and knocked out some of his teeth.

Ellis has the baseball cap Franklin High School and San Joaquin Delta College product Eddie Guardado wore when he broke into the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins. He has a fungo bat Stockton resident Dave Oliver used when he coached in the major leagues.

Ellis has boxing gloves and trunks, posters and paintings, autographs, all kinds of stuff collected over the decades. His interest in sports and collectibles started when he was a boy in Sacramento. He sometimes would hang out at a family friend’s restaurant where he met athletes such as Bob Gibson and Willie Mays, as well as coaches and scouts. He enjoyed listening to them talk about sports.

“The great thing about sports is it’s so intertwined with American history,” Ellis said. “I was always fascinated by the history of sports.”

Ellis has sold or donated much of his collection. He never got into the hobby to make a profit. The same is true for Andy Prokop, who has hundreds of pieces of memorabilia collected from his days as an owner of several Carl’s Jr. restaurants and presently as president and chief executive officer of the United Way of San Joaquin.

“I’ve given a lot of it to nonprofits to use in fundraisers,” said Prokop, whose favorite items are related to Stockton resident and former major leaguer Ed Sprague Jr. and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. “That’s what I do. Anything somebody thinks will make money, I’ll share it with them.”

Great memories are attached to Prokop’s collection.

“Everything I look at, there’s a memory,” he said.

There are people such as Ellis and Prokop throughout the area who enjoy the stories and memories behind the items they’ve collected. Others are more serious, such as Stockton resident Bill Schubert.

“Some people hoard cats,” he said. “I hoard bats.”

Schubert watches baseball like the paparazzi scope celebrities. He looks for anything that could make a piece of equipment stand out, like markings on a bat or a thread sticking out from a jersey, anything that later could be photo-matched to verify the item’s authenticity. Schubert regularly scours eBay and other Internet sites looking for items that could potentially appreciate in value.

In 2008, Schubert bought a bat believed to have been used by Pete Rose in 1985 during his chase of Ty Cobb’s major league hits record. Schubert had heard rumors that Rose used corked bats that season. He had the bat X-rayed and discovered that a foreign substance, possibly cork, lies inside. When Schubert’s finding became public, Rose reportedly was infuriated.

Schubert recently spoke with Rose at a card-signing event in Las Vegas and brought up the corked bat rumors. He said Rose snarled at him, “That’s the guy who lied about the corked bat,” referring to a Cincinnati-based memorabilia dealer who sold Schubert the bat over the Internet. Schubert didn’t tell Rose that he owns the bat in question.

Schubert recently purchased a bat used by Giants catcher Buster Posey. As a result, Schubert has more interest in the Giants’ playoff push and hopes Posey is named the National League Rookie of the Year, factors that could increase the bat’s value in the open market.

Schubert confessed that he has the mind-set of a “game-used geek,” someone with an obsession for game-used articles.

“It’s a real niche group of people that look for this stuff,” said Schubert, 40, who works as a managed care analyst for Catholic Healthcare West. “I know my wife’s wondering when this is going to end.”

Probably not soon enough.


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