Wood's packed basement is Senatorial district of Washington baseball history

Collectors' notebook

January 06, 1991|By Ruth Sadler

Sports memorabilia is not just so many words for Phil Wood.

It has been a frequent topic on his sports talk show -- which, until a station format change on Friday knocked it off, resided on WYST-AM -- and it's all over his basement. Half the basement is a holding area for cartons -- "I'm not even sure what's in them," he admits -- and the other half is a minimuseum in the making.

Like many baby boomers, Wood, 39, began with baseball cards at age 6. His mother was the heroine of his collecting days, eagerly saving the boxes of cards her friends were ready to throw out because their children were no longer interested. He has traded or sold most of his cards to gather his current collection, but has kept the 1959-61 cards.

His main interest turned away from cards about 15 years ago, and he began collecting the artifacts of the game of his childhood and his beloved Washington Senators.

"It finally dawned on me that the real stuff is far more interesting to the layman than baseball cards," he says. "Besides, who's ever seen a baseball card play?"

The focus of his collection is the Senators. Visitors are greeted by a mannequin standing on home plate wearing Joe Grzenda's 1971 Senators uniform (Grzenda was the last Senator to throw a pitch). They can sit in seats from Griffith Stadium, but after the space of a pitch or two are likely to wander over to the circular clothes rack with all the flannel jerseys.

The American League jerseys are road uniforms of Senators opponents during 1956-71, when the native Washingtonian saw them play at Griffith Stadium and RFK Stadium. National League teams are represented by their home jerseys.

What's there? Seattle Pilots home and road jerseys and a cap. Boog Powell's first Baltimore Orioles jersey (it's big) and a Frank Howard jersey (very big). Johnny Podres' 1958 Los Angeles Dodgers jersey. What's missing? A 1954 Orioles jersey and a Cincinnati Reds jersey (he also would like to get an International League Orioles uniform).

He has modern-day knits, too, but they're in a cabinet. Wood was on the committee that redesigned the Orioles uniforms, and he has his favorite prototype. Its lettering is shadowed. Wood says the Orioles rejected the design because of its resemblance to the old St. Louis Browns uniforms, which was exactly why he liked it.

He's trying to get Senators uniforms from every year of his life that they played, but is missing the 1951-55 road uniforms and the 1951 uniform with the 50th anniversary AL patch.

One of his favorites is Roy Sievers' uniform and bat from 1956. There's also a Mickey Vernon bat from 1953, when he won the AL batting championship (.337).

There is a display of caps, including those Dick Bosman wore when he pitched the last game for the Senators and the first for the Texas Rangers.

"Collecting the Senators is tough," Wood says. "They weren't winners, and they had no sense of PR. . . . About all they ever sold was pennants."

He has every Walter Johnson baseball card and a Walter Johnson baseball game from the time the Hall of Fame pitcher managed the Senators (1929-32). In the 1920s, players' names were stitched in their socks, and he has one sock from Hall of Famer Sam Rice.

"I've had a lot of caps of Hall of Famers . . . but I've traded them for other things," Wood says.

The walls of his basement are filling with framed advertisements featuring baseball players. "They're a slice of life of what was going on in the country at the time," he says.

For Wood, the history and fun of collecting are important.

"If someone invented time travel, I'd love to see a game in the '20s," he says. "The sad thing going on in collecting is people collecting for investment only."

His research has made him an expert. He writes a regular column on flannels for Tuff Stuff and does memorabilia appraisals. He helped the Smithsonian with a 1981 exhibit on baseball and has been asked by the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to be a consultant on its 1993 exhibit on the Senators.

His job and collecting have brought him into contact with famous people, but he has gotten more out of it than material for his collection.

"The experiences, the friendships mean as much to me as the stuff," he says.

When asked what item he would most like to add to his collection, he says: "Something that's been hidden for a number of years. . . . What happened to Walter Johnson's fob from the '24 World Series? Players got them instead of rings in those days." Johnson's daughter and grandson, whom he knows, have no idea, but Wood would like to give it to them if he ever comes across it.


Upcoming events:

Today, York Expo '91 Sports Card and Memorabilia Show, York (Pa.) Fairgrounds, 10 a.m., (717) 741-0954 or (717) 741-9495.

Saturday, Carrolltowne Mall Baseball Card Show, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 549-6269.

Jan. 13, Sports card show, Towson Sheraton, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 922-8366.

Jan. 13, Sports card show, Towson Quality Inn, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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