When Doug DeCinces left Baltimore for California after the 1981 season, the trading-card hobby was evolving. The first National Sports Collectors Convention had been held the year before, but DeCinces never did a sports card show until he was in California.
Next weekend, he'll do his first show in Baltimore -- with a twist. He's running it.
The one-time Orioles third baseman runs DeCinces Sports Productions with Mike Berkus, one of the founders of the national convention. The Irvine, Calif., company puts on special events for corporations involving memorabilia and lines up athletes with companies for advertising purposes.
But, of prime interest to collectors, it runs Upper Deck's FanFest and Heroes of Baseball shows. The Heroes of Baseball show will be in Festival Hall Friday through Sunday. The show's format was shaped by DeCinces' experiences as a player at card shows.
"I would not allow anyone to collect money for my signature," he says. "This was part of my thought coming back and why Upper Deck was receptive to my game plan."
DeCinces' shows operate with this pet peeve in mind. Fans are charged admission, but autographs are free. Fans receive Upper Deck commemorative sheets, which are numbered and exclusive to the show. Collectors also have the opportunity to assemble the special Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball 10-card subset. The cards are randomly inserted in Upper Deck high number packs. The catch is that the packs come in cases sold by Upper Deck only to dealers at this show and dealers are limited to two cases each.
DeCinces and Upper Deck are putting on four shows in conjunction with the Heroes of Baseball games -- Los Angeles, Cleveland, Baltimore and Detroit. Next year, plans call for 15 to 20. But the show in Baltimore will be special. It will be FanFest, at the time of the All-Star Game. DeCinces says Baltimore was chosen for a show this year as a trial run for FanFest, which will be "more of a fair than a trade show," and the shows running the weekends of the Heroes of Baseball games will be mini-FanFests.
He sees these shows, with their autograph guests such as Bobby Bonds, Luis Aparicio, Earl Weaver, Paul Blair and Johnny Mize, as helping baseball continue its traditions. Younger fans may not know the older names, but their parents do and include their children in their baseball memories.
His partner, Berkus, has been collecting cards since his elementary school days in 1952. He estimates his family (his four sons are collectors) has about 20 million cards. "I get the same thrill of opening a new pack of Upper Deck that I do with an unopened pack of '52 Topps," he says.
Berkus met DeCinces through Rod Carew when DeCinces moved to California. Their company was formed last year after they worked on a show that was never held at Disneyland.
How hot is Berkus' partner in the memorabilia market?
DeCinces says he averages two to three autograph requests a day, and "I've even seen my signature be forged."
He hopes to be in Baltimore next weekend, but won't be if the team he coaches reaches the Connie Mack World Series. "Baseball comes first," he says.
Not for the budget-minded
Action Packed, which pioneered gold foil on trading cards and 24-karat cards, has a set for the collector who has everything, especially money. This time, Action Packed took the players in its 1992 set and put embossed 24-karat gold leaf images on card fronts and full-color photos on the back. They come six to a $200 pack, making this a $9,600 set. Although there are no factory sets, making a set is fool-proof. Each box contains 144 cards and is numbered, and one odd- and one even-numbered box produce a set. Only 500 cards of each player have been made.
Score produced a 440-card Italian soccer card set in Milan in January. Its success prompted requests from American collectors, who are getting their wish. Score will be importing a limited supply of its Associazione Italiana Calciatori cards. There are 350 regular player cards and 90 subset cards They will be available in the United States this month in 15-card packs.
Olympic basketball posters
Upper Deck is enclosing a limited edition commemorative mini-poster of the U.S. men's basketball team with each pack of Wall Stars restickable posters. The posters feature the full 12-man team.
Unique golf cards
The Pro Set Champions Series is free but not for everyone. The 78-card set features every tournament winner from 1991 on the PGA and Senior tours. Cards include the name of the tournament won, and "1991 Champions" is stamped in gold foil. They come in a custom album with the participating tournament's name and logo and are given to sponsors and pro-am participants at approximately 40 events. They are not for sale.
Babe in bronze
Baltimore sculptor Susan Luery has created a bronze sculpture called "Baltimore Babe," which depicts Babe Ruth in full swing in his 1914 International League Orioles uniform. The sculpture is in the Babe Ruth Museum. Thirty bronze statues based on the sculpture are available for sale through the museum for $3,500 each. For information, call Jeff Greiner at (410) 727-1539.