Keep the cash, this young collector grabs for the cards In era of greed, teen keeps heart in hobby

April 18, 1993|By Mike Jefferson | Mike Jefferson,Contributing Writer

Craig Kerner is not like most baseball card collectors. He believes the value of a baseball card is not measured in dollars and cents, but by its value to the collector.

He collects from the heart, and that has made all the difference in the world.

In a market where greed has taken over and left the true hobbyist behind, Kerner refuses to change his ways. Manufacturers can print as many Jose Cansecos and Ken Griffeys as possible. Those cards won't catch Kerner's eyes.

"I just basically collect older cards from the '50s and early '60s," said Kerner. "And the Orioles."

Kerner, 17, is extremely fond of the greatest players from a time long gone by. Players that gave more to the sport than just home runs and stolen bases.

Like Babe Ruth, who always visited children in hospitals, loved the game and loved to kid around.

Or Harmon Killebrew, a slugger Kerner met. Kerner said he "was the nicest person."

Kerner is a virtual expert on players such as Ty Cobb, Ernie Banks, Babe Ruth, Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn.

"Craig doesn't put a value on [collecting]. He collects for the fun of it," said Jack Geiger, owner of Baseball Collectables, Unltd., in Bel Air. "It's really odd for a boy that age to have Harmon Killebrew for an idol."

Kerner became interested in collecting when he and his father, Charlie, happened upon a card shop on Main Street in Bel Air owned by Geiger. The three since have become close friends.

Charlie was surprised that a 1986 Topps set was going for $25. He promptly went out to local stores and bought separate packs and put together his own set. "I must be the only one around who has a $300 1986 Topps set," said Charlie, laughing.

Today, Charlie and Craig realize how important it is to collect only the cards one truly wants. Craig's dedication is as refreshing as it is remarkable.

"Five years ago I said I was going to get a Ty Cobb and I saved all summer and I bought one for $500," he said.

His first card was a 1984 Reggie Jackson card. Today, he has a whole album full of just Reggie Jackson, as well as Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray.

Some other remarkable possessions include every Orioles set since 1953, including a 1953 set when the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns. He has a Roberto Clemente card made of real money with Clemente's picture in the middle.

Kerner, a defensive tackle for the football team at C. Milton Wright last fall, decided not to play baseball this year. He works two days a week for Geiger, and spends his other time practicing with the school band to perform in the play "Oklahoma." He plays the tuba and trumpet.

This summer, he will go on a school trip to Spain, and will decide on what college to attend to study business law.

He has been to card shows in other states and has met many of his favorite players, like Brooks Robinson, Al Kaline, Mark McGwire and Murray.

A few years ago when Craig met Killebrew, he and his father waited in a line that must have been, "a mile long," says Charlie, who remembers the day vividly.

"When he finally got up to the table, Killebrew told Craig he thought he looked like Mark McGwire."

HTC "Wrong player, right position," said Craig. "You're my favorite player of all time."

"You're too young to have ever even seen me play," responded Killebrew.

"I know everything about you," said Craig, citing Killebrew's home run numbers and telling tales of how Killebrew used to pound the Orioles with home runs. "They must have talked for 10 minutes," said Charlie.

The autographed picture Killebrew handed Craig reads, "To my pal Craig, best wishes and keep on swinging."

At the store the other day, Craig said a young boy came in and bought four packs of cards. He frantically opened them up and asked to see the Beckett price guide.

"He got a $13 card but if he doesn't like the card, what good is it worth?" Craig asked.

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