Some collectors concentrate on one player, someone they admire.
For Hank Thomas, it's that and something more personal. He collects memorabilia of Walter Johnson, his grandfather.
"When I started, I figured I'd find all the Johnson stuff in a year or two," Thomas says. "I find something new every year."
He says he's the only collector among Johnson's 15 grandchildren. Among his memorabilia is a Walter Johnson board game. An April 1915 issue of Baseball Magazine devoted to Johnson has a painting of him on the cover and an ad for Remington rifles features Johnson, a hunter.
Some of his favorite items in his collection are paper. He has a letter to his mother signed "Dad" and letters to his grandmother. He also has scrapbooks his grandmother kept after their marriage in 1914. The scrapbooks were a major source of information for his recently published biography of Johnson. "She loved him and idolized him," Thomas says. "[Johnson] wasn't a saver. He was living it."
The scrapbooks include letters from baseball people, sportswriters, U.S. presidents and fans. One is filled with letters he received after the 1924 World Series. Johnson had lost Games 1 and 5 and pitched the last four innings of the 12-inning seventh game to give the Senators their first championship. "They'd go on to say what it meant to them," says Thomas, "how inspirational it was. . . . [The letters] touched her."
Other Johnson heirlooms are his Hall of Fame plaque, a silver tea service for 12 to honor his 20th anniversary with the Senators (a newspaper solicited fans for donations), awards, trophies, photographs and three baseballs. Thomas says he kept only three game balls -- from his 100th shutout, his no-hitter and one from the '24 Series. Thomas thinks it's from the seventh game because he doubts Johnson would have saved balls from his losses, "but I can't prove it's the ball."
Thomas says the soft collectibles market has enabled him to add to his collection.
"I've been picking up things left and right," he says. "I'm seeing things pop up that I wasn't expecting to be able to afford and was surprised to see them because they're so rare."
Fleer hockey makes its debut this month with 250 basic cards and 50 insert cards in five insert sets. There are four basic card designs, one for each division. Each pack contains one insert card, and random packs contain all insert cards.
Through Sept. 5, "Babe Ruth: An Artistic Perspective," Babe Ruth Museum, 216 Emory St., (410) 727-1539.
July 7-11, All-Star FanFest, Dallas Convention Center.
July 28-30, National Sports Collectors Convention, Cervantes Convention Center at America's Center, St. Louis, (713) 780-2252.
CARD OF THE WEEK
Cal Ripken (shown) is No. 1 in a 30-card set by Pinnacle for FanFest. The cards come two to a pack and will be available at the All-Star show in Dallas July 7-11.