It is more than a fairly safe bet, predicated on the simple fact that you are reading this copy of Sports Market Report, that you have harbored two lifelong dreams - one, to be a professional athlete, and two, to have the financial wherewithal to compile a card collection that represents the very best, highest graded offerings of the hobby's most important cards.
If you're Tom Candiotti, you have seen both of those dreams become a reality.
Tom Candiotti, who was born on August 31, 1957, began his Major League Baseball career in 1983, with the Milwaukee Brewers. Throughout the 16 seasons he played pro ball, he wore the uniform of five different teams - Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toronto, Los Angeles and Oakland. But no matter what uniform he wore, Candiotti was always more associated with an ability rather than a team. The ability - his famous knuckleball.
Candiotti actually parlayed his success as a knuckleballer beyond the stadiums of MLB and into movie theaters across America. When actor and director Billy Crystal made his 2001 movie 61*, chronicling the 1961 season of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Candiotti was Crystal's choice to play the role of the celebrated relief pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm.
Today, when Tom Candiotti's name comes up amongst baseball fans, it is still his ability to toss that baffling knuckleball that first comes to mind. For serious card collectors however, Candiotti's famous pitch is secondary to one of the former big leaguer's other abilities - having the ability (both financially and commitment-wise) to compile one of the finest, PSA-graded card collections known to exist.
Recently, from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona where he has been living since he retired in 1999, Candiotti gave Sports Market Report some insights on how he began collecting, what cards he is on the lookout for, and what his collection means to him.
"I've been into collecting cards ever since I was a kid," said Candiotti. "My dad used to take me to this snack bar and I never wanted a hot dog or anything to eat, I always wanted cards. Like all kids I never took proper care of the cards. I really abused them. But I still have them. They survived my mom on more than one occasion. She tried to get me to throw them away or give them away, but I always found good places to hide them, so they survived."
Tom says that, like most kids, his interest in cards waned a bit at some point during his teenage years, but was then renewed as he got older. "When I was in college, my interest in cards was renewed, along with a far higher level of appreciation and understanding of their historical significance and value," said Candiotti.
Soon after he started playing professional ball, that interest zoomed. "I had attended the National - really just by coincidence," he said. "It was being held where we were playing, and a couple of us thought we would go over and check it out. I was flabbergasted by what cards were selling for, and being as that I was making some money, I started collecting again."
Soon after Tom began getting back into the hobby of card collecting, he came upon an ad for PSA in a hobby magazine. He did a little investigating as to what PSA was all about and submitted a dozen or so cards from his collection for grading.
"Many of those cards were returned to me because they had evidence of alterations such as trimming. At first, I was upset realizing that the money I had spent on these cards was now lost due to some unethical dealers. I became very turned off by the hobby. (But) after the initial disappointment wore off, I realized that PSA was providing a great service for collectors. PSA takes the guesswork out of purchasing cards. Once it has been checked for alterations, properly graded and put in the holder, no one can argue about its grade anymore. It puts both the buyer and the seller in a comfort zone."
Along with Tom's card collection, he has also established a collection of various types of baseball memorabilia over the years. That collection consists mostly of stuff from players that he has played with and against, along with some of his own personal items. Still, it is his card collection that means the most to him. "I have a vintage bat rack from Louisville Slugger from the early part of the century that I enjoy. I have several baseballs that I have kept over the years. I have my first major league win, hit and shutout. I also have my 100th win, 150th win, 1000th strikeout and 1500th strikeout. The most interesting piece that I have might be the hat I wore during the 1991 postseason celebration with the Toronto Blue Jays. The hat is heavily stained with champagne and beer, it's great. But the cards have always fascinated me. They are pieces of art that have been preserved."
Tom says that his focus on collecting has always been to get the very best of the best. "A while back, I started asking everyone associated with the hobby what they felt were the top 25 cards of all time," said Tom. "I put together everybody's list and began looking for those cards. I've never been into sets. I can appreciate someone wanting a complete set, but I never really cared about searching for cards that can be very hard to find, of guys who I don't even know. What I have always been attracted to are the trophy cards - the star cards of the hobby. And I want them in the highest grades. Marshall Fogel has helped me a lot in putting my collection together. He is, of course, a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cards - history, values, you name it."
Along with the help of hobby pros like Fogel, Tom says the PSA population report has also been extremely helpful to him. "It shows me what's out there, which is great, but it also shows me just how few high-grade old cards still exist. My search for cards really isn't different from anyone else's. I participate in auctions and I also occasionally go to card stores, but the stuff I am looking for is not going to be found in a neighborhood store. I'm looking for cards that are really hard to find in high grades."
Any one of the cards in Tom's collection could serve as a centerpiece prized favorite for most collectors. But even when it comes to these elusive amassments of the best of the best, major league collectors like Tom still have their favorites.
"I love my entire collection," said Tom. "But yes, I do have some cards that I consider to be very special. I have a T-206 Eddie Plank in a PSA 8. I love that card and it has a great story - I was playing for the A's when I won that card in a Mastro auction. I spent over $200 thousand dollars for it and my wife, Donna, gave me this blank look and asked: 'Who is it?' I said "Plank". Then she asked how much I paid for it, and when I told her she said: 'WHAT!' But about 3 years ago I was offered $400 thousand dollars for that card and all Donna could talk about is what a great investment it was. After that, she got into cards herself and she has acquired some great ones. She buys packs and sits down with a SMR and opens them to see what she has gotten. To her, it's like playing the lottery."
Other cards that Tom is especially fond of include his 1953 Willie Mays in a PSA 10. "I love that Mays card. Having grown up in the Bay Area, Willie Mays always meant a lot to me, so the card means a lot to me. I also love my 1941 Play Ball Joe Dimaggio in a PSA 9, a 1915 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb in PSA 9 and a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in a PSA 10. But the card that might be my most prized possession is a 1915 M101-5 Sporting News Babe Ruth in a PSA 8, which is the highest graded one known to exist."
Tom, who keeps his cards in a safety deposit box, and brings them out to show friends from time to time, says that he is a bit disappointed that kids today seem to be more concerned with the monetary value of a card than what the players mean to them. "When I was growing up, I never gave any thought to what a card might be worth. But, I guess that's how the hobby has evolved. Overall, I think the sportscard hobby is in great shape. PSA has helped make it better and has given people who had become frustrated a reason to get back into it. More participation is a positive sign. I would like to see more Major League Baseball players getting involved in the hobby, especially the younger guys. The hobby can give these players a sense of history, an idea of how the game started and how it has evolved. The younger players today seem to lack historical knowledge about the game. In order to appreciate the game today, they need to understand the sacrifices and importance of past players."
Tom says he believes that the Internet has also played a huge role in the hobby, and is one of the reasons why values have exploded. "Now collectors from all over the world can bid in auctions or buy on the computer. They are not limited to the local card shop anymore. Finally, people are starting to view baseball cards as more than simply cards, they are starting to view vintage cards as little pieces of history that been preserved. Collector attitudes have changed a lot."
As for Tom personally, the hobby continues to offer him challenges. "The top Honus Wagner T-206 has so far escaped me," he said with a laugh. "Who knows? Maybe someday I'll get that card. I know I could get a Wagner in a lower grade, but that's not what my collection is about. I also know there's a Ted Williams rookie 1939 (# 92) Play Ball out there that's been graded as a 10, and there's a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth (#144) that's been graded at a 9. I would love to have those cards."
The excitement that Tom exudes when he talks about his cards, both the ones he owns and the ones he is searching for, can only be described as childlike glee. He laughs when that is pointed out. "When I was a kid, I was always hoping to open a pack of cards and get a Koufax or a Mays. It's the same thing now - the same feeling when I get a card I've been searching for. Only the zeros involved are much different," he said with a laugh.
For those who are dedicated card collectors and regular readers of SMR, no explanation or justification for collecting is necessary. But for those who just can't get their minds to comprehend spending thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even over a million dollars for a piece of printed cardboard, Tom Candiotti offers one of the best explanations:
"To me, card collecting is really about my love of baseball - the players I watched and admired as a kid - and it's about my dad. When I look at my cards it brings back so many great memories, especially of my dad, who died when I was 18. I remember all the great stories he would tell me when I was a kid about the guys he saw play, like Babe Ruth. I also love this hobby because there are so many ways to collect. Everyone seems to have their own little way of collecting - sets, or Hall of Famers or rookie cards. With me, my goal has always been to collect the best of the best."
Tom's Personal Best of the Best
In Tom Candiotti's collection, that consists of only the highest quality examples in existence, one might be curious as to what Tom himself considers to be the "best of the best". The following is what he considers to be the top 25 cards in his collection along with their PSA grades. Oh, and by the way - just in case you were thinking about giving Tom a run in compiling a collection like this, you should probably know that just these 25 cards alone are valued at somewhere between $4 million and $7.15 million dollars!
1909-1911 T206 Eddie Plank PSA 8
1933 Goudey Larry Lajoie PSA 9
1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle PSA 10
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 10
1954 Topps Hank Aaron PSA 10
1909 E90-1 Joe Jackson PSA 8
1915 M101-5 Sporting News Babe Ruth PSA 8
1915 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson PSA 9
1952 Topps Willie Mays PSA 10
1954 Bowman Ted Williams PSA 9
1941 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio PSA 9
1941 Play Ball Ted Williams PSA 9
1952 Topps Willie Mays PSA 10
1933 Goudey #144 Babe Ruth PSA 9
1933 Goudey #181 Babe Ruth PSA 9
1938 Goudey #247 Joe DiMaggio PSA 9
1938 Goudey #250 Joe DiMaggio PSA 9
1909-1911 T-206 Ty Cobb PSA 9
1909-1911 T-206 Christy Mathewson PSA 9
1951 Bowman Willie Mays PSA 9
1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson PSA 9
1909-1911 T-206 Cy Young PSA 9
1949 Bowman Satchell Paige PSA 9
1927 E126 Babe Ruth PSA 8
1909 T206 Walter Johnson PSA 9
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