The early years of the 1960s proved to be time of great progress for the city of St. Louis, Missouri. By 1962, the eastern portion of the city's Central Business District was well underway and the voters had approved a bond that accelerated the St. Louis Civic Center Redevelopment Project that included the building of Busch Memorial Stadium and the Gateway Arch. Construction of the arch began in the spring of 1963, and the following year ground was broken for the stadium. Two years later the final section of the arch was put into place and the following spring the St. Louis Cardinals took to the field in their new home.
It was during this exciting time that a young boy by the name of Rob Taylor was born in "The Gateway to the West."
A self-proclaimed "sports junkie" from an early age, Rob's grandmother worked as the head bookkeeper for Ostertag Optical, a local eyeglass chain. "By the early 1970s, as a result of her position and having been named the city's Businesswoman of the Year, she had access to the company's baseball tickets," Rob explained. "The company's seats were right behind home plate and going to those games was an amazing experience for a baseball-loving kid. I especially remember the players of that era with special fondness – Lou Brock and Bob Gibson are the two that stand out the most."
At the dawn of the 1970s, the majesty of the championship dust that the St. Louis Cardinals had dwelled in throughout the 1960s was still swirling throughout the home of the oldest professional sports franchise west of the Mississippi. While Rob Taylor was too young to remember those glory years, he sure knew about them. He knew that in 1964 the Cards had traded pitcher Ernie Broglio and two other players to the team's longtime rival Chicago Cubs for outfielder Lou Brock and two other players. Brock replaced the great Stan Musial who had hung up the cleats after the 1963 season. The following year, the Cards were unstoppable with Brock in left field and the team's dynamo pitcher, Bob "Hoot" Gibson, on the mound.
As an impressionable youth with a love of baseball, Rob Taylor was in awe of what Gibson was capable of doing. "I was a pitcher in those days so I was drawn to Bob Gibson's competitiveness," said Rob.
FROM POOR HEALTH AND POVERTY TO THE HALL OF FAME
Born on November 9, 1935, in Omaha, Nebraska, Pack Robert Gibson's childhood was a difficult one of poverty and childhood illness. His father had died shortly before he was born and young Pack seemingly went from one health problem to another with many overlapping. Despite his poor health, Pack loved sports and was an active player in both organized baseball and basketball. His prowess in both sports made him a standout at Omaha's Tech High School and his flair on the hardwood won him a basketball scholarship to Creighton University.
In 1957, Gibson was tapped by the St. Louis Cardinals but instead accepted an offer to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. Known as "Bullet Bob," Gibson became a star with the clowns of the court but in short order got tired of putting on a show without substance. He left the Globetrotters to attend training with Omaha's Triple-A farm club in 1958 and, the following year, he got the call to the Majors.
In 1962, Gibson, who by then had been tagged with the nickname "Hoot" after the silent screen star Hoot Gibson, had turned in what would be the first of nine 200-strikeout seasons. Two years later, with the help of Hoot, St. Louis took the National League pennant and then bettered the New York Yankees in the 1964 World Series. Gibson was named the Series MVP.
The 1966 season saw the Cards move into the new Busch Memorial Stadium and, the following season, the team reached and won the 1967 World Series over the Boston Red Sox. Gibson chalked up three complete-game wins and was again named Series MVP.
The following year saw Gibson stake his claim as one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball. He had an earned run average of 1.12, a live-ball era record, and won both the National League's Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards. Gibson once again was a driving force in getting the Cards to the post-season and to the 1968 World Series where he would throw three complete games and set a World Series record with 35 strikeouts, including a single-game record of 17 strikeouts in Game 1. The Series went the distance and, in the Seventh and deciding game, Jim Northrup of the Detroit Tigers hit a triple to send the Cards home without the championship.
Gibson went on to win another Cy Young Award in 1970, but the Cardinals would not win another pennant throughout the decade. In his career, Gibson was elected to eight All-Star Teams; won the World Series twice; nine Gold Gloves; the 1968 NL MVP Award, and two Cy Young Award. He retired with a 251-174 record and a 2.99 ERA.
In 1981, Gibson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cardinals retired his jersey number. He has been ranked 30th on the Top 100 Baseball Players of All Time by Sporting News and has been named to the All Century Team.
The skill and style of Bob "Hoot" Gibson had done so much to enthrall baseball fan in general and Cards fans in specific. Among them – Rob Taylor who began collecting baseball cards when he was six-years old.
"Even when I was very young, I always had a respect for my cards," said Rob. "I would have never considered putting them in the spokes of my bicycle. That said, I wasn't that hung up on condition being as that I was always most interested in completing sets."
When Rob was 12, his mother was working as a buyer for the concession stand at a local athletic association, an "insider connection" that proved to be of great help to Rob in completing sets. "We got access to the distributor pricing on cards," he explained. "My brother and I both bought a box of 1975 Topps cards and rushed home to open them." While the allure of playing with the cards was great, Rob resisted. He carefully placed all of the cards back in their box and stashed them away in his dresser draw.
As was the case with so many childhood collectors, Rob's teens saw his attention turn from cards to cars. "When I was 16, I sold a lot of my cards to a local dealer to raise money for my car," said Rob who added that his car seemingly always needed work of some sort or another and he was constantly selling off more cards to pay for the repairs. "However, I had forgotten about my 1975 Topps cards which remained in the dresser."
After graduating from high school and matriculating at the University of Missouri-Rolla, Rob felt that his card collecting days were over. "It just wasn't cool anymore," he shrugged.
Rob graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and then started his professional career in Kokomo, Indiana. "I was hired as a software engineer with Electronic Data Systems," said Rob. "Since then, I have made a number of moves within the company and have spent considerable time traveling the country. Today, I am a vice president responsible for service delivery in the Midwest region."
When Rob was 24, his mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. "When she got sick, I moved back to St. Louis so I could be there to help my parents," Rob recalled. "My mother died about nine months later. Obviously, it was a tough time for our family and it was especially tough for my father. Like most men, he had never contemplated outliving my mother. She had always taken care of us and been the glue that held the family together."
A year and a half after Rob's mother passed away, his father remarried a woman named Jean. "They decided they wanted to live in a different house with no history," said Rob. "So, my dad told me to come over and get whatever I wanted to take from my boyhood room. It was then that I rediscovered the box of 1975 Topps cards. This was in 1989, and the cards were absolutely pristine. I even found two beautiful George Brett rookie cards."
While Rob was excited with the find from his youth, he said he also became a bit melancholy and sentimental as he looked through the cards. "I remembered the trip I took with my mother to buy those cards. As I thought back on that time, I decided I would try to finish the set."
With his love of card collecting rejuvenated, Rob spent the next several years building a collection of sets from 1975 through 1992. "By then, the hobby had gotten out of control," said Rob. "There was an explosion of card makers, subsets, inserts and variations."
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, Rob once again took a collecting hiatus. "I stopped buying in 1992 and in 1994 I sold most of my collection. The cards I did keep – mostly commons and cheap sets – I put in the closet."
Eleven years would pass before the collecting bug would once again sink its teeth into Rob. "In 2005, I did an eBay search on my old pal Bob Gibson," said Rob. "I found a number of cards and saw some that were "graded" by this company called PSA. I started to do some research and realized that graded cards were exactly what I was looking for. I had gotten so turned off in my previous collecting periods by unscrupulous dealers who would buy great cards from unsuspecting people at very low prices and at the same time be selling low quality stuff at inflated prices. Those dealers really gave the hobby a bad reputation."
With the assurance and protection that PSA offered, Rob decided to get back into the card collecting hobby and kicked off his third time around by buying a 1959 Gibson rookie card that had been graded as a PSA NM-MT8.
"I really got back into the hobby in 2008," said Rob. "At the beginning of the '08 season, I was reminded that it was the 40th anniversary of Gibson's 1968 record ERA season. That inspired me to join PSA as a Collectors Club Gold Member and build the top Gibson master set."
Rob said that while he had enjoyed collecting in the past, this time he embraced the hobby with more gusto due to the assurance he had in buying PSA graded cards. "The combination of PSA's reliable quality standard and an open marketplace like eBay made me very comfortable that I could put together a Gibson master set without much risk from the bad eggs in the hobby."
Sports Market Report recently caught up with Rob Taylor in his Valparaiso, Indiana home to get some further insight on his collection and on Rob himself.
Sports Market Report: Now that you are back into the collecting hobby, are you exclusively collecting Gibson cards?
Rob Taylor: I have a few cards of various Cardinal players and some modern stuff from 1988 through 1993 from the last time I was collecting but right now, the main focus of my collection is Bob Gibson. The goal of putting together the best Gibson master collection has taken an entire year. Recently, I have been considering where I want to go next. There are a couple of sets of which I really love the designs – things like the Topps 1960, 1963 and 1971 sets. That is what I am thinking of getting into next. I am also considering staying with the player theme – Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, and Hank Aaron are possibilities."
SMR: What is it that attracts you to the player cards?
RT: These players were role models in my life, not in a hero worship way, but as examples of the traits and skills I wanted to have in playing the game.
SMR: What was it about Bob Gibson specifically that fascinated you?
RT: Bob Gibson was the ultimate competitor. It oozed out of his body when you watched him pitch. He had an incredible focus and tenacity and was tough as nails. He once finished pitching a game on a broken leg – today they take you out of the game if you have a blister on your finger.
SMR: Do you have any personal favorites in your current collection?
RT: Transograms! In 1969 and 1970, a toy company released a set of toys that had small figurines in a box with baseball cards on the back of the boxes. There were individual players as well as triple packs. I have complete boxes with a Bob Gibson single and a triple pack with Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente, and Jerry Koosman. I am also fond of Venezuela Topps cards. Learning about these cards was a completely new thing for me. I had never heard of a Venezuelan Topps release before I started this quest. They are very rare and usually found in very bad condition because in Venezuela, cards were traditionally glued or taped into albums. I have a couple of Venezuelan cards, including a 1972 Venezuelan stamp rated PSA Good 2 that has a population of one with none better known to exist. It is an incredible kick for me to think that I own the very best example in the world of that card. I don't care if it is the most minor release, that card is special. I also have four other cards that are the best known examples in existence – a 1965 Bazooka single; a 1970 OPC; a 1971 Bazooka and a 1974 OPC.
SMR: Are you on the lookout for anything special at the moment?
RT: The irony of ironies. One of the main reason I started this collection was to honor Gibson's 1968 season. The card that documents that accomplishment is the 1969 Topps # 8 NL ERA Leaders card. In all of my searching through the year, I have not been able to find better than a PSA VG-EX4 of that card. It is one of the lowest rated regular issues. I just picked up two raw examples of the card that I think will grade out better, but no better than perhaps a PSA NM 7. At least that's my guess. So the search for that card in a high grade continues.
SMR: PSA grading is obviously very important to you. How do you feel it has changed the collectible card hobby and business?
RT: PSA grading is absolutely critical. I wouldn't be back in the hobby if PSA didn't exist. They allow a market to be established in which the value of a card's condition is standardized. Every collector knows what a vintage PSA GEM-MT10 means and how special that card is. All grading services are not the same. As an example of that, I have an OPC 1971 Topps card that I tried to get cross-graded. I paid $600 for the card thinking I had found a gem. The company who originally graded it gave it a 9.5, but when I sent it in to PSA, it came back as having been trimmed. I couldn't see the trim so I cracked the case and looked at the card but still couldn't see it. I compared it to other cards from that year and just could not be convinced it had actually been trimmed. So, I tried a little experiment. I sent it back to PSA as a raw card to be graded again and it came back once again as having been trimmed. When it came back the second time, I looked at it under magnification and saw that it in fact had been trimmed. That was an expensive card that taught me a lesson. I will probably never again buy a card graded by anyone other than PSA.
Another example of why I have such a high level of trust in PSA is when it comes to hand cut cards like Bazookas. PSA has the highest standards in the industry for assigning a grade for those cards. There must be an intact border, if one existed, before it will get a grade other than authentic. That's the kind of standards that bring real value to a card.
SMR: Besides card collecting, what are your other interests?
RT: I love to golf when I can. Finding the time to play is the biggest challenge. I also like to fish to relax. I enjoy reading and I'm a total gadget guy – consumer electronics, computers, networking and video games. I spend most of my day working which usually entails conference calls with clients, my team, and other EDS teams. If I am traveling, I usually spend a couple of hours before bed trolling eBay and online card dealers for cards I am looking for. At home, I relax in what I call my Cardinal Corner. It's an area of my basement where I have a set of seats from the old Busch Stadium. It gets a lot of comments from people who visit me since I live deep in Chicago Cub country. I also enjoy spending time with my family. I have two brothers, Mike, who lives in Chicago and Tim, who lives here in Valparaiso. They are both married. Mike has three kids and Tim has four. Tim's 10-year old son, Daniel, went with us to the National this year to get Bob Gibson's autograph. That was a great experience. Seeing Daniel's reaction brought back all those kid feelings that I remembered having about the hobby and baseball in general when I was his age. He was so in awe of Bob as well as all the other players who were there – Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Bo Jackson. My wife, Patty, and I also have another two nieces, two nephews and even a great-nephew.
SMR: You mention your wife. What does Patty think of your card collection?
RT: (Laughing) She thinks it's a harmless midlife crisis. I think she is just happy it's not a Corvette or a PYT (pretty young thing). She gets a kick out of the Gibson focus although when I bought a PSA/DNA certified personal check of Gibson's, she said I had crossed the line into being a stalker. We both had a good laugh over that.