Close your eyes and think of those you have truly loved throughout your life. Even if they are long gone, they remain vividly alive – and not just in your mind and heart, but also through your senses.
No matter how many years have gone by, we can all still remember the sound of our grandfather's excited laughter as he watched us catch our first fish and the sight of our father, standing just a few yards away, throwing a baseball for us to catch with a brand new glove. Whether just a few years have slipped by or many decades have passed on, we can still recall the smell of our grandmother's kitchen as she prepared a holiday meal and the taste of our favorite cake baked by our mother to celebrate our birthday. Despite the passage of many seasons, we can still dig into our treasure trove of memories and feel the icy chill that comes with the forming a snowball or the warmth as we stroke the head of a childhood pet.
In the same way that each of our five senses plays an important part in the way we recall special people and pets, they likewise play a significant role with the objects we love. For those who are attracted to the collecting of sportscards and sports-related memorabilia, those tangible items can serve as a powerful – almost magical – means to rekindle our memories of the players, teams, specific games, seasons, equipment and stadiums we also love.
Every collector has, at one point, used the phrase "love of the game" when discussing the things they own or desire. When collectors hold a special card, signed photo or game-used item, they can clearly hear the roar of the crowd from that one memorable game they attended. They can recollect precisely where they were when they saw a championship won with a perfectly placed pitch and a missed swing. Those items, like a time machine, can evoke the reminiscent smell of a stadium's grass (back when they used the real thing), the first tiny taste of a father's beer (because their mom wasn't around) and the feel of one's hand nervously moving around within a broken-in glove, hoping to snag a foul tipped-ball.
It is through such shared instances, which all take place within the collector's mind, heart and five senses, that we innately understand that we all truly do have a love of the game.
So it was with a finely-attuned understanding of that fact that longtime collector Al Crisafulli established Love of the Game Auctions, a new Internet sports auction house that caters to the passionate collector of memorabilia and cards.
"When I decided to start my own business, I had no idea what I wanted to name the company," says Crisafulli. "My wife and I were kicking around various ideas – trying to come up with something that described what kind of auction house we would be. One day my wife said: 'You know, there really should be a word for an auction house that caters to people who collect purely for the love of the game.' When she said that, my eyebrows literally went up and I said: 'How about we name the company Love of the Game!'"
"We thought about that, and at first, we felt it was perhaps too much of a mouthful; but the more we thought about it, the more we agreed – the love of the game is what we're all about. Our company brand and identity are about catering to people who really love the game. We don't cater to people who collect the most valuable high-end stuff, although we do carry high-grade material. The people we cater to are the ones who simply love the game because... well... because they just love the game – the nostalgia, the players, the teams, the memories."
A collector for over three decades, Crisafulli owned and operated a successful advertising and marketing agency whose clients included several hobby-related companies. Providing marketing strategies and business consultation to auction houses and card dealers, Crisafulli has also served in various capacities to positively promote the hobby and better inform and educate sportscard and memorabilia dealers and collectors.
Last year, determining his love and knowledge of sports-related collectibles could offer great benefit in yet another way, Crisafulli established his new business to join other ethical dealers and auction houses by providing transparent and trustworthy opportunities for consigners and collectors alike.
"There are so many different types of hobbyists out there who all approach collecting in different ways," says Crisafulli. "While we understand and appreciate those differences, we know that every buyer and seller has things that are vitally important to them. Our goal is to provide those things."
Among the things Love of the Game Auctions will provide is the highest level of knowledgeable and professional presentation of items coupled with the greatest exposure possible. The company's business model also calls for multiple annual auctions, flexible payment methods, no hidden reserves, no bidding against the house or employee accounts, fair bid increments and low buyer's premiums.
Sports Market Report recently visited with Al Crisafulli to gain a better understanding of the man whose longtime passion for sports collectibles and desire to better the hobby have become the foundation on which his company has been built. We began our visit by asking Al how his love of the game first started.
Al Crisafulli (AC): I was born in northern New Jersey – in Jersey City – and became interested in sports and collecting cards when I was very young. My mother bought me baseball cards and I was hooked right from the start.
Sports Market Report (SMR): Folks from New Jersey usually veer in a few different directions in terms of their team allegiance – the Mets, the Yankees, the Phillies, the Orioles. What teams were you a huge fan of?
AC: I was a Yankees fan from day one. My family was split – Dodgers and Yankees fans. I fell on the Yankees side of the fence, which was very easy being as that it was the late-1970s when the Yankees were riding high. It was easy to be a Yankees fan then. On the football side, I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, believe it or not. As you can imagine, I heard about that from my friends for my entire childhood. But I loved the Cowboys.
When I was young, Dallas was huge with Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett. They were such an exciting team to watch. At the time, all my friends were Giants fans. Back then, the Giants had guys like Joe Pisarcik, Jerry Golsteyn, Bobby Hammond and a whole bunch of other forgettable players [laughs], so they just didn't interest me.
SMR: Did you collect the cards of Yankees and Cowboys players as a kid?
AC: I did, but in reality, I was always a set builder as a kid. I collected with a friend of mine and we would go to a local card shop all the time. I had no money and the owner of the shop felt bad for me because he knew I, unlike most kids, was attracted to and interested in the older cards.
SMR: Most kids in the 1970s wanted cards of the players they knew and loved. What was the appeal of the older cards to you?
AC: That came from my grandfather who was born and raised during the Great Depression. He was a huge baseball fan, and when I was a kid, he would tell me stories about the players he grew up with in the 1930s and 1940s. I loved his stories and I wanted cards of the guys he told me about.
SMR: But even then, those cards were out of reach financially, especially for a kid who had no money!
AC: That's right. However, the owner of the shop, knowing that I had an appreciation for those cards, would throw 1951 and 1962 Bowmans and T206 beaters into a shoe box just for me. He would then charge me .50 cents for a Bowman and a dollar for a T206. I was nine or 10 at the time, and I'd go in with a couple of bucks and look for the cards with players I remembered my grandfather telling me about.
Those were the ones I bought, and when I would go to see my grandfather, I'd bring them with me and he would tell me more stories. Every one of those cards represented a story to me. With those old cards, I never even gave thought to the completion of a set or acquiring a specific card in high-grade – it was the story behind the players that made those cards special to me.
SMR: Do you still have any of those cards?
AC: I have all those old cards. They have more value to me than cards I own which greatly exceed them in monetary value.
SMR: Do you have a favorite?
AC: Yes. I have a T206 Rube Waddell card that is my favorite. He was my favorite player. I loved to hear the stories my grandfather would tell about him. It's a completely demolished card – no corners, all beat and just a mess – but it's my favorite card. I'll always keep those cards because they remind me of those times spent with my grandfather, who died in 1987 when I was in high school.
SMR: Speaking of high school, that is usually the time most card collectors start losing interest in the hobby. Did that happen to you?
AC: It did. Like everyone, I lost interest in cards and grew interested in girls and rock 'n' roll. I'm still interested in those things [laughs], but as I got older and started making some money, I rediscovered the hobby and started collecting again. When I did start collecting again, I was one of the lucky ones. Unlike so many guys who had their cards thrown out by their mothers, when I finished high school and moved on to college, my cards were packed up and stored away; so I still have them, along with all the memories that go with them.
SMR: Where did you go to college?
AC: I went to the University of Hartford, studied communications and met my future wife, Sandy, on my first day of college. We were together every day throughout college, and a month after I graduated, we got married. We have been together for over 21 years now.
SMR: Having studied communications, what type of work were you interested in pursuing?
AC: I loved music and my goal was to get into the record business. But I couldn't find a job, so I ended up taking a job in the wireless business – cell phones. That gradually evolved into a career in marketing. I moved up the ladder quickly, but I never gave up my interest in music and finally decided to start a small record label of my own. I figured if I couldn't get hired by a record company, I would start a record company [laughs]. So I started Dromedary Records, which I've been running for 20 years now. Over the years we've worked with about 20 bands or so. It's a small business, but I love it.
SMR: But your day job, so to speak, was in marketing?
AC: Yes. I ultimately became the director of marketing for a company. Then a big acquisition was made and there were big shake ups throughout the company at the corporate level, so I decided the time was right for me to go out and start my own company. I started an advertising agency that I ran for eight years. And because it was my company, I could pitch to clients that I was interested in. So, having regained my interest in card collecting, I started pitching to card manufacturers. I ended up doing a lot of work for companies in the hobby. That gave me a great understanding of what collectors are looking for.
SMR: How did you transition from a career in advertising to the auction house business?
AC: One of the things I really loved was working with our auction house clients. It was so interesting to me – handling all this great material. So after I sold my ad agency, I did a bit of soul searching to figure out what I wanted to do next. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be great to work within the hobby. I started to do some homework on how to run an auction house. I thought about what I would do differently and what the hobby and collectors were in need of and would like to see.
I'll be honest, I questioned whether or not I could really do it effectively, but ultimately, I felt that I could. I started to put some feelers out and everybody embraced the idea enthusiastically, so I decided to go for it. I started the company right before the National, which was perfect because it gave me a lot of opportunity to interact with collectors and former clients. I just set up a booth and started telling people the story of why I started Love of the Game Auctions.
SMR: What is the story?
AC: That my number one objective with Love of the Game Auctions is to provide a safe, trustworthy and honest auction for everyone who participates – the consigners and the bidders. I have also relied on my marketing background to create a website that is appealing to hobbyists – one that has a very friendly look and feel to it – kind of a vintage baseball feel. We also have a blog, our navigation is intuitive and there's a lot of useful information and details.
I am also committed to providing well-written descriptions of the items we present. My goal has been to avoid a lot of the fluffy language you see in many auctions. We offer knowledge and education, describing why a certain card or set is important. That goes back to what I learned from my grandfather – that there is always a story associated with any specific card or set. What is significant is the story of the player or the "who and why" a certain card is important in the context of collecting.
I think providing information and telling the story is more important than pulling out the thesaurus and trying to come up with a thousand different flowery synonyms for the word "outstanding" or "beautiful." I believe if you give people the knowledge and educate them on a card or set, it is then up to them to decide if they think it's outstanding or beautiful.
SMR: With so many choices to consign and buy sportscards and memorabilia, what is it that makes your company special?
AC: The primary thing for hobbyists to know is that when they come to Love of the Game as a bidder, they will have 100 percent confidence that we – the auction house – are not working against them. We're not the biggest guys out there. We're new, and right from the start, we have committed ourselves to doing everything based on integrity.
We will always do our best to present material in an educational manner instead of just filling up the descriptions with hyperbole. As a consigner, you know that you are dealing with a company that is prepared to thoroughly research what makes your material important and then present it in the best way possible.
We have a very proactive social media presence. We do a lot with Twitter and Facebook to market lots before the auctions. We want to make sure every lot gets attention – that as many people know about it as possible. We also plan on having multiple auctions every year – my goal is to have four. That means consigners will not have to wait for that one big auction and have their items lost amongst 2,000 lots.
I want people to know that when you deal with us, you are dealing with people who are not only passionate about the hobby and about sports but who also know how to conduct business properly. That is a combination that can be rare, and yet, it is what every buyer and seller wants. My years of experience as a marketer and as a collector – buying, selling and writing about the hobby – have given me an intense knowledge of the hobby and a great respect for promoting the integrity of the hobby.
SMR: How has third-party grading and authenticating helped an auction house like yours?
AC: When I was a kid, the world was very small in terms of collecting. The only way you could buy cards was at local card shows or through ads in trade papers. Everything you bought back then was a roll of the dice. Then the Internet opened the hobby to a world of material that had never been available. The problem was that it also opened the door to those who try to take advantage of others.
Grading, for a number of reasons, has changed things for the better. It balanced things out, and the balance actually tilted more in favor of the consumer, which is a good thing. Grading gives everyone an independent evaluation of what is being dealt with. You know what you are getting when you buy a PSA-graded card.
Grading has also made it so much easier for buyers and sellers alike to determine fair values, and it makes it very difficult to commit fraud.
It also makes set building and set collecting not only easier but, in some cases, possible. Without the PSA Registry, trying to build some sets would be just about impossible. The Registry provides a level of sharing that is highly positive for the hobby. Card collecting was once a very solitary activity. Now, with the Registry, you can share what you have and what you are looking for. Thanks to the Registry, these little communities of people with similar interests started to gather on the message boards. There is nothing quite as cool as the collaboration that comes from that.
The collaboration that has come about through PSA grading, the Registry and the message boards is a fantastic development for the hobby because it has really brought people together.
SMR: Tell us a little about what you enjoy outside of running your business.
AC: Well, I'm the father of three children, so I enjoy spending time with my family. I coach my youngest son's Little League team – actually, I coach year-round baseball. I also run my record company which gives me the chance to see a lot of bands. I like cycling and I play basketball with a bunch of guys every week.
SMR: What about your personal collection?
AC: Well, now that I am operating an auction house – so as to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest – I have made the decision to pretty much stop collecting and may even liquidate some of the things I own. I have a collection of game-used bats from the 1978 Yankees and from other Yankees players I've admired over the years. I have a collection of pre-war Hall of Fame baseball cards, including a pretty high-grade 1938 Goudey set that I've been working on for years.
I'm also interested in a rare 1921 set of E120 cards with the Henry Johnson Confectioners back. I have a collection of T206 Hall of Famers in low-grade. I have quite a few items of memorabilia pertaining to Casey Stengel and a rather unique collection of items related to baseball in New Jersey.
I'll always keep my New Jersey collection because, frankly, it has little value to anyone other than me. It's not like collectors are running around desperately trying to find pictures of amateur New Jersey baseball teams from the 1950s. I have team photos, balls, score cards and anything related to the history of baseball in New Jersey. I love the history that the state plays in the game, but these are things that really have little or no appeal to the average collector.
SMR: Before we let you go, we have to ask: why do we have such a love of the game?
AC: [Laughs] There are so many reasons. In my case, it draws me back to my childhood and family – to a time when I was a kid first learning about the game. It's different for everyone. I know one guy who is an intense collector of one particular player. He collects anything to do with that player because he was his favorite player when he was a kid. Others are attracted to a certain team or a certain card set they may have owned as a kid.
In many cases, the love comes from an experience – games they attended with their father or grandfather, players they met or players whose autographs they obtained. There are many different reasons we love the game, but I think what ultimately ties us all together is a sense of nostalgia and a common appreciation for the beauty of the game itself – whether it be baseball, football or hockey.
It's about how the items – cards or any sort of material – stir your senses. It's about where they transport you as a fan – which is almost always back to a certain time of your life and a place that holds fond memories.
If you're interested in participating in a Love of the Game auction as a bidder or if you have valuable sports collectibles you would like to sell, you can contact Al Crisafulli by mail at Love of the Game Auctions, PO Box 157, Great Meadows, NJ, 07838, by e-mail at [email protected] or by visiting their website at www.loveofthegameauctions.com.