Taking a "Crack" and Collecting 1915 Cracker Jack Baseball Cards
by Kevin Glew
With Hurricane Irma bearing down on his city in early September of 2017, Miami native Andy Montero, like thousands of other Floridians, made plans to evacuate.
His first concern was the safety of his wife, Karla, daughters, Emily (17) and Jacqueline (14), and his dog, Dolce. But at the top of his other list of priorities was preserving his one-of-a-kind 1915 Cracker Jack collection.
"I ended up going to Orlando, Florida, with my family, my dog, and my entire PSA collection for three days until the hurricane passed," said Montero.
Fortunately, when he returned on September 11, he discovered that there was only external damage to his property.
"Everything in my house was OK other than [damage to] some trees, some roof tiles, and the landscaping," he said.
When he fled from the hurricane, Montero also made sure that his three NBA championship rings were safely secured at a bank. As vice president of retail business and development for the Miami HEAT, he has put in long hours over the past 20 years to earn the three rings that he has.
"My most cherished collectibles are my three championship rings," said the 52-year-old sports executive. "Of all the things I have, these are the hardest to get. You have to hit the trifecta to have these: you have to work for the team, you have to be there in their championship year, and you have to be in a position where you qualify for a ring."
It's easy to understand why these rings are so meaningful to Montero, but his actions during the hurricane also reveal just how passionate he is about his unique 1915 Cracker Jack collection, which consists of cards, autographs, and Type 1 photos.
"As far as collecting right now, I have 100% dedication towards this [his Cracker Jack collection] and nothing else," emphasized Montero.
One of PSA's earliest members, Montero purchases solely high-grade cards, autographs, and photos. When he started collecting graded cards, he zeroed in on sets he recalled from his childhood, and at one point, he owned the No. 1, 1973 Topps Football set on the PSA Set Registry. His collecting focus shifted to the Cracker Jack cards about 10 years ago.
"I started looking at T206 cards and the Cracker Jacks, but I ended up liking the Cracker Jacks better because of the bold, red color in the background," he explained. "Just having one of the cards in my hand and seeing how thin they were, thinking about how they were incorporated and put inside the little Cracker Jack boxes, it made me think about their history. Also, they're part of Americana; there's even the 'Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks' line in [the song] 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'"
Once he discovered the Cracker Jack cards, he had to decide whether to pursue the 1914 or 1915 singles.
"You could only find the 1914 cards in the box with the candy, while you could also buy the 1915 cards separately as sets [through a mail-in offer]," noted Montero. "I'm very particular when I'm collecting cards. I want them to be as high grade as possible and that's why I opted for the 1915 over the 1914."
His goal is to finish the 176-card, 1915 Cracker Jack set in PSA NM 7 or better condition. His set is currently No. 8 on the Registry and he's almost 60% complete. For now, he's concentrating on the commons in the series, although he has some of the HOF cards already.
"There are a lot of commons that are tougher to get, so those are the ones that I'm putting all my energy into right now," says Montero. As for the Hall of Famers, he explains that he is leaving some of those until the end because, in a lot of cases, you can obtain those with more ease as long as you have the financial means.
Among the key Cooperstowners cards that Montero will have to land are Ty Cobb (#30), Walter Johnson (#57), Tris Speaker (#65), Nap Lajoie (#66), Honus Wagner (#68), Christy Mathewson (#88), and the highly desirable Joe Jackson single (#103).
The veteran collector says three of his favorite cards are the Tommy Leach (#41), Doc Gessler (#59), and Frank Smith (#90) singles.
"All of those cards have action images with the red background and green grass on the bottom, which make the cards very attractive instead of just having a portrait image," he said.
Montero has also tracked down what he believes to be the finest surviving example of the album that was available for these cards as a promotional offer.
The biggest challenge Montero faces is the enormous competition for high-grade 1915 Cracker Jack cards.
"What I've noticed is that the longer you continue on this journey, and I'm close to 60% complete now, the harder the cards are to get because of how picky I am. Due to the grade I'm seeking them in, I'm only able to pick up maybe two or three cards a year," explained Montero.
The slow pace at which he was adding cards is what inspired him to begin the second component of his 1915 Cracker Jack collection. He's now attempting to acquire an autograph of every player in the series. He prefers the signatures on index or government postcards (GPC). And consistent with his focus on high-grade material, he's pursuing PSA/DNA-certified autographs that have been graded PSA/DNA MINT 9 or PSA/DNA GEM-MT 10.
"I started buying the Hall of Famer autographs because they're the easiest ones to get," said Montero, who owns, among others, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, and Joe Tinker signatures.
It's the common players' autographs that are most elusive.
"There are guys that I've never seen and I have no idea what their autograph looks like," said Montero. "So, I basically had to do my own research; I had to start looking on eBay and going to Nationals, sitting down at tables and going through buckets and buckets of index cards and government postcards."
As a result of his efforts, he now owns a number of PSA/DNA-certified autographs of 1915 Cracker Jack players that are one of only a few in existence. For example, in August of 2017, Montero picked up a contract signed by Cuban Armando Marsans. Marsans' autograph is so rare that Montero was happy to have it on any item, but this is an original Major League contract that's also signed by then St. Louis Browns President Branch Rickey.
"Marsans only played parts of eight seasons in Major League Baseball. Then he went back to Cuba," explained Montero. "So his autograph is very, very hard to find. And the autograph on that document is a high-end example."
The signature of Hall of Famer Fred Clarke that he secured for his collection is another one of his favorites.
"It was done with a fountain pen, so it almost looks like a John Hancock autograph," noted Montero. "It's incredible; it's super elegant."
On top of the challenge of tracking down autographs of the common players in any form, Montero, as noted earlier, also covets these signatures in high grade.
Montero owns the top 1915 Cracker Jack (Any Medium) set on the PSA/DNA Registry. He is 35.8% complete and is optimistic that he will one day finish this set.
"I'm very persistent, and I look and turn over every stone. I go to every National and scour the Internet constantly," said Montero. "I will find them all. I am committed to finding them all, and I enjoy the challenge."
And as if uncovering autographs of the 1915 Cracker Jack players isn't tough enough, Montero is also trying to land PSA/DNA-certified Type 1 action photos of each of the set's 176 players.
"Charles M. Conlon is my favorite photographer," explained Montero. "I just like the idea that he was one of the first photographers that got on the field with his camera."
Similar to his approach with the cards, Montero is beginning with photos of the common players.
"This is the third leg of the collection, so I started with a lot of the commons, which are going to be the ones that are tougher to find," said Montero. "If one of these guys only played for one or two years, there had to be a photographer on the field to get them, so they're very, very tough."
Montero has acquired close to 50 different Type 1 photos, including shots of Otto Knabe, Dots Miller, Bert Whaling, and Fred Merkle.
And his 1915 Cracker Jack player collection doesn't end there. He also has vintage decal bats, old gloves, game tickets linked to these players, and a complete 1993 Cracker Jack Anniversary (reprint) set which is currently ranked No. 2 on the PSA Set Registry.
So what does his family think of his enthusiasm for the 1915 Cracker Jack set and its players?
"My wife, Karla, is 100% supportive," said Montero. "She understands that this is a passion of mine. She also understands that there's value in it."
His teenage daughters, Emily and Jacqueline, also humor their dad's passion.
"They think I'm nuts," said Montero. "They understand though. They do like the cards. They nod their heads in approval, but for the most part they say, 'OK, I don't know what all of these little cards are.'"
Montero's ultimate goal with his collection is to display it on a customized website.
"I've already secured [the domain name] crackerjackballplayers.com, and eventually I plan to put all of my collection on there for people to view it from top to bottom," explained Montero. "I'd like to have a little story under each of the images."
For more information on the 1915 Cracker Jack baseball card set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/baseball-cards/1915-cracker-jack/130.
Please feel free to contact SMR at [email protected] if you have any questions or comments. A special thanks to Andy Montero and his daughter Jacqueline for providing the images for this article.
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