“These scrapbooks are my jewels because unlike all other collectibles, they were not purchased but manufactured by me exclusively for my enjoyment,” says Bob Lauro of Port Richey, Fla.
One-of-a-kind collections that are crafted and designed by an individual collector for the sole purpose of interest and enjoyment – not for monetary reward or investment – have always piqued my interest. From this corner, Lauro’s 500 scrapbooks that chronicle major league baseball history from 1946-95 qualify as a thumbs-up in the world of collecting.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., he and Sandy Koufax both played sandlot ball at about the same time. “I was an Italian kid who lived in a Jewish section and Koufax was a Jewish kid who lived in an Italian section,” chuckled Lauro. Koufax would become a star in the scrapbooks that Lauro would create.
The retired Muzak salesman grew up bleeding Dodger blue. Ebbets Field was his baseball heaven. Names like Gene Hermanski, George “Shotgun” Shuba, Bud Podbielan, Jack Banta and Jake Pitler roll off his nostalgic tongue with pride. He’ll even tell you about an obscure outfielder named Joe Tepsic, whose career consisted of five hitless at-bats for the Dodgers in 1946. Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang and the fanatical Dodger diehard, Hilda Chester, whose voice echoed throughout Ebbets Field, were an important part of his adolescent baseball summers. And as much as he embraces the Brooklyn Dodgers, he despises the Yankees, a team that fractured his heart too many times. He refers to them as “The Evil Empire.”
Despite his affinity to the Dodgers, Lauro’s scrapbook collection does not center primarily on his beloved “Bums.” It’s much more eclectic, extending throughout the major leagues. He has documented the game’s history in a very unique manner. If you want to get a feel for such epic events as Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1947, Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round’ the World” in ’51, Don Larsen’s perfect game in the ’56 World Series or follow the Mantle-Maris home run chase of Babe Ruth in ’61, Lauro’s scrapbooks would be a good place to start.
“I don’t have any headlines on Jackie Robinson’s inaugural game but I do have a photo of Jackie sitting in the dugout that day and kids hanging over the dugout,” said Lauro.
The root of his life-long labor of love is the result of an assignment given to him by a grade school teacher at P.S. 238.
“I was 10 years old in 1946 when Mr. Fiegenbloom, my arts and crafts teacher, gave the class an assignment to put together a baseball scrapbook,” he recalled. “He wanted us to take pictures out of the paper. I think my grade was a ‘C’ for the project.”
For some reason, Lauro was inspired to do a second scrapbook on his own and it never stopped. As years passed, his little hobby snowballed beyond his expectations. The idea of putting together baseball pictures in a scrapbook that included daily game headlines of every game played in the major leagues along with the photos that accompanied them became his mission that covered parts of six decades. He recorded major league history by cutting and pasting newspaper and magazine articles and photos before putting them in composition notebooks that became his sacred scrapbooks. It is perhaps the largest collection of its type ever produced with such detail.
“The net result of my scrapbook collection is that it just about comprises a complete chronological history of the game in pictures, not text,” related Lauro.
The first four years (1946-49) was his warm-up period. After that, he put the pedal to the metal and drove his hobby to another level. “The first few years I filled about two or three scrapbooks,” he explained. “From 1950 on, it became very organized. I went from two to three scrapbooks a year to about six a year and then eight. Not only did I include the day-to-day standings along with photos and headlines, I covered spring training, the All-Star Game and the World Series. Every year I also did a minor league scrapbook summarizing the season. I would get my information from The Sporting News and Baseball America. During the offseason, I zeroed in on players who worked jobs or had businesses to supplement their income. I have photos of Roy Campanella in his Harlem liquor store, Phil Linz in his “Mr. Laffs” nightclub, Jim Palmer in a clothing store, etc.”
When Lauro was 12 years old, he developed an understanding of how to improve the quality of his scrapbooks. He developed a style where each of the three local New York teams were highlighted by the headline score, with accompanying game photos and the standings at the completion of the day. It was fleshed out by all other games that were played that included photos of players and non-game pictures.
Lauro was fortunate to launch his hobby during the golden age of newspaper reporting in the Big Apple. “Because I was raised in New York City, it supported my zeal in collecting everything that was photographed and printed,” he said. “My father, who worked in a bank, would bring home the Daily News and the New York Daily Mirror. At the time, there were seven different newspapers in the City. The Daily News was the most pictorial. There were seven to eight photographs every day in the News. The Mirror and the Post also had several photos daily. I eventually supplemented the newspaper material with photos and articles from Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and occasionally Life magazine. With that said, I believe that I can safely claim that on the shelves of my bookcases I have more photographs of baseball that any fan could possibly have.”
A veritable paper junkie, Lauro’s general collection includes 2,898 magazines (645 of which are Baseball Digest), 156 hardcover books, 152 softcover books, 420 pocket books and 113 team-issued publications, many of which are the inaugural copy. He also has baseball cards and yearbooks that date back to the ’40s. He even had a 1950 Yankee Sketch Book that he sold.
“For 50 years, I bought or subscribed to just about every baseball periodical that was released either on newsstands or by subscription,” Lauro said. “This is primarily magazines, many of which were preseason previews, yearbooks, All-Star and World Series programs. My Baseball Digest collection stacks up 12-feet high.”
Did Lauro cut up those valuable gems? “No, those items were not sacrificed to the scissor,” he said. “The exceptions were those that were published weekly, which due to its frequency created a storage problem and ended up in my scrapbooks.”
The scrapbook aficionado collected baseball cards for a period but rates his baseball card collection as only “fair.” He has 50,000 cards from the over-produced 1980-95 era that include complete sets of Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, Score and Donruss.
A major feature of Lauro’s scrapbook collection is the indexing system he used. Pick a player and he is indexed by publication. For instance, take former outfielder Willard Marshall. A quick glance at the index reveals that feature articles on Marshall can be found in the following sources: 1946 and 1984 Giants yearbooks; 1948 June Baseball Digest; 1948 July Sport; 1949 Fall Sport; 1952 Boston Braves Yearbook; 1953 Cincinnati Reds yearbook; 1972 August Baseball Digest; 1996 Feb. Baseball Digest and the book, One Shining Season by Michael Fredo (Pharos Books, 1991).
The indexing of players gave Lauro a pulse about the popularity of players during his 50 years of scrapbooking. In reference to such publications as Sport, Sport Life, Baseball Digest, Baseball Review, Sports Illustrated, Sports Collectors Digest, Dell and others, a question he likes to ask is, “Since 1946, what major league player had more feature stories than any other player written about him?” If you said Mickey Mantle, you’re right. The Yankee icon had over 230 feature articles, 52 alone in Baseball Digest.
Why did the scrapbook guru halt his operation in 1995? “It’s not because I ran out of glue,” quipped Lauro.” In moving to Florida, I lost my access to all the New York papers, although there are only a few left today.”
If there is a void in Lauro’s collection, it’s in the area of memorabilia. He did at one time, however, have a Babe Ruth model bat. “When I lived in Brooklyn, the abandoned mansion of A.G. Spalding, the former player and sporting goods entrepreneur, was nearby. One day, around 1948 or 1949, I walked by and noticed that there was a door opened so I walked in and discovered a dark brown bat that weighed a ton. I don’t know if it was a bat that ‘The Babe’ ever used himself, but his name was inscribed on it. I took it home but I don’t know whatever happened to it. I still lose sleep over that lost or stolen bat.”
Lauro no longer has the bat, but he does have a neat autograph collection from his days as a youngster begging for signatures outside Ebbets Field. The names range from stars like Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Stan Musial to the likes of Carl Furillo, Bruce Edwards and Bill Serena. As he did with newspapers and magazines, he pasted his autographs into a scrapbook.
The 73-year-old collector is well aware that his collection has a limited monetary value but that was never his goal. He finds it frustrating that a piece of cardboard (baseball card) is often more valuable than many of the periodicals that he has.
“What I have just doesn’t compete with cardboard that has numbers on it,” he lamented. “If I sound sarcastic, it’s meant to be because I still can’t accept the fact that a 1953 Topps Bobby Morgan is worth more than a 1953 Sport magazine with stories, ads, text and pictures.”
Lauro has enjoyed a hobby for a duration that most collectors can ever imagine. And he enjoys flaunting it and telling his story.
“As Dizzy Dean once was quoted, ‘It ain’t bragging when you can do it,’ ” boasted Lauro. “There may not be much monetary value to my scrapbook collection, but nobody can duplicate this because it’s an original, if anyone cares.”
Mr. Fiegenbloom would care. And yes, he would be impressed enough to give his former student an “A” this time around.