What were you doing when the first Cranston Sports Collectors Show opened for business?
If you were Roone Arledge, the ABC-TV executive who later would become the Father of Monday Night Football, you might have been re-reading your introduction in the recently published and long-awaited Sports Collectors Bible.
If you were Keith Olbermann, now a TV commentator powerful enough to take on the likes of Bill O’Reilly, you could have been congratulating your team of writers as the editor of publisher Michael Aronstein’s Sports Collectors Quarterly, which had made its debut in the winter of 1975.
If you were Bert Randolph Sugar, now a revered publisher and writer; Bill Madden, then a UPI sports writer who went on to make his name with the New York Daily News; or Don Honig, now an oft-published author who had just completed Baseball When The Grass Was Real and was working on Baseball Between The Lines, you would have been on the receiving end of Olbermann’s plaudits for your fine articles in his pioneering hobby publication.
If you were Alan Rosen, now the “Mr. Mint” of collectibles dealers, you were still selling copying machines and beginning to dabble in antiques, but still two years away from even attending your first baseball card show.
If you collected baseball cards, you could buy 1952 Topps Baseball commons for $5 each, a 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie card for $500 or one of the now cherished T206 Honus Wagner tobacco cards for no more than $1,500.
And, if you are 35 years of age or younger, you weren’t even born.
That’s because the Cranston Sports Collectors Show is about to celebrate its 35th anniversary in Rhode Island, an annual one-day show open to collectors and dealers. The show goes back so far that even SCD was still a relative newcomer at its inception.
The first show, in 1976, attracted 15 dealers and a crowd of about 250 to a small hall. Over the years, attendance has grown to about 1,800 per show. The event has been so successful that it’s had to seek larger facilities three times until it now fills several rooms at the sprawling West Valley Inn and overflows the mammoth parking lots surrounding it in West Warwick, R.I.
The show attracts most of the top dealers from throughout New England, some of whom have been involved from the beginning. Dealers come from several states, too, such as Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey – and that includes Rosen, a long-time show backer. Show hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., but many arrive early and stay late.
The Cranston event’s 35 years of history makes it the oldest continuing annual sports collectors show in the nation, if the figuring of show organizer Tom McDonough and his committee is correct.
By comparison, the vaunted National Convention is only 32 years old, the fabled Philly Show has been operating for 31 years, and the revived Chicago Sun-Times event can count just 34 years on its collection of past calendars.
McDonough will tell you that his show’s “secret of success” is that it has been true to its original vision – an event created especially to serve sports card and memorabilia collectors and dealers. In essence, the show’s the thing, to borrow from theatrical terminology.
There are no bells and whistles or flashy gimmicks. Nor are there long lineups of sports stars ready to sign autographs for a fee. The closest to that phenomenon is the fact that collectors at the Cranston show may run across sports stars who are attending the show either because they are collectors, friends of McDonough and his committee or support the event’s underlying charitable purpose – or all three.
Over the years, the crowd at the show has often included former big-league catcher and coach Mike Roarke and former pro football running back Mark van Eeghen. Both are members of Immaculate Conception Church, the Cranston parish that has been the beneficiary of the annual event. Over time, more than $250,000 has been raised to support parish activities, with McDonough and the St. Joseph Men’s Guild, the show sponsor, leading the way.
The roster of sports stars that might be standing next to you also includes former Red Sox general manager and R.I. native Lou Gorman; ex-Sox manager Joe Morgan, who once had a similar job up the road in Pawtucket; former Twins infielder Greg Gagne and popular Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, who both live nearby in Massachusetts; and ex-Sox pitcher Dennis Oil Can Boyd, who lived in R.I. and played in both Pawtucket and Brockton, most recently for the Bay State’s Independent League team.
You might also find at the show added attractions such as the R.I. Reds Heritage Society led by its president Buster Clegg, newspaper cartoonist Frank Galasso, and representatives of both the Pawtucket Red Sox baseball club and the Providence Bruins hockey team, including their respective mascots Paws and Sam-Boni.
See for yourself
Some business reports will tell you that the collecting hobby has been going through serious setbacks. They’ll tell you that what was once a billion-dollar new card market has shrunk to about a fifth of that total.
But the reports also reveal that the market remains strong for all things vintage, mostly those scarce and enduring cards and artifacts sought so obsessively, but also a category that by now most certainly applies to Rhode Island’s 35-year-old Cranston Sports Collectors Show.