The day LaRoche La Lobbed a pile of dough my way

   A week or so ago I blogged about what a horrible card dealer I was for the several years that I tried it way back before I started full time here at SCD, so it’s only fair that I reverse course and talk about my best day as a dealer.

   I think it was 1992, and I was doing a Chicago show in the western suburbs, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t George Johnson’s Sun-Times show. I think it was on Ogden Avenue, which just came to me – I don’t know how.

   Anyway, it was what you would call a typical Saturday morning when a man about my age came to my table and was looking at my early 1970s Topps stuff. It took me a while to recognize him, but the fact that his clothes were so snappy was something of a hint. It usually is with big-league ballplayers. You notice they ain’t shopping off-the-rack at WalMart.

   It was Dave LaRoche, the pitcher from the 1970s who carved a spot in baseball history with his own version of Rip Sewell’s famous Eephus pitch, which he called “La Lob.” He was tickled that I recognized him, and we struck up a conversation for several minutes.

   He asked to take a look at complete sets of 1971 and 1972 Topps that I was offering, noting that his first two Topps cards appeared in those years and he had always wanted the full sets. The sets I had were near-mint or better, though I suppose that with today’s hyper vigilance from grading the 1971 might fall short of that these days.

   But in 1992 it would have been acceptable to “grade” both in that fashion, certainly the 1972 set, which I had put together card-by-card many years earlier (with the last series purchased en masse from Larry Fritsch). But LaRoche didn’t have a lot of time to look at the cards; he was the White Sox pitching coach at the time, and there was a game that afternoon at Comiskey.

   He asked if he could come to my hotel room that night to get a closer look at the sets. Gee, tough call. Sitting on a hotel room bed with takeout food while watching reruns of “Walker Texas Ranger,” or kibitzing with one of the game’s top relief pitchers from the 1970s … and maybe making some money. The internal debate lasted 3/8’s of a second.

   About 9 p.m., he showed up with his bullpen coach, Johnny Stephenson, in tow. That made it evern better; Stephenson was a backup catcher for my Metsies in the mid-1960s, so I had a great time talking with him about Casey and the rest of that amazing crew. While we had a couple of beers, LaRoche sat at a table and carefully went through the two binders, page by page.

   As the title of the blog suggests, he ultimately decided to buy both sets, and under the continuing premise that I am a better journalist than baseball card dealer, I’ll defy another convention and say that he paid me – as I recall – about $3,400 for the pair of them.

   That made it about $4,200 for the weekend, which was easily the record for this lousy card dealer. I drove home Sunday night to Indiana and asked my then-wife to guess how much I had made, thinking it would be a nice surprise, since the take was usually $1,000 or even far less.

   “$5,000,” she exclaimed. She was a psychologist, not an accountant, so the surprise was gone, but at least I still had the dough.

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