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Cardboard treasure: SCV man's baseball card could bring 6 figures

A unique baseball card could make lots of money for a Saugus man

Posted: April 19, 2014 10:11 p.m.
Updated: April 19, 2014 10:11 p.m.

This 1887 Old Judge baseball card of Deacon White, which erroneously identifies the Baseball Hall of Famer as "McGreachery" is currently up for auction.

 

The reply on the email had one word — “JACKPOT.”

It was the verification of something Saugus resident Bill Phippen had a hunch about.

That this aged, fibrous baseball card with a pinhole in it, rounded corners and a man with a push-broom mustache on it, was worth a fortune.

The card and how it found its way to Phippen are both unique stories.

Phippen consigned the card to auction with dealer Robert Edward Auctions. The public can bid on it until April 26 at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. As of 9:30 p.m. PST Saturday, the high bid was $55,000.

In baseball card lore, the most famous is the Honus Wagner T206 — a version of the card, which the Hall of Famer originally did not provide consent for, sold for $2.8 million and was involved in a memorabilia scandal where a dealer pleaded guilty for mail fraud for trimming the sides of the card to get a higher value.

Call Phippen’s card the “McGreachery Card.”

On the card is a portrait of Deacon White, a man who didn’t become a Hall of Famer until 2013 — 74 years after his death.

He played 20 years in the big leagues from 1871 to 1890, collected the first official Major League hit May 4, 1871, was a catcher and caught barehanded and was one of the well-known players at the time this card was printed by cigarette company Old Judge in 1887.

White, according to Old Judge baseball card expert Joe Gonsowski, who wrote the book “Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin and Company 1886-1890,” was a very unique baseball player.

“He played during a time when baseball was very rough,” Gonsowski says. “A lot of drinkers and womanizers. Wholesome families didn’t want their kids to be baseball players. White (whose real name was James) was nicknamed ‘Deacon’ because he was very clean — didn’t drink, didn’t swear — one of the very few good guys on the field. Most people in history would agree he was the best barehanded catcher of the day. ... His hands were horribly crippled, but he was the premier catcher of the 1870s. And at a time when catchers had a short baseball career, he reinvented himself as a third baseman and was one of the best of the 1880s.”

White had nine different poses for the Old Judge set — only one with a portrait.

In this card, he is misidentified as “McGreachery, Mgr. Indianapolis.”

White played for the National League’s Detroit Wolverines that season and there was no player or manager of the

Indianapolis club with the name McGreachery.

The Robert Edward Auctions website explains that there were non-error White cards in the set, and this one may have been a joke card with hidden meaning, inserted for reasons that will likely never be known.

One theory states that “the roots of words comprising the name ‘McGreachery,’ in Old English and Latin, according to research presented, translate to ‘Sweet Son of God’ and ‘Fall from Grace.’”

White, being very religious and old looking, could have been being poked fun at, Gonsowski said.

Until last year, there was only one McGreachery Card in existence — until Phippen unknowingly purchased the card as part of a set from a fellow collector.

Phippen, 50, is a prop maker who has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley since the 1970s.

He is a modest-to-serious baseball card and memorabilia collector.

In a small room on the second story of his house, there is a table with baseball cards encased in plastic neatly stacked.

There is a workbench lamp with a magnifying glass for him to look into and obsess about sharp corners and centered photographs — two aspects baseball card graders demand to label them mint.

There are boxes of cards underneath the table — mostly from the 1980s and 1990s, when cards were overproduced and have little value to this day to serious collectors.

But he has some older cards that enthusiasts of the hobby would appreciate.

Including his first baseball card — a Joe Morgan rookie.

Last fall, Phippen knew of a fellow collector looking to unload his cards.

“He wanted to buy Beatles memorabilia,” Phippen said of the collector.

Phippen saw the Old Judge cards in the collection, but the real prizes to him were the post-World War II cards in the collection — cards of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and other greats of his childhood.

The Old Judge cards were a bonus.

Phippen wouldn’t disclose how much he paid for the cards, but based off his future findings about the McGreachery card, he will make a very, very large profit.

Once in his collection, Phippen researched the 19th Century small pieces of cardboard that were once inserted into packs of cigarettes.

This “McGreachery” card presented problems for Phippen.

“That card I was having problems with. The type face C and G (in that Old Judge set) are very similar. They have a ton of errors in that set,” Phippen says.

Finally, an Internet search directed him to a forum site on pre-World War II baseball cards and memorabilia.

He saw a post on this card around Thanksgiving.

The last paragraph in the post said the card was valued at $200,000.

“I didn’t believe it,” Phippen says. “I jumped up in the living room, then went back to the thread.”
Phippen put the card in a 2-inch plastic case.

Like a kangaroo with its joey, he wore a hooded sweatshirt constantly and kept the card in the pouch of his sweater.

When he took showers, he took it into the bathroom.

At night, he slept with it next to him on a nightstand with a knife within arm’s reach.

“It was my first instinct,” Phippen says. “Like finding the missing link, I was going to die for it.”

Phippen, though, kept looking through the forum site for people to contact to verify what it was.

He found Gonsowski.

Phippen scanned the card and emailed the picture to the expert.

“I knew it was real,” Gonsowski said. “I had seen enough reprints to know it wasn’t a copy.”

Gonsowski then replied with the “JACKPOT” email.

Phippen told his wife, Julia.

“I’m more of a show-me kind of person. I was more of, ‘OK,’” she says unenthusiastically.

The moment she changed her tune was when she saw the card up on the Robert Edward Auctions website.

“He texted me the link to the auction, and I looked at it and went, ‘Oh, OK,” Julia says, this OK having a much more exuberant tone.

But why is a card featuring a baseball player that only a very hardcore baseball fan would know of be worth so much?

Gonsowski says it helps that after decades of support that went unheard, the Baseball Hall of Fame finally recognized White in 2013.

Coming off that honor, there is a newfound appreciation for White.

And the fact that the card, in an already legendary baseball card set, is a one-off, check that, now two-off, makes it much more valuable.

“From the get-go, before I knew of this card’s existence, the ‘McGreachery Card’ is a six-figure card,” Gonsowski says. “When this surfaced I didn’t change my mind.”

With the money he gets from the auction, Phippen says he plans to pay off some bills.

He might reinvest in some other cards. His dream would be to one day open his own baseball card shop.

But that’s a dream, he says, as his wife sits quietly.

He checks the auction site regularly and has seen the numbers rise.

The first bid came in at $10,000. The numbers went up $1,000 at a time until they reached $20,000 — then started going up $2,500 at a time.

Julia used to refer to her husband’s collection as his “little cards.”

But one little card will now have another name.

The McGreachery Card’s new name for the Phippens is “vacation.”

 

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