The Beckett Blog

The First Baseball Card Dealer by Pepper Hastings

Larry Fritsch and I used to talk mostly about cranberries, not baseball cards. Despite living in Texas, I made two pilgrimages to the woods in Central Wisconsin to visit with Fritsch, the world’s first full-time baseball card dealer.

Fritsch, 71, passed away over the cranberry_bog_100.jpgweekend. I’d like to think he was wearing his “Fritsch Cards” gimme hat and plaid shirt all the way to the end.

Fritsch was a wonderful man with which to converse. He was an avid Packers fan, an overall football kind of guy. He loved to talk about different kinds of trees and about the weather. And cranberries — Fritsch loved to describe how the local fields are flooded every fall, floating the tiny fruit off the ground and into the bogs, where the berries are skimmed from the water and processed for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner trimmings.

Fritsch and his progeny helped drive amateur sports in Stevens Point. His son, Jeff, and his grandchildren all contributed to the success of local prep sports teams over the years. A fabric in the community, his portrait should hang in Applebee’s just east of US 51, which is what the locals call I-39.

OK, so what about Fritsch’s collection? Yes, I’ve seen it. Yes, I’ve been in the vault and have walked the warehouses with Fritsch. No, I won’t describe it here because 60 million cards has a certain mystique about it. It defies description, really.

Let’s leave it this way. Larry Fritsch and his business, as Jim Beckett once said, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Sports Collecting World. (Note to self: Ask Dr. Beckett about the other six.) Fritsch had two of about everything except the Wagner, and isn’t one enough, after all?

Grading? Grading’s for wimps, said Larry in so many words, who’s old school condition guide was good enough for most of his mail order clients for nearly 50 years.

My last trip to Stevens Point was around 2004, and as always, there was Larry and crew back in the woods, taking phone calls, filling orders, sorting cards. Larry handed most of the day-to-day to Jeff by then, leaving Larry time to show me his three complete sets of 1908 Rose Company Postcards and explain to me why the temperature could be down to 15 below that night, but nobody worried about pipes bursting in the ground.

“They set them a lot deeper here than they do in Texas,” he laughed when I voiced concern about his house. “You worry too much. Want to see the Plank?”

— Pepper Hastings

10 Comments so far
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While I didn’t know about Mr. Fritsch until he passed away it is too bad that we are losing another old school collector, someone who amassed a fortune in trading cards the hard way. Pack by pack and personal visit by personal visit. There are still mega collectors/business men out there, Mr. Mint, Rob Veres of Burbank Sports are two that pop to the front of my brain, but while they are good at what they do they don’t have the perceived charm of the elderly gentleman who opens his doors to reveal a hidden treasure of trading cards.

Pep, I am glad you didn’t try to describe 60 million cards. The picture I created in my head is enough to put a smile on my face.

Comment by Elon Werner

No list of hobby inovators is complete without Fritsch. He was an original. Anyone selling cards today as a business, owes a tip of the cap to the Fritsch family.

Comment by dsliepka

As a kid my parents were relocated from Wisconsin to Oregon, and I had to leave behind my beloved Brewers. But during summer vacations I got to go spend a month or so with my Grandmother in Central Wisconsin and usually about two week in, after much cajoling, I would get her to take me to Stevens Point and Larry Fritsch cards. I would then spend an afternoon buying Brewers and Packers cards with money accumulated from paper routes, strawberry picking and neighborhood chores. My total purchases probably did not amount to much more than $100, but Larry and the rest of the Fritsch family were always kind and patient with a 10 year old kid looking to find things like just the right 1977 Topps Von Joshua to finish his Brewers set! He will be missed.

Comment by John

I met Larry in Minneapolis in the early 80’s when he was still doing card shows, we worked together for an hour at the admission table. meeting Larry and listening to his card collecting stories was as much or more fun as meeting Haren Killebrew who they brought in for autographs that day! Larry was truley a CLASS person and one of he real “GOOD GUYS” in he hobby.

Comment by Sean Skaaland

When the Mount Rushmore of sports collectibles is made, Larry Fristch will go on the mountain, because he first pioneered the mountain. Rest in peace Larry, this world wasn’t worthy of you anyway. Somehow I wonder if God took him home to help him finish his 1966 Topps set, because he was sure an angel to a lot of folks looking to finish their’s.

Comment by dawleyedwards

sad……..just sad..R.I.P. . All of the sports cards collecting world will never forget. I personally will miss you Larry more than anyone will ever know… =…(

Comment by ed

RIP Larry Fritsch the true originator! The hobby lives…

Comment by Doctor Wax Battle

I humbly express my heartfelt condolences to the Fritsch bloodline and to his larger family, the hobby world. I think I vaguely remember Mr. Fritsch being at the Philly shows in the mid 70s. (I only say this because I was a teenage high schooler and while I was in love with collecting onto more than 10 years already then, I was far from extroverted at the time.) To me, he was “the” God of the baseball card business. He was a bit out-priced for my wallet, but then he was offering the holy grail for sale to big-time collectors and I was just a babe comparatively, collecting the 60s stuff, as I did. (I did meet Mr. Mint there, finishing a set with him that Bruce Yeko of Wholesale Cards in Georgetown CT [he was the guy who was always on page 16 of every month’s issue of Baseball Digest and the card pusher to my card junkie persona] had failed to find….) His Larry Fritsch Checklist Book was my Bible, keeping my actual checklists clean while I faithfully tried to check off ever box (except for the 1967 Topps #45 Roger Maris variation, which I later learned Mr. Fritsch’s family has had a monopoly on for 40 years). I never got to Stevens Point (only ever having been through Wisconsin once ever, en route from Duluth MI to Chi-town), but now I wish I had planned some time to go! I did get to Cooperstown, NY, and the Hall of Fame, only to find Larry Fritsch had a baseball card store there in the early 1980s??? Every millionaire that has ridden the wave of the card hobby corporate tsunami owes his props to Larry Fritsch, a true hobby GIANT. Godspeed!

Comment by Doug

There was recently a periodical sold on ebay by another hobby giant Brian Cataquet Tobeeecat which featured a young, skinny larry fritsch. here was the item number 230203730851 for anyone interested. Larry had tons of stuff even back then. Im sure going to miss him. He was great to me when i purchased T206 cards.

Comment by jerry spangler

Just read this sad to here but, you have got a new collector. My grand dad past away, and I was giving a bunch of cards. If you dont understand how meny cards, he had a card shop so, so I got alot. But my question is how do I start to price them or trade or even where to begin. If you can give me a idea where to start that would be great anything helps.

Comment by Asa Walker

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