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"Earnie" Lombardi: What the Schnozz Is Going On Here?

Updated on July 12, 2012

"Earnie" Lombardi: What the Schnozz Is Going On Here?

by Robb Hoff

July 12, 2012

News of the recent find of 1910 rare baseball cards in pristine condition instantly evoked fascination for me about the treasure but also conjured memories of a youth spent collecting vintage baseball cards.

Not that I've ever hauled in $3-million for cards found in an attic, but I did make a few thousand dollars by the time I completely sold out my collection for money to burn during a year of study abroad in England.

My own personal venture into the world of vintage cards began with a flea market in the Western Hills area of Cincinnati that was held on Sundays at a movie drive-in theater. Both the theater and the flea market have long since given way to a Wal-Mart, but the vestige of the place and its wide, gravel aisles is still fresh in my mind.

There was a seller at the flea market who had a flat glass case full of vintage baseball cards in addition to binders full of more cards that were less expensive.

I was between 8-10 years old at the time I would frequent the flea market with either my grandpa or dad. This was during the height of the Big Red Machine, so I was already buying baseball card packs out of stores and actually collected the whole sets of Topps cards that way in 1975 and 1976.

But the cards at the flea market were different.

They were old. They were history. And these vintage cards altered my perspective and awareness of both time and place as I collected further.

I was lucky enough that the flea market seller offered mystery cards for a quarter per draw by way of envelopes that filled a Husman potato chips. I came to buy about 100 cards from 1958 that way, including a 1958 Hank Aaron in excellent condition, which I promptly traded to another collector at the Husman can for a 1954 Topps Willie Mays in just very good condition primarily because I liked Mays more than Aaron but also because the 1954 card was older and larger.

I didn't but all of my vintage cards that way, though. I also bought a 1933 Goudey card of Reds player and Hall of Famer Chick Hafey out of the glass case for a few dollars.

The Goudey cards were distinctive from other cards because of their size and thickness.

Which brings me to The Schnozz.

Now the discovery of the rare 1910 cards in the attic didn't just make me harken back to days of yore. It also made me go back to just last month when I noticed a particular baseball card in a flat glass case at a place called TraderBakers in Carrolton, Kentucky.

It was a 1935 Diamond Kings baseball card of Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi, whose statute crouches on the front lawn to the entrance of the home stadium for the Cincinnati Reds -- Great American Ballpark. The crouching statue of Lombardi is flanked by a statue of another Hall of Famer Frank Robinson who is depicted batting against Reds legendary player and broadcaster Joe Nuxhall, who is in pitching motion farther down the lawn.

But as for the "Earnie" Lombardi baseball card.....I had to go see if it was still there in Carrollton.

And it was.

After looking at the $115 price sticker, I asked to handle the card. It was in a loose plastic sleeve inside of a clear plastic screw case. I angled the card to reflect as much light off the front of the card to detect any surface defects, of which there was just one -- a miniscule bump in the cardboard along the left border of the card. The back was as clear as it was the day it was printed.

So the card was good -- excellent in fact -- but it wasn't graded and $115 is a lot to pay for a baseball card, especially since I only have three baseball cards now ( a 1958 Frank Robinson, a 1968 Willie Mays and a 1972 Tony Perez).

I returned the card to the case, richer for having handled it briefly and thereby further contributing to its history as an unusual piece of Americana printed out on cardboard.

Some 70 years later, the "Earnie" Lombardi card has not only not lost its luster. It has gained even more sheen.

If the price drops to the $75 range, I'll buy "The Schnozz" for myself.


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