It may be perceived by some as a little boy's hobby, but baseball-card dealing is serious (but fun) business for 42-year-old Bill Goepner. The buying and selling of old, new and rare cards began years ago as an offshoot of a hobby for Goepner while he pursued his career in international banking. His sideline business grew through the years, as did his discontent for the constant travel and "political games" his full-time job required. About four years ago, Goepner decided to "take the risk" and quit his job to immerse himself in the trading of cards full time. The risk has paid off. "The Baseball Card Store," on 5th Avenue in uptown San Diego, has grown and diversified into a national company that sells at least 500,000 cards a month. While there is more of a demand for cards of current players, it is the older cards Goepner favors. These cards are worth hundreds of times more than their original cost if still in excellent condition--a rookie Don Drysdale on a Topps card is worth $28, a 1957 Sandy Koufax retails for $78, and a rookie Mickey Mantle sells for $175. Goepner lives in the Kensington area with his wife and three children. He was interviewed by Times staff writer Kathie Bozanich and photographed by Times staff photographer Barbara Martin.
I started collecting cards in the early '50s. We lived in Washington, D.C., and my dad would take me out to Griffith Stadium to watch the Washington Senators. They were always in last place when I was a kid. The old joke was, "Washington--first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."
The business had its very humble roots in San Francisco, where my wife and I had a Victorian, two-bedroom flat. We stacked one of the rooms with the extra cards I had accumulated and began placing small ads in trade papers, advertising what I had and looking into what I could buy, all in my spare time.
In 1980 the bank I worked for sent me to Melbourne, Australia, to manage the branches it had there and in New Zealand.
I was just a day behind all the activity here in the U.S. in terms of reading all the trade papers, seeing an opportunity and buying material. I continued to buy heavily when I was down there and stayed active in my spare time.
I was tired of making seven-week trips to the Far East and not being able to get home and enjoy my children. I decided to take the risk, albeit it wasn't a risk of going into completely unchartered waters. We had been doing this for a while.
It was the travel and the political games that you have to play that did me in. I think there was an unconscious decision on my part that to really get as far as I wanted to, the personal price would be too much. I saw the 60 hours a week the really successful guys were putting in. It just seemed like they weren't pausing to enjoy anything. They didn't have any hobbies and they were away from their children a lot.
I said to myself: Number one, I don't know if I'm as good as they are to get to where they are; and Number two, I don't know if I have the political skills to get there. I knew if I didn't have either or both I was going to be very frustrated. I thought it was time to set up my own thing and lead my life the way I would really like to.
We moved the business out of the house by the time my first child, Alexander, was walking, basically as a protective measure. He was at the "pick it up and put in your mouth" stage. I can still picture the first card he got his hands on--a '71 Joe Torre.
Cards began appreciating in the mid-1970s. I think it was all a part of this whole nostalgia craze society has been going through. Baseball is part of the fabric and thread of American society. I think that as the nostalgia craze gained momentum, and baseball was part of that, people began to look at collecting these cards.
This is here to stay. This is not a Hula Hoop or a Davy Crockett coonskin cap kind of thing. People are always going to want cards. Parents introduce children to baseball at an early age and I see that being handed down forever.
My favorite cards are the Topps complete from the 1950s. The quality of the cards was better then, they were a little thicker and the art work seemed a little bit more creative. I just think they are really neat.