I started my collector issue series a few weeks back with my article about Mike Aronstein and TCMA. This week, I’ll shift to another collector issue pioneer from the 70s known as having had one of the largest personal collections of anyone in the hobby, Larry Fritsch.
Hobby Pioneer Larry Fritsch
Fritsch became a full-time dealer in 1970 when he launched Larry Fritsch Cards, Inc. on May 1st. But Fritsch traced his involvement in the hobby back to 1948 and was a collector first – he built one of the most legendary collections in hobby history. He was known to have bought, traded, and sold cards religiously since childhood.
Larry graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and worked multiple part-time jobs, including one as a train baggage handler, a tax researcher, and in a paper mill, before following his passion in the hobby.
Fritsch operated primarily as a mail-order business with giant catalogs, and he advertised his company in many different publications, like The Sporting News. Around 1989, he was selling more than 200k mail-order cards per week.
Larry was the face of the business side of the hobby for over 30 years.
Key Fritsch Sets and Cards
Today, many people know the Fritsch brand for having some incredible unopened material that Larry had bought directly from manufacturers’ end-of-year stock, but he created some significant collector issues.
Fritsch One-Year Winners
Fritsch’s first offering was an 18-card set, One-Year Winners, printed in 1977 and sold through his catalog. It featured players “with brief, but often well-known, major league baseball careers.” The first card in the set was Eddie Gaedel, who, along with Pete Gray, have the key cards in the 1977 release. The set was continued with 36 more cards in 1979 and another 64 in 1983 (many of which used unused Topps pictures and were designed similarly to 1966 Topps baseball cards), all continuously numbered. As I said, he was a collector first, so it makes sense that his first set was something the hobby had never seen before.
1986 Fritsch Negro League Baseball All-Stars
The Standard Catalog describes this set as “one of the most comprehensive collectors’ issues to features stars of the Negro League…most of the photos are contemporary with the players’ careers from the 1920s into the 1950s, with a few of the segregated leagues’ earlier pioneers also included.” The set’s key cards are Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Moses Fleetwood Walker, Josh Gibson, Willie Wells, and Smoky Joe Williams. If you’re into baseball history, pick up this 119-card set.
The SAMPLE backs are a little more desirable.
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Cards
From a collector issue perspective, Larry Fritsch Cards key set came out in 1995 when they released a set of 234 cards highlighting the women’s league that the movie “A League of Their Own” made famous. They added a second series in 1996 to bring the set’s total to 340 cards. Later, in 2000, they added a third series with another 72 cards and an updated series of nine cards in 2002.
Other Key Cards
As a collector first, Fritsch didn’t make reprint sets for a long time because it was against his philosophy. But he said that when a set reached $5k, a lot of folks couldn’t afford them anymore, and he wanted more people to be able to see the cards. An example is the 1982 Fritsch 1957 Spic and Span Reprints.
In the 80s, Larry Fritsch Cards created a few dozen Midwest League minor league sets along with a great minor league card of Kirby Puckett on the Visalia Oaks that I highlighted in an article about 6 Great Early 1980s Minor League Baseball Cards.
In 1983, Fristch commemorated the 30th anniversary of the move of the Boston Braves to Milwaukee with a 33-card set that included an Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.
Wrap-Up and Further Reading
Not only did Fritsch contribute some incredible collector issue sets to the hobby, but he also did a lot to educate it. He contributed to many hobby guides and books like the Sports Collectors Bible series and authored the Baseball Card Alphabetical Handbooks.
The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards also used his knowledge and collection to detail a lot of obscure and rare cards.
Unfortunately, Larry Fritsch passed away in 2007. Kit Young wrote a great article about his friend that you can read on the Sports Collectors Digest.
For more related info:
- I quoted Larry Fritsch in my article about the 1959 Bazooka Football Set and the Chuck Conerly Cards.
- Today, being known for their unopened items, Fritsch cards played a big part in my look at the 1976 Topps Basketball and Hockey Free Goods Factory Sealed Boxes and Cases and in my attempt to Value an Incredibly Rare 1968 Topps Hockey Wax Box.
- Items from the Fritsch vault also feature prominently across The Unopened Archive.
Happy collecting, and don’t forget to subscribe to The PostWarCards Newsletter for more about the hobby every Thursday.