The largest collection of autographed baseballs in the world (as recognized by Guinness World Records) is not in Cooperstown, New York, it is at “Little Cooperstown,” in Odessa Florida.
It all began for Dennis Schrader when he was 9 years old and accompanied a friend to the spring training site for the Yankees. He was sitting in the dugout, taking in the sights and holding a baseball that he picked up after it rolled near him, when number “7″ came out of the Yankee clubhouse and addressed the young Dennis “the Menace” as he is now known. The young man found the courage to ask “the Mick” for an autograph; from that moment on Dennis was hooked.
Dennis has autographed baseballs from everybody in the Hall of Fame; autographs from .400 hitters; the members of the 300 Win Club; the members of the 500 Home Run Club; and almost any other club in baseball you can think of. When asked if there was anybody he was still looking to get on a baseball, Dennis simply answered “no.” He recalls searching long and hard for a Pud Galvin baseball to finish up his 300 Win Club. Now he has them all.
Dennis is still adding to his collection but most people are not going to be able to offer him anything he doesn’t already have. Every year there are new prospects to get (yup, he already has Bryce Harper), so he continues to get those guys but at this point, with over 4,300 baseballs, the collection kind of feeds off itself. It is not uncommon for people to contact Dennis and offer him baseballs or for young players to ask to be part of his collection. Presently, Dennis is getting autographs on baseballs of various celebrities and public figures: Obama, check. Palin, check. John Wayne, John Trovolta, check and check. You name it and there is a good chance he has it.
Among some of Dennis’ more impressive signed baseballs is a multi-signed baseball from the first Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1939. All 11 players present and alive (Lou Gehrig was alive but not present because of his health) signed the ball. There is a beautiful single signed “Shoeless” Joe Jackson ball. Signed “Shoeless” Joe baseballs are incredibly hard to find. He did not sign many baseballs because he was illiterate and actually had to learn to sign his name to cash his paychecks.
There is a Joe DiMaggio/Marilyn Monroe duel signed baseball; which is one of only two known to exist. The other sold in 2006 for $191,000.00. There are multiple Babe Ruth signed baseballs ranging from an early smaller signature to the more prominent and recognized big full signature that Ruth used in his prime.
Of particular interest to fans of Big League Baseballs is a Yellow National League Ford Frick ball signed by the 1939 Brooklyn Dodgers. These yellow baseballs were in Major League games for a short time because the lights at Ebbets Field were so bad.
Part of the collection at Little Cooperstown focuses on the Negro League Players, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players, owners, coaches and broadcasters. Every group is represented. Dennis and his obviously supportive wife, Mary, display parts of the collection every year at Tropicana Field during the Rays Fan Fest and he regularly opens his home for private tours. People have flown in from all over the world to see his collection.
When I talked to Dennis about the collection and the people that routinely come to see the collection you can tell he has a sense of pride when talking about the history of the game. He takes particular pride in showing off baseballs signed by players of historical significance, such as Dummy Hoy (a deaf mute player responsible for wide spread use of umpire hand signals). Dennis always shows off the old timers, such as a 1916 ball signed by Frank “Home Run” Baker, which also happens to be the actual first home run Baker hit as a Yankee, but Dennis knows the younger generations tend to ask for his Jeter, Pujols, A-Rod, and Longoria baseballs.
It is impossible not to look at this collection and become overwhelmed by the sense of baseball history that is present, and Dennis recognizes it. Requests to purchase baseballs from the collection are met with a “sorry not interested” from Mr. Schrader. Dennis once turned down an offer of $2 million for the whole collection.
The collection is so impressive because of how complete it is – everybody is there, together in one brilliant shrine. Although, there is one baseball missing: that Mickey Mantle ball that started it all. “Long gone,” says Dennis.
That ball, signed by The Commerce Comet, became a favorite for Schrader. As a child he showed it off to the other kids on his street, and even used it for a neighborhood game of baseball.
For more information about Dennis Schrader and Little Cooperstown, visit www.littlecooperstown.com.
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BigLeagueBaseballs greatly appreciates Dennis Schrader for letting us visit his amazing baseball shrine. And we owe a big “thank you” to Big League Baseballs contributor Matthew Felix, who interviewed Dennis and wrote this entry. For those with questions about Dennis Schrader and his collection, join and post in the Big League Baseballs Forum, of which Mr. Schrader is a member.