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Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick reveals $2.8 million secret Honus Wagner card

AZCentral (April 17, 2010)

Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick for nearly three years has quietly kept under wraps the "Mona Lisa" of baseball memorabilia: a rare 1909 Honus Wagner card.

Now that gem, which he purchased for $2.8 million, and two dozen other elite baseball cards in Kendrick's collection will be on display beginning Saturday in Cooperstown, N.Y., at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kendrick, the Diamondbacks' managing general partner, said he decided to loan the 25 cards so thousands of fans could see them.

"The idea of having these cards is not to keep them in a safe deposit box," said Kendrick, who declined to disclose the set's value. "It's like art."

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said Kendrick's collection is unparalleled. Dubbed the "ultimate set," the collection likely will stay in Cooperstown for the next two years but might return to Phoenix next summer when the Diamondbacks host the 2011 All-Star Game, Kendrick said.

"We have a phenomenal collection, but what is great about Ken's set is the quality and uniqueness," said Idelson, noting the Hall of Fame itself has 135,000 cards. "Fans will have a chance to see so many great treasures in one place."

Idelson said he became aware of Kendrick's collection two years ago, when he visited Arizona during spring training. He then asked Kendrick if he would be willing to loan the cards.

Sports fans have been collecting cards for decades. The collection of non-sport trading cards began in the late 1800s when they were issued with tobacco products, according to card historians. In the 1930s, '40s and '50s, bubble-gum manufacturers got into the sports-card business.

Some of the rarest sports cards were issued in 1909 as part of the T206 collection, which got its name from a factory worker who cataloged cards and assigned a "T" to 20th century tobacco cards, according to the Hall of Fame. The 1909 set included Wagner, a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates who made his card valuable by demanding it be pulled from distribution shortly after it was released. The second most valuable card in existence, based on quality and rarity, is an Eddie Plank card from the same year.

Kendrick has both. They will be part of his loaned collection, which also includes rare, high-quality cards featuring baseball legends Hank Aaron, Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Jackie Robinson.

Kendrick, 65, began collecting cards as a child growing up in Princeton, a small community in southern West Virginia. Kendrick would save a quarter, head to the dime store and buy five packs of baseball cards. Each had five cards and a stick of gum. In 1952, he landed one with a picture of a strapping kid from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle, which still is part of his collection.

"We would compare and trade them if you got one you already had," Kendrick said. "But the difference between me and my buddies was, at the end of the day, I had a mom who kept all my cards."

Kendrick, who made his fortune in software and banking, hadn't thought much about his collection until 1990, when he moved to the Valley. His mom reminded him of his cards, and he had them shipped here

He then began completing sets from his childhood, and he dabbled in collecting rare cards at auctions and card shops in New York or Las Vegas.

In early 2006, he bought a collection of elite cards from Tom Candiotti, a former major-league pitcher who is a Diamondbacks broadcaster.

A year later, a card dealer approached Kendrick about buying the Wagner card, whose previous owners included hockey great Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, the former Los Angeles Kings owner.

Today, Kendrick has more than 10,000 cards. Yet, during his life, he has sold only one: a George Mikan basketball card.

"It was the only non-baseball card I had," Kendrick said. "I love collecting cards, and it's a legacy for my kids."

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