One of Quincy's best-kept secrets is in the basement of a home on the city's north side.
Pat Humphrey, a financial professional with Prudential, has a mini baseball museum in the basement of his house. What started years ago as a collection of baseball cards and autographed balls has morphed into a room stuffed with equipment, uniforms, photos and other items from the turn of the 20th century -- plus a healthy share of trinkets from his favorite team, the New York Yankees.
Catcher's masks, vintage gloves, decades-old chest protectors, a rack of bats from the 1800s and wool jerseys and pillbox caps from the game's early days are complemented by one-of-a-kind items like a photo from the 1907 baseball game that the Chicago Cubs played -- and lost -- in Quincy to the Quincy Buds, Quincy Gems scorecards and season tickets from the 1940s or trophies given to Quincy High School teams from the 1920s.
How long have you been collecting memorabilia?
I remember being in Chicago. My first wife had some surgeries. She first took sick in 1983, and I already was collecting by then, so it was probably around 1980. The first wife and I and my current wife and I, we collect antiques. We ran an antique shop in Camp Point and came across a newspaper that had the 1926 Yankees team picture. I saw that, cut it out and had the Yankees picture framed. That's kind of how it started.
Why didn't you do this earlier in your life?
We still did the antique thing. Just not the baseball thing. I had cards like everybody as a kid. I had 3,000 cards from the 1950s and 1960s, but when I went to college, Mom gave them to a cousin of mine down in Texas. The water pipes burst in the ceiling down in Texas, and the cards evaporated.
You started collecting cards as a kid. Then you saw the picture in the newspaper. How do you get from that to what you have now?
Just been fortunate enough to do a lot of travelling. You don't always find good antiques, but I always was able to find a good baseball item of some kind. I've been able to trade up on some things. I can make a few dollars doing that, and it helps feed the collection. At one time, I had 75 Yankees autographed baseballs. Those got to be valuable, and I sold those. Then I decided, let's just take a step back and just go early baseball.
Your collection is from what era?
I'd say the majority of it is pre-1950. A lot of it goes back to the mid-1800s.
How hard is it to find this stuff?
It's not that difficult, because there are major dealers in the country. I get a half-dozen catalogues with stuff in them, plus I know people who deal strictly in memorabilia. You can find stuff. What I like is typically out east. I've got access to people out there.
You're from the Midwest. How did you become a Yankees fan?
If you did a survey in Quincy, I think you'd find the third most popular team is the New York Yankees. I truly believe that. A lot of people don't know there's a lot of us out there. I remember being home and watching Don Larsen's perfect game on television. Then in 1957, walking up the hill in LaGrange from the Salter's Superette where you got your penny baseball cards, one of the first baseball cards I ever opened was Mickey Mantle. The Yankees played Milwaukee (in the World Series) in 1957 and 1958, and my dad was a Milwaukee Braves fan, so I took the other side. Plus CBS owned the Yankees for a long time, and the Yankees were on TV a lot. In 1961, the Knights of Columbus took a train to Kansas City, and I got to see the Yankees play the Kansas City A's.
How many times have you been to Yankee Stadium?
I was there earlier this year for Derek Jeter's retirement ceremony. I haven't been there that many times. I was at the old one three times, and this was my first time at the new stadium. My wife took me for my birthday.
Over in the corner is what I could best describe as a baseball glove tree. Where did you find all of those old gloves?
Most of those I found in antique shops. I do have a real good dealer friend in Burlington, Iowa, who calls me with old baseball stuff.
How many gloves and bats?
I don't know. I never counted them. The rarest I have is a duck web glove. Those are really rare. Those are from the 1930s. The web came in around the early 1900s, but there weren't that many made, and people didn't like them.
You have a rack of bats that look to be very modern. What about the other rack of bats you have?
Those go from the 1850s and 1860s to the early 1920s. Some of them are called a town ball bat. A crude representation of a bat, not a factory-made bat. You run across those periodically. Then there are factory bats from the turn of the century to maybe 1940. I've got a Bill Dickey bat from 1938.
Are there any pieces of this collection that you'll never forget the day you got it?
I remember vividly the piece from Camp Point. I remember the day I bought that Spalding trophy (which sits on a mantle above a fireplace) from the 1930s. A meat packing company won a league up in Iowa. One of the proudest things is the picture of the game the Chicago Cubs played in Quincy. Friends told me about that one. They worked for an auctioneer, and they told me that was one of the items that was going to sell.
It sounds like you started collecting Yankees stuff, and then you diversified your collection.
It's stuff a lot of people aren't aware of. Like that inflatable chest protector. That's turn of the century. Those are uncommon to find because they just didn't survive. Things that were 100 plus years old usually got pitched.
Is there anything in your collection that you can say, "This is my favorite"?
At this point, it's probably that Ruth-Gehrig autographed ball. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did not like each other. I should say, Gehrig didn't like Ruth. Ruth, if he had enough beer in him, liked everybody, especially their wives. Usually, Gehrig signed off on a side panel on the ball. It was rare for him to sign directly under Ruth. For whatever reason, he chose not to do that. You just don't see many out there where he signed under his name.
I understand you have a pair of Babe Ruth's underwear. What's the story?
He had his own underwear line. There was a miniature bat that came with it and all of that. He was hawking underwear, but he hawked all kinds of stuff. I've got a lot of his stuff, but Gehrig was my favorite player because he was such a class act. I was lucky enough to have met Mantle and Whitey Ford and Moose Skowron, a lot of the other Yankee players, but Gehrig was a class act.
Why do this?
I enjoy it. Just enjoyment. I like coming down and sitting in a room you like to get away to. My wife and I spend a lot of time down here in the winter. We've got this corner fireplace. You stoke that up and it radiates heat. I just sit here and look and gaze.
Are there still things that you look at in amazement?
We like to decorate. We feel like we've done a good job of decorating. If I can't display it, I don't want it. I could have invested in baseball cards, but do you ever say, "Hey buddy, you wanna come over and look at my cards?" Probably not. I know dang well his wife doesn't. We have drinks and parties and everything else down here.
Tell me a little about some of the uniforms you have.
The oldest is from around 1870. One came from south and east of Boston in a town called Franklin, Mass. Here's one that's really rare because of the lace up jersey, and here's the pillbox hat that goes with it. Here's one with a bib front. A lot of your old sports teams were fire departments. It's a jersey with a buttoned up bib on it to show your team name.
How many different sets of uniforms do you have?
The newest I've got is a pair of pants from Rickey Henderson and one from Yogi Berra. Here's a pair of sliding pants from Edd Roush (a Hall of Famer who played in the 1910s and 1920s). He has family here in Quincy. I found a few things for them. I have maybe 15 different pieces. Here's a pair of Jeter's long john underwear. A company I work with called Steiner, that's where I got those.
Was there any piece that was particularly difficult to come by?
Depends on whether I wanted to spend the money. There's a piece I'd like to get a hold of, but that baby is $6,000.
How far and wide do you have to go to find what you want?
It's not hard finding things, because I get several catalogues. I buy stuff from coast to coast, but I've gone as far as Ohio to visit people's homes.
When it comes to stuff like this, is the key buying it inexpensively or does cost matter?
A little of both. I may want something but I may not end up with it. I've got a good Mariano Rivera home plate that I like. I don't have a real high-dollar ticket item for Jeter. I'll someday own a jersey or something of his. There's a lot of merchandise of his out there.
You've also found other items that are just local, like the Cubs photo.
Local stuff needs to stay local. I hate to see something of quality leave Quincy, but you can't own everything. There's been times I've had to let stuff go.
Do many people have a room like this in their home?
I don't know. What do you call quite a few? God created us all equal ... kinda. What you like and I like are two different things. Like I tell my wife all of the time, we don't think alike, honey. Sorry, we don't.
How many people have seen what you have?
We've had an open house for a lot of our friends before, like in the middle of December. We've had some parties down here. But probably not a lot of people have seen it.
Will there come a day when you decide, "I'm done. Time to get rid of this?"
Yeah, I will. This will be too much for my kids or grandkids. I don't want anybody fighting over this. At some point in time, I'll turn it loose ... if I get to stick around and make that choice. But not in the near future. My grandchildren might want to go to college, and I might turn some of this loose to help send them. You never know.
Do you ever worry about security for this stuff?
Some of it is one of a kind. If someone took it, they would have trouble finding an open market.
Have you ever considered putting all of this on display somewhere in Quincy so more people could see it?
My wife would shoot me, but it would get dusted. I dust once a year ... before our Christmas party.
What is the oldest piece you have?
Probably one of my bats. Most of the stuff I have has a good story behind it. I have a lot of balls, bats and gloves, but we have a supporting cast of stuff. Here's a baseball-themed bubble gum machine from the 1950s. My wife's line is, "You don't need anything else." But if I find something, I find a place for it. I really like this piece. My twin grandsons were playing with this baseball bank from 1888. It's called the Darktown Battery. You cock the pitcher's arm back with a penny, you push this lever here, the catcher's belly opens up and the batter swings.
Ever thought about expanding? It looks like you're confined to this basement.
I've thought about that. Maybe I need to build another room.
Is there anything you don't have that you want?
Who wouldn't love to have a Mantle jersey? Babe Ruth's 1927 World Series ring just sold for $2.3 million. His contract from Boston to New York was sold for a little over $2 million. There's a big auction house in Houston that's having an auction (this month) with a bunch of early baseball and Yankee stuff. People die off, and their stuff becomes available. Kind of like those Ty Cobb cards that came out that were found in an old abandoned house. I'm looking at an auction that has a 1999 Yankees baseball with 32 autographs on it. I might bid on that. There's stuff out there. It's just harder and harder to find it.