EDMONDS — Mike Cramer wrote a tell-all memoir about his major league crush on a hot Babe.
Babe Ruth, that is.
What’s up with that?
“Like a lot of boys born in 1950s America, my first love wasn’t a girl: it was a baseball card,” he writes in “Cramer’s Choice: Memoir of a Baseball Card Collector Turned Manufacturer.”
He still has that Babe Ruth card from 1960, tattered and torn, unlike the other million in his collection of mint condition cards.
“It’s all in my book,” Cramer, 70, founder of Pacific Trading Cards, said in an interview at his Edmonds home with sweeping views of Puget Sound.
His house of cards started in the Bering Sea.
“If you read my book, you’ll see I was a commercial king crab fisherman,” he said. “It was a great twist of fate.”
The 243-page, 17-chapter soft-cover book, $29.95, takes a conversational tone non-sports readers can enjoy. Photos are of crab boats, pro athletes, a chance sighting of Elvis Presley in 1970 and family snapshots.
It shows Cramer in 1964 as a Little League player and in 1973 as a 20-year-old with shoulder-length hair at his Dutch Harbor, Alaska, wedding to Cheryl, her in a flowered mini-dress. The couple’s golden anniversary is in November. The book is dedicated to her.
Cramer started writing the memoir two years ago while getting treatment for a rare form of lymphoma to preserve the stories of his life for their four children and 12 grandkids.
He wrote 117,000 words.
“I wrote every word on the iPad, one finger at a time, every single letter,” he said.
A publisher, McFarland & Company, accepted the manuscript on his first try, but had him cut it to about 90,000 words.
“I have read it so many times,” his wife said.
Cramer’s first Babe Ruth card from a nickel pack of Fleer 1960 All-Time Greats cards at age 9 made him want the whole set. He sold pop bottles to get more cards.
In the book he writes: “I remember sitting on my bed thinking: I must have more cards than any kid in the world!”
He mowed lawns to buy cards and had 10,000 by the time he was 11. By 15, he’d amassed 500,000.
He ran ads to buy cards and sold sets by mail from the bedroom he shared with his brother in the family’s small home in Arizona.
“I had wall-to-wall cards stacked as high as they could get,” he said. “I was hoarding them.”
In 1969, he spent a summer crab fishing with his uncle, earning what he calls “serious money.” It was his first of 10 fishing seasons.
He kept wheeling and dealing cards, with Cheryl’s help.
“I made a deal in 1977 with Topps to buy all their leftover closeout cases,” he said. “They would ship not a few cases, semi loads, 10,000 to 15,000 cases in a load, and we were stacking them in the mini-storage on Highway 99.”
He ran a mail-order catalog from the first Edmonds home he paid for in cash from fishing. By then, it was time to turn all his attention to Pacific Trading Cards.
In 1980, he opened a hobby store in a Perrinville neighborhood strip plaza on Olympic View Drive, in a space now home to a dentist office.
“I was that crazy guy with a trading card store,” Cramer said. “It was so novel all the newspapers came down with reporters to cover it. TV stations would do sportscasts from the store.”
Cards were produced in the factory warehouse across the street. In 1989, he built a manufacturing plant in Lynnwood that at one time employed 230 people.
The lines of sports cards under the Pacific Trading Cards label included signature Cramer’s Choice cards.
According to Fandom.com: “Pacific was known for its use of high value insert sets, die cut cards, foil and bright and vibrant colors. They were more known for innovation and cutting edge designs always coming up with a new idea. Pacific was also one of the first card manufacturers to focus on the Latino minority in the United States with multiple releases in Spanish. Pacific also made the Ken Griffey Jr Candy Bar.”
Living the dream
Cramer had a card-wrapping machine converted to wrap the chocolate molded with Griffey’s image.
“They sold as fast as we could wrap them,” he writes on page 87 of his book.
A box of 24 Griffey chocolate bars sits amid other mementos on the desk in his office at his Edmonds home.
“They’re from 1989. I wouldn’t eat them,” he said.
On eBay, a 1.5-ounce Pacific Griffey bar goes for $15 to over $50.
In Cramer’s office, floor-to-ceiling shelves are lined with binders of cards and sports memorabilia. His face ended up in a 2001 line of Pacific bobbing head dolls of NHL players. It’s his author photo on the book’s back cover. The story is on pages 193 and 194.
Tom Brady gets a lot of ink in his book.
“I was really hot on that guy when he got drafted,” Cramer said. “Before he became the Tom Brady we know, I figured he was going to be good. I put him in everything we made, all the products.”
It paid off for some buyers who held onto their cards from 2000.
“One of them that we made sold a year or so ago for $117,000 on eBay,” he said.
“It went in a pack of cards, probably for a quarter. Somebody opened their cards up and got that card and at the time they probably didn’t know they got anything. At the time we made them, he wasn’t the starting quarterback.”
Cramer photographed Brady and many players for his cards.
“We were in a room with all the guys that people would drool over. John Elway. Joe Montana. Joe DiMaggio, I spent two days with him. It’s in the book,” he said.
“It was a living-the-dream job,” he added.
In the book, he sets the record straight about the controversy surrounding the Pacific Manny Ramirez corked bat relic card in 2000.
According to cardboardconnection.com: “The card has become something of an urban legend in the hobby. Was Manny Ramirez a cheater? Was it a Pacific publicity ploy? Was the cork real?”
(See pages 182 and 183 of his book.)
Life after Pacific
“I learned from fishing that tides always change,” Cramer writes in the book. “Pacific was part of the 20th-century baseball card boom … the bubble inevitably burst.”
In 2004, he sold the Pacific Trading Card brands to Playoff.
He was 51.
“I haven’t done anything except what I wanted to do for the last 20 years,” he said. “I played a lot of golf.”
The workaholic in him found a new outlet: painting miniature figures of military, royalty and the like. A figure can take 40 hours to paint. He has made over 200 and won awards at shows.
He and Cheryl traveled extensively. Large original oil paintings line the hallways of their palatial home with European statues and artifacts.
Still, there wasn’t enough space for his collection of antique military uniforms.
It led to building the Cramer Museum on his 3.7-acre property to display life-sized mannequins in uniforms with medals, helmets and weapons.
“There’s a lot of really incredible history in this room,” Cramer said. It’s not open to the public.
His drive to collect doesn’t include cars. A Chevy Tahoe is his ride to see his grandkids play sports or make runs to Home Depot and Costco.
When people learn he’s the Pacific Trading Cards guy, he knows what’s next: “What are these cards worth?”
The answer: “I don’t know,” he said. “I still buy cards.”
Sentimental value is priceless. That 1960 tattered Fleer Babe Ruth card from his boyhood is in a small frame.
“It’s so beat up, but I cherish it. I carried it in my pocket,” he said. “I look at it almost daily. It’s my reminder.”
He also has that same Babe Ruth card in pristine condition, but it’s just another card of many in his collection.
To learn more, read the book.
Or ask him about it. A book signing is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at A World of Collections Games, Comics and Cards in Edmonds.
Just don’t ask him what your cards are worth.