Honus obsession: North Little Rock's John Rogers: the man behind the $1.62 million baseball card.Even as a child, John Rogers was wheeling and dealing baseball cards.
And before he was a teen-ager, Rogers had paid taxes on the baseball cards he sold.
But there was one card that he obsessed about owning: a 1909, T206 Honus Wagner, considered by collectors to be the Holy Grail of baseball cards because only a handful exist in decent shape.
Last summer, Rogers' childhood dream came true. On Aug. 1 he faced-off against another bidder and won an auction to buy the card for $1.62 million.
The next morning, though, the 35-year-old North Little Rock businessman had a severe case of buyer's remorse because he busted his budget of $1.2 million.
"But after a couple of hours I was glad I did," he said.
Rogers had been preparing for that moment his whole life.
"He was just obsessed with collecting cards," said Rogers' mother, Mary John Rogers. "He was relentless in his search for certain cards."
And the card he wanted the most was a 1909 Honus Wagner.
Instead of blowing his spare change on candy as a 6-year-old, Rogers would purchase packs of baseball cards so he could be like his older cousin.
"I bought my fist pack because he did, too," he said.
And he was hooked.
"From the age of 6 on, every nickel I had went to baseball cards," Rogers said.
In his free time, Rogers devoured baseball books and studied games on television.
By the age of 11, Rogers started placing classified ads in the local papers searching for others to trade, buy or sell baseball cards. Instead of pooh-poohing the hobby, Rogers' parents encourage it and drove him to trade shows.
At the age of 11, Rogers sold cards at the Billy Mitchell Boys Club in Little Rock and generated $300 in sales in one day. "And I thought I was rich," Rogers said.
By the time he 13, Rogers was shelling out $250 for a booth at a card show in Arlington, Texas.
And all the time, Rogers absorbed everything he could about baseball cards. He'd sit and chat for hours with the owner at his neighborhood card shop.
The owner gave him this advice: You can either be a collector or a dealer, you can't be both.
Rogers didn't plan on becoming a fulltime card dealer, though. He had dreams of playing football on Sundays.
Standing 6-foot-6, Rogers entered Louisiana Tech University on a football scholarship to play offensive tackle in the early 1990s. But his goal soon faded.
"I realized pretty quickly that I was a small fish in a big sea in terms of football ability," he said.
Rogers said his other dream was to run his own business and began preparing himself.
In his senior year, he sold cards and memorabilia at trade shows in the area and earned $60,000.
After graduating with a degree in marketing and business management, Rogers didn't land a single job offer. So he hit the road selling baseball memorabilia.
"I decided I will do this for the first year or two and then I'll find a real job," he said.
His strategy included befriending relatives of former players and then buying that player's estate, which could feature World Series rings, jerseys and other rare items. Rogers would then turn around and sell off pieces of the estate for a profit. Rogers made his first $1 million by the time he was 27.
In 1998, Rogers began using the new Internet auction site, eBay, as a way to generate more sales.
Instead of solely selling baseball memorabilia, Rogers has branched out and markets other rare items such as Elvis Presley's jukebox, which went for $350,000 in 2007. And he also sells historic political documents.
But Rogers' main business now is collecting the copyrights of photographs and film clips. So far, he owns 2.2 million images, and Getty Images Inc. of New York manages his collection. He receives a royalty check when the shots are used by media companies, such as ESPN or HBO.
In 2008, Rogers' revenue is expected to be $6 million, with most of the money coming from those images.
In the summer of 2008, Rogers learned that a Wagner card was going to be sold at an action in Chicago.
"I was like a manic, hyperactive kid," he said. "I was figuring out [and] plotting a strategy on how I was going to buy it."
On the evening of the auction, Rogers as phoned in his bid, the price kept climbing and passed the $1.2 million mark.
"I said, 'To hell with it, I'm going to buy it,'" Rogers said.
Soon it reached $1.25 million. Then $1.275 million. Later it was up to $1.3 million.
But every time Rogers was outbid, his wife, Angelica, encouraged him to keep going. And he did.
Now that Rogers has had the card for several months, he said he's still weighing offers about what to do with it. He receives inquires from representatives of potential buyers practically every day.
"As much as it was a dream come true," Rogers said, "again, it goes back to the thing that I'm doing this for: a living."
1909 HONUS WAGNER
Most Sought After Card
In 2007, a 1909 T206 HONUS WARNER baseball card sold for $2.8 million, which still stands as the record for the most expensive baseball card.
Other Wagner cards have fetched more than $1 million and some in terrible shape can go for $50,000 to $400,000, said David Kohler, president and CEO of SCP Auctions Inc. of Laguna Niguel, Calif., which handled the sale of the $2.8 million card.
As a comparison, the record for non-Wagner cards include Babe Ruth's rookie card, which sold for a half-million dollars, and a 1951 Mickey Mantle rookie card can go for around $650,000, he said.
Wagner's card is so valuable because only about 75 exist and most of those are beat up, leaving a few in mint condition, Kohler said.
The card is so scarce because in the early 1900s, tobacco companies placed baseball cards in its packs. But Wagner didn't want children to have to buy a pack of cigarettes to get his card, so he demanded that it be removed, Kohler said.
As a result, "it's on of the top cards that people look for," said Mike McLeod, editor of Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine.
McLeod said that he thinks that the card will always be desired by collectors because of its history.
"People that have money will always be for [the Wagner card]," McLeod said.