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Game On

A passion for the hidden stories motivates Michael Osacky’s world-class trade in baseball memorabilia

For the first 30 seconds that Michael Osacky ’02 ACES holds a baseball card, he just takes it all in. There are emotions and there are smiles, but for the first 30 seconds he doesn’t say a thing. Every piece of memorabilia is different, but the process of observing and then asking questions about the history and story behind each item remains the same.

A former future and options trader, he has found that in memorabilia collection and appraisal, just as in financial trading, “you have to trust your gut instinct, you have to rely on prior knowledge and you have to spit out the first thing that comes to your mind based on your expertise.”

Osacky estimates that he has seen tens of thousands of baseball cards, but it all started with a shoebox of just 25 cards, a gift from his grandfather on his 17th birthday.

“When I saw that old shoebox, it got me on the hunt of trying to find all those old cards,” he says. “That kind of really got me on the hunt not only to find these cards but to educate myself on the history of card collecting, the history of every single card, and that’s been my passion over the last 15 years.”

After graduating from the University of Illinois -- where he studied consumer and textile marketing -- Osacky began working at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. When his grandfather passed away, he thought it was as good a time as ever to pursue his true passion and in 2007, he launched the website of Baseball in the Attic, a company where he appraises and invests in vintage baseball card and sports memorabilia.

“I’m meeting with people who have inherited collections that have been passed down from generation to generation, some of them over 100 years,” Osacky says.

He says he does it for the stories. He does it for Babe Ruth-autographed items -- people rarely believe him when he tells them they are authentic and that the baseball legend signed for everyone because he grew up in an orphanage and loved kids.

He does it for “tobacco cards,” tobacco-stained baseball cards that were sold from 1909 to 1911 as inserts inside of packs of chewing tobacco. He knows about Cracker Jack, which for two years in the early 1900s also inserted baseball cards into boxes of the snack. Now they are hard to come by, but are most usually found in New York City or Chicago, where there were manufacturing plants.

He also does it for the chance to educate others about the stories and generate in them enthusiasm for a hobby that he sees a dying interest in, but that he believes holds tremendous value.

“I’m like a kid in the candy store when I hear these stories,” he says. “It’s my job to not only remember these stories but hopefully to tell them to future generations down the road.”

A senior at Illinois and spring semester intern at the UI Alumni Association, Rodriguez will become a Pulliam Fellow at The Indianapolis Star in June.

By Annalisa Rodriguez



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