If you opened a pack of baseball cards in the 1970s and early ’80s, you remember Mike Cubbage. If you’re on the hobby, you may have even competed with him at an auction or met him at a show. A “baseball lifer” with decades of experience at all levels of the game, he is also a longtime collector.
A third baseman of trade, a native of Charlottesville, VA, was drafted by the Washington Senators in the fifth round of the 1968 MLB Draft. He did not sign and was drawn once again by the team in 1971. He debuted in major series on April 7, 1974 and spent eight seasons for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins and New York Mets.
After retiring from the game, Cubbage stepped into the role of skipper when he managed the New York Mets AA club in Jackson, Mississippi. His lonely season at the helm was 1986, when he led the team to the playoffs and the league final.
He spent five seasons coaching the Houston Astros, from 1997 to 2001.
During spring training in 2002, Cubbage served as interim manager of the Boston Red Sox after Joe Kerrigan was relieved of his duties. Cubbage remained as the team’s third base coach after the Red Sox hired Grady Little as Kerrigan’s replacement.
Transferring to the front office, Cubbage served as a special assistant to Washington National’s President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo until he retired in November this year. Last year, he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
We got hold of him about his rookie cards, his huge collection of pennants, autographed baseballs, Hartland statues, Detroit Tigers and Al Kaline artifacts and heard a great story about finding 1952 Topp’s high numbers inside a dark room in Canada.
Tony reid– Your rookie card was part of the 1975 Topps set when you were on one of the classic four-player RCs. You were shown on the map with Doug DeCinces, Reggie Sanders and Manny Trillo. Do you remember seeing one for the first time?
Mike cubbage– I do not remember the first time I saw it. I’ve seen it thousands of times now. I know I have signed thousands of them. It seems that during this pandemic and the closure, people have sent more cards than usual. I get four or five letters a day with requests to sign cards.
TR– I’ve heard it all along the line from athletes I’ve talked to since the pandemic hit. Sid Bream told me that he thinks people come back and see old games and get nostalgic. Do you think that’s part of it?
MC– I have had a steady flow over the years, but I have definitely had more this year than previous years.
TR– Do you remember the first time you were asked for your autograph?
MC– I do not remember that either. I can imagine that it was a while after I came to the big leagues. When I started, autographs and collecting things were not that big. I started playing in 1971, and I only had my nose on getting to the big leagues, and then it was important to survive and have as long a career as possible. I did not collect. (Top Vice President) Sy Berger came around every spring and threw out packs of cards. We opened them all. If you found one of your cards, great. You kept it or gave it to your mother or whatever. I did not gather at that time. I started collecting in the 1990s when I trained with the Mets. I started going to shows and started buying on eBay and got to know some of the auction houses.
TR– What was it then that made you take the first leap in the sporting fundraising side?
MC– One of the first high dollar cards I remember buying was one Al Kaline rookie short. He had been my childhood god. I saw him play in 1955 at Briggs Stadium. I was five years old. He became my guy. I had small Tigers uniforms with the number 6 on the back of them, white and gray, and they hang down as part of my collection.
I became acquainted with Al. He was still in the big leagues when I got there in 1974. I have a room in the house, my hometown, dedicated to the Kaline and Detroit Tigers. It is full of pennants. I became a big pennant collector. That’s where I started. I have a pennant that my parents bought me that day in 1955. It’s a big orange tiger. The one I owned all my life has faded now. I gave one to a cousin who was put in a cedar tree and given back to me many years ago, and that one is in a coin relationship.
I also have a bunch of pennants from the clubs I worked for over the years – Mets, Red Sox, Astros and Senators / Nationals. The pennants are my thing.
TR–From our conversations, you have also said that you have a large collection of Hartland statues, minibats and glove purchases. How did you expand into these areas?
MC– I became interested in mini-bats a few years ago. I have about 100 minibats. I pick up bats here and there from Hall of Fame players, form teammates and boys that I admire. Together with Kaline, I have some nice Ted Williams things. Williams led the senators when I signed with them in 1971. I got to know Ted a little. I never played for him, but I met him and talked to him a number of times.
I have some Green diamond pieces and some bats and artwork by Williams. I would say that he is the other key player in my collection. I have all the Kaline cards and most Williams cards, but not all. They are quite expensive. I have some unique Williams stuff.
TR–What are your favorite Ted Williams pieces in your collection?
MC-I have the Life Magazine cover from 1941, which is a classic. That’s the Splendid Splinter look. I have a nice cut signature framed under the Life Magazine cover. It’s one of my favorite things. His Science of Hitting book was published in 1971. It is a great baseball book. It was like my baseball bible when I went through the minor leagues. I also have a signed copy of it.
TR–What other players are the focus of your collection?
MC-I have some things from Jackie Jensen. I knew Jackie when he retired here and had a Christmas tree farm. He had a heart attack and passed away in the early nineties. I got to know him a little bit, so I have some of his stuff. I have some gloves and other things.
TR– If you had to give us a sound tour, could you start describing your manhole?
MC– My room downstairs has a pool table and a nice, big TV. It’s the sports memorabilia room. The pennants are displayed everywhere. They are in plastic covers and fan out over the upper part of the walls. I have artwork under them on the walls. I have a bunch of signed baseballs everywhere, on the table and everywhere. I’m out of room. I have no more room. I have a dozen sweaters hanging in closets that I just do not have room to hang or display. You spend a lot of money framing these items with high dollars. I have framed the stuff well. I have a guy who did it with a museum quality to protect everything. I’m proud of it, but I’m pretty much retired. The old Tiger pennants are my pride and joy. They just do not make them like that anymore.
TR–You have a huge memorabilia collection. How did the short side of your collection come together?
MCThe card collection started with the Kaline rookie card. Then I got the idea to put together the Topps set from 1954. I loved that set. I did it. So I went so far as to get the top set from 1955. These are the two sets I love. It was fun to put them together. Most of the star cards are rated 5, 6, 7 or 8. I picked out most of the commons as well. They are all middle class.
I’m going to tell you a story about 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente rookie card. I swallowed hard, but at the time, I was paying the most for an item in my collection. I paid over $ 900 for the Clemente card to complete the 1955 set. It’s a Beckett grade 6. It’s a beautiful card. I was hesitant then, but now the card is easily in the range of three to four thousand dollars today.
TR–Did you stop at card shops when you traveled the country in the big leagues?
MC– I have to tell you the story. We were in Montreal when I was with the Astros. We had a day off. Back in the days you look at the yellow pages. I found a card store somewhere. I had nothing to do, so I dreamed of this card shop. I took a cab and went to a neighborhood in Montreal. I can not find the place. I was about ready to give up the hunt. I walked past a store to see a Topps sticker in the window. I thought I found it. It was a split level. I walk through the door and go up the stairs and I see no cards. It was mostly coins. There was a Russian man behind the counter, who spoke broken English. I asked if he had any baseball cards. He said they were down. There was no light on. It was a dungeon. He said I could turn on the lights and look around. I found a boat volume of 1952 Topp’s high numbers. It was a good find. I bought everything he had. He only took cash and used all the money I had that day.
I went to Dennis Liborio, who was the equipment manager for the Astros. You can always get some money from Dennis. This was in the late nineties. I went back and wiped him out of his Topps high numbers in 1952. He also had some Goudeys from 1933. He had Ruth and Gehrig. I passed them on because they were so nice that I thought they were reprints. I was not comfortable enough to give him $ 300 or $ 400 for these cards. If they were the real deal, they were worth a boatload of money. I did not have time to investigate. I had my hands on them, and I’ve been wondering all my life if they were the real deal or not. What I got was an Eddie Matthews. I paid $ 50 for it. It turned out to be a 2. I got a bunch of stars, including Pee Wee Reese.
I got a number of them ranked and swapped them. I took with me those who traveled the big leagues as coaches. I wanted to use the cards and exchange them for things I wanted. I got a Ted Williams Hartland statue for Joe Black, which was an 8 OC.
I used them to shop for other Hartlands and pennants and things I wanted to find that I wanted. By the way, they had no robes.
There were some good days in Montreal.