NEW BREMEN — New Bremen native Jay McCollum, 36, is a lifelong Reds fan.
But in 2006 he would go from Reds fan to Reds collector. And not just a collector but a serious seeker of vintage Reds memorabilia with an emphasis on Wally Post, the Mercer County native who played for the Reds from 1951-1957 and 1960-1963 with stops in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Minnesota.
McCollum has acquired a 1969 game worn Wally Post old-timers jersey, two game-used bats, game-worn Post cleats and two signed balls from the Reds great.
Owning these items is one thing but getting them is where things get interesting for McCollum who is like Indiana Jones searching for ancient artifacts but instead of a fedora, McCollum dons a Reds cap and instead of criss-crossing the globe he scours the internet.
McCollum said his father, a Reds fan who used to attend Wally Posts’ annual golf outing, took him to one or two games a year and he has fond memories of Rivertfront Stadium in the 1980s.
“We usually went to two or three games at Riverfront and we usually got pretty decent seats,” McCollum said. “I loved Riverfront. It was so cool. You would walk in the plaza level, look down and you would see the green carpet. I had never seen anything so green.”
In addition to seeing the Reds, McCollum said he always enjoyed getting autographs and he said it was never really about collecting at that age.
McCollum does recall one of his favorite times getting an autograph came when the family went to see the Reds at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1994. At the stadium, McCollum got the signature of relatively unknown Steve Pegues who played 11 games for the Reds and was cut the day after McCollum got his autograph.
McCollum, who’s family was staying at the same hotel as the Reds, would land a more prominent Red.
“I said dad, ‘there is Jose Rijo, and he was standing pretty close on the phone, but to the right of me there was a sign that said do not bother the athletes,” McCollum said. “I,m 12 years-old so when he hangs up the phone I asked him for his autograph. But then a guy comes over and said ‘can’t you see the sign, ‘don’t talk to the athletes and I will never forget this Jose Rijo said ‘can’t you see I am talking to my friend.’”
McCollum doesn’t know where that autograph is now but cherishes the memory along with the time he rode on the elevator with Joe Nuxhall on the same trip.
“It is funny because I always got these autographs on a hat, a program or a piece of paper and I don’t have them any more…..I mean I do have some of the hats that I had all the guys sign. I got Kevin Mitchell, Joe Nuxhall and Steve Pagues,” McCollum said.
Rose ball sparks serious collection
But his interest in autographs was peaked again when his cousin Brandon gave him a signed Pete Rose autographed baseball as a wedding present in 2006.
Like Rose being a spark plug for the Big Red Machine, the ball re-energized McCollum’s passion for collecting.
“I got my first baseball from him the night of my wedding rehearsal dinner,” McCollum said. “Of course I didn’t know any value really but it was a Pete Rose autograph and that was awesome and because I was getting married the next day I lose it and I was crying profusely.”
McCollum joked that his wife was probably wondering why this grown man was crying over a baseball but he said his wife has been supportive throughout his endeavors especially when he began to find items in with a high sticker price.
Soon McCollum was hitting up caravans and Redsfest and his autograph collection began to grow. McCollum coincidentally points out that Redsfest falls on his anniversary.
At his first Redsfest, McCollum picked up an assortment of autographs such as Jay Bruce, Ken Griffey Jr. and others.
“At the time I was going to get anybody I could get on a ball,” McCollum said. “I had about 275 to 280 autographed balls.”
McCollum soon began to shift his focus from random Reds to the World Series teams of 1919, 1940, 1975-76 and 1990 and the 1961 pennant winning squad that lost to the Yankees.
McCollum admitted that he got a lot of Big Red Machine signed balls and actually got burnt out on getting them that he began to sell them to fund his 1919, 1940,1961 and 1990 projects.
The reason for Post is because he was a Mercer County resident and McCollum remembers going to the Wally Post Athletic Complex when New Bremen played St. Henry.
McCollum got his first Post single signed ball after trading a Mickey Mantle autographed ball, along with a Sparky Anderson ball.
Many might feel that he over paid, but McCollum points out that there are plenty of Mantle and Anderson signed balls but not that many Post signed ball. Remember Post passed away in 1982 so autographed items by him are scarce.
“That just tells you value,” McCollum said. “What something is worth and what something should be worth. I mean a Mickey Mantle ball and a Sparky Anderson should not be as much as a Wally Post ball. Autographs are worth what they are worth because some players are that good and some because the player is good but there is not that many out there.”
The Post ball began his quest to complete his collection of autographed balls from the 1961. With the Post, he has acquired a ball from each player on the pennant winning team except for the elusive Ken Johnson who started 11 games for the Reds in 1961 and went 1-6. McCollum does have two 1961 team signed balls with one that has Johnson’s signature on it.
“I mean they just don’t exist and that will probably and might end up being the most expensive ball in my set,” McCollum said. “To quote Adam Walters at Sports Investments, ‘find me another.’ That is one of my favorite phrases because each collection I have is ‘find me another.’”
McCollum added that he has a rare signed Elio Chacon, an infielder on the 1961 team that played in 61 games , and knows of only two signed balls and he owns one and the other is not for sale.
Speaking of rare, McCollum had also acquired three signatures, Greasy Neale, Ed Roush and Rube Bressler from the 1919 team and said he thinks those are the only ones out there. From the 1940 team he said he had about half of that roster.
McCollum said completing the 1940 team would be nearly impossible because they have what he termed a lot of “Billy Bates or Rick Mahlers” guys. Or in other words, individuals who spent a cup of coffee with the team and no one really asked for the their autographs.
“The only reason I have a Rick Mahler (pitched 35 games with the Reds in 1990) is because I was in Barry Larkin’s line (at Redsfest) and they switched.” McCollum said. The fact that I have Rick Mahler on a Costa Rican 1990 World Series ball is ridiculous.”
Mahler passed away in 2005.
While he completed his team sets, McCollum was always on the look out for Post items He had two signed Post balls and since he began he has acquired Post game used cleats and two Post bats, both of which are on display in the Reds Hall of fame along with a Vada Pinson game used bat.
McCollum has some small items such as some mini bats signed as well as a ticket from Posts’ debut in the MLB. Another odd ball item he has is one of Post’s paychecks from when he worked at Minster Canning factory. Another interesting item he has is a Max Lanier signed ball and he was the pitcher to give up Post’s first home run.
McCollum has 1951 game-used pants worn by Post .It was Post’s second year in the majors and it took a little more than a year to make the transaction.
McCollum also acquired a 1969 jersey Post wore in an old-timers game that was originally worn by pitcher Jack Fisher.
The significance of the jersey is that it has Post’s name on the back and McCollum does not know of any other Cincinnati Reds’ jersey with Post’s name on it. He traded Post’s 1961 players contract, which had been on display at the Reds Hall of Fame, for the jersey.
“I am 99 percent sure this the only jersey with his name on it,” McCollum said. “As far as jerseys go the only thing that would top that would be an actual playing era jersey. I only know of two for sure and maybe three. One belongs to Wally’s son, John, and it is in the Reds’ Hall of Fame and it is not for sale as anything.”
McCollum is still on the hunt for this elusive prize and he is willing to part with items he has gotten to own other cherished items.
“The collection funds itself,” McCollum said.
McCollum has also been created other ways to get rare signatures and recently held a private signing session with Bob Quinn, the general manager of the 1990 Reds.
McCollum flew out to Arizona to get some personal items signed and ended up putting together a private signing with him.
“That is one of the coolest things I have done,” McCollum said. “I flew there July 7 in the morning and flew back July 8 in the morning. I was dead but it was great and I talked to him about a lot of baseball stuff.”
Although has had a fantastic journey collecting and buying Reds historical artifacts, he points out that his most most cherished signed balls are from his daughters, Emma and Ella and he will get his youngest daughter Evelyn, who is three-years-old, on a ball when she turns five.