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Not a ballpark number: Steve Whitzman collected 31,403 different Expos cards and they’re for sale.


Scroll through all 31,403 entries, many with notations on variations of colour, of blank backs and typographical errors, and you come to a place where the sheer magnitude of Steve Whitzman’s baseball card collection and the effort it took for his daughter April to catalogue it are joined.

Steve is 72 now, living with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home in Campbellton, N.B. April is in Guelph, living with her husband, daughter and 31,403 reminders of her father’s lifelong dedication to the Montreal Expos. Distance and Steve’s disease put space between them, but the cards, which April hopes to sell as a single lot to someone who will find joy in its uniqueness, brought them back together.

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“It took more time than I ever imagined, but it was really nice because I felt I reconnected with dad a little bit,” April said of her mammoth task. “When we FaceTimed, we had something else to talk about. I’m like, ‘dad, guess how many cards now.’ He’d say I don’t know how many cards I had, maybe 5,000. I’d say ‘dad I’m at 21,000.’ So every day I could give him an update. Some days he’d remember and say did you find that blank back? My mom said his eyes would light up whenever we talked about it.”

The Expos were a Major League Baseball entity from 1969 through 2004. More than 600 players suited up for them, and Whitzman has every one in his collection. Beyond the mainstream Topps, Fleer, O-Pee-Chee, Donruss and Upper Deck sets are cards from boxes of Kraft Dinner and those featured on Zellers and Toys R Us, McDonald’s and Hostess products.

Steve Whitzman, now 72, shows off an Expos medallion from his extensive collection.
Steve Whitzman, now 72, shows off an Expos medallion from his extensive collection.

You want a 1970 John Boccabella card from the La Pizza Royale set in French, it’s in there. You want the entire set of 1977 O-Pee-Chee blank backs, he’s got it.

“I truly wish I could have poked my dad’s brain, even for five minutes, as I was cataloguing the cards,” said April. “There were some variations I’m sure I didn’t do justice. There were some I didn’t know what I was looking at, and I swear they were three cards all the same, but I know dad wouldn’t have collected three cards that were the same. He also has boxes of duplicates that I did not include in the set because I truly wanted to say 31,000 different cards. It’s really cool. I think the casual fan can’t quite grasp how cool this set is and maybe I’m a little biased because I just spent as many hours recording the cards that dad spent collecting them.”

It was Steve’s collection, but the family’s labour of love. If they were headed to the water park for the day, the trip included a detour through a card shop or two. When they got back home, they all revelled in the unveiling.

“Our family fun was going through a box of cards, hoping and praying that we’d find a couple cards that dad didn’t have,” said April. “So, when I say this collection is full of love, that’s kind of what I mean.”

Steve, a school psychologist, would package up the duplicates and give them to students. For 40 years it was also about sharing as much as collecting.

April recently tweeted out a link to the spreadsheet she compiled and the responses have been lovely. Along with offers to buy — ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars — she has been sent reminiscences and well wishes.

“One person said ‘your dad once bought some cards from me online.’ That was cool. I’ve heard from people whose parents loved the Expos, people living with Alzheimer’s. It’s been really nice, but I will feel a lot better when the collection sells. It’s been in our house a long time. My mom was really happy to get it out of her house. I think my husband is thinking the same way.”

Steve Whitzman, with some of his more than 31,000 Montreal Expos trading cards.
Steve Whitzman, with some of his more than 31,000 Montreal Expos trading cards.

The collection hasn’t been appraised, and April isn’t sure exactly what it’s worth. But she is keenly aware that she has been charged with selling a family legacy and it is well worth her time and effort to ensure it winds up in the right hands.

“I don’t think dad is sitting on thousand dollar cards. I think he’s sitting on a bunch of valuable cards, but a bunch of cards that are so odd and unique and complete that as a collection there is a lot of value.

“Some want it for their son or daughter, and it’s like ‘I’ll give you 200 dollars.’ Again, for my parents, any money will help them out. But for us, I want this collection to go to the person who would get as much joy out of it as my dad did. My greatest regret is that he can’t tell you about it himself. He’d love to tell you about his collection.”

His daughter came out of the bullpen in relief, and has filled in admirably.

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