FEATURES / COLUMNSIn the world of baseball collectibles and memorabilia, the dollar sign is king.
That's why Charles Ellis is an oddity.
He has thousands of items from the life and times of little-known Oakland catcher Ron Hassey, and Ellis doesn't give a whit what they may be worth. And he doesn't give a whit that few people can place the name "Ron Hassey" and wouldn't offer a dime for his rookie card.
It seems Ellis collects baseball stuff the old-fashioned way: for the pure joy.
"I got interested in Hassey's career in 1987," he says. "Ron was being traded back and forth between the Yankees and the White Sox and I figured he must be really good - and in demand - or really bad. So I watched him play. I liked the way he handled pitchers, and I started picking up a few of his baseball cards and things at card shows."
Yes, Ellis may work at Baseball Cards Etc. in Bountiful - where he's "Charles in Charge" - but he admits he doesn't like the new "investment crazy" notions of many collectors. In his book, you collect for love, not money. And to prove it, Ellis has thousands of items few people would pay for in his "Ron Hassey not-quite Memorial.'
There are 1,300 baseball cards of the man, two uniform jerseys (one Cleveland, one Oakland), a face mask, a chest protector, original drawings that Ellis commissioned, an autographed bat and dozens of other odds and ends from the catcher's career. Ellis keeps it all in the tongue-in-cheek "Hassey Shrine," a small corner of his basement. The shrine, needless to say, faces east.
"My wife thought I was completely nuts at first," he says. "But now she's starting to catch the spirit of it."
In the end, the interesting thing about Ellis and his idol is that both are throwbacks; Hassey to the days when large, lumbering catchers were almost father figures to young, high-strung pitchers, and Ellis to the days when boys collected bubblegum cards of their heroes without knowing their market value.
"The prices may eventually kill the whole hobby," laments Ellis. "I know it has taken the fun out of it for a lot of kids. Many cards are too pricey for kids, and now many of them are too pricey for adults, too."
Ellis, by the way, has never met Hassey, but figures the day will come.
What will he say?
"I don't know," he says, "I guess I'd just wing it. All I know is that, for me, he'll always be the `lean, mean, catching machine.' "