Being a political journalist doesn’t seem like the most obvious path to securing a spot in a baseball card set. But for Rick Klein ’98, it worked out that way.
Klein, the political director for ABC News and previously a journalist with the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News, should have been busy enough this summer covering the crazed 2016 presidential race. But he’s also been juggling the sudden fame of appearing in a 2016 Allen & Ginter-branded set produced by Topps, the standard-bearer in baseball cards since 1951.
If the idea of a political reporter being included in a baseball cart set seems random, it may be more accurate to describe it as a fortunate confluence of factors.
On the one hand, Klein is a prominent baseball card collector. After collecting as a youngster, Klein set the hobby aside at Princeton but returned to it about a decade ago, specializing in Yankees cards, cards of former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy, and vintage cards, which generally means examples from between the late 1800s and the 1950s. “Any chance I have to score a Princeton card of some sort, I grab it,” says Klein (note the cards for Ross Ohlendorf ’04 and Bill Bradley ’65 on the bulletin board in the photo above). He frequently attends major card shows and sometimes buys other people’s collections.
The other side of the equation involves the particular set Klein was asked to join. Allen & Ginter, a tobacco manufacturer, was the first company to insert baseball cards in their packs in the 19th century. A few years ago, Topps bought the rights to publish cards under the long-dormant Allen & Ginter brand. What’s unusual about Topps’ Allen & Ginter set is that, unlike typical baseball card sets, it follows the 19th-century Allen & Ginter model of including both ballplayers and a dizzyingly diverse crop of other subjects.
The 19th-century sets included “actors and animals and boxers and vehicles and really anyone or anything they could get a picture of,” Klein says. The modern-day version is, if anything, even more varied. In addition to current and historical baseball players and other athletes, the set includes actors, comedians, former presidents, American mayors, subway cars, a hot dog eating champion, ancient Roman sites, explorers of Greenland, natural wonders, big cats of the world — even gravitational waves.
Given this mix, the idea of a card-collecting political journalist making it into a baseball card set is no longer so improbable.
“I got an email out of the blue from a Topps representative,” Klein says. “I sent it to my wife, who was convinced it was a scam — ‘Don’t send them any personal information,’ she said. But I looked up the guy, and I knew that others, including a bunch of ESPN folks and Chuck Todd and Larry King, had been included from the world of media and broadcasting in previous years’ sets.” So he said yes.
This summer, after the set came out, Klein autographed some 250 copies of mini cards featuring himself that have been randomly inserted into packages for sale. The company also asked him to provide an article of clothing he’d worn in a professional setting so that they could cut it into small pieces that would then be embedded in some of the cards — analogous to the “relics,” such as the shards of game-used bats, that are sometimes included today in high-end cards. Klein handed over an old Princeton tie.
“I’m thrilled with the choice of the tie, even though I’m now down a tie that had served me well through several years of houseparties and Reunions,” Klein says. “This is really the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
The card gives Klein an extra bit of leverage as he attempts to interest his sons, ages 4 and 6, in becoming card collectors. “I love seeing the hobby through their eyes,” he says.