By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
Jim Weisensel is a congenial chap who lives in Plover and smiles easily.
He and I met after he requested a set of 1989 softball cards — one that my own card was a part of. While I was at his home, Jim asked if I wanted to see his collection of sports memorabilia, one that occupied four rooms in his basement.
Two minutes later, I was gawking at a sports memorabilia mini hall of fame: this turned out to be a day in collector’s heaven.
Jim Weisensel is 79. He’s from Columbus, Wis., and was a fuel salesman for Skelly Oil for over 40 years, retiring about a dozen years ago. Jim moved his family to Plover in 1984; after a work-related transfer they moved back to the area in 1994.
He started collecting baseball cards at the age of 15; his collection grew from there.
He began acquiring old photographs of sports stars; then sports magazines. Then sports books. His collection just grew and grew.
“It was such a neat hobby, and very historical,” he said. “Any time I came across something in the sporting field, I just had to have it.”
Jim found a miniature Hank Aaron Louisville Slugger baseball bat. It now is displayed on his basement wall above the Lou Brock signed baseball. Across the room, there were photos of the Chicago Bears George Halas and Gale Sayers.
Ten seconds after seeing the displays, any visitor immediately knows that this is a labor of love. His passion for the hobby is obvious, and he never encountered a bit of memorabilia that he didn’t like.
You wanna talk autographed baseballs? He has over 100, signed by Don Mattingly, Rod Carew, Ozzie Smith, Ernie Banks, and many other Hall-of-Famers.
He has at least 150 albums filled with baseball cards, football cards, basketball cards, newspaper clippings, and unbelievable photographs, including several photos of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Some of the ‘27 Yankees. Many photos of the 1961 New Yorkers. Mickey Mantle. Roger Maris. Whitey Ford.
There was a cigar box filled with Joe DiMaggio pics. Cigar boxes everywhere, really.
I picked up one such box and lifted the cover. On top was a card from the early 1900s; underneath that one was a Willie Mays’ Topps rookie card. You gotta be kidding.
He had a whole album of tobacco cards, too. Beginning in 1875, cards depicting baseball players, Indian chiefs, boxers, and actresses were issued by tobacco companies.
Tobacco cards known as “T206” were issued from 1909 to 1911 in packs of cigarettes. There were 524 cards in a set, and the cards included Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, and several others.
The very rare Honus Wagner baseball card was in that set. One Wagner card sold for $3 million — just not one of Weisensel’s.
“I never did find the Honus Wagner,” Jim claimed, “but I did pretty good in the tobacco [card] area.”
Weisensel had several Piedmont tobacco cards and a slew of 1900 Old Judge tobacco issues.
“I just kept collecting them over the years,” Jim explained. “There’s no set formula. Garage sales, flea markets, the rare auction, word of mouth, whatever works, you know.”
Jim is a sportsman himself, between his share of deer hunting and running the Plover Boxing Club from 2000 to 2015. He sparred with four professional boxers back in the day, and knocked down James Alexander III, who at one point fought against Cassius Clay.
Jim said he’s always been drawn to sports heroes.
“I worked at a restaurant in Columbus back in junior high in ‘56,” he said. “One day a local guy who had a lot of sports connections came by. His name was Jack Krumbie and he liked my turtle soup. A few days later, he came in again and brought with him some Milwaukee Braves’ players who were his buddies. Joe Adcock, Eddie Mathews, some of those guys. I put on a big turtle soup feed and they loved it. Later on Jack also brought in a bunch of Wisconsin Badger coaches. The soup was a big hit.”
The cordial collector “hit some home runs” along the way. He has Mickey Mantle’s rookie card, signed by the Mick himself. His best stuff is safely tucked away in safety deposit boxes in the bank.
But history abounds all over the basement. The Babe Ruths. The Lou Gehrigs. He pointed to one of the many photos on the wall and said, “Like this photo of Ali fighting Joe Frazier. I got it signed by Frazier in Milwaukee.”
A team photo of the 1918 Chicago Cubs takes up another corner. He explained: “You can learn something about history just from the cards. In the old days, you could buy a pouch of tobacco at the game. For a penny, they gave you a player’s card, too.”
And man, does Jim have the stories. With a chuckle, Jim recalled one afternoon, long ago…
“I worked at a gas station in 1967. It was during deer hunting season. A guy drove up for some gas. I filled up his tank, and he asked me if I hunted. I said, ‘Yeah, I didn’t have much luck. I had a few shots earlier in the day. Then I went out later and shot a Buick.'”
Jim said the guy laughed like crazy and started up his car. Then Jim noticed his plates said “Cubs”. As the man drove away, he hollered after the motorist, “Hey, who are you?”
The guy laughed and said, “Ernie Banks. That was a great hunting story you just told…it was a pleasure meeting you.”
Then he drove away.
Under the many tables in his basement are boxes and boxes of memorabilia. Interesting items everywhere. One album contained cards of people throughout history. Patrick Henry. Samuel Adams. Roosevelt. Susan B. Anthony. Revolutionary War Heroes.
Player telephone cards.
Albums of Notre Dame players and coaches.
Three Tom Metcalf cards are next to some Yogi Berra cards. Metcalf pitched for the Yankees in the early ’60s; his brother Mike is a retired Stevens Point architect who still plays tennis.
He has an album of Madison Muskies photos. His huge Minnesota Twins’ popcorn tin is filled with mint baseballs.
His bobbleheads, including one of Donald Trump and another of Honus Wagner, are a few feet from the bottle of — no kidding — Larry Bird hand lotion.
Take a tour of Jim’s basement and you’ll see the batting helmets on the wall, the stickers, the signed footballs, the books, Lou Brock things over there and Sandy Koufax stuff by the fishing pole, puzzles, coins with baseball players’ photos, buttons, stamps, old copies of Sports Illustrated, sports mirrors, posters, towels, Yogi Berra memorabilia (he’s a big Yogi fan), Christmas ornaments of guys like Grant Hill, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird, and some stuffed fish on the far wall, including a lunker musky.
He owns an original copy of every season schedule for the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears since 1908. Many photos of Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, NBA stars, baseball Hall of Famers, old Milwaukee Brewers, and the like. He has many “favorite” people in sports, and high on the list are Halas, Sayers, Lambeau, Ray Nitschke, Ed Sprinkle, Joe Pavelski, Yogi, Larry Bird, John Stockton, and several others.
During our visit, Jim sat at a table and was looking at the backs of photos and tobacco cards with his high-powered magnifying glass.
I asked, “So Jim, do you think you’re more of a hoarder or a collector?”
He didn’t hesitate, answering, “Hoarder; I’m a hoarder for sure.”
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied. “A hoarder just keeps anything and everything. You keep really impressive stuff. This place is like a Hall of Fame.”
He nodded and said, “Yeah. Maybe you’re right.”
Jim and his lovely wife Janet have five daughters and one son. His oldest daughter and his youngest are also collectors, who Weisensel said were “hooked” on the hobby.
“I come down here at least three times a week,” Weisensel said, looking at his basement treasures. “I love to look at this stuff. I even talk to it.”
Spoken like the true king of memorabilia. And you’ll never meet a nicer couple.