Phoenix Art Museum will feature a specially-ticketed limited-engagement exhibition of some of the rarest and most important baseball cards in the history of the sport beginning March 9 through April 24.
Drawn from the Diamondbacks Collection, carefully and painstakingly amassed by Ken Kendrick, longtime collector and managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, The Ultimate Collection: Iconic Baseball Cards from the Diamondbacks Collection features 16 of the top 20 rated sports trading cards in the entire world, along with an additional 25 highly-valued and prized baseball trading cards.
The exhibition will include baseball’s rarest and most famous collectible: a T206 Honus Wagner trading card, once owned by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.
“It is truly a magnificent opportunity to bring a collection of this cultural significance to Phoenix Art Museum and to our community,” said Amada Cruz, the Museum’s Sybil Harrington director. “Mr. Kendrick’s collection transcends the field of sports and honors the art of collecting, and the unique enthusiasm that fuels collectors of every kind.”
Kendrick got his start as a collector as a young boy growing up in small-town West Virginia, purchasing nickel-packs of trading cards on summertime trips to the five-and-dime with his boyhood friends, as much for the bubble gum as for the cards.
Kendrick, who grew up playing Little League and listening to baseball games on the radio with his father, began to amass a collection of cards that featured the players he followed during the 1950s.
As he got older, he stepped away from collecting cards, only to discover as an adult that his mother had saved the cards he’d collected as a young man. It was those cards that would be the foundation of a pursuit that has now spanned decades, and would become The Diamondbacks Collection, named in honor of the Arizona team that Kendrick became part owner of in 1995 and managing general partner of in 2004.
The roster of cards that compose the collection is truly staggering, including 16 of the 20 rarest and highly prized trading cards in the history of sports. The collection includes Topps rookie cards for Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Mickey Mantle, Henry “Hank” Aaron, and Sandy Koufax.
It also includes a rare Bowman 1954 Ted Williams card, along with cards representing some of the most legendary and iconic names in the history of the game, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Satchel Paige, Joe DiMaggio, and Willie Mays. It also includes a single basketball card: a 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan card, considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the NBA.
The Ultimate Collection marks the first time Kendrick’s collection has been exhibited west of the Mississippi, and the first time it has been formally exhibited in its home state of Arizona. Previously, the exhibition was on view at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for three years, before closing in 2013.
The exhibition rounds out the Museum’s first celebration of the art of collecting as part of Collectors Month in April 2016, honoring collections of many kinds. It will coincide with the opening of Phoenix Rising: The Valley Collects, an exhibition that features the best of Valley art collections from a multitude of genres and media, and the annual Copperstate 1000, a vintage-car rally that raises funds to support the Museum and features exquisitely restored collector’s cars.
For many, the stories of why collectors collect, where their passions were first ignited are often even more intriguing and fascinating than the objects themselves. Along with the thrill of the pursuit of the cards on the path to possession, for Kendrick, the cards represent the love of a game that ultimately tied him to his late father. Today, the collection has become an intergenerational connection for Kendrick and his own children.
“More than anything, baseball was to me one of those great links I had to my father. When I see these cards today, it makes me think back to my youth and most of all, it makes me remember my father, listening to games together on the radio, and sometimes traveling to see Reds games in Cincinnati,” Kendrick recounts. “Today, these cards represent a legacy for my own children. They represent family stories and memories. I’m excited for the collection to be on view at the Museum because I hope it can connect other families together. I hope to see fathers bringing their sons and daughters, grandfathers bringing their grandchildren to come and see the collection, to share their stories and memories with the next generation.”