Don asks if the raging bull market in baseball cards will continue. "I don't know, Don," Mr. Mint replies. "If I knew it would, I'd keep everything I buy. But I just don't know, Don."
After he hangs up, Mr. Mint says, "He's got a major find, but he's very shaky. Says he'll call back in a while. We'll see." He won't, and Mr. Mint knows it. No deal. Time to move on.
Deals are Mr. Mint's lifeblood. Sentiment is Mr. Mint's blood poisoning. He flashes back a couple of years to Gaithersburg, Md. He's leaving a baseball card shop, carrying his trademark briefcase full of C-notes, when someone named Frank, tall guy with a little goatee, walks up to him and says he's got complete mint sets from the '50s. Mr. Mint's meat.
They drive to Frank's house, walk into his special card room. Mr. Mint likes what he sees, offers $15,700. Frank wants $16,500, agrees to take $16,100, asks when Mr. Mint wants to do the deal. Mr. Mint opens his briefcase, sees he's got $40,000 left, and says, "Now."
Frank is clearly startled by this. He says, "Well, O.K., but I'd like to ask you for a special favor. Can I have five minutes alone with my cards?" Mr. Mint thinks this is a little unusual, but he leaves the guy alone in his card room.
Five minutes later Frank emerges, sobbing gently. His wife comforts him, but he's crying uncontrollably now. He's bawling. "I can't do it," he says between sobs. "I've had them since I was a kid. I need the money, but I just can't do it." Mr. Mint closes his briefcase and leaves quietly.
Mr. Mint has a love-hate relationship with sentiment.
He opens a drawer now and removes a tiny, yellowed newspaper clipping describing the 11-1 Little League win over Ramsey, N.J., he pitched in July 1958. "Rosen went the distance," he reads, savoring the phrase, smiling, shaking his balding, darkly bearded, 42-year-old head. In those days, he says, the only thing he wanted to be in life was a pitcher. "I can't even move my arm anymore," he says sadly, demonstrating his damaged left wing. "Bad bone chips. I'm, like, orthopedic. My arm is curved."
Once he lived for baseball. Now he lives for baseball card deals, because before deals there was no Mr. Mint. There was only Alan Rosen selling insurance, clothes, jewelry, typewriters, coins, antiques, whatever. Always hustling, trying to make a buck. Living in a small apartment in Hackensack, N.J., making 30, 40 thousand a year, spending 50, worrying about car payments, always behind the 8 ball, one step ahead of the bill collector.
Then in 1979 he happened to stumble into a baseball card show, bought a '53 Topps Mickey Mantle for $100 (current price: $1,400) and, hey, call it fate, luck, the stars, whatever, his coin dealer's nose sniffed the future, and it smelled a whole lot like old baseball cards.