DENVER (AP) — The year was 1989 and Marshall Fogel, lifelong Denver resident and local lawyer, was visiting Chicago when he wandered into a massive sports convention.
“God,” he said, “it was like walking in heaven.”
He picked up a few baseball items and, soon, his love affair with relics of the game had become more than a hobby.
In the years following, Fogel amassed a collection that’s become perhaps the most complete (and valuable) in the country. Now, many of his prized photographs, tickets, bats and gloves are on display in the History Colorado Center’s exhibit “Play Ball!” It celebrates the history of the game in honor of the Rockies’ 25th season.
Fogel grew up in Park Hill and Hilltop. He played baseball a little when he was a kid — as “a very poor catcher,” he said — but it wasn’t until adulthood that his passion for collecting took off.
In the meantime, he graduated from East High, then the University of Colorado, then the University of Denver law school, spent time working in the Denver District Attorney’s office and finally opened his own firm on Bannock Street.
His experience as a lawyer, Fogel said, lent itself well to his eventual obsession.
“You have to have a certain personality,” he said. “You have to be real compulsive about condition. Just like when I practiced law: you gotta get every detail, you gotta analyze, you gotta learn what you’re doing.”
Fogel is, if nothing else, a “certain personality.” He can’t help but throw himself full-force into whatever he’s chasing. Eventually, his interest in law waned, and he retired to chase those pursuits full-time.
“I said, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m gonna fill my bucket list.’ I watched that movie with Jack Nicholson,” he recalled, and said to himself, “What am I doing?”
So, in 2009, he said, “I wanna join an army,” and flew to Israel to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. While he grew up in East Denver’s Jewish neighborhood, it was more the experience than the mission he was interested in. He said he’d have joined the French Foreign Legion if they’d let him.
“At the age of 68 I went over there, drove tanks,” he said. “I’ll never do it again, because boy, it was tough. Of course, I was really old to do that. And then I just finished (writing) a book,” a biography of General Maurice Rose, namesake of the hospital not far off Colorado Boulevard. Another item checked off his list.
Those passions for history and culture and experience are the same forces that propelled him into memorabilia royalty.
“There’s a story behind all of this stuff,” he said. And his eyes lit up as he listed each item.
There’s the last bat Lou Gehrig ever signed, a note he wrote on his deathbed. The first ticket to the first World Series in 1903. Photographs of Jackie Robinson, in perfect condition, that show the revolutionary slugger on his first and last games.
Those photos, in particular, have a special place in the collection. Original prints never held much value, that is, until he and collaborator Henry Yee invented a system to authenticate them in 2005.
“It created a market for this stuff,” Fogel said.
Their system helped place original photographs into the canon of the collecting world. He had become more than a patron of that universe; he’d left his mark on it, too.
“Baseball, in sports, is the most important and most expensive collectible,” Fogel said, thumbing through reams of trading cards, “and there’s a reason for that: it’s the game of the singular hero.”
The golden age of the game was full of those icons. They sported names like “Shoeless Joe,” ”The Duke of Flatbush” and “The Babe.” Crowds watched with joy as they stepped to the plate, alone and looming large.
“It’s just got such magic,” he said. “Boy, you go in a stadium and it’s like a Norman Rockwell painting. Everything is perfect.”
Today, he said, the game is still pretty perfect.
Though Fogel loves the old Yankee stadium — he was a fan of the Denver Bears as a kid, a New York farm team — he loves watching the Rockies play. Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, he said, “They’re throwback guys.”
Blackmon, especially, embodies the spirit of those golden age titans for Fogel.
“He’s got the swagger, he’s a character,” and, he said, “a hell of a hitter.”
As far as his bucket list goes, Fogel said he’s more or less finished. Today, he’s just excited to share it with the city.
It’s not the first time — he provided some items for display at the City and County Building when the All-Star Game graced Denver in 1998 — but he says it’s by far the largest.
“I’d say we’re having a hell of a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m so happy that I can share it.”
And as for the future, Fogel hopes his collection might stay in the city.
“It would be my pleasure if the Colorado history museum owned it,” he said.
His dense archive isn’t solely related to the city or the state but, still, Fogel said Denverites are fit to have ownership of it.
“It’s baseball,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be Denver, it’s our national game.”
“Play Ball!” will be open at the History Colorado Center through the end of the 2018 Major League Baseball season.
By KEVIN BEATY
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