By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
How much is too much?
That's a question I've asked countless times when it comes to buying baseball cards or sports collectibles.
I've never paid more than $10 for a pack of cards or $20 for an individual card, although I would have been willing to go higher for the Johnny Bench card I needed to complete my collection.
Luckily, I swung a deal and secured the card for just $18.
I've never paid for an autograph and never stood in line longer than 30 minutes for the 30 seconds it takes for a professional athlete or coach to scribble their name on a ball, card or picture.
I've been lucky in that regard. Yogi Berra bought flowers from the florist my brother once worked at in New Jersey, and they struck up a professional friendship as time wore on.
Knowing my love for the game and its history, my brother eventually asked Berra to sign something for me. The legendary Yankees catcher obliged, signing a baseball and a copy of his book for me.
Talk about a Christmas gift you treasure forever.
It sits on shelf next to the biggest reward off the biggest gamble I've ever taken. Even today, more than 20 years, I laugh at my luck.
Back in the early 1990s, I was made weekly visits to Diamond Cards and bought as many $1 packs of baseball cards as my part-time salary would allow.
Truth be told, I went in there to talk shop with store owner Dick Chapin as much as I did to buy cards. Anyone interested in collecting did the same thing.
Chapin had been the program director at the YMCA before opening his card shop in a small strip mall near 36th and Maine. He knew every up-and-coming athlete, and every kid knew him.
And he loved to talk sports.
Chapin traveled to as many collectible shows as he could, and he always came back with a story about who he met and something enticing to buy.
At one of those shows, Chapin got his hands on a rare box of O-pee-chee hockey cards and put a $10 price tag on each pack.
Here was the kicker: The set contained the Brett Hull rookie card.
There is no hockey player I have revered more than Hull, who was one of the game's most-feared snipers when he played for the St. Louis Blues. His retired jersey number now hangs from the Scottrade Center rafters.
I framed the poster commemorating Hull's 50-goals-in-50-games season. And I made a deal at a collectibles show for a Hull autographed puck.
All I was missing was that rookie card. Each time I went into Diamond Cards, I looked at the box of O-pee-chee packs sitting on the counter and thought I needed to gamble.
Each time, I walked out with a few dollars still in my pocket.
Eventually, curiosity and the desire to snare that card got the better of me. I plunked down a $10 bill and Chapin let me pick the pack I wanted out of the box. I took one pack and opened then and there.
The card on top was an Adam Oates rookie. Although he came up with the Red Wings, Oates gained fame when he joined the Blues and was the center on the line featuring Hull.
The marketing campaign for "Hull and Oates" was pure genius.
The Oates card would have made me happy. Three cards below it was the card that made me forget how much I paid for the pack.
There was the Hull rookie.
This wouldn't be much of a story if hadn't pulled that card, right?
Obviously, luck was on my side and the gamble paid off, but I have never bought a $10 pack of cards since.
I don't want to press my luck.