One of the “original eight” Rio Rancho police officers left a legacy in the City of Vision.
When he passed away at the age of 65 in September 2013, he left his widow, Lea Stoffer-Tatum, with a huge collection of baseball cards. Now, she has decided it’s time to say goodbye to the thousands of cards, which she has somehow found time to catalog.
Many of the cards have been graded, including the oldest: a 1909 T-206 Sweet Caporal card of legendary Frank Chance. That was given a 5.5 by the grading company; recently on eBay, a Chance card with that grade had reached $499 in the bidding.
Anyone interested in buying the collection, which she wants to sell as a package deal — she has no plans of breaking the vast collection into various “items” and going through all the time and effort on eBay — should plan on a five-figure transaction.
“It’s ridiculous — there’s so much there,” she said, and a visit to a small room in her home bears that out. “I have had people ask me about buying individual cards but I have refused.”
She does have a life of her own, you know. And Lea seems pretty sharp on what her late hubby had and what it’s worth, having purchased the bible of the card hobby, Beckett’s price guides, and knowing who the stars are.
By the numbers: She has a 137-page list of the individual cards, an eight-page list of boxed cards — totaling 644 boxes in all.
Basically, it’s like a plot in the TV show “Strange Inheritance,” in which Jamie Colby, the show’s “narrator,” visits folks who have been left with unusual items and sometimes helps them decide what to do with the stuff.
People collect the most unusual things; then they get old and, barring having family members enthralled with that collection of old thimbles or stuffed raccoons, need to dispose of what was once a prized collection.
Many times, cars and trucks, guns, coins, silver and gold are either retained by family or quickly sold. That’s not the case with something as “personal” as baseball cards.
Lea estimates the collection has at least 24,000 cards, plus autographed photos — the Al Unser Jr. piece is not for sale — bats and baseballs. And it’s not relegated to strictly baseball cards; Lea has found some nice Walter Payton and Brett Favre football cards, and a handful of basketball cards, such as former stars Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Shaquille O’Neal.
The Tatums met when they were employed by the City of Rio Rancho. Lea worked in the human resources department and was “actually a judge for a few years.”
Tatum was assigned by the Department of Public Safety to serve as her liaison, which the city did then with new employees. So, he showed her around, made a stop at the fire station/police department on Southern Boulevard, “literally took a fire truck and took me for a ride,” she recalled. “He was certified and authorized to drive a fire truck.”
Larry and Lea had begun dating, unbe-knownst to other city employees, and eventually were married by Judge Richard Wiles.
“He had very little before we got married,” Lea said of the collection, “because he had little disposable income before that.
“We started going to estate sales and he started buying baseball cards,” she said.
She chuckled as she remembered the two at a yard sale — maybe an estate sale — when Larry happened upon the April 13, 1962, issue of Life magazine he had long sought: It had a two-sided insert with Post Cereal baseball cards of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
“I found it. I found it,” she had heard him call. “What?” she had asked. “The Mantle card?”
“Shhh,” was his reply, before plunking down the money to buy the issue, which the owner hadn’t realized had that extra appeal.
Larry joined RRPD, thanks to his firm handshake with then-Chief Dencil Haycox, Lea said, in 1981, helping form the first police department when the city was incorporated that year.
He moved up the ranks to lieutenant, retired in 2002, returned to start the city’s first alarm-monitoring program and retired again in 2012. Then, he volunteered to handle RRPD front desk, Lea says, because he loved to talk.
He was the first employee in the City of Rio Rancho’s history to attain 25 years of service.
“Larry was phenomenal,” recalled former RRPD officer and city councilor Steve Shaw. “He knew about his baseball and his Georgia Bulldogs — he lived and breathed that.”
Not a sports widow by any means, and a native of South Bend, Ind., Lea became a Brooklyn Dodgers fan initially after her father, who had been a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, saw his favorite Cub player dealt to the Dodgers. Being a Dodgers fan came in handy when she moved to Los Angeles in 1972, and her employer, the United Way — thanks to its contacts — provided her the opportunity to attend countless games, including some during the Dodgers’ run to the 1988 World Series.
Anyone interested in accumulating an awesome collection of baseball cards should contact Lea by email at email@example.com.