A prized collection

Cards, autographs, and 500-plus signed baseballs

Created date

August 11th, 2020
Gary Hattal’s vast collection of signed baseballs are displayed in his Ann’s Choice apartment home.

Gary Hattal’s vast collection of signed baseballs are displayed in his Ann’s Choice apartment home.

Gary Hattal always loved baseball. He has fond childhood memories of his family gathered around their first TV—black and white, of course—watching the Phillies play on Sunday afternoons.

Growing up in Warminster, the self-described “skinny little kid” wasn’t a very good player. But what he lacked in skill he made up for in determination. “I got involved in Little League and Legion teams,” he says, “and I was so excited to play the game I loved.”

Like so many with a passion for baseball, he started collecting memorabilia as an adult. He credits friend and fellow Ann’s Choice resident Paul Hill with igniting his interest. “I met Paul before either of us moved here. He invited me to his home to see his collection, which was quite substantial,” says Gary. 

“He took me upstairs, and I was amazed to see the ceiling of one room papered completely with baseball cards,” he recalls. “He had the most wonderful memorabilia displayed throughout his home, and that got me started on my own little collection.” 

Gary’s first collectible was a signed card and photo of his “number one” player, Phillies’ center fielder Richie Ashburn. He continued amassing cards, arranging them by year in binders. His late wife Barbara also enjoyed baseball. The couple often went to games and got autographs whenever they could. 

Gary devised an ingenious way to expand his growing autograph collection: He wrote to the players, and enclosed a 3x5 card and return envelope. “Quite a few responded,” he notes, “which was a pleasant surprise.”

Of all the memorabilia Gary has collected, his signed baseballs are his pride and joy. Over the years he has amassed more than 500, which he displays on shelves in the second bedroom of his apartment home

“I call it my baseball room,” he says. “The bed has a Phillies bedspread, and the baseballs are center stage. It gives me a lot of pleasure to come in here and see my collection. This is something I’ve been doing for decades, and I love being surrounded by these objects. They bring back wonderful memories.” 

He has baseballs signed by some of the game’s greats, including Ashburn, Hank Aaron, Robin Roberts, and Mickey Mantle. While many of the autographs are highly sought after, he isn’t sure which is the most valuable. “There’s the market value, and there’s the memory value” he notes. “I spoke to the players and watched them sign, so they are all a treasure to me.”

He acknowledges that value can swing wildly over time, depending on a player’s popularity and market demand “I have a Mike Schmidt 1973 rookie card, which was once worth $275,” he says. “Now it might sell for $150. It shows you how much the price can fluctuate.”

Gary has never sold any of his collection and hopes to pass it on to his children. For now he’s simply enjoying the memories it evokes. “You can’t put a price on that,” he says with a smile.

A great place to live 

Gary and Barbara moved to Ann’s Choice 13 years ago. The Warminster native knew the property when it was part of the Johnsville Naval Air Station. He had worked on the base as an installer for Bell Telephone. 

“I worked at Bell for 32 years,” he says. “I started as what we called a ‘nickel snatcher,’ collecting money out of pay phones, and worked my way into commercial systems installation. It was a wonderful career.”

Shortly after he retired, Gary and Barbara started thinking about their next home. The Hattals were interested in the option for advanced levels of care should they need it. “Our kids were grown, and we wanted to plan ahead,” he says. “My priority was making sure that she would be taken care of, and Ann’s Choice did not disappoint.” She passed away seven years ago. 

“I know we made the right decision at the right time,” Gary says. “We had a wonderful life here, and I’ve continued to enjoy it, thanks to the people. Everyone is great, and I just love it.”

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