His card collection is worth more than $100 million — but it's not for sale

Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick owns perhaps the world's greatest card collection

Cover Image for His card collection is worth more than $100 million — but it's not for sale
Ken Kendrick owns the highest-graded (and highly controversial) T206 Honus Wagner card. (Credit: Getty Images)

If you walked into the G.C. Murphy five and dime store in Princeton, West Virginia, on a Saturday in 1952, odds are you would have found Ken Kendrick and his friends each opening packs of Topps baseball cards at five packs for a quarter.

Kendrick, the son of the county sheriff, hit the jackpot of card collecting. He turned 8 in 1952, a year that turned out to be the greatest in card collecting, thanks in part to card No. 311, the Mickey Mantle rookie.

Kendrick caught the bug that year, without the financial rewards of card collecting, which came way later. He never picked a Mantle out of a pack because his small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, like much of the country, never got the high number third series that No. 311 was in.

The Mantle series was shipped to other parts of the nation late in the season, and Topps had a very hard time selling those cards. Many of them ended up being dumped in a body of water near the company's New York headquarters.

This all created the scarcity that fueled the 1952 Mantle to hobby prominence. So, too, did everyone's mothers throwing out the cards their boys had.

Well, not Ken Kendrick's mother.

"I always said my mom was the best," said Kendrick. "The fact that she kept my cards was proof."

In 1990, his mother reminded him she had saved all his cards, and she shipped them to Arizona, where they still reside.

It was at that point Kendrick began to get back in to the game again, completing 25 years of Topps sets, and when he was done, he got interested in getting the same cards in better quality.

Kendrick celebrates after the Diamondbacks clinched a playoff spot in 2007. (Credit: Getty Images)
Kendrick celebrates after the Diamondbacks clinched a playoff spot in 2007. (Credit: Getty Images)

'I'm never going to sell this card'

Kendrick started his career at IBM in 1964 and got into the computer software space in its early days. He sold his company, Datatel, to General Motors in 1988 for $511 million.

Fast forward to 2024, and Kendrick, the managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the last 20 years, owns the best collection of the best baseball cards in the world.

In 2008, he read about the Top 250 cards of all-time in Collecting Sports Legends, a book written by Joe Orlando, who would go on to serve as president of PSA.

"I took Joe's list to focus on the best cards and then focused on the further niche of getting those cards in the best condition," Kendrick said.

His collection includes one of three Mantle 1952 Topps 10s, which the market values at $30 million, and the only Mantle 1951 Bowman rookie in a 10. But the star is the highest-graded Honus Wagner, graded an 8 by PSA, which turned out to be the first card PSA ever graded.

Every year, he has people asking him if he'll break up his collection, which resided at the Hall of Fame from 2010 to 2013 and will probably go back again soon.

Kendrick brought his Honus Wagner card for $2.8 million in 2007.
Kendrick brought his Honus Wagner card for $2.8 million in 2007.

That includes Ken Goldin, who visited Kendrick for the eighth episode in the second season of Goldin's Netflix show, "The Goldin Touch: The King of Collectibles," in an effort to try to pluck it from his collection and consign to one of his auctions.

Spoiler alert: Goldin failed, as did everyone else before him.

Kendrick bought the Wagner, the most famous one that was once owned by Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, for $2.8 million in a private sale arranged by SCP Auctions in 2007.

Soon thereafter, Kendrick had a conversation with his son Cal, who was then 11 years old and is named after Cal Ripken Jr..

"I sat down with him and told him that this card was an important part of my collecting journey," Kendrick told cllct. "And I said right then and there, 'I'm never going to sell this card, and Daddy's not always going to be here, so that means I'm going to leave these cards behind for you.'"

Cal nodded and left the room. Three hours later, he came back to his father, asking to talk to him.

"Daddy, I know you told me you would never sell the cards," Kendrick recalled his son saying that day. "And I want you to know that I'm never going to sell them either."

Goldin put a $25 million estimate on the recently discovered SGC 5 Wagner in Episode 1 of the second season and told Kendrick he thought his, which its housed in a 1/1 special book, was worth $50 million.

Though Kendrick's card admittedly has a complication that was not brought up in the Netflix show.

The world's most notorious card

Kendrick bought the Honus Wagner in 2007.

In October 2013, Bill Mastro, one of the early pioneers of the more mature card market, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and, in the process, admitted he had trimmed the Honus Wagner card that got the PSA 8 grade.

That put Kendrick's card in the spotlight.

All of a sudden, the highest graded Wagner was not what it seemed.

Kendrick said he received a call from then-company president David Hall.

"He said, 'Look Ken, we graded this card, and we make good on anything we grade if we grade it, and it isn't what we say it is,'" Kendrick recalled. "And at that point he said, 'Listen, if you'd like to sell us back the Wagner for what you paid for it, we'll buy it right now.'"

Kendrick didn't even pause. "I laughed and said no thanks."

The question is, does PSA, knowing the card was trimmed have a responsibility to move the Wagner from its 8 grade to "altered?"

PSA has, in the past, deactivated cards when it is clear those cards achieved a grade through technological means.

Kendrick said there have been zero conversation between him and PSA about returning the card and putting it into a more accurate holder.

Complicating things is certainly Kendrick's weight in the business and the fact he became an investor in PSA in 2021.

For his part, he's not worried. In fact, he thinks the trimming scandal adds to the intrigue of the card.

"I think the notoriety adds to the value," Kendrick said. "It's like the John Dillinger gun. It's worth way more because of the story behind it.


Searching for the best of the best

In the Netflix episode with Kendrick, Goldin got an in-person look at Kendrick's collection and put estimates on cards that, in his best interest, seem to be on the high side.

Kendrick owns a PSA 10 version of the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card.
Kendrick owns a PSA 10 version of the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card.

He estimated Babe Ruth's 1916 rookie card, which Kendrick has a PSA 8, at $10 million. He puts Mantle's 1951 Bowman rookie at $20 million, his Willie Mays 1951 Bowman PSA 10 at $10 million and his Hank Aaron 1954 Topps card at $12 million.

There are two cards in Kendrick's collection that aren't the best.

His Ted Williams 1954 Wilson Franks card is a 7. There is one nine.

"For all these years, I have not figured out who has that Williams card," Kendrick told cllct. "So, if there any auctioneers out there who want to find it. Good ol' Kendrick is here, and he's looking for it!"

Then there's the story about the 1955 Roberto Clemente rookie. Kendrick has one of 11 cards graded a PSA 9. The best is a 10.

In 2012, Major League Baseball player Dmitri Young, who had a famous collection of 500 rookies in PSA 10s, auctioned off his collection.

Kendrick, knowing the auction for the cards would extend way into the night, had a surrogate bid for him. He had won the Hank Aaron rookie in a PSA 10 that night for $357,594. But the Clemente, the only exemplar in a PSA 10, had gone beyond the number Kendrick gave his bidder.

"The auction went until 3 a.m., and instead of calling me, he made a judgment call to let the card go," Kendrick said. "After he stopped, there was one more bid made, and that was it. I think he should have called me, but we didn't discuss in advance what was to be done in that situation."

The card sold for $432,960.

Since then, the person who did win it has, according to Kendrick's characterization, been trying to sell it for an "over-the-top number."

"One thing I've learned early in my business life is that, in order to be successful, you need to know the fine art of saying 'no' at the right time," Kendrick said. "So, that's why, in this case, 'no' has been my answer."

A Hall of Fame collection

After the Baseball Hall of Fame returned his collection from an exhibit in 2013, his cards went back into a vault at the Diamondbacks' Chase Field for three years, until the cards were lent for a short period of time to an art museum in Arizona, where Kendrick resides.

A couple times a year, a person of value to Kendrick requests to see the cards, and Kendrick obliges.

Kendrick has offered for the Hall of Fame to have another exhibition of his collection. Before becoming president of the Hall of Fame in 2021, Josh Rawitch worked for Kendrick's Diamondbacks.

The Hall of Fame already has 140,000 cards in its collection and now has an exhibit with baseball cards that include many of Kendrick's holy grails, just not in the condition of Kendrick's group.

Rawitch told cllct he's flattered by Kendrick's offer, but nothing deeper has been discussed.

Darren Rovell is the founder of cllct.com and one of the country's leading reporters on the collectibles market. He previously worked for ESPN, CNBC and The Action Network.