On Sunday, Joe Ruocco was busy checking on the 56 dealers he’d assembled for the sportscards and memorabilia show his Rock’s Dugout store hosted at Northrock Lanes when his wife said someone wanted to see him.
A 30-something-year-old man approached Ruocco.
“I know you don’t know me, and you probably don’t remember me, but 25 years ago, I went down (to) your shop to look for vintage cards,” he said. “I asked you to show me the oldest ones you have.”
Ruocco had about 100 1909 tobacco cards. They were baseball cards issued with cigarettes — in this case, the Sovereign and Piedmont brands — to promote the tobacco.
“It’s known as the monster set. There’s so many cards and variations,” Ruocco said. “It’s the number one set for veteran collectors.”
What Ruocco hadn’t realized is this man, who was 12 at the time, took four of the cards without paying for them.
“I have put them in my safety deposit box for years,” said the man, who gave Ruocco only his first name. Ruocco declined to share that name.
“I guess guilt got him,” Ruocco said.
“I was appreciative. It took a lot of guts to come up and return something to a person 25 years later. Are you kidding? I never heard of such a thing.”
Ruocco said theft is part of owning his business, which is located at Northrock but would have been at the Rose Bowl East at the time the man took the cards.
Once, Ruocco said, he had someone return something he took by mailing it back.
“But to do it face to face was the one thing I was amazed by.”
The man produced the cards he’d taken.
“I had no idea he was going to show me cards from the 1909 time period,” Ruocco said.
They’re worth a total of almost $800.
Two of the cards feature Hall of Fame player John McGraw. A portrait of him is worth $225, and another card of him pointing is worth $150.
Another card features Harry Steinfeldt, and it’s worth $250. The last card features George Brown and is worth $150.
Ruocco isn’t sentimental about now keeping the cards.
“I’m selling them.”
In fact, he already has an interested buyer for the two McGraw cards.
Ruocco said it’s all about furthering the business.
He said he wishes he and the man had been in his shop for their conversation.
“I probably would have given him something. Some pack of cards that he would have enjoyed for his honesty.”
Ruocco’s conversation with the man was brief.
“I said, ‘I appreciate your honesty and your guts to coming up and doing this.’ I discussed, ‘We all did stupid things when we were younger, and you have redeemed yourself.’ ”