I’m heartbroken to report the news of the passing of Ted Patterson.
Dave Yoken, the original founder of Collectable, called me one day in 2015 to tell me he’d met a former broadcaster down in Baltimore that had a great collection, and was looking for a new auction house to consign with. Dave was kind enough to talk up Love of the Game, told Ted I’d be calling, and the next day, I gave him a ring.
The first thing about Ted that I noticed was his voice. It had a richness to it, a smoothness in the casual conversation that we had, it was immediately clear that he made his career with his voice and with his communication skills. It was a pleasure to listen to him speak, and once he grabbed you with that voice, he’d reel you in with a story. We made an appointment, and the following week I met with Ted in his house in the suburbs of Baltimore.
When I got there, he greeted me warmly, and then took me on a tour of his collection. It had astonishing breadth – cards, uniforms, advertising displays, publications, scorecards, tickets – anything tied to the game, and in multiple sports. It lived in every room in his house – even the kitchen. Of course I immediately wanted him to consign all of it, and of course he immediately decided I was getting none of it.
Instead, we just sat and talked. I wound up staying with him for three or four hours that day, listening to stories about the early days of the organized hobby, stories about Major League clubhouses, stories about his years of research. I would ask him a question, and he’d have a story.
“Was Thurman Munson as surly as they say he was?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” he said. “He was as friendly as could be. He just didn’t like talking into the microphone.”
“Who was the nicest baseball player you ever interviewed?” I asked.
“Besides Brooks and Bob Feller?” he responded. Brooks Robinson and Bob Feller were Ted’s personal friends, and his sports heroes. “Besides them, Reggie Jackson.”
He loved Reggie Jackson, and Ted’s stories about him have completely changed my perspective about what kind of a person Reggie is. I’ve never met him, but when I think of Reggie Jackson I think of a warm, friendly guy with a giant smile and a healthy respect for other people who are good at their jobs. I think of a guy who was, during his playing career, misunderstood. And if it’s possible, really, really underrated. That’s because of Ted.
After that first visit, I was an hour away from his house, on my way home, when he called me and asked “When can you come back? I’ve decided to consign some stuff.”
I told him “How about I turn around and come back right now?”
He laughed and said no, he was tired, but he wanted me to visit again soon. So I came back the following week, and he gave me a small pile of boxing memorabilia, some Novelty Cutlery postcards, an E120 Ruth. Before I left, we agreed that I’d come back again.
That began a ritual where he’d call me every week or so and we’d chat on the phone, and eventually he’d ask me about specific items in his collection, and whether they were “good” for the auction. Then we’d set up a visit. I’d go down to Baltimore every couple of months, and sit and listen to him tell stories. Then he’d take me through his collection and hand over the items he’d put aside for auction.
When he called, he introduced himself the same way, every time. “Hey Al,” he’d say, “It’s Ted. From Baltimore.” He loved Baltimore.
During one of my visits, he wanted to show me his collection of press pins, which he had displayed inside a glass-top end table. The table was piled high with stuff that he casually brushed off with his arm. One of the things that fluttered to the floor was an E105 Christy Mathewson. I gasped. “Oh, that’s worth something?” he asked. “Go ahead, put it in your auction.” It sold for $7,600. That’s what kind of collection Ted had.
Sometimes he’d play me tapes of interviews he did with players. Or he’d tell me about a time he met some legendary hobbyist. He always had a story.
Ted began his career with a fascination with sports broadcasting that never went away. One of his life’s goals was to write the definitive history of the topic. He’d correspond with former sports announcers, and then file the letters away. He’d have dinners with announcers, and ask them questions. He was like an encyclopedia of sports broadcasting – any sport, he could tell you about its history.
Ted began his pro broadcasting career working for Curt Gowdy’s Inside Sports radio program in Boston. After a few years, Ernie Harwell tipped him off about a broadcasting job with WBAL radio in Baltimore. There, Ted became the host of Baltimore’s first regularly scheduled sports talk radio show. He covered sports on the evening news for WMAR television, and worked alongside Rex Barney announcing Orioles games in 1982 and 1983.
At various points Ted was the voice of the Orioles, Colts, Ravens, Navy Football, Towson State and UMBC basketball games, and Morgan State football games. He broadcast Baltimore Blast and Baltimore Spirit indoor soccer games. He was an ESPN Radio correspondent for NFL Game Day. Between 2000 and 2011, he was Sports Director of WCBN-AM radio. He wrote several books on Orioles history. He had an incredibly full career, and was beloved by sports fans in Baltimore. Once, I had to speak with a service provider in Baltimore who was helping Ted with something. I asked him “Do you know who this person is?” He responded “Oh yes. He’s the voice of my childhood.”
A few years ago, Ted was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He’d been having trouble with his balance, and found that the slight tremor he had was getting much more pronounced, so he went to the doctor and got diagnosed. While they were trying to get the dosage of his medication correct, his tremor got really bad. During this same time period, he developed some eye issues – glaucoma, if I recall – and needed to have eye surgery.
During one of my visits, as soon as I walked into the house, he said “I need you to help me with my eye drops. I can’t get them in my eyes.”
I looked at him like he was insane. I have a condition called Essential Tremor, which makes my hands and face shake uncontrollably when I try and do something precise. Example: if you pour me a beer, and you pour it right to the rim of the glass, I simply cannot drink it. I can’t even hold it. I won’t just spill it, I’ll throw it, the shake gets so bad. But if you leave me a half inch of space between the top of the glass and the beer, I can drink it just fine. But something like putting eye drops into someone’s eye? That’s just dangerous.
So here I am, holding this tiny squeeze bottle of eye drops, trying to keep my hand steady while I squirt eye drops at a guy who’s tremor is so bad that his whole body is shaking. He was sitting on his couch, with me standing over him, pressing his head against the back of the couch with one hand, trying to keep him still, trying to hold my other hand steady enough to get a couple of drops into his eye, both of us laughing at our combined ineptitude. I got eye drops in his hair, on his face, on his forehead – but eventually, I got a few into his eye.
He was quiet for a minute, and then he says “It’s the other eye.”
Of course he was kidding. The two of us laughed for about ten solid minutes. From then on, he called me his “tremor buddy.”
I am unbelievably fortunate to be able to work in a business where I get to become friendly with my customers. I get to learn their stories, and they become a part of my life. I’m proud to have called Ted my friend, and I’m proud to have been his “tremor buddy.”
A wise man once said that you’ve lived a great life if your experiences have given you lots of stories to tell. Ted Patterson had several lifetimes’ worth of great stories. I’m going to miss him.