How do you move four million baseball cards from one house to another?
As Garland Miller knows, you do it one box at a time. Miller has been buying and selling baseball cards since he was in high school and wrote a book on collecting. And over the years his card collection has grown to world-class proportions. “I can say that I deal with baseball cards almost every day,” Miller says.
In 1993, Miller CCAS’60 had a new house built for himself and his wife, Rhoda, in Wenonah, New Jersey, just a few miles from his hometown of Swedesboro.
Having lost untold cards to basement floods in the past, he knew the new house would need some special accommodations. So, he installed a staircase leading from the garage to the basement and had hundreds of boxes of cards placed on a series of pallets on the basement floor.
“We ended up moving 20 tons of baseball cards,” Miller says. “And the mover said he never wanted to do it again.”
Baseball has always been a guiding light for Miller. “Maybe because I couldn’t think of anything else,” he says. “I loved baseball so much, and when I was a kid, my mom used to turn me loose and I just went out and played sports. I remember, in high school, writing stories of baseball games I would make up.”
Miller went to his first Phillies game in 1947, at the age of nine. He bought his first baseball card in 1949 and made his first sale a few years later. He played baseball in college and earned a place in both the Gloucester County Sports Hall of Fame and in the Scarlet Raptors Hall of Fame. And, at the age of 83, he still runs a small operation buying and selling baseball cards.
Miller’s father died after his freshman year at Swedesboro High School and left behind a small box of 1910-era tobacco baseball cards. Through research, Miller learned there were other collectors around the country, and began his journey as an entrepreneur, selling the cards for 20 cents each—even a coveted Ty Cobb that would probably be worth $20,000 today (Ouch!)
During Miller’s senior year, former Rutgers–Camden basketball coach Al Carino saw him play and urged him to attend the university. At Camden, he played basketball and baseball, and found, for the first time, a supportive athletic structure.
“When I got to Rutgers, I knew nothing about how to play,” Miller says. “I could shoot a basketball with the best of them, but I didn’t know how to play. I had never been taught anything. Things were much better at Rutgers.”
While he was recruited to play basketball at Camden—and did for four years—he had more success as a baseball player. The team, then called the Pioneers, had won only a single game in the season before he arrived. By his sophomore year he became their ace pitcher, throwing a no-hitter and eventually holding the university record for career victories for 45 years. He was voted Most Valuable Player three years in a row and, decades later, still holds the record for most career complete games at 19.
At Rutgers–Camden, Miller met Rhoda Blackburne, a native of Glendora, and they married on April Fool’s Day in 1966.
After college, Miller followed his love of baseball into a career as writer, working at the Atlantic City Press for a few years before he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Over the next several decades, Miller worked freelance and full-time writing jobs at ARCO and Merck, putting together internal publications and traveling around the world to write articles.
A Pioneer Collector
Throughout his writing career, Miller steadily built a name for himself in the blossoming world of the baseball card trade.
In the late 1960s, Miller visited a baseball card expert in Philadelphia, who helped him assess the value of his growing collection and gave him some direction in the business. Soon, Miller was traveling the country with other collectors.
“At some point, when I realized that there really was something in it, I started buying complete sets of cards in quantities,” Miller says. “In the mid 1970s I joined with three other guys from around the country and we started setting up buying trips, going to Holiday Inns in cities all over the country—Maine, Florida, California, Texas, Seattle, and every part in between. Every two weeks we were on the road buying. In 1976, for instance, I started buying complete-card sets of each year—200 the first year, 100 in 1977 and for the next several years I bought multiple ‘vendor cases,’ which I had neighborhood kids sort into sets. I also bought heavily through advertisements in publications and before I knew it, I had something like four million cards. I attended and set up at card conventions throughout the country.”
In 1975, he wrote an article for the Phillies yearbook called “Confessions of a Superfan,” and by way of compensation the organization offered him $125 or two tickets to every home game. “Being a superfan, it wasn’t much of a choice,” he says. For many years he traveled to Clearwater, Florida, for spring training. Asked about his favorite generation of Phillies, he names the 2008 World Series team. “That period of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins…that was kind of magical for me.”
Today, Gar and Rhoda are active in their community and as members of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Wenonah. Their son Eric lives in Virginia and daughter Susan lives nearby in New Jersey. Miller has been conscientious about giving back some of the good fortune he’s accrued through a lifetime of working and pursuing his passion for cards.
Both scholarship recipients themselves, in 2019 the couple established the Gar and Rhoda Ann Miller Endowed Scholarship at Rutgers–Camden to give other needy scholars financial support. Miller remains humble, chalking up the circumstances of his good fortune to a few moments of luck throughout his life.
When he was looking for writing work in the 1960s, he says, he interviewed at the Campbell Soup Company and didn’t get the job. Then he interviewed at ARCO, and the recruiter liked him, but told him that they had just filled the position. The only thing the other candidate had to do was pass a physical exam.
“And I’ll be darned if he didn’t fail the physical,” Miller says.
“This is the way my life has gone. Every turn has been a positive one and I’ve felt that there’s been an angel sitting on my shoulder steering me in the right direction. It’s been a rather amazing and fun life.”