Kelly Sage holds a collage of Canadian baseball cards from his extensive collection.
December 22, 2022
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
He is the “Canadian baseball card guy.”
At least that’s what many collectors and retired Canadian big leaguers call Kelly Sage.
They know that when it comes to finding a baseball card of a Canadian player that the Saskatoon resident is their man.
Sage owns close to 20,000 different Canadian cards – ranging from a 1909 T206 card of Brandon, Man., native Russ Ford to modern cards of Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“I’ve never looked up the value of any of the cards in my collection and in a lot of ways, I would rather not know,” said Sage, whose day job is working in the service department for OK Tire.
Over the years, Sage has become such an authority on Canadian baseball cards that former players now contact him for help in securing some of their cards.
“I’ve had several Canadian players that were just shocked at what I’m doing and just so happy to hear that somebody is preserving their legacy, I guess you could say, for lack of a better term,” said Sage.
The veteran collector is, indeed, “preserving their legacy.” What he has built is far more admirable and impactful than the average personal collection. In talking to Sage, it’s clear that he is passionate about ensuring that Canadian players – even if they only suited up for a season or two in the big leagues – are appreciated and remembered. And that’s largely what has inspired him to keep collecting for the past three decades.
“If a former player contacts me and needs a certain card, I’ll buy it and send it to them [for free] or if a guy is short on cards and he needs 10, I’ll buy them, I don’t mind,” said Sage.
So, how did the “Canadian baseball card guy” get started with his collection?
Well, Sage first caught the collecting bug as a six-year-old in Cardale, Man., when his older brother, Bud, bought him a pack of 1971 O-Pee-Chee cards. The first card he pulled featured Montreal Expos third baseman Bob Bailey.
“I still have that card,” said Sage, who grew up an Expos fan. “I have it on my bulletin board.”
Kelly Sage holds the 1971 O-Pee-Chee Bob Bailey card that was the first baseball card he ever pulled from a pack.
From there, Sage was hooked, he started buying packs and trading cards with other kids at a rapid pace and by his early teens, he was selling cards to a local dealer. He also collected every Topps baseball set from 1976 to 1991.
He briefly stopped collecting, but his interest was reignited when he visited a gas station in 1993.
“I’m in Saskatoon, buying gas at an Esso Station. I went to pay and saw they had boxes of different baseball cards,” recalled Sage. “I grabbed a pack or two of each for old times’ sake. And the first pack I opened had cards of three Canadian-born players . . . It was just a total luck thing that there happened to be the three Canadians in one pack.”
Sage was so intrigued that he decided to do some research on Canadian major league players. So, he trekked to the library and combed through a Baseball Encyclopedia to make a list of Canuck big leaguers. He then formulated a want list of Canadian players cards, and the new focus of his collection was born.
Unlike many sports card enthusiasts, Sage hasn’t focused on rookie cards. He simply wants one of each Canadian players’ cards.
“I don’t focus on rookie cards because then I get the feeling that it’s an investment,” said Sage. “With a rookie card, you end up thinking what’s it worth now versus what’s it going to be worth in 20 years? That’s not where I want to take this.”
Just a few of the binders of Canadian baseball player cards in Kelly Sage’s collection.
To build his collection, Sage has traded with other collectors, established a contact in a card shop in every major league city and purchases items online. He also likes to buy cards in bulk.
“I have two dealers in the area, one is in Alberta and one is local in Saskatoon and I’ll buy a pallet and there are about 400,000 cards on a pallet and they’ll show up in a truck and we’ll unload the boxes and stack them in my garage,” said Sage. “Then I’ll just sit there and go through all of the cards and pull out all of the Canadians.”
With that kind of dedication, it’s no wonder Sage is known as the “Canadian baseball card guy.” As noted earlier, one of the rewards of having this reputation is the relationships he has established with former Canadian big leaguers.
This started when he met Denis Boucher after a Toronto Blue Jays Honda Super Camp in Saskatoon in the early 2000s. Sage tracked Boucher down at the Delta Marriott Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon and met with him in the lobby.
“We sat in the lobby and he went through my binder of Canadian cards,” said Sage.
Boucher discovered a card of his that he didn’t have and Sage gave it to him.
“And that’s where I got my first autographed cards and ball from,” said Sage. “And then within two weeks, I had three emails from former players asking if I had some of their cards.”
Kelly Sage’s business card that sends out to former Canadian players.
Word has continued to spread and Sage has embraced his role as a card supplier to Canadian ex-big leaguers. In fact, he is now proactive in establishing relationships with them.
These days, once a Canuck player retires, Sage writes them a letter and includes a brochure about his collection, a business card and asks them whether they would like some of their own cards. He tells them he is willing to supply them with cards in return for a few signed cards and a signed ball.
“The response has been really positive,” said Sage. “I have standing orders with more than a few players and one agent. The deal is I’ll send them as many cards as they want whenever they want them and I’ll pay the postage. So all they have to do is send me a message saying they need more cards. The players need them because they give them away at clinics and camps.”
Over the years, he has connected with Canadian players like Rob and Rich Butler, Fergie Jenkins, Dave Pagan and Terry Puhl. He has also been in touch with Larry Walker’s dad.
“I went through a whole box of 5,000 Walker cards and pulled out one of each of the different cards and then I sent them to Larry’s dad,” said Sage. “He sent me back a half a dozen things out of his collection.”
Sage will also go above and beyond to help a player. For example, one player contacted him and told him he was doing a kids’ clinic and he needed 24 cards. Sage only had about 15 on hand, but he quickly got on the phone and called Burbank Sports Cards, a large store in California that he is regular customer of, and was able to secure more cards. He has done similar favours for other ex-players.
“When someone like Rich Butler says I need 100 cards, if I don’t have them, I’ll go get them, I still won’t charge them for them even if I have to pay to get them because as far as I’m concerned they’re my customer and I’m going to do anything and everything for them,” said Sage.
And the satisfaction of helping them out is often enough.
“They say, ‘Well, what can I do for you for all the cards? And I say, ‘Just keep passing the word about what I do. That’s all I want,’” said Sage.
On top of assisting these players, Sage has managed to assemble what’s likely the most comprehensive card collection of Canadian baseball players in the world.
“In my collection, I’m basically shooting for one of each card that I can get,” he said. “I will never have the time or the financial resources to get them all, but my plan is to just get as many as I can.”
His 1909 T206 Russ Ford card is one of his most prized possessions. On top of its age and being from a legendary set, the Ford card has added value because the former New York Yankees ace is from Sage’s home province of Manitoba.
One card that has eluded him that he’d most like to acquire is a rare 1991 New York Mets Terry Puhl postcard. Puhl spent spring training that year with the Mets.
“That’s actually one of the cards that Terry wants me to find him, too,” said Sage.
Some of the balls signed by ex-Canadian big leaguers in Kelly Sage’s collection.
Sage also owns more than 70 baseballs signed by Canadian big leaguers, coaches and umpires and several one-of-a-kind items, including the photographer’s negative of Vancouver native Dave McKay’s 1977 O-Pee-Chee card.
“I thought it was pretty special to get that,” said Sage. “McKay was the first Canadian to play for the Blue Jays and that’s the photo that appears on his first Blue Jays card.”
All of this – along with more than 2,200 baseball books and 1,900 magazines – are stored in a room in his house that he and his wife, Rhonda, like to call “Sage Stadium.”
He enjoys having people over to view his collection.
“A lot of the local guys have been here,” said Sage. “And the local umpires had their annual meeting at my house, so that they could all come through . . . I have a guestbook that I have a lot of the real hardcore baseball people who visit sign.”
Kelly Sage is now working as a bird dog scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, but no, he did not sign Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.).
Sage has worked in the automotive industry for 38 years, but this year he became a bird dog scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. He plans to retire from his day job in January 2024 and devote more time to scouting young Canadian players and organizing his cards.
His ultimate plan is to donate his collection to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Sage of being the “Canadian baseball card guy.” “I have a joke with anybody who comes in to see my collection and says, ‘Where do you get all of this stuff?’ I hold up my binder and I say, ‘I have a really good address book.’”