Plymel Sports Memorabilia Collection Defies Imagination
By Peter Kerasotis // November 25, 2013
ABOVE VIDEO: Susan Plymel began collecting sports memorabilia when her husband Donald gave her a nice gift one day to fuel her newfound baseball passion – an authenticated, autographed baseball with the sterling signature of Joe DiMaggio. Soon, an authenticated, autographed Babe Ruth ball joined it, as well as other pieces of baseball memorabilia.
COUPLE AMASS THOUSANDS OF TREASURED ITEMS
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – It started innocently enough.
Sometime back in the early ’90s, Susan Plymel bought a series of children’s books on old-time baseball players for her grandson.
Flipping through the book on Ty Cobb, she read a passage about how Cobb, when he was a boy, pilfered one of his father’s leather-bound books and traded it for a baseball glove.
“I thought to myself, ‘Baseball must be powerful.’”
She read the entire Cobb book, then another, and another, books on Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle … until she read all 10.
She bought coffee table books – “Who’s Who in Baseball History” and “Cooperstown: Hall Of Fame Players” – and read them cover to cover. Other books, like the classic “Boys Of Summer,” were devoured.
COLLECTING IN PLYMEL GENES
And then it started.
Plymel already had a collector’s gene tucked away somewhere in her DNA. She enjoyed art and antiques, eventually starting a company with her husband, Donald, called Classique Antiques. She also for years owned a boutique in Indialantic called Accents By Susie.
Primarily, though, she and her husband, both general contractors and licensed real estate brokers, made their wealth from Plymel Realty Inc. and Plymel Construction Inc.
So it was not out of their price range when Donald gave his wife a nice gift one day to fuel her newfound baseball passion – an authenticated, autographed baseball with the sterling signature of Joe DiMaggio.
Soon, an authenticated, autographed Babe Ruth ball joined it, as well as other pieces of baseball memorabilia.
HOME CRAMMED WITH MEMORABILIA
Now the Plymels have two rooms in their Melbourne home stocked with all sorts of memorabilia.
Think of one of those stores you’ve seen inside of malls, crammed with memorabilia from sports, rock ‘n’ roll and other avenues of entertainment.
That’s the Plymels’ home.
It got to be so much, spilling through two rooms and a walk-in closet, that the Plymels finally spent hundreds of hours cataloging it all. When I visited them and took a tour that left my jaw dropping and eyes bulging, Susan gave me a 33-page notebook, single-spaced on 81/2X11 paper of everything they have.
There’s even a table of contents.
• Balls Mounted On Wood With Players Card
• Photos Signed Matted And Framed
• Baseball Jerseys Signed
• Regulation Bats Signed And Unsigned
• Baseball Caps/Visors Signed
• Special Baseball Memorabilia
And on and on it goes.
TREASURE TROVE OF SIGNED ITEMS
There are stadium seats from old Yankee Stadium. There’s a rare photo of Hall of Fame catchers Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench and Al Lopez, signed by all four.
There’s a Derek Jeter-signed game-worn cleat, as well as other signed memorabilia by the Yankee shortstop.
There’s a home plate from Fenway Park from the 2004 World Series. A wool Lou Gehrig jersey purportedly worn by Gary Cooper in the movie, “The Pride Of The Yankees.” A signed Mickey Mantle jersey. An Astros jacket signed by Roger Clemens with the special inscription “Rocket Was Here.” Several unique pieces signed by Albert Pujols, only with his full name – Jose Albert Pujols.
It’s just a trove of signed memorabilia from greats like Lou Gehrig, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Enos Slaughter, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Satchel Paige, Ted Williams, Buck Leonard and Whitey Ford, as well as a host of other stuff from more recent and current players.
Other sports, too. A slew of various boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard. A University of Alabama helmet signed by Joe Willie Namath.
And then there’s stuff from the entertainment realm – signed guitars by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, all the members of U2 and all the members of the Rolling Stones.
MORE THAN WORDS CAN DESCRIBE
And on and on and on. Just when your eye catches something that captivates, something right next to it trumps it.
It would take thousands of words to describe it all, and then thousands more to describe all the arts and antiques, like furniture once owned by Greta Garbo. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, still trying to absorb it, there is the 1956 Chevy Bel Air sitting in the garage as pretty and pristine as if it was still sitting in the showroom.
The car was originally built as a car of the future, to be showcased in a museum. The dash has a clock, Wonderbar radio and factory air conditioning. It has power steering, brakes and windows, and even power seats. Original upholstery, original paint, original chrome … original everything.
Still, it’s her baseball memorabilia collection that most excites Susan Plymel, and she keeps adding to it.
“It’s nice to have an interest in something,” she says. “We don’t have a yacht, we don’t do fancy dinners, we don’t buy $200 jeans with someone’s name on it. This is what we enjoy doing.”
And she wants to do more.
DONATE ITEMS TO TIM WAKEFIELD’S ANNUAL CHARITY EVENT
Plymel’s scope of baseball games has been limited to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, when the Dodgers were still there, and Space Coast Stadium. She wants to see more spring training parks and start seeing major league parks, too. She regrets never having visited old Yankee Stadium, especially since the Plymels now own seats from the historic ballpark.
The couple is now 67. Donald is from Moultrie, Ga. Susan grew up here in Brevard County and graduated from Melbourne High, class of ’64. They’re ready to slip into retirement, travel to ballparks and, according to Plymel, “enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
One ballpark they have visited is Fenway Park. The Plymels have been regulars at Tim Wakefield’s annual charity event. Wakefield, of course, is the former Eau Gallie High and Florida Tech star who just retired from a stellar MLB career, mostly with the Boston Red Sox.
Not only do the Plymels bid for memorabilia at Wakefield’s auction, they donate items, too.
“We made our money in this community and we like to give something back,” Susan says.
FIRST PITCH AT FENWAY
In back-to-back years, they made generous donations to Wakefield’s charity for the Space Coast Early Intervention Center, winning bids to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park. Susan’s turn came on Aug. 12, 2006, and she began training for it January that year.
“Every day I practiced throwing,” she says. “I did my Pilates, leg presses. I was going to be ready.”
She drew an X on the back of a building, chest high, and regularly threw a baseball at it.
That spring, when she met Roger Clemens, Susan told the pitcher how she was going to throw out the opening pitch at Fenway Park.
“Have you been practicing?” he asked.
“Yes, every day,” Plymel replied.
“Are you practicing from a mound?
“You need to do that,” Clemens intoned.
She did, got better, and threw a beautiful opening pitch, but not before she asked – only half-kiddingly – if she could warm up in the bullpen.
Many of their autographs have been gotten firsthand, initially at Dodgertown and more recently at Space Coast Stadium, where the Plymels are fixtures in box seats behind home plate.
It was at Dodgertown that Susan learned how exciting autograph hunting can be, and that there is a protocol to it.
‘I WAS LUCKY I WASN’T KILLED’
She saw a mob of fans by the press box, wondered why, and noticed that former Dodger manager Tom Lasorda was there. She made a beeline.
“Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me,” Plymel kept saying as she worked her way to Lasorda and got his autograph on a baseball. Turning, she saw that she had cut in front of everybody else.
“Lady,” one of the gentlemen standing in line said, “that was pretty impressive.”
Susan laughs at the memory now.
“I was lucky I wasn’t killed,” she says.
Now she has it all down to a science, built on respect for not only the people around her, but those of whom she asks for an autograph.
She once wrote a nice letter to George Steinbrenner, and got a nice autographed ball back to her in the mail.
She purchased beautiful high-end crystal baseballs that she brings to ballparks, getting players to sign them. When Detroit Tigers All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera marveled at the beauty of the crystal, Plymel gave him one as a gift.
“His eyes lit up, he was excited,” she says. “Hey, they’re human just like us. It’s nice to give them something instead of always asking.”
PRIZED BABE RUTH BALL
The Plymels generosity is evident in how they’re always entertaining in their home, something they love to do. Recently, though, after entertaining about 30 or so guests, they noticed later that their prized Babe Ruth-signed baseball, along with other memorabilia, was stolen.
Susan gets quiet when asked if she suspects who stole the ball.
“Let’s just say I believe in karma,” she says.
“I can’t let that bother me,” she says. “All the people we’ve done business with and all the people who’ve owed us money who’ve never paid, I always had a saying, ‘You have to break the rearview mirror and keep moving forward.’ ”
And so she does.
Moving forward while looking back at baseball’s rich history, and enjoying every minute and every artifact she can from it.
It all started, after all, when she learned that Ty Cobb stole a leather-bound book from his father’s library.