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Tim Wallach fan has a real house of cards

Tim Wallach fan has a real house of cards
Often, readers send hand-written letters along with their own Tim Wallach cards to Corey Stackhouse, who owns quite possibly the largest collection of the Dodgers bench coach's memorabilia. (Corey Stackhouse / Corey Stackhouse)

The world's largest collection of memorabilia devoted entirely to a major league bench coach is stored in a closet within a home in this remote New Mexico town.

Tim Wallach, a Dodgers coach who played in at least part of 17 major league seasons, smiles back from souvenir cups and wristbands and old advertisements for American cheese. He leads a procession of stickers and coins. He is on the back of a little plastic record that plugs into a little plastic player in a way that you can look at a photo of Tim Wallach while you listen to the voice of Tim Wallach.

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And there are baseball cards. Oh, so many baseball cards.

To be exact, 15,744 of them — all Wallachs — resting in neat rows of white shoe boxes.

Wallach looks out from Topps and Upper Decks and O-Pee-Chees; cards with holograms; cards found only in Canada with a certain loaf of bread; cards given to kids for good grades; and cards that come in packages of Hostess cupcakes. One card is from Denny's — it came with any purchase of a Grand Slam breakfast.

The closet belongs to Corey Stackhouse, an otherwise outwardly normal 35-year-old attorney with a curious goal: to obtain every Wallach card ever printed.

Not one of each card — he has already accomplished that. Every card.

"Literally," he declares on his website, TimWallach.blogspot.com, "send me yours, all of them."

Even in the obsessive world of baseball-card collecting, Stackhouse's is an unusual mission.

For starters, although Wallach reached five All-Star games, won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, the former third baseman from Cal State Fullerton has what's considered a common card, the lowest value among collectors.

Stackhouse also seeks an unfathomable number of cards — certainly in the millions, though no one is exactly sure how many. Stackhouse guesses there are a total of about 15 million. Stacked in a neat pile, such a collection would reach five miles high.

Stackhouse has no connection to Wallach whatsoever. While Wallach starred mostly for the old Montreal Expos, Stackhouse grew up primarily in Arizona.

Now, Stackhouse runs a law practice in this small northwestern New Mexico city, where he lives in a nicely appointed home with three rescue dogs, a 5-year-old daughter, and a wife, Ashley, who worries that some people might find his hobby disturbing.

Actually, people seem inspired. Many want to help. About every other day he receives a package at his office from someone who has found his website and has more Wallachs to add to his collection.

"I know my secretary thinks it's nuts," Stackhouse said.

He has at least one of every Wallach card — 373 unique versions and has received letters from 24 states and several parts of Canada. He adds about 20 donated cards in an average week, and the rest he buys for pennies. The most he has spent on any card is $20. He won a particularly rare find — a card with a miniature embedded trophy — on EBay for $12.

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"I put my maximum bid in at $100," Stackhouse said. "Don't tell my wife."

He estimates it has cost him more than $1,000 over his lifetime, but probably not much more.

"It's not like I'm missing house payments because I'm buying Wallach cards," he said. "It's maybe a $20-a-week habit, tops."

Each morning, Stackhouse trawls EBay. He has single-handedly moved the market on Wallach cards, like a big investment firm on Wall Street might drive stock prices. Some sellers list all other common cards for about 50 cents but will price Wallach's many times higher.

Once, he grew mystified when he was outbid several times at the last moment.

"There may potentially be another Wallach collector lurking out there," he wrote on his website, "like some sort of mysterious Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster."

The mystery gnawed at him until, last year, he received an unusually large shipment. Stackhouse's "Bigfoot" turned out to be a man in Texas who claimed some distant relation to Wallach. He wasn't trying to collect every card, so he was happy to share.

"I just always assumed that every player that ever had a baseball card made probably had one or two people doing this," Stackhouse said. "But surprisingly very few."

He has found only one other baseball collector like him, a person whose pursuit of Joey Cora memorabilia was inspired by Stackhouse. However, there are many collectors with untraditional tastes.

There's the group dedicated to preserving copies of the video game Shaq-Fu, starring Shaquille O'Neal. Other groups are dedicated to collecting VHS copies of the movie "Speed," starring Keanu Reeves, and "Jerry Maguire," with Tom Cruise. (The "Jerry Maguire" fans have pulled together more than 10,000 copies. They say when they reach 18,000 they will use them to construct a massive pyramid in the desert near Joshua Tree.)

Stackhouse's fascination began when he was 4. When he ripped open a new pack of cards, his father would set aside the stars. One day, his father pointed to a card and noted the player had the same first name as Stackhouse's brother, Tim.

"Is he good?" Stackhouse asked.

"Yes."

The Expos uniforms looked cool too, so Stackhouse declared Wallach his favorite player. He was the only Wallach fan in a neighborhood where most kids preferred Don Mattingly.

Alone in his choice, Stackhouse learned to defend Wallach's honor. He can list Wallach's stats, accomplishments and trivia. He still sounds offended that Wallach, playing in the baseball netherworld of Montreal, never got his due. His website includes this disclaimer: "By viewing this page you agree Wallach should be in the Hall of Fame."

One year, the neighborhood kids decided to write their favorite players for an autograph. "I was the only kid to get a card back," Stackhouse said. "That definitely sealed the deal."

As Stackhouse aged, though, his player crush went into hibernation. Then, in law school, monotony stirred up latent feelings. By the time he met Ashley, study breaks had become EBay time.

As Ashley recalls it, Stackhouse told her he was into collecting baseball cards on the night they met.

Stackhouse doubts it.

"I would bet you a million dollars I did not say that the night I met you," he said.

"Or the first date," Ashley replied.

"I assure you baseball cards were not part of my pickup spiel," Stackhouse said.

Ashley grew up with three brothers, so the hobby seemed normal.

"I get it," she said. "But I don't like finding baseball cards in my bathroom drawers."

When Stackhouse was studying for the bar exam, Ashley would surprise him with gifts of packs of cards. By 2010, he had so many Wallachs — about 2,000 — that he reached a crossroads.

What am I going to do with all of them? he wondered.

Answer: Why not try for them all?

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From the start, Stackhouse accepted that he'd never know if he'd accomplished his goal. Card companies guard their printing numbers like state secrets. The manufacturers profited from customers thinking the cards were rare when in reality, "they were producing them at astronomical levels," said Dave Jamieson, the author of "Mint Condition," which chronicles the history of baseball cards.

Extrapolating from industrywide printing numbers, Stackhouse estimates there are between 10 million and 20 million Wallach cards. Jamieson said his conservative estimate would fall in the same range, though, he added, "It's a bit like counting to infinity."

Stackhouse is under no illusion he can do it — "Not the place I'm trying to get to so much," he said, "it's the trip." — but he will try anyway.

Already, he has benefited from the experience. He got to meet his hero. Two years ago, he was put in touch with Wallach for a phone call during which he lobbed questions at his idol for 30 minutes — fanboy stuff, he said.

"I asked him," Stackhouse said, "what he thought about Andre Dawson winning his MVP award in '87."

Wallach was gracious, Stackhouse said, and modest. Toward the end of the conversation, Wallach told him, "Next time you think you're going to go to a game, give me a call, and we'll leave tickets for you."

He gave Stackhouse his personal cellphone number. Later that season, Stackhouse and his father traveled to Denver, where, sure enough, tickets were waiting for a Dodgers-Rockies game.

Regardless of whether he meets his ultimate goal, Stackhouse's boyish enthusiasm has inspired something in his readers.

"The world needs more people with ridiculous hobbies," a man from Pasadena wrote.

Wallach doesn't think it's ridiculous.

"It's nice that you have a fan," he said before a recent game.

"Most of these guys probably have 10 or 12," Wallach added with a laugh. "I have one."

For the bench coach, if not Stackhouse, quality beats quantity.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

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