St. Petersburg History Museum (Founded 1920) celebrating a Centennial this year. The mission has been to collect, preserve, and communicate the history and heritage of Florida. A late summer drive here was to see “Schrader’s Little Cooperstown,” one of the exhibits on display at St. Petersburg Museum of History. A complete catalogue of autographed baseballs can be found in the museum’s website. Guinness has honored this collection of over 4800 autographed baseballs as the largest private collection of its kind in the world. Total value of collection is some two million dollars. Some of the highlights included the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a special section for the Negro Leagues. But, autographs go beyond the field, from Elvis Presley to Millvina Dean, the last known survivor of the Titanic. It also covers 100 years of Spring Training history in the Tampa area. “I’ve never seen a collection to compare with it,” said Norman Chester of All-American Sports Collectibles.
“Little Cooperstown,” as Dennis Schrader dubbed it, holds the world record for largest collection of autographed baseballs. He had his first baseball signed from Mickey Mantle in 1956 as a nine-year kid. Mickey trained with the New York Yankees in St. Petersburg, Florida. Growing up in Florida, it evolved into what is it today. He’s been an active dealer in sports collectibles over the 25-30 years. But, that first signed ball from Mickey Mantle did not survive the test of time. Like many kids that age, he had no idea what that ball would be worth and took it out to play baseball. The collection has not gone without controversy. Some of the autographs have been challenged by experts over the years. Dennis Schrader also had a long struggle with Guinness. On October 18, 2011 CBS News reported owner Dennis Schrader finally received his certificate from Guinness during the previous summer. This collection does not just tell a story of historical events in this region and around the world. With each baseball and the autograph of the person who signed, its a testament explaining why this game has been the American Pastime.