Headlines about Detroit, especially when they happen at the intersection of abandonment and large sums of money, get a lot of attention. But what is the real story behind those stacks and stacks of baseball cards, and who owned them?
There had to be more behind the vague headline that appeared in the UK’s Daily Mail on August 20 which read, “Urban explorers find $1MILLION-worth of collectible sports cards inside an abandoned factory in Detroit?“
Although Detroit Tigers cards from the 90s were mentioned, an awry detail in the story was that in a close up picture of the cards scattered on the ground, there are quite a bit of OHL cards (that stands for Ontario Hockey League). This ran contrary to the claim by the Daily Mail that the supposed payload was made up of U.S. sports teams.
It also seemed like the Fisher Body Plant couldn’t be the location, it has been deserted for over 20 years and is badly dilapidated compared to the space seen in the photos.
It did appear however, that there was certainly a large card collection that had been sitting in a plant somewhere in Detroit. And we couldn’t shake trying to find out what the story was behind this mysterious find.
As a note, we reached out to the author of the Daily Mail article and he did not respond for comment.
Hub Hemmen, Wheeler And Dealer
I called Kruk Cards in Rochester to see if I could get an expert opinion on who the cards might have belonged to. The owner, George Kruk, who is a local card and memorabilia mogul, identified the collection as one that used to belong to Hub Hemmen.
Hub (short for Hubert) Hemmen had passed away 2013. Hub ran a business called Hub’s Tool and Machine on 9 mile, in Warren Michigan. In the Eighties, Hub’s tool and die business suffered the fate of many others in the region, and the business failed.
According to Hub’s son Greg, he was a wheeler-dealer type, and he knew that as the business began to fail Hub had gotten really into sports cards. The tool and die business had faded away but the space was used to store a large amount of cards.
“Hub [was] the type who was always trying to make a buck,” said Greg Hemmen.
However, Hub had become estranged from some of his family members, including Greg. He wasn’t quite sure who would know more about this particular group of cards.
A visit to his old east side shop led us to a conversation with Reginald, Operations Manager at Major Automotive, LLC, next door to Hub Tool and Machine. He said that after Hub passed away in 2013, Hub’s family inherited the shop and sold it.
“His shop was filled to the top with cards. I remember when they were cleaning it out. It took weeks to get all the cards out,” said Reginald.
We also learned that Hub started a residential development in Chesterfield Township, a suburb of Detroit in Macomb County, where he named a street after himself called Hub’s Lane.
A Lot Of Cards, But Not Worth A Million Dollars
The card collection, though kind of an oddity, was highly unlikely to be worth $1 million according George Kruk. He pointed out that the cards could have been dumped in order to collect an insurance policy, because they weren’t really worth much.
Kruk could identify the cards by sight from the pictures because Hub had tried to sell him the OHL collection a few times, but that he had never bought them.
A Link To The Stash
On Friday, we became aware of a man named John Hemmen, who spoke to WWJ Newsradio 950 about the card collection.
John Hemmen, cousin of Greg and nephew of Hub, used to work with Hub at the machine shop, and he remembers stowing the cards in the 90s. John had moved to Florida to find work when he saw the writing on the wall for the Tool and Die business.
In the 90s John had come back to Michigan for a two-week visit, as he did nearly every year, and his uncle Hub asked him if he could help him move some stuff out of one of his warehouses to a new location. Though on vacation, John agreed to help Hub, who had been like a father figure, and taught him the Tool and Die trade.
“He felt kind of bad, so Hub gave my wife some money to go shopping, and I spent 3-4 days hauling the cards from the warehouse to the plant,” said John Hemmen.
John Hemmen also pointed out that this wasn’t really a collection per se, but a “Case lots of cards that were purchased as an investment, to be sold later.”
Ivan Doverspike, who was also in the tool and die business, was allowing Hub to store the cards at his facility (the former Cadillac Stamping Plant), on the East Side of Detroit where he rehabbed screw machines.
“Mr. Doverspike also had a couple of old cars stored in the same area [of the plant], I think one of them he drove on the day he got married,” said John.
John says that the reason the cards were left there wasn’t to collect insurance, but that they were forgotten. Hub suffered from dementia later in life, and he probably wasn’t able to keep track of all of his assets.
He wishes somebody in the family would have been notified about the collection before the Doverspike Company vacated the building in 2013, because it would have been a nice for the family to decide what to do with them, even though the value is far less than the original claim.
“The cards definitely are not worth a million dollars, but they are worth something … Hell, they are probably worth at least 10 to 20 thousand in paper scrap,” said John Hemmen.
The Cadillac Stamping plant where the cards are located was bought by Bill Hults, who had a failed bid to buy the iconic Packard Plant but instead went for this hulk, roughly located at Conner and Harper by City Airport.
Although we know more about these particular cards, that doesn’t mean there’s not a true treasure load of Hub’s cards out there somewhere on the East Side.
“These were mostly Canadian hockey, some NASCAR stuff. The Al Kalines and Mickey Mantles were kept somewhere else … He had stuff all over the place,” said John Hemmen.
So maybe the mystery still isn’t over. Detroit may still hold another card, if you will, up its sleeve.