Sunday, January 16th | 14 Shevat 5782

August 7, 2019 6:31 am

Baseball Card Documentary Has a Heartbreaking — and Jewish — Angle

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

Stu Stone and Jose Canseco. Photo: Screenshot.

Stuart Stone’s documentary Jack of All Trades is about the baseball card collecting phenomenon — and its demise. It also forces him to confront a father who left him. Stone spoke with me in a phone interview from Toronto about how he dealt with some surprises, and about the thrill of having the film picked up by Netflix.

Q: Do you still collect cards?

A: I have to admit, I started collecting cards again. I went to a show with my nephew and gave him $100 to buy cards, and I started to buy some myself. I can’t help it.

Q: What’s your favorite card?

A: That [Ken] Griffey Jr. card was probably my favorite. I have a Bo Jackson Topps rookie card. I love all my children equally. I’ve always wanted a Sandy Koufax rookie card. In the boxes at my mom’s house, I found a Koufax autograph. I must have gotten it as a kid. I grew up in a household where Koufax was like Moses. My dad talked about him like he was an other-worldly Jewish hero.

Q: In the film, your friends were eating the gum in the pack from 30 years ago. Nobody got sick?

A: Nobody got sick that I know of. It’s just sugar, right? The gum was probably stale to begin with 30 years ago, when they put it in the pack.

Q: Are you single? Are you looking for someone who would appreciate cards?

A: I am single, and I guess it wouldn’t hurt. But it’s not a deal breaker. If I was looking for somebody to spend the rest of my life with that liked baseball cards, I might never stop looking.

Q: You interviewed Jose Canseco in the film. Do you think he got a bad rap because when his book about rampant steroid use came out nobody believed him, but it turned out to be true?

A: Yeah, I think he did, but it’s hard, man. I’m on the fence about it because there is this brotherhood of baseball players, and maybe they feel like he betrayed everybody’s trust. I think he’s a misunderstood guy. From his social media, you might think he’s really out there. But when I met him in person, he was nothing like that. He was totally cool and easy to talk to.

Q: Did you think from the beginning that your father would be in this film?

A: I was thinking maybe we would go look for him … see the town he was in, and go to a racetrack or the casino. He just showed up exactly when we were shooting. It was like fate. It made zero sense. He didn’t know I’d be confronting him about my childhood. I think he was under the impression that I was only going to talk about baseball cards.

Q: You seemed very kind — and calm even — when he gave what most people would think is a crazy reason for leaving your family when you were a kid. He also defended it by saying he was a child of Holocaust survivors. He said it like it was normal. How did you hear such a thing and react calmly without being mean?

A:  To be honest, it was upsetting and insulting to have that be what he said. Part of me didn’t want that to be in the movie. There was a real battle internally. But he said it. Ironically, I’ve had people reach out to me and say what he said is a real thing that people like him go through.

There’s also three cameras in the room … and I’m thinking, like, “are they getting this?” But definitely it struck a chord in me. If I looked calm and collected, believe me, inside I was like, “what the hell?” He’s lucky my sister, Karie, wasn’t there, because she would have lost it.

Q: Have you seen your dad since?

A: I ran into him at a doctor’s office. He’ll shoot me a text every few months. But there’s nothing there.

Q: Do you know if he saw the film and had a reaction?

A: I don’t know. We didn’t talk about that. He just made a joke like “so I’m the bad guy in your movie?” and I was like, “yeah you’re like Darth Vader.” And he’s like, “what happens at the end?” And I said, “you cut off my hand.” That was our exchange.

Q: Was it a relief to see your father hadn’t wronged his old business associate who took over the baseball card store?

A: That blew my mind. I was always told he screwed everybody over. It turned out he didn’t. He just screwed his family over. He literally sold the store for a case of cards. It doesn’t make any sense.

Q: One of the things he said was that a woman gave him bad advice.

A: Maybe, but that doesn’t make it right. To have a good relationship with your kids, and then want no relationship, it’s crazy. It wasn’t like he was a drunk or abusive or anything like that. He was the man. And then he was gone.

Q: What about the video of your bar mitzvah?

A: We cut the film without it, and I found it later and knew we had to put it in. We didn’t celebrate the bar mitzvah afterwards like other families would, [because my dad left]. It was a sore spot. So to see this video 20-whatever years later, it was shocking. It was a great time [then], but seeing the dynamics and now knowing what happened, you could see it. He makes a joke about going to find blondes. It seems like a joke, but when you watch it back, he must have known what was going on. He was about to leave.

Q: Were you excited to get the film on Netflix?

A: Yeah. Everybody passed on this movie. We applied for 50 festivals, and got into two. No network would buy the film. They were like, “Is it a sports movie or family drama?” I thought this movie died a death three or four times. I would have paid them to put it on Netflix. It was the greatest day ever. The journey was crazy, but in the end it’s great.

Q: Anything else surprising?

A: I got some antisemitic tweets. One guy wrote that he didn’t realize the film would be about Jews. I replied, “Sorry, next time we’ll try to get less Jews.”

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