$1M Nolan Ryan Memorabilia Collection Donated to Stockton
Galloway, N.J. — Nolan Ryan’s Hall of Fame baseball career was impressive in many ways. The flame-throwing pitcher, whose career spanned a remarkable 27 years (from 1966 through 1993), remains the Major League career leader in strikeouts (5,714) and no-hitters (7). He’s had his jersey retired by three different teams, was the first pitcher to officially record a pitch at more than 100 mph, and the first to earn a $1 million salary.
Leo S. Ullman’s collection of Ryan memorabilia is truly extraordinary. The real estate investor, and former owner of the Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township, has amassed over a period of some 27 years, nearly 15,000 individual items that in total were recently appraised as being worth over $1 million.
Ullman recently donated his collection, believed to be the largest of its kind in the world, to Stockton University. The school is developing a class on collecting with the exhibit as its focus for the Spring 2023 semester.
Ullman’s collection is eclectic and encompassing.
“Thousands of baseball cards, bats, balls, hats, gloves, shirts, shoes, boots, stamps, postal cachets, coins, bobbleheads, statuettes, knives, saddles, posters, photos, paintings, carvings, pennants, Beanie Babies, exercise equipment, ice cream sticks, guitar picks and every kind of candy and food you can imagine. There are just enormous quantities of items that bear his name and likeness,” said Ullman, 83, who lives in Sands Point, New York. “There are few products, with even the most remote link to baseball and baseball memorabilia, that did not merit his endorsement.”
The collection features standard baseball collectors’ fare, including more than 8,500 baseball cards, about 3,000 of which are signed by hand. But there are also some more unusual items, including:
- signed cowboy boots;
- a full-size leather saddle featuring Ryan’s likeness;
- high school yearbooks;
- seven hand-painted baseballs, one for each of Ryan’s no-hitters, by American pop artist Charles Fazzino that are signed by Ryan;
- progressive proofs of a number of Topps cards, various proofs and pristine rookie and other significant cards;
- a watercolor painting of Ryan by Dick Perez of Perez-Steele Galleries that was used in Ryan’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1999;
- and various items from his charity golf and fishing tournaments, his restaurants, his cattle ranches, his bank, his save in the 1969 Mets World Series victory, plus Hall of Fame items, baseballs and tickets from specific victories and strikeout achievements.
“Stockton is excited to become the new home for Leo’s vast and unique collection of Nolan Ryan memorabilia,” said Leamor Kahanov, Stockton provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We believe the collection will be a great academic resource for courses like sport history or statistics.”
Ullman’s ties to Stockton go back several years as he and his wife, Kay, funded the creation of the Schimmel and Hoogenboom Righteous Remembrance Room at the university’s Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. The room honors the people who sheltered and protected Ullman and his family in Amsterdam, Netherlands, during the Holocaust.
Ullman is thrilled the collection has found a new home at Stockton and that there will be a class designed around it. The donation comes at a time when there has been renewed interest in Ryan due to a new documentary titled “Facing Nolan,” which is available on streaming services on July 19.
As much as I admire Nolan Ryan, both as a person and for his career in baseball ... the collection is focused not about Nolan Ryan per se, but, rather, it’s all about collecting a very significant part of all that’s out there to honor this special iconic person."
“As much as I admire Nolan Ryan, both as a person and for his career in baseball, without limit, the collection — and a book that will shortly be released on the collection — is focused not about Nolan Ryan per se,” Ullman said, “but, rather, it’s all about collecting a very significant part of all that’s out there to honor this special iconic person.”
Ullman said the Ryan collection began as “a complete fluke” 27 years ago. He was in Madison, Wisconsin, waiting for the birth of a grandson. He had some time to kill since he wasn’t allowed to go into the hospital and noticed that there was a card show at a motel next door.
“I bought 12 Nolan Ryan cards for $1 each thinking I had a collection, having no idea what I was getting into,” said Ullman, who is the president of Vastgood Properties, a private real estate and management company. “I had no goal. I knew I’d never capture the entire market. I just found the products interesting. There’s also a measure of joy in finding something that you didn’t know existed, or in acquiring an item that was impossible to find.”
“This collection is probably the largest private collection in existence and covers all types of memorabilia, from the mundane and common to the unusual and rare,” according to a report by appraiser Leon Castner. “This collection is not simply an accumulation of individual items. It is an archive of modern sports collectability.”
— Story by Mark Melhorn