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My Favorite Baseball Card
If you can think of a cliché involving baseball cards, chances are it applies to me.
Put them in the spokes of my bike with a clothespin so it would kinda sound like a motor? Yup, did that.
Flip them against the wall to see who could have one land the closest, or land on top of the other person’s card? Sure.
Trade my “doubles” for my brother’s “doubles?” Of course.
I developed diced-based games with my cards as the game pieces, working their way around the bases (or not) depending on the number rolled. I collected them and used a pen to mark the little boxes on the checklist cards. Later, I took the cards of my favorite players and put them into those plastic protective top-loaders to keep them from being damaged. Then I did the same with star players, or even “minor stars,” as the dealers called them.
Eventually I had binders with protective pages, and bought lots of cards on eBay to complete yearly sets. When Topps would release a new set each year, I’d buy two. One to set aside untouched, the other to open and put into a binder so I could look at them whenever I wanted. I even created a database to track my collection. I don’t think “obsessed” is the right word to use to describe my days as a card collector, but “avid” certainly applies.
That changed eventually. Partly it was just part of getting older. The more disposable income I had that I could have used on my baseball card collection, the less willing I was to spend it that way. I’d rather get something for my kids, or save it for college or a family vacation.
The other reason I lost my enthusiasm for collecting was the drastic shift in the market, and in the people ran it. I grew up with just one baseball card brand, Topps. Sure, there were those terrible cards that you’d get out of a cereal box, or cut off the back of a package of Twinkies, but the only real cards were made by Topps.
That changed beginning in the 1980s, when Fleer and Donruss started producing some really bad cards on crappy, thin paper. I never liked them, but they kept at it, improving their product each year and flooding the market with cards. Other companies jumped in, too. Companies overproduced cards in the late 80s, pushing so many out into the market that the prices simply crashed. They weren’t worth the price to make them, killing any reason to collect them beyond the love of the game or the hobby.
Companies then started making fancy versions, and alternate sets. Even Topps made different versions of their cards each year. There would be the standard set, but also the “Gold” set, or the “Game Used” cards with little pieces of a uniform or bat embedded in it. There would be numbered subsets, card #17 of 100 for instance, or an autographed version, all intended to drive prices back up with the scarcity of the cards making collectors pay more for them.
By the 1990s, hundreds of baseball card sets were being produced each year. By the early 2000s, I was done. At one point I had the goal of collecting every card from every Topps set in my lifetime, but that died as soon as they started producing dozens of annual sets of cards. With the market now actively driving prices higher and higher, it exceeded my desire to spend the money.
A few years ago, I sold off almost all the cards I had, or simply threw them away. I plucked out the cards that might have value, sold off anything I could, but then pitched thousands of cards into the trash. Trust me, the world isn’t going to miss any 1988 Topps Dan Pasqua cards. (No offense, Dan.)
The cards I have left fall into two groups. First are the cards that I think might still be valuable if I took the time to get them professionally graded and then sold. I hesitate to do that, because the idea of investing money into them just hoping they are graded high enough to make the investment worthwhile seems like more work than the likely return would be worth. And so they sit, tucked into a few boxes, protected with little sleeves, awaiting the day I decide to something with them.
The other group are the cards that have some meaning to me. If you’ve read some of my prior posts, he can probably predict what some of them are. For instance, if you read my piece about how important my memory of Game Six of the 1975 World Series is to me, then you know that of course I have a 1975 Topps Luis Tiant card:
And of course I have a whole group of my favorite Red Sox:
I’ve even got a few hockey cards because I love the Boston Bruins. These aren’t quite from the year I was born, but they’re close:
My favorite player as a kid was Jim Rice, about whom I’ve written pretty often. I’ve got an autographed ball from him, and a couple of autographed photos, and I even met him a signing on the day the Red Sox won Game Four of the 2004 ALCS and then never lost again that postseason. So of course I’ve also got a couple of Jim Rice cards. One is autographed:
And one has a snip of one of his jerseys:
None of those are my favorite cards, though. For a long time, this one was:
I’ve written a little about Sammy White, and probably should expand on this at some point, because he has an outsized place in my life. Through pure coincidence, I was born on Sammy White’s birthday. He was retired by then, and I had no idea who he was for many years, but when I was about 12-years old I was given a Red Sox wall calendar, the kind that flips each month. In the little box for each day of the year, if any members of the Red Sox were born on that day, their names would be listed in the box. As soon as I figured that out, I flipped to my birthday to see if I shared it with any Red Sox. And there was Sammy White’s name, staring back at me.
Not many people with the last name White have played for the Red Sox, and those who did weren’t on the team for long. But Sammy White was their catcher for most of the 19502, when my parents were teenagers, so I asked them if they knew who he was.
“Oh sure,” my mom replied. “I liked Sammy White. Not as much as Ted Williams or Bobby Doerr, but he was a good player.” My dad said he liked him, too. So I asked if they ever considered naming me Sam. “Yes,” my mom said. “We liked that name. But we weren’t as fond of Samuel, so we decided to go with Paul.”
“You mean I was born on the birthday of the most famous member of my favorite team to share my last name, and his nickname is one you liked, but you went with a different name anyway because his formal name bugged you?”
“Yeah, we probably blew that one, didn’t we?”
Yes, Ma, you blew that one. Anyway, I always had a soft spot for Sammy White as a result, and I always wished I had his name. I’m not a fan of ‘Paul’. There simply isn’t much you can do with it other than ‘Paulie’, which is either Rocky’s annoying brother-in-law or the name of the mob boss’ driver who gets killed in every movie about the mafia.
Which is why, years later, I corrected the disturbance in karma that my parents created when they gave me the wrong name. When my son was born, there was only one option to name him - Sam. Yes, his full name is Samuel, just like Sammy White’s was, but they have different middle names to avoid being too creepy.
Since my son eventually decided to play baseball, you can guess what my favorite baseball card now is:
I’ve got older cards of his, but this is the earliest one that has his name on the front. It’s also the first one in which he’s wearing a full uniform and he looks somewhat happy to be in the photo.
I doubt I’ll find it listed in Beckett’s Price Guide, but that’s fine by me. It’s not for sale.
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