May 7, 2012

Mint condition

It took a Michael Chabon essay from Manhood for Amateurs to remind me just how much baseball card minutiae I packed into my brain between 1993 and 2000. I got my start on my seventh birthday, when my parents decided to give me the collecting bug. Instead of buying me the complete set of that year's Topps set, they bought me a whole bunch of packs. Up on my bunk bed, I spread them out and began tearing at the wrappers. It didn't take much to get me hooked, especially since that year included my favorite player, Frank Thomas, holding three big black bats.

I didn't know then, but the three bats were sort of the thing for The Big Hurt, a la Babe Ruth and all the other boppers, and had actually been featured in the oddly illustrated Fleer set of the year before (top).

But the first card that really enchanted me was for an as-of-yet not hated Chicago Cubs player. I was OK with the Cubs at that point, so when my dad came home with the Ryne Sandberg rookie card, which was the first card of value to come into our home, I started to get a feeling that might be equated with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. It was part loving the card, part feeling lucky to have it, and part possessiveness. We had it, and nobody else.

Later, through "bidding" at the local card store, my dad would make almost weekly purchases of famous cards. As odd as it is to describe now, the bidding was just the real-life early-90s version of eBay, where cards would be put up on the wall with a bid sheet, and my dad would stop in periodically to check on the cards he wanted. One of my favorites he got was Harmon Killebrew's 1955 rookie card, which besides the really old cards, came out in the first five years of Topps' modern batches cards.

The Killebrew card, at least a little bit, also reminds me of one of the "biggest pickles" I ever got myself into with trading cards. Really, it was more of a screwup than a pickle. It had to do with this card, the Derek Jeter rookie card:

Because my parents bought me packs in my first year of collecting, that brought me many, many duplicates of the same card. We called them "doubles." I had doubles of just about everyone, except for, in a way impossible for me to grasp then, those cards that were by intentionally produced to be more elusive than all the rest. (I never did collect the full set this way, but I came damn close.)

Jeter, overrated superstar that he is now, was not elusive in 1992 card collecting. I had like eight Derek Jeter rookie cards. As you can see, it wasn't a card with a lot going for it. Some scrawny guy standing kind of goofy over a clip art baseball diamond ...

I put my doubles into a special box dedicated purely to doubles (card boxes are special as it is, with their terrific shape and lids). A couple years later, I didn't want those doubles. I wanted more Eric Karros and Carl Pavano cards. I did collect legit players too, like Manny Ramirez and most badassedly nicknamed "Crime Dog" Fred McGriff (that swing!).

Anyway, I offered up a box of about 500 doubles in exchange for a few embossed and faceted (I assume) specialty cards. That day, I probably lost my heirs a few hundred dollars. But looking back on the deal, I'm glad to know that, even as a child, I wanted nothing to do with the Yankees.

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Blogger JHitts said...

Two things:

1) I just picked up that book at the library. I'm looking forward to it.
2) This post reminds me a lot of Cardboard Gods, which is a website you should all check out.

That is all.

May 7, 2012 at 6:02 PM 
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