Friday, January 23, 2015

Baseball Cards: A Love Story

I fell in love with baseball cards at the Scituate, MA town dump.

A little background …  When I was a boy, my family traveled to Scituate a couple of years running for summer vacation.  At that time, Scituate didn’t have trash pickup.  You had to take your trash to the town dump yourself.

Now, that dump was a fascinating place for a 10-year-old.  There were trails all over the place, winding around sandy hummocks.  And around each turn, there seemed to be something incredible – an old refrigerator, an antique chest, a broken-down engine.  I never wanted to leave.

What does this have to do with baseball cards?  Well, on one visit to the dump, I found that someone had gotten rid of a small collection of cards.  They were brand new and in perfect condition.  It was like finding buried treasure.  I was hooked.

A card from the dump *

The following Spring, my family moved – again.  I was a corporate brat, so this was something I was used to.  Still, I was in junior high school, so the move was a little harder than it had been before.  Interestingly, one of the things that helped break the ice was a shared interest in cards with some of the neighborhood nerds.

I remember, in particular, lusting after Stuart Karp’s collection.  In fact, Stuart’s collection really got me in high gear.  Somehow, I managed to collect all but a handful of the 1971 series merely by buying individual packs.  That’s a lot of duplicates.

One of Stuart's cards **

That was also a lot of bubble gum.  (Yup, that was back when packs had gum in them.)  So, not only did I have almost the complete collection, but I also had a mouthful of cavities.  I’ll never forget how my dentist always made sure I was buying those cards and keeping him in business.  You were such a wag, Dr. Leeson!

I had about 25 of these **

In addition to buying new packs and getting a mouth full of silver, I also started looking around for older cards.  Now, this was before the great card boom, so there really weren’t any shops around – and there certainly weren’t any websites.  What I mostly did was hang out at flea markets.  I used to get early 50s Hall of Famers in excellent condition for a buck or two.  Man, those were the days.

I knew back then he'd make it to the Hall **

Baseball cards lost their appeal, however, when I hit puberty and discovered sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.  Yup, I sold them all.  And, needless to say, I did that right before the card market really took off.  I got a couple of hundred for them even back then.  They’d literally be worth tens of thousands today.

I pretty much completely lost interest in cards until, as a middle-aged dad, my youngest son started playing baseball.  One of his coaches liked to hand out cards after practices and games as little rewards.  Now, these weren’t ordinary cards.  The guy’s father-in-law happened to have owned a card wholesale business before he retired.  My kid actually got a ‘61 Koufax.  I kid you not.  Dad was hooked again.

Said Koufax *

So, my sons and I found a local shop and started patronizing it regularly.  I concentrated mostly on reliving my youth, buying minor stars or beat-up majors.  It all stayed in that low gear until I found the following book at a library sale:

This baby shows the front of every baseball card Topps ever made (up to 1990).   Let me repeat that.  It … shows … the … front … of … every … baseball … card … Topps … ever … made.  You can’t find that on the Internet.  The book weighs ten pounds and is two inches thick.  It costs $160 in mint condition.  I got my mint condition copy for $15.

Spending hours leafing through it, I found I was particularly drawn to some cards that I really hadn’t been drawn to before.  It just seemed like there were so many guys with eyes closed, goofy grins, really bad hair, unibrows, unbelievable names, and lots more.  I’d always been attracted to unintentional humor, and this was a very rich trove indeed.

But why the blog?  Other than becoming rich and famous and being asked to write books and appear on talk shows?  You know, I’m not sure.  I just thought it would be fun.

So, where to begin (sorry, but I'm limiting this only to the years I actually collected)?

* - author has this card
** - author had this card


  1. I got that book for Christmas in 1986 showing all the cards through the 1985 base set, along with a companion book showing all the 1985 Traded cards and 1986 base cards. I poured over that book for hours and hours. Still have it.

  2. It's funny the things that pull you back in.

    My brother gave me that book just last year. I told him "you're crazy giving up a book like that." And he said,"it's too damn big." lol. My gain.
    The books been invaluable to me ever since. It might be the best bathroom book ever, but you have to have a strong lap.

  3. I got that baseball card book about 10 years ago at a local used book store. A year later I found the football card companion at an antique store in Orlando, FL.

    Wasn't Jim Lonborg from Scituate, MA?

  4. He's a California boy and Stanford grad, but he does live in Scituate, where he's a dentist.

  5. I used to have that Joe Foy card. I grew up about and hour and a half northwest of Scituate and was a Red Sox fan. 1969 was the first year that I started collecting cards and Foy's card was one of the first that I got. I remember wondering why his hat logo was obscured... at that time I was clueless about all the airbrushing, missing hats, etc that were (are?) a feature of traded or expansion team player cards.

  6. Pleasant way to close things off. A bit of a pity you don't do this blog anymore, but I was very entertained reading it.