Sunday, June 23, 2013

Baseball Cards and Me: Then and Now



The year was 1985. Wham! and a young “Like a Virgin” Madonna were tearing up the music charts. Bill Cosby and his television family were teaching us to love and laugh. And an eight-year old Rogo was sat down in front of the TV set by his grandmother and introduced to baseball and the Detroit Tigers, most likely in an attempt to shut him up for ten minutes.

I fell in love with baseball immediately, for whatever reason. Today, I have a nine-year old son and he couldn’t care less about the sport. But me, I was mesmerized by Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Chet Lemon, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Sparky Anderson, and the others back then. And as I showed more of an obsession with the sport, my family encouraged it and this led to the first real hobby of my childhood: collecting baseball cards.

Remember, this was before every game was on television, before 24 hour television networks dedicated to sports highlights, and before this crazy thing called the internet. Other than the local newspaper, baseball cards seemed like the best way to become familiar with not only my own team and their stats, but those of the other MLB teams out there. Much like Jeremy Bonderman today, I couldn’t do long division well quite yet. But I could easily figure out Larry Herndon’s batting average or Dan Petry’s earned run average after studying my baseball cards. Luckily, I learned early on not to eat the nasty gum.

My love affair with collecting baseball cards lasted until the early 1990’s. Around then, the hobby changed. Cards became more expensive. Insert cards became all the rage. Greedy adults took over and, as they do with everything, ruined card collecting for me and many others around the country.

I held on to my collection, though. It seems I move more than Octavio Dotel changes teams, but I kept lugging boxes of thousands of cards through every trip. Two years ago, I finally bit the bullet and threw the majority of my collection away. Card values had sunk in recent years and quite frankly, I was sick of the space they were taking up and carrying the boxes every time I moved.

I did keep a shoebox full of my favorites and most valuable, though. My favorite remains my 1978 Topps Alan Trammell/Paul Molitor rookie card that Tram autographed for me when I was a kid. There’s also my 1969 Topps Mickey Mantle, a 1967 Topps Al Kaline, and around 200 more than I refuse to part with. I may have broken my collecting habit, but you never know when I’m gonna need a fix, you know?

This leads me up to a week ago. I was procrastinating at work and messing around on amazon.com. For whatever reason, I started thinking about baseball cards. The first cards I ever collected were 1985 Topps. I typed that in and a rack pack of ’85 Topps showed up for only a couple bucks. Without thinking, I clicked “Add to Cart”. Then I typed in 1982 Donruss, which was one of the first complete sets I ever owned. There was a pack for sale and I grabbed that, too. Then I figured while I was at it, why not get my first look at newer cards since the 90’s? I bought a box each of 2012 Topps Series One and Series Two.

Then I waited. They all finally got here on Friday. For poops and giggles, I thought I’d share my findings with you all. I can’t be the only one out there that was once into this stuff, right?

First came the 1985 Topps Rack Pack, shown here.
Now this was the year of the Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens rookie cards and the Mark McGwire Olympic rookie card. I own two Pucketts, one Clemens, and one McGwire, but I could always use more, right? Fingers crossed, I opened it up.

No Kirby, Roger, or Big Mac. But the rack packs featured all-star cards that weren’t available in regular packs. I got a Hank Greenberg one, as Hank was apparently a coach on the ’84 AL All-Star Team. That’s a nice surprise for a Tigers fan such as myself. Also in there were former Tigers Rusty Staub and Champ Summers. Future Tiger Dan Gladden was there as a member of the Giants, as well as Frank Tanana as a Ranger. Three Tigers cards were in there from the 1984 team: Bill Scherrer, my boy Chester Lemon, and Milt Wilcox. And I got some current Hall of Famers like Tom Seaver, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, and Bert Blyleven. And Pete Rose, who should be in the Hall. And hey, that’s Garth Iorg, father of future Tigers shortstop of the future CALE IORG!
Up next is the pack of 1982 Donruss. 
The card I’m looking for here is Cal Ripken’s rookie. Let’s open this bad boy up and…

CAL RIPKEN…SENIOR? Shit! There’s a Diamond King of Dave Kingman. Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and one with Johnny Bench and Tom Seaver. And…another Milt Wilcox?
Weak. But I nearly messed my undies over thinking I had a Ripken rookie for a second. I have his Topps and Fleer ones somewhere, but I traded that Donruss set years ago to acquire my Mantle card and some others. That brings back memories of a kid down the block that I would sit on the porch with and trade cards every couple months. I once got, I believe, a Carl Yastrzemski card from the 60’s off of him for the cassette tape of MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em”.

Okay, onto the newer cards. An observation, first: these boxes are pretty small.
(Old man voice) Back in my day, there were around 36 packs in a box with like 16 cards in each pack. There are only 10 packs in each of these boxes and only 8 cards in each. What a crock.

Anyway, the first pack I open has a nice surprise.
Yes that’s a weirdly shaped insert card of Miguel Cabrera. Later, I’d get one just like if of Prince Fielder. I got a different Cabrera card, a Stephen Strasburg rookie, several other stars, and even a PRICELESS Ryan Raburn Tigers card in my last pack. Hooray! But ya know…it’s just not the same.

Overall, I was disappointed by the newer cards. Eight cards in a pack sucks. Especially when I pulled out worthless “Golden Giveaway” cards out of five of the twenty packs that are no longer valid instead of a regular card. What a waste.

Like most things as I get older, I guess the hobby passed me by a long time ago. But I’m not gonna lie. Opening up those packs from my childhood years was pretty cool. I may have to order some of those again. Then I’ll break out my He-Man action figures and play some Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.

If I order more, it won’t be to try and get rich. Not to find something to sell. No, it is a reminder of my childhood when baseball was just a fun game and not something to obsess about and get angry over like many of us do today. I miss those times. I wish I could go back to that more often.

Yeah. Whatever. GET US A BULLPEN, DOUBLE D! Who broke Verlander? DFA Phil Coke! Prince isn’t clutch enough! Avila had better hit when he comes back! Stop bunting! Don Kelly sucks! Fire Leyland, fire Leyland, FIRE LEYLAND!

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