Hall of Fame Weekend has me thinking about history—baseball cards connected me to the players and the teams as a young fan in the 80s.
During those years, we were in the middle of an over-produced and manufactured baseball card industry. Houses were converted into baseball card shops in almost every neighborhood similar to the way you find a neighborhood bar on main street. Both are dedicated to the locals, but the clientele at the shops scoured the shelves for creased corners instead of malt choices.
These shops were spectacular. Like many of my friends, I was a kid delivering newspapers so I could save enough to buy a Mark McGwire USA card, but you would just as likely find a doctor, lawyer or other adult standing alongside you sifting through the cards. After reading about McGwire and players like Barry Bonds in the evening paper as I completed deliveries—this was during the time when the newspaper issued a morning and evening edition, their cards were must-haves.
Other than the card shops and the newspaper, we might catch TWIB (This Week in Baseball). It only aired once a week, so if I really wanted to learn more about a player or a team, I had to find the cards.
Today, instead of the corner card shop, we browse eBay. I remember one of my greatest joys from the baseball card shop era, though, that we miss with the online experience. Long rows of cards awaited the fan, and we could flip through the cards for hours while connecting with fellow collectors. During a single visit, I might flip through multiple Jack Clark, Pete Rose and Harold Baines cards that I already owned—all while enjoying the stale cardboard aroma—until I discovered a treasure.
The treasure … Ernie Banks, Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter, and so many other players from previous decades. These players were spoken of in the hushed tones afforded only to legends. But, finding their physical card gave me a connection to a time and a place. It gave me a way to measure this legendary player to today’s players.
History—this is how we would connect as baseball fans to the players of the past and the present. These baseball cards linked us to a mythical time and place before the world turned cynical when players like Banks just wanted to “play two”.
Fast forward to the present. I am a fan that was driven away from baseball and baseball cards after the disappointment of the 1994 cancellation of the World Series. Cal Ripken’s 2,131 game achievement brought me back.
Through it all, I still have those cards I collected as a kid that remind me of the fun of the game. Now, I find myself collecting special years and special teams. Baseball cards remind me of what is good about the game. What is fun. What is worth holding onto. I miss the overproduced days sometimes because it connected us as fans in the community. eBay is nice but distant. I look forward to where this SABR community grows and connects fans.