So Cool, So What

Cool card, right? Hall of Famer, glove on hip variation, rare back, sharp corners, a real beauty.

Why do I have it? Well, around 20 years ago, I decided that it would be awesome to try to get a card of every HOFer from their playing days. I started accumulating some, but knew, in my heart, I’d never get there. Expense, rarity, fluctuations in income and time would prove me right. This was a pipe dream.

Pipe dreams can be fine; having a Holy Grail has its merits. It’s not for me. I like to collect sets, manufacturer ordained sets. I’m not a Personal Collector, looking for every Max Alvis card (though I’ve thought about doing that), or a Team Collector, or a Type Collector. Great pursuits all, not my thing.

So now I’m left with a bunch of nice pre-war cards that, because of my nature and the reasons I acquired them, have no emotional hold on me. Mark Armour and I spent a long time on the phone last week talking about emotion and collecting, and how, for us, they’re inextricable. I think we all know this. The cards in our collection that we’ve known since we were kids feel different to us than the cards we’ve purchased along the way. I can assure you that the 1977 Burger King Yankees set that I got last week brings me more joy than ol’ Muggsy’s T206.

You’ve read about my travails in grading and I can report that I sold the Ruth and Cobb for about as much as I think I can, based on lots of offers and auction results. I only had a little post-partum blues, but they faded fast. The main reason I sold those was to buy a nice 1956 Mantle, which I did.

What’s interesting to me is that a 1956 Mantle is about equal in my mind (and heart) to the McGraw. Mantle retired around when baseball started to blossom for me and, even when I started collecting cards in the early 1970’s, he was never a guy I dug. So why, in effect, trade a Cobb Domino Disc for a ’56 Mick?

I think I do have a reason. When I was first buying old cards, I fell in love with the 1956 set. For years, it was the vintage set I had the most of (about 40 cards). I started pursuing the set in earnest a couple of years ago and needed Mantle.

Rather than bringing me back to my youth as a pack buyer, which, I have to say, finishing low value insert Football sets – 1970 Super Glossy, 1971 Game and Posters – did in spades,

1970 Football Glosy 1 front128

the 1956 Mantle brings me back to my youth as a collector. I can see 12-year old me with his first ‘56s, remember buying beautiful Pee Wee Reese and Whitey Ford cards, and there’s a certain pang that comes with those cards.

We’ll see where this all goes. In reality, there’s a limited amount of cards from my growing up that I don’t have, or still want. In retrospect, I should’ve bought the 1979 Topps Hockey set instead of this McGraw card. Maybe that’s my next deal, selling Little Napoleon to buy The Great Gretzky’s rookie card.


Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

12 thoughts on “So Cool, So What”

  1. I love all of those ’77-’80 Burger King sets. Spent a winter tracking them all down maybe 8-9 years ago. The ’77 Yankees are great, but the ’78 Tigers are nothing to sneeze at, and Pitch, Hit and Run’s a lot of fun, too.

    I’m kind of doing what you seem to be leaning toward doing with cards, but with comics right now, completing as many of the series I had incomplete runs of as a kid as I realistically can. There’s a lot to be said for indulging the person who was so excited about these things in the first place, no matter what the hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the Tigers set is the big one, but I missed the boat on that, price-wise. The Yankees sets mean something to me as a kid growing up in those times.

      I love where you’re coming from re: indulging that person. The various football inserts are doing just that. I always loved the ones I had. Seeing them all, for the first time in my life, is a thrill for both 56 year old and 8 year old me.


  2. A T206 HOFer you’re not super attached to is a GREAT problem to have! 🙂 I think every collector eventually hits a Day of Reckoning–often multiple–where goals shift and the heart of their collecting passion comes into focus. Fortunately the market is active and accessible enough that you essentially can trade an unwanted Cobb for a very wanted Mantle. Whatever bumps in the road, I’d be surprised to meet any collector who ever regretted chasing the 1956 Topps set, especially if he was able to nab the Mantle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Funny, I never would have hit this point had I not gotten back into collecting a few years ago. Being re-immersed in cards has led to deep thinking about what I have, what I want and what has meaning.


  3. Excellent philosophy and approach. We change and the world around us changes. My old collecting goals are pointless now and it’s time to move on to some new ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The ’63 Mantle is my favorite and the best card in my set (it’s a PSA 7) — A beautiful head-and-shoulders portrait. The Rose rookie has become the toughest card in that set, but it’s one of those weird four-in-one rookie head shots. How could anybody like that more than the Mick? I got his autograph in May ’65 outside of DC Stadium when I waited for the Yanks team bus. A day I’ll never forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The cards from my youth thing is something I’ve struggled with as well. At first I felt like it was almost cheating to merge my childhood collection with my current interests—especially vintage where I knew exactly why I had each specific card )although I was only ever able to go back as far as 1960.

    Blogging has helped since I can explore and write about the previous items while not feeling like I have to keep them as they were. Cards and autographs can be remixed in myriad ways when they’re just scanned and I no longer feel like I have to sort and re-sort depending on my whims.

    I’m also lucky (in a way) to be a junk wax kid so all those cards from my youth that I could never get are more expensive to ship than to buy. There are literally maybe 3 which have held any sort of value (Billy Ripken, Ken Griffey Jr, Frank Thomas) and even there they’re not expensive expensive.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yeah, the collecting energy changes. Sometimes you paddle furiously. Sometimes you drift in the canoe and get a tan. Nice Mickey and great column, JK.

    Liked by 1 person

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