Not Cool for Katz (1979-1984)

Steve Wynn sang about it on The Baseball Project’s 3rd album.

Tyler Kepner and I talked a bit about it over dinner and cards in Cooperstown.

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I experienced it myself, from 1979 – 1984.

Did you?

I can tell you that cards became, if not uncool, then put in forced hibernation, before my senior year of high school. Up to that point, I wasn’t shy about having people know I collected cards. Kinda late, now that I think about it. Why were baseball cards (and other cards) something to be proud of, well, if not proud of then unashamed by, through 11th grade, but not 12th?

I have no idea. I do know that bailing on cards when I did bit me in the ass, at least when it came to hockey cards. I bought the complete Topps set every year until 1979. Yeah, 1979 was the first year I stopped buying complete sets. Yeah, 1979!!!!!

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I missed cards during those years and I could have very easily kept up on the down low. No one needed to know but me. Still, there were a lot of things that went on during those years – leaving high school, having first relationships, going to college, graduating from college, getting a job. Looking back, cards would have provided me some much needed comfort, very similar to what they give me these days.

I’m not sure I thought they were uncool. Despite my vaunted record store running background, I was never the cool-type. I had my aesthetic, and that appealed to some and worked for me. Actually, staying with cards would have enhanced that image, not taken away from it.

Hard to say how I felt then. All I can remember is my first inching back, my toe-dipping into the pool.

It was September of my senior year at SUNY-Binghamton and a bunch of us were driving to Cornell to see Graham Parker. It was his tour behind The Real Macaw.

Right out of campus, we stopped for gas and I bought a couple of packs of 1983 Topps baseball. I don’t know who I got in those packs, but I was stirred, though not moved enough to go all in.

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I graduated in May 1984, had a job and lived with my parents in Staten Island. I needed all the comfort I could get and dove back into cards, catching up on the sets I’d missed (Topps, Fleer and Donruss) but only baseball. (My second, and last chance, at the Gretzky rookie!). Lucky for me, I started piecing together some older sets I had started pre-1979.

Though my card interest has had its peaks and valleys since then, it’s never gone away and there isn’t much I missed that I regret (maybe 1986 Fleer basketball, but that’s more monetary than emotional.)

Nick Vossbrink’s recent post about his kids and their joy in the hobby is a wonderful read. I hope they stick with it as long as they love it, and not be influenced by what others may or may not think is cool or worthwhile. Most of us have failed that test at least once, with cards or without.

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.

10 thoughts on “Not Cool for Katz (1979-1984)”

  1. I was so nerdy growing up that I don’t think I ever became “too cool for baseball cards.” However, I definitely took a break for a couple of years in college and then a much longer break after that. My timing may have been better than yours although I can tell you stories about selling those Gretzky rookies for literally 2 cents each! 🙂

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  2. 1993-1997 would be the lean years, though I don’t think I was ever completely out of it because I can remember buying a box of 1994 Bowman and hoping it took off like 1992 Bowman (it did not). Part of it was life stage (end of high school, beginning of college), but part was also that the guy who had run the card shop in town had sold to someone less interested in stocking baseball cards. Plus the local card show circuit had slowed down, and, well, when you’re sharing a dorm room or living in 3 different states in the span of 18 months or sleeping on your friend’s papasan chair cushion there isn’t much room for storing cards. I do remember going to Kmart around 1996 and buying random things they had (like 1996 Pinnacle Aficionado, which I think came in boxes meant to mimic cigar boxes).

    But then when things settled a bit there happened to be a store in Tallahassee run by someone around my age at the time (20-22) and frequented by others in that age range, so I picked back up again. And then I discovered eBay (just checked and I have been on eBay for almost 19 years), which opened up an entirely different world of collecting to me. All of a sudden Keith Hernandez cards that I had only read about in Beckett (I had put together a checklist of his stuff in the late 1980s/early 1990s – it’s a completely normal thing for a 12-13 year-old to review every set in a n annual Beckett guide and put together a player checklist) were available to me. Plus it allowed me to essentially self-fund the collection by selling off excess cards at a time when cash was low. It’s difficult to say how much eBay actually impacted my collecting – the ease of finding things was mind-blowing.

    1998-1999 were still a little bit lean, but by 2001 I was back in full force (I built 4 sets of 2001 Topps from wax – I pulled two Base Hit Manager auto relic cards which was way luckier than I realized at the time), with the only other dip in interest around 2004-2005 due to a shortage of funds and moving to northern Virginia where the local shops still had price tags on cards like it was the late 1980s or early 1990s. Probably the most annoying thing about being “out of it” in 2004-2005 is that Hernandez had so many cards produced during those years (so many versions of his stuff from Donruss/Playoff) and I’ve been playing catch up since then.

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  3. I think we talked about this at your house. The hole in my collection is exactly the same. By luck I did continue to get full baseball sets each yr from my mother. But missed out on the Gretzky because I let the other sports collecting lapse

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    1. We did! Funny thing about the other sports, for me. I have no idea why I only resumed baseball and not the others. In the mid-80’s, I was still following the other sports almost equally.

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  4. I started collecting in 1974 and have never completely stopped, although I didn’t buy any new cards in 1995 in protest of the lost 1994 postseason. “Surreptitious” was the word of the day in the 1980’s and much of the 1990’s, I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about that.

    …And I actively collected 1979-80 Topps Hockey, got about two-thirds of the set through packs, have plenty of doubles… but of course none of them were Gretzky. One of my semi-long-term goals is to acquire the other 263 cards and then maybe find a Gretzky counterfeit or reprint somewhere….

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    1. I’ve thought about getting all the other cards, even saw a full set without Gretzky for a good price, but the absence of the key card, or a dummy replacement, would drive me insane.

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