Baseball Card Club

As a child of the junk wax generation, sports cards were just part of the air I grew up breathing. Boxes in every store. Inserted in any product you could think of. Printed in the newspaper. You couldn’t avoid them if you wanted to. Even my baseball-averse sister had a small album of cards that she’d just accumulated.

In many ways though, the thing that most exemplifies this era is the fact that my Junior High had a baseball card club. Yup. Looking through my yearbooks I find pages dedicated to the usual clubs—leadership, student council, journalism, yearbook, band, orchestra, drama, etc.—and nestled in there in the same spread as the chess club is the baseball card club.

The sponsoring teacher was a card dealer. He didn’t have a shop but you could run into him at local card shows (he’d give you a deal if you were a student) and two days a week he’d open up his science classroom during lunch and a couple dozen of us would hang out.

He’d always have a couple dozen singles for sale. Nothing crazy expensive but I still can’t recall anyone buying them. I do however remember him having a box of cards available as well (typically Upper Deck) and there was always someone ripping a pack to two over lunch.

I obviously don’t remember every card that went through that room but these three are all hits that commanded the whole room’s attention. There were certainly other cards that we wanted—we all dreamed of finding that Reggie autograph—but these were the ones kids actually hit.

I kind of like that these cards are as dated as everything else. Yes the Jordan is hot right now but the other two have kind of been forgotten by anyone who wasn’t there at the time. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to explain how big a deal the Ben McDonald error was.

The Joe Montana brings up the fact that since the school year doesn’t overlap much with baseball season, a lot of the club actually functioned more as football card club in terms of the cards that we saw. But Beckett doesn’t stop publishing over the winter and when we weren’t ripping or watching rips we were reading the latest Becketts and staying in touch with the hobby zeitgeist.

My most-enduring memory of the club though isn’t actually something that occurred during school hours. One of my local card shops* got burgled and for whatever reason the police thought that the perpetrator was a member of the card club.

*In those halcyon days there were more local shops than I had time to visit. 

The result, everyone on the club roster received a visit from a police detective and got fingerprinted. Good times. As interesting as it was seeing how the fingerprinting process worked (I was surprised to learn that it didn’t involve ink) the visit was not done with any sensitivity toward the fact that they were dealing with kids. Questioning was very brusque and when he left it was with the vague threat of “hopefully I don’t have to come back.”

We didn’t talk about the police stuff in school but I can only imagine how much worse the experience must have been for a lot of the kids who came from rougher parts of town.

Which brings up one of the things that stands out to me now as I look back on the club. It was one of the few academic clubs which cut across the usual school cliques. The other clubs had certain kinds of achievement-oriented kids from “good” neighborhoods in them.* Baseball cards though were for all of us.

*Or in the case of things like chess or computer club, geeks who wanted to avoid the lunch crowd.

Note

I’ve mentioned the card club a couple times on Twitter. It’s been met with surprise by guys who are older than me but it’s also turned up a couple other instances across the country from collectors my age. Their experiences seem to be similar to mine. Some ripping. Lots of Becketts. But no fingerprinting.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

7 thoughts on “Baseball Card Club”

  1. It was either in the 7th or 8th grade, which would have been 1988-1990, but we had something similar. It wasn’t really an official school “club” but I know a group of us would meet to talk about and trade cards in some teacher’s classroom (I can’t remember who the teacher was – all I remember is he wasn’t someone I had for a class). Somehow I had multiples (by which I mean 5 or 6) of 1988 Score Bret Saberhagen in my trade binder and a friend of mine asked why I was stockpiling Saberhagen (I just kept pulling him from packs). My trade “binder” was a basic hard plastic folder that one would typically fill with notebook paper for class.

    I see no mention of that group in the yearbook, but on the very first page of advertisements there is an ad for one of the local card shops (by far the best of the local card shops in my opinion), Bob’s Baseball Cards.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m one of the older guys, and I didn’t know of any formal baseball card club when I was going to high school. But, in 6th grade, there was impromptu “club” in which several kids in class collected cards and the teacher would set aside time so we could play with our cards (this was 1977). I wrote about it on my blog a long time ago. I should revisit it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m from the same generation. That Ben McDonald is quite useful as a way of testing people. It kind of reminds me of those stories about how during the Battle of the Bulge in WW2 English speaking Germans in stolen uniforms tried to infiltrate American lines, and so the American soldiers found that knowledge of baseball trivia was an easy way to tell who was who since the Germans didn’t know any. If our generation had ever gone to war under similar circumstances, they would have been well advised to equip everyone with a 1990 UD Ben McDonald error card to root out infiltrators in a similar manner.

    Since we never did though, I can’t really think of a useful purpose to put our shared knowledge of such a minor piece of information to. There must be something….

    We never had a card club at my high school, but everyone knew who the other card collectors were and this was an important form of social signaling among us. If you wanted to break into different social circles you had to have at least a passing familiarity with whatever cards they were collecting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. No card collecting club in my middle school, but I WAS fingerprinted. If I recall, it was part of a class trip to town hall and our parents had to sign off on it, because even though I think we (maybe) got to keep a copy of the fingerprints, they also kept them on file.

    Like

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