Memory Almost Full?

I pride myself on my memory. When I shop for records, I know at a glance what I have and what I don’t. Same thing for books. Believe me, it’s not that easy to keep such things mentally cataloged when you have thousands of each.

Same holds true for cards. The “got it, got it, need it, need it” knowledge runs deep for me. So, whenever I slip up in life, memory wise, it gets me down. I’m only 55 (almost!) but not having 100% infallible recall worries me.

When I started looking at older sets to finish, searching for those that were reasonably within striking distance, I completely forgot about the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, Type 1. I was putting some cards away recently and came across them, pages and pages of them. It’s not that I didn’t know I had some; I didn’t know how many and have little memory of when and why I was so into them.

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Turns out I have 70% of the set, 83 of 120, so add another set to the project list. It’s an interesting checklist. Granted, there were only 16 teams back then, but the amount of dross in the roster  is amazing. There is a quasi-DiMaggio rookie card (he’s pictured with Joe McCarthy) and a Hank Greenberg card (of course, I don’t have either), and there are a good amount of Hall of Famers (Gehringer, Waner and Waner, you get the idea) but there are so many people I’ve never heard of. Never. That’s odd.

Odder still is why a blah pitcher named Clydell Castleman has two cards. Two! Greenberg and Gabby Hartnett  only get one each and they were the reigning MVPs. Even John Thorn, MLB Historian, was at a loss when I Tweeted out to him. “Called Slick for some reason…” he offered. That’s something I suppose. Good ol’ Clydell was not much. Even when he won 15 games for the 1935 Giants, he had a mere 0.5 WAR. No one at Goudey knew that. He was out of baseball at 25 years old.

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Besides the less than thrilling checklist, hunting these cards down takes a bit of extra attention. There are three different types of 1936 Wide Pens and two more types in 1937. It can be confusing, but, for those of you keeping score at home, Type 1 have borders and “LITHO IN U.S.A.” printed on the bottom

I’ll admit that the set is not very nice. Seems I have a penchant for unattractive sets, according to some who have said as much when I go on about the 1949 Bowman and 1933 Tattoo Orbit cards. Pretty or not, finishing a set from the 1930’s would be pretty cool, so I’m going for it. Thankfully, no one seems to care for these cards very much. Low supply meets low demand so all cards, even the high priced ones, are not so expensive in EX condition as to be out of reach.

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But, as I pursue these cards, is the chase for Ed Moriarty and Tommy Padden going to knock more important information out of my head? It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

Apres 1996, le deluge

I want more. We all want more. Any collector worth his accumulating salt wants more, but in the constant pursuit of the new, it’s easy to forget what we have, especially when it comes to cards from the 1990’s. Not only have I lost track of what sets I have from that decade, but I can’t even remember the designs from year to year. Young me would be appalled at such neglect.

I wrote last week about the cards that dominated the Tim Raines party the night before Induction. In the goodie bag, along with a signed copy of Rock’s book, were a handful of cards. This one

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caught my eye.

The 1996 Topps baseball set is not at the top of anyone’s all-time favorite sets list, but it’s damn nice. The design is sublime – simple, with the team logo in one corner, name at the bottom and a weird Phantom Zone face shot that would make General Zod grimace in remembered confinement. I kinda love it. Action shots dominate the set, but they’re varied enough to not be boring.

Look at Wakefield’s knuckleball grip:

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Did Quilvio Veras ever look this good?

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There’s not a lot of fluff here. At 440 cards, it has to be one of the smallest base sets Topps issued. Concise and to the point; I like that. The subsets are nice, with a glimpse of what’s to come, the good and the bad.

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While going through the stacks of cards, I felt I was in the eye of the hurricane. The odd thing about looking at 1996 versions of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and others is the pervasive sense of innocence. In reality, nobody was innocent (no one ever is!), and what exploded only two years later was obviously in the mix in 1996. We just didn’t know. Looking at these cards, I could feel the storm coming, palpable outside the borders and ready to burst.

Plaques and Cards – An Induction 2017 Recap

Induction 2017 is over. It was a great weekend and I could tell you stories about chatting with Tim Raines, joking with Randy Johnson, welcoming back a healthy Rod Carew, sharing a beer with Bill Lee on my front porch and having my son meet Frank Thomas, but I won’t. There will be plenty of names to drop along the way, but let’s talk cards.

It’s a generally held belief that Cooperstown baseball shops are card shops. Not so. Most of the shops are cap, t-shirt, jersey and autograph places. That’s not to say that those don’t have a smattering of cards, but there are only a few stores that are card stores at their core.

The days leading up to, and including, Induction were filled with baseball cards. Some of my houseguest friends are card people, so we took a daily walk to Baseball Nostalgia in the Doubleday Field parking lot. I wasn’t looking for autographed cards, but I never really do. Still, I buy the ones that catch my eye and there are ones that always catch my eye.

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Jimmy, who comes for Induction every year, brought with him an unopened box of 1990 Upper Deck. It was the hit of the weekend. People tore open packs, shouting when they got a Tim Raines, puzzled when they got a Chuck Cary.

On Friday night, after a big Hall party, my wife and I went to a bash put on by some of our Canadian friends. Cooperstown was invaded from the north, but they were the friendliest hordes. The first person I saw when I got to the house was Bill Lee. His wife showed me a bottle of Bill Lee wine, which had the coolest baseball card label. Better yet, the label is his business/baseball card.

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Lee and a bunch of ex-‘Spos were signing for charity on Saturday. After a few seconds with Dennis Boyd, I hovered around my pal Jonah Keri who was signing books and his Allen & Ginter card, which I had to have. Plus, the money went to a good cause. (Explanation of autograph – Jonah says he’s often told this picture makes him look like some Eastern European politico).

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Jay Jaffe was in town signing his new The Cooperstown Casebook. With each book, Jay handed out a card of the book cover. Rookies, a company that makes custom cards, made some for Split Season as well. People really dig them.

The Raines party was on Saturday night and it was a cardboard filled extravaganza. There was a collage of all his cards (Jimmy noted one was missing, a 1996 something or other), there were cards in the goodie bags and, best of all, cookie cards. This is the first card I’ve eaten since gnawing on a 1964 Eddie Bressoud when I was almost 2.

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Lots of cards each and every day and that doesn’t even count some 1933 Tattoo Orbit and 1956 and 1960 Topps that I got in the mail. There’s a big pile on my dresser that sorely needs to be put away.

Oh, did I mention I chatted with Tim Raines, joked with Randy Johnson, welcomed back a healthy Rod Carew, shared a beer with Bill Lee on my front porch and had my son meet Frank Thomas?

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Breakfast with a Big Leaguer

Players of the 1970’s and 1980’s are so familiar to me. I recognize their faces way more than I do those of current players. It’s not a rare skill. My guess is that everyone who reads this blog has the same ability. Because of that connection, it’s more exciting to meet a non-star from that era than a star from today. (Maybe. I’ve never met Bryce Harper or Mike Trout).

I met David Jordan a few years ago at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse when I did the first big event for Split Season. David’s a cool dude and we both have baseball and finance as major interests. In 2015, David was working on a book that would become Fastball John, the autobiography of ex-big league hurler John D’Acquisto. Both guys were in Cooperstown on Wednesday and, since I had a meeting on revising tourist accommodation laws (being Mayor isn’t all glamorous), I wasn’t going to make their author’s event at the Hall of Fame. Instead, the three of us met for breakfast at Doubleday Café.

I went on a search for doubles to bring. I’m not above getting stuff autographed, when appropriate. (I never never do that at Hall parties, for example. That is uncool.) I had no interest in finding John’s 1974 rookie card, where he gets ¼ of the real estate (the other ¾  are Bob Apodaca, Dick Baney and Mike Wallace). I didn’t have an extra 1975 or 1976, but I did have a spare 1977.

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It’s de rigueur to mock Topps’ airbrushing skills. The usual vandalized photos are atrocious, but look at this card. It’s amazing. D’Acquisto, still a Giant, the Candlestick Park setting the giveaway, has been repainted from head to toe. Unlike every airbrushed monstrosity I can think of, the cap, the colors, the letters and numbers are perfectly in proportion. No giant bowl for a cap, no electric neon uniform colors that no team has ever worn. I’m impressed. Is there a better airbrushed card out there?

We chatted for over an hour about baseball, Cooperstown, trading, Doug DeCinces, and more. John talked about going from worshipping your heroes to knowing them and, in my small way, I could relate. Most famous people I’ve met have been great, but there are a few I wished I hadn’t encountered face to face. Not John D’Acquisto. He was all sorts of awesome to sit down with. He signed my card and I bought the ebook of Fastball John as soon as I got home.

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Walking from my house to Main St., I found, in a too perfect Cooperstown moment, a baseball on the sidewalk. I brought it with me to breakfast, figuring I’d give it to some kid on my way out. John asked if I wanted it signed, but I told him it wasn’t necessary for me, I was going to get rid of it. But, I thought it might be neat if he wanted to sign it and give it to some 12-year-old. As I left breakfast, I saw ex-big leaguer John D’Acquisto, talking to a family, probably explaining who he was. Maybe they believed him.

Delicious Memories

I haven’t spoken to my parents in about 12 years. It’s a long story, not a particularly interesting one, so I won’t go into it. Even though I don’t speak to them anymore, don’t draw the conclusion that they never did anything nice. That would be wrong.

When Hostess started issuing cards in 1975 on the back of Twinkies, Cupcakes, Suzy Qs and Chocodiles (which may have arrived on the East Coast a few years later) boxes, I was quick to up my intake. Not that I needed an excuse to eat more Hostess Cupcakes, an all-time great junk food, but cards were a very effective spur to increase buying. I was a pretty serious collector by 1975, but still dumb enough to cut the cards from the boxes. I don’t even want to show any; they’re not terribly cut, but they make me feel bad. By the following year I realized I should cut the whole back panel out.

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Around that same time my mother started taking me to a Hostess outlet. I can’t remember where it was in relation to our Lake Grove home in the middle of Suffolk County, but it wasn’t close. The outlet (imagine a Hostess outlet!) had boring stuff like bread and rolls but it had boxes and boxes of pastries (does Hostess product count as a pastry?). I could take my time checking their inventory and picking out cards I needed. It was a cake/card shop, the nearly perfect shop for a mid-teen like me.

My mother was a good sport about it, buying, it seems to me, as many boxes as I asked for. Once we brought the goodies home, there was no way I was going to wait until me, my brother and maybe my parents slowly ate their way through the stock. I dumped all the cakes out and put them in a bowl. The cellophane wrapper kept them sliding off each other, but I managed to cram the whole lot into the fridge. (There’s nothing better than cold Hostess cakes.) The boxes were empty, the back panels were cut and laid in an old shoebox.

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It wasn’t until 1977 that I saw individual cards in two packs of Twinkies and Cupcakes. I was visiting my cousin in Staten Island and we were in some kind of convenience or grocery store when I saw them and bought a bagful. I probably through an immature tantrum and made him pay. Like many food issues, those cards were the platter that the product sat on, so the cards all get stained. I’ve read that clean cards were released into the hobby, but that’s cheating. I got mine, Twinkie grease and all, the old fashioned way, at the retail level.

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I was looking through my Hostess cards (full confession: to list doubles on eBay) and I was instantly brought back to mid-70’s Long Island. Hostess cards bring happy memories and all I need to do is look at them. I don’t even need to eat a Twinkie to be transported. Even Proust’s madeleine couldn’t do that.

Almost Olbermann

I’d only been to SABR Conventions when I was speaking about a book I had out, so it was Cleveland in 2008 (Kansas City A’s & The Wrong Half of the Yankees) and Chicago in 2015 (Split Season). With this year’s SABR 47 in New York, it was too close to miss. Still, I couldn’t go for multiple days – cost, for one, and conflicts (friends coming to Cooperstown) – but if you read my last post you know how much the SABR Baseball Cards Committee has meant to me so I definitely wanted to be there for Saturday’s committee meeting, in general, and to see Mark Armour and Chris Dial, in specific. That Keith Olbermann was speaking was an added boost.

KO is 3 ½ years older than me and his lifetime of card collecting somewhat mirrors mine. I didn’t know how much until he spoke. Waving around a 1971 issue of the early card magazine The Trader Speaks, Olbermann spoke about going to card shows in NYC starting in 1971, realizing that he could buy 1940 Play Balls for a buck a piece and searching antique stores for T206s at .35 each. His Dad drove him from Westchester to Lake Ronkonkoma in Suffolk County for a show.

I went to those early card shows as well, starting in 1973. It seemed they were always either after my birthday or after Hanukkah, so I had some cash, $100 for each show. Though I was into cards and baseball history as much as Keith, I didn’t have the same focus he had. My first show I bought a 1955 Koufax rookie, a 1957 Paul Hornung rookie, a 1965 Don Maynard, a T206 Mathewson without much trace of a back. Why? I don’t know.

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Over the years I narrowed my focus, sort of. I knew who I liked – Koufax, Frank Robinson, Kaline, Banks – and got all their base cards. I occasionally bought a Mays, Mantle or Aaron. I never really liked The Mick, but my aversion to Mays and Aaron cards is inexplicable to this day. I also was set prone. Sometimes that worked for me – the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams comes to mind – but often it didn’t – the 1979 Topps Comics set comes to mind.

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When I say things “didn’t work,” I’m talking investment and future value. I always bought what I liked; in that way everything worked. Still, I look back and wonder where my head was at. It certainly wasn’t where Olbermann’s was.

As Keith spoke about buying truly old cards, going the extra mile to meet the great Mike Aronstein of TCMA fame, travelling to Lake Ronkonkoma for a show, I could see the monstrously large gap between his devotion and mine. Sure, he clearly had, and has, more disposable card money than I do, but his drive put mine to shame. I lived next to Lake Ronkonkoma, went to Sachem High School in Lake Ronkonkoma, knew The Trader Speaks was published in Lake Ronkonkoma but never, never, sought the local card community.

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The room was packed, a sure sign that the SABR Baseball Cards Committee has touched a nerve. Maybe some were only there to hear Olbermann speak. Even so, he spoke cards and that only reinforced what we’ve been up to on the blog.

As Chris Dial said as we talked about the future of the Cards Committee, “baseball cards are bigger than all of this.” “This” means SABR, Sabermetrics, Negro Leagues, women in baseball and so on. It seemed a shocking thing to say, but I know he’s right. EVERYBODY has come through cards at some point. Not everyone has dipped a toe in the other arenas. So when Keith Olbermann says he started as a baseball card collector and then became a baseball fan, that’s an experience we can all share equally.

 

Reanimated

About a year and a half ago I realized I was within striking distance of completing my 1971 Topps set. Though I’ve always been a card collector, in recent years I had been limited to buying the new Topps factory set. That was it. I wasn’t active, I wasn’t interested, and, while I loved my cards, I wasn’t involved with them emotionally.

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Finishing off the ’71 set was great fun and I turned to 1970. I was making good headway, having a blast doing so, but nothing, and I mean nothing, brought me back to the joys of the hobby more than when Mark Armour and Chris Dial restarted the SABR Baseball Cards Committee and a blog.

I met Mark once, two years ago at the SABR convention in Chicago, where I was presenting and pushing Split Season. (I also wrote an Earl Williams  bio for the SABR Bioproject, but that was years ago and I bet Mark doesn’t remember that.) Mark and I started talking about how to elevate the new cards committee, find writers, start a Twitter account, and so on. We also started working on a few card sets together. Instant buddies!

I tend to write when I need to write and, since I’m not working on a book right now, writing isn’t tops on my list. I remember hearing that Ringo never practices; he plays when he has to. That’s my approach to writing, but the cards blog is compelling to me. I’ve written a bunch of posts and most aren’t about cards, they’re about memories and life, with cards as vehicle to tell the story. It’s a reality of mine that cards have been a constant presence in my life and being back into cards, deeply, has made me so very happy.

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The SABR convention is starting tomorrow. I couldn’t fit the entire multi-day event into my schedule, but there was no way I was going to miss the Baseball Cards Committee meeting on Saturday and a chance to hang out with Mark and many others who I’ve met these last few months via the blog and Twitter. I’ve never been someone to reach out to trade cards and share with strangers, but, again, through the cards committee, I’ve virtually met a lot of kindred spirits, some who I’ll meet for real in a few days.

So I owe a huge thank you and much gratitude to Mark and Chris for jump-starting my dead card collecting battery and to all those who read, comment, share and collect. We’re all one big happy family.