A Dream Deferred

I’d go to card shows in the 1980’s and 1990’s and see fathers and sons flipping through the cards, working on building sets together, and dreamed that one day that’d be me, with my boy, crossing out numbers on checklists and sharing the thrill of the hunt, stumbling upon that much-needed bit of cardboard on our way to completion.

It never happened. None of the kids were really into cards. Nate’s hyperlexia/high-functioning autism took his obsessions in directions other than cards. I took Robbie to a big show near O’Hare Airport when he was little, but I don’t think he had much fun. Joey remembers a card show connected to Fan Fest during the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee.  I don’t think that ever happened.

There was a show in Albany this weekend that I planned on going to. I figured it must be pretty good since it was in its 40th year. I asked Joey, who’s been more into baseball lately, if he wanted to go. He did.

It was a fairly small show at the Ramada Plaza, but definitely the kind of show I was looking for. A slave to my want lists, I knew I’d be able to knock off a chunk of my 1968 and 1969 Topps sets. I did – 83 1968’s, over half of what I needed, and 23 1969’s, about one-third of what was left. I also got 16 1956s for $2.25 each.

Joey was a little lost without a goal, but soon dove into the fun and freedom of not having sets to fill. His only mission was to get a Minnie Minoso card. He got a 1961 as I was looking through some sheets and I found a 1958 in a bargain bin (where I also found a 1955 Al Rosen. He wanted a Rosen card too).

There was a big box of cheap inserts, where Joey found game used items, including a Rocco Baldelli patch. Joey loves Rocco Baldelli.

He also grabbed cards of guys he liked and knew (Felipe Alou and Vida Blue)

or guys who looked cool that he never heard of (Zoilo Versalles and Jose Vidal).

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We talked about Tommie Aaron when Joey stumbled upon a 1969 card of Hank’s brother

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and, like a lot of us, he fell in love with 1971 Topps, especially Lindy McDaniel.

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He also discovered printing errors and now is on a mission to find more Timothy Leary inspired cards like the 1972 Felipe he bought for .50. (If you’ve got cards like this send them to me!).

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The last dealer we stopped at had rows of 1968s and 1969s he was willing to part with for .80 each, including high numbers. I asked Joey if he would help me go through them and he did. It was a bit arduous, but, as we sat side by side, my dream came true.

“Got one,” he’d say as he passed me another card, which led to conversations about Clete Boyer and the playing career of Tony Larussa.

When we were finished I thanked Joey for being such a good sport and helping me realize an old dream.  At first I thought he had more fun at the show than I did, hunting and pecking for neat cards while I slogged through various sheets of paper, but I realize now that I got so much more out of our Saturday afternoon in Albany. If I never get the chance to share another show with Joey, I’m fine. I got to do it once and it was wonderful.

Best Trade Ever

Look at this card:

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Yes, it’s a Joe DiMaggio rookie card, but a fairly reasonably priced one because it has another guy on it. That other guy is Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy!, but collectors find that takes away from the Joe D-ness of it. I’ve been working on my 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Type 1 set and this card was definitely going to be the hardest to find in reasonable condition at a reasonable price. In VG it books for $150 but I knew I’d never get it at that price. I assumed I’d have to pay $250 or more.

Then one appeared with a minimum bid and that minimum bid was $150. Definitely in a VG or better state, with some staining on the back that is hard to see on the front. I thought about it for days, asked myself  a lot of questions about whether I’d be happy with this particular card and that this particular price. I finally realized I’d never get it in this condition for any less, so I put in a bid.

In the last few weeks I’ve been methodically looking for doubles and triples to sell. One of the doubles I had listed was a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card, NM, with a minimum bid of $100. After I bid on the DiMag  card, I got the familiar iPhone ding signifying eBay action. Someone had bid on Payton. Then there was a message. The guy bidding on the Payton card was the same guy selling the DiMaggio! He’s putting together a complete run of Topps football , he liked my card and hoped we could end our respective auctions early.

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“Are you offering a one-for-one trade?”  I asked. He was. It was about midnight but I hopped out of bed and ran down to the computer. After a series of messages back-and-forth where we tried to figure out how to do this properly and in accordance with eBay rules (he changed his auction to Buy It Now with Offer and I was able to end my auction early and hit his bid), we got it done. Both eBay and PayPal were cut in on the deal but the end result is I got a Joe DiMaggio/Joe McCarthy card for $17 and an extra card I was willing to trade.

What does this say about value? I now have an 81-year-old card with two Hall of Famers, one of them amongst the most legendary, and the other guy got a 41-year-old card of an equally high level icon. Perhaps the value is in our mutual satisfaction and that’s enough. Prices, ages, maybe none of that really matters. Still, I can’t believe my good luck fortune.

Nineteen more cards to go in this set, with DiMaggio replaced by this guy as the highest priced card remaining:

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Anyone want to trade one for one for this?:

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The Bono View of Cards

I feel I’ve been gone a long time since the last post. I’ve been buried under boxes of cards, in the midst of a full search and seizure of sellable doubles and triples (or how about five extra 1975 Topps Pete Maravich cards in NM condition?) in my collection.

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Before I dove into that colossal project, I ordered my 2017 Topps set. I always get my factory set at the end of the year. I used to not be able to wait that long and, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I ordered all the sets – Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, Topps – as early as they were released.

Two Wednesdays ago I put my factory set in numerical order (it drives me crazy that they are not already that way, but it does give me a couple of hours to go through each one, the longest time I’m ever likely to spend with any recent set). At the same time, well, not exactly at the same time but on the same day, I put away some new 1968’s and 1969’s, and a 1960 Don Zimmer, in sheets. The contrast between new new and old new was striking.

The differences, and what I like and dislike are not really in the designs. The 2017 Topps is nice enough and I’ve always found the 1969 set atrociously boring. The differences are in the times we live in, how we all process information and what we require in stimulation.

The 1960 cards confidently deliver simplicity – a portrait, a posed action shot, some stats, long or short, and a cartoon. The mix of colors and varied detail, like the L.A. Coliseum behind Zim’s giant noggin, give an OK set a lot of character. If 1960 is simple, 1969 is atavistic. It is beyond basic, and that would be OK if the pictures weren’t so mind-numbingly uninteresting. How many 33-year-olds who look 70 do we really need?

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The 2017 cards are a bombardment of foreground and background, bright constantly changing colors and a flurry of things to take in. They represent their time as much as some capless ancient did almost 50 years ago. This card gives me a headache, and many others left me feeling seasick.

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There are nice cards for sure, like this Puig,

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and I’m glad to have the set to keep my consecutive year streak alive. Still, I was left feeling that there is a happy middle out there for Topps, photo-wise. What makes the 1971-1990’s set so fulfilling is the mix of still life and action. Now you have to buy two different sets to capture the blend that was standard back then.

I don’t have any real conclusion to make. As I march toward completing the 1969 set I’m not overly enthused by the cards, though happy about getting close to the finish line. And now that my 2017 set is filed away, it’s unlikely I’ll refer back to it much. I buy out of obligation. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for in a contemporary card set. Maybe that’s why I’m having so much fun going through stacks of doubles from 40+ years ago. Beyond the nostalgia, those cards bring a more interesting and enjoyable viewing experience.

 

“Ipsa scientia potestas est” (or, How to Help a Friend By Knowing About Cards)

The first time I considered cards as things to keep, not to throw out, was early 1972. I started buying old cards through dealers advertised in The Sporting News and had a mild epiphany – if I’m buying old cards why would I throw out my new ones? Thus a collection, and a collector, was born.

It was too late to salvage pre-1971s, but as the decade progressed I accumulated bunches of what I’d once had, though not nearly in as nice condition. As my friends aged out of the hobby, I dug in and, with a reputation for knowing about cards and their value (no one I knew but me had price guides and sales lists), I managed to set up a little cottage business. For use of my services, which included inventorying, collating and pricing out their collections, I would receive whatever number of cards I needed as compensation. It was a great deal for me. Not sure it meant squat to the recipients. I would visit their houses, leave with a giant box of cards, and perilously ride my bike home, hands holding cards, not handlebars. It’s remarkable that I never took a major, card-dispersing, fall.

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My friend Gabe is moving from Cooperstown out west and, as part of his farewell tour, he was the featured speaker at our local SABR meeting on Saturday. As we worked on setting that meeting up, the conversation turned to 1969 Topps.  Gabe knew I was working on finishing that set, and upgrading those crappy mid-70’s acquisitions, and mentioned he’d put together a mediocre set of  his own. I was welcome to see if I could find any I needed.

We have a tradition in Cooperstown that, after our SABR meeting, we head out for pizza for a post-game recap and talk. Gabe took out his box of cards while we chatted and, quite cavalierly, tossed a card on the table. Lucky for him he avoided Diet Coke drops and pizza grease. I picked up the card and held it out to him.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

I was more dumbstruck than I should have been, but clearly a little taken aback.

“This is a Mantle white letter variation. You can definitely get a couple of hundred bucks for this.”

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We talked about how to sell it, listing on eBay with good scans. Gabe put the card away carefully (not carefully enough for my taste!) and, when I got home, I searched sold listings and sent him the information.

I went through his cards and found 39 that were big improvements for me.  In the box was a second year Nolan Ryan, slightly worse than I’m looking for, but easily worth $30-50. All told, even with pulling the Mantle and Ryan, Gabe’s got a substantial partial set in overall VG condition, with three other white letter variations (including Willie McCovey). All in all he’s likely to get $400-500 for the batch.

It felt great helping him out on this and brought me back, way back, to a time when the only way to find out what your cards were worth was trusting some 12-year-old kid who was eager to schlep your cards home just to reclaim the cards he’d thrown out only a few years earlier.

“Where the f- are my cards?”

I went to a card show at, I think, the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC, in, I think, 1985. I was a year out of college, single, working, and unembarrassed to be back into collecting. I had a 1967 Topps set to finish and nothing was going to stop me now!

At that show I bought a nice Clemente, probably near-mint. I have no idea what something like that cost back then. Anyway, Clemente and other cards in hand, I hopped from dealer to dealer, putting my purchases down as I looked some more. When I got home, the Clemente was gone.

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There was no foul play; I just didn’t have a good system for storing what I had already bought while I searched for more to buy. As distraught as I was to lose that card, and a few others, it was my fault and it made me develop a system of how to carry stuff at a show. Boxes, top loaders, lists, etc., would now be placed in a bag that never left my side. It’s worked ever since.

In the last two years I’ve bought a lot of cards online and thank the Lord for the tracking number. It feels foolproof and gives a security that lets me sleep soundly at night. I have paid for cheaper postage, and even shipped that way, but at least in those instances there’s a sense of shared risk – the buyer knows he’s paying a buck for an envelope and a stamp and I’m able to sell lower value cards. None of those non-tracking numbered mailings have been lost.

So it’s crazy to know that 29 1969 Topps I ordered from someone on Sportlots.com has vanished. Weirder still is that it got to the Cooperstown Post Office, was scanned as “Out for Delivery” and disappeared. I think it’ll turn up. One of the nice things of living in Cooperstown is that there’s a real connection to the people at the local Post Office, so they’re on it. If it doesn’t show, I’ll file a claim. After all, it did arrive!

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I learned one thing from this – don’t mark your checklists before the cards are in hand. I’ve been crossing things out as I order or trade so I know what I still need, but, man, now I have to go back and undo that, which is going to look ugly.

I guess I learned another thing – with all the postal advances there remains vulnerability. Psychologically, there’s an adrenaline rush to see that there are cards “Out for Delivery.” Really, it’s pretty exciting, at least for me (and, I’m guessing, you, considering you’re reading this). I’d hate to see this hiccup spoil a (formerly) predictably good feeling. That would suck.

“It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.”

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Do people still watch Inherit the Wind? In my house, it’s a staple, one of those movies that is always watched to the end, regardless of when we happen upon it. Spencer Tracy, as Henry Drummond, man of reason, makes the above quoted point about the Bible. The film is a true classic, timeless in its portrayal of science vs. religion, progress vs. regression, thought vs. belief. “Plus ca change…” and all that.

I’m not a slave to the Standard Catalog and its prices, but it serves its purpose very well. For me, it’s an upper limit of cost – most cards, especially commons, can be had for way less than book value. I’ve been spending about half the quoted price for 1960 Topps commons, about one-third of book for 1956 Topps commons, low and high numbers. Granted, EX condition is a wider lane to drive in, so there’s more play, and commons are different from stars. If I can get big names for any amount less than book, I’m happy.

Now that I’m down to the last 18 cards for my 1960 set, I’ve run into a bit of a wall. I see by sold listings on eBay that there’s a low range that I’m shooting to claim as well. I do like my bargains. Maybe I can get a Mantle All-Star for $65 instead of $75, but it’s not going to get better than that. (I know firsthand because I missed out on one at that price last week).  I’m not looking to pay 1985-era prices in 2017, just the lowest possible price within the realm of reason. I will prevail. There’s no reason to panic on 1960 Topps of any kind. They’re out there in force.

For other sets I’ve nearly finished, there are cross purposes at work. I desperately want to wrap up some sets but I’m finding that either book prices are not an indication of the present market, or I have to fight my impatience to complete and move on. I fight the feeling that I should pay way too much just to be done. I need the Jackie Jensen card to finish the 1949 Remar Bread set. That’s it. They aren’t plentiful, but I see them priced way beyond book, Sometimes they sell, sometimes they languish. I’ll sit back and wait. Then there’s crazy mispricing. I need two commons to finish my 1952 Parkhurst set. I don’t see them appear often, but when they do I can get them for $10. There’s a dude who wants $45 for a Jim Hughes card. Good luck buddy!

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Then there are cards that have clearly have reached a price point. I’m down to the last three cards for the 1971 Kellogg’s set. Wayne Simpson, Reds flash in the pan, is card #1 and there is zero possibility I’m going to get one in EX for $6.75, or NM for $13.50. Near Mint versions, graded or un-graded, are going for $50-60 and more. I’ve saved enough on the other cards that I wouldn’t feel too bad paying $20-30, but I don’t know if that’s going to ever happen. I may have to keep climbing that price ladder.

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What’s interesting about book is that, though I’m working with a 2009 edition, prices haven’t moved on vintage stuff, at least not in the sets and condition I’m interested in. Still, we’d all be nowhere without some kind of guide to tell us what to expect the market to be and to make us feel great when we get a deal and terrible when we pay too much. Much like the Bible itself, the Standard Catalog can lead to bliss or shame.

Pulling Dubs and Saying Goodbye

All of my cards are mine. Redundant? Nonsensical? Inscrutable? Perhaps, but I’ve always had an attachment to each and every one of my cards. They all feel like my children, if, like a seahorse, I had thousands and thousands of babies. That attachment to what is mine has made it nearly impossible to make sensible choices.

As a kid I was told that I shouldn’t love things, that things can’t love you back. Maybe that’s so, but things have provided me a lot of joy and if that’s not love, what is? So it’s been a major step forward to start selling extra cards and, in a grand sense, make the change from “all of these cards are part of me” to “wow, I have a lot of assets I can leverage.” The former is emotional, the latter as clinical as can be.

I wrote about making huge bulk trades a few weeks ago. Though I’ve only been through one trade, it was a great one – I’m getting around 350 1968 and 1969 Topps baseball and I’m giving 525 Topps football, basketball and hockey, 1969-1974. As trading partners, Mark and I sort of eyeballed value, but not too much. Clearly more of my commons were needed to match his commons, but there are a lot of stars and Hall of Famers in the mix and my guess is, if we really went through each card meticulously, we’d come out pretty close in dollar value. But that’s not really the point, nor where the fun is.

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I was in Chicago last week, missing my cards but picking up 150 1968s and 1969s from my longtime pal Jimmy. We’ve engaged in pretty loose back and forth trading. I came into a bunch of 1970 Topps last year and gave him what he needed. He returned the favor and I’ll return it right back once I get his mid-1970s want lists. Once I got back to Cooperstown, it was time to start pulling cards for the big Mark deal.

It was an interesting process for me. On one hand, going through boxes and boxes of cards from my prime pack buying days was pleasantly emotional, eminently enjoyable. Card after card, each one bringing back vague nostalgia and visions of little Jeff Katz ripping packs on the concrete step by the front door of his Long Island house.  I could see the old shoeboxes I stored them in, feel the thin wood doors of a cabinet that I put the boxes in. On the other hand, I knew I was saying goodbye to them all, sending them to a home where they’d become prized singles, not neglected doubles and triples.

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Cards are in transit, from East Coast to West, from West Coast to East and, I have to say, I feel great about it. I’m excited to get a box of cards and I know Mark feels the same.  Once I go through my new babies, I’ll likely be $100-200 away from a complete 1969 Topps set, unless one of you wants to join in and trade with me. I still have thousands of doubles I’m ready to part with, though I’ll miss them. Maybe they’ll keep in touch.