Blink of an eye

This year I enrolled my sons in the Trenton Thunder’s Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s a great deal. Tickets to eleven games for the three of us plus fun activities and a tshirt* for $45. I knew we wouldn’t be able to make the games in July and August because of summer plans but even just going to the games through June it would be worth it.

*Shirt and activities for kids only.

We’ve now been to seven games this season (six with the kids club plus a Little League fundraiser night) and it’s been awesome. The boys have gotten two shirts, a jersey, a frisbee, and a pennant. They’ve had a chance to throw out the first pitch, walk around the field, be part of a high-five tunnel for the players, and watch The Sandlot on the outfield after a game. We’ve even been tossed five baseballs. Oh yeah and the games have been good. The Thunder are a decent team and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the boys learn the players and really get into following the season.

They’re also completely hooked on the hobby—especially autograph collecting. This is all me and my interests rubbing off on them. They’ve seen me write TTM requests and get cards signed at Trenton Thunder games and they want to join me. So I indulge them.

Not too much. I supply cards and pens (for now) but they have to do the requesting. I’m not going to flag a player down for them or ask on their behalf. I’ll help spot guys but the boys need to learn how to approach players, make the request, and say thank you. We’ve started off pretty simple by just focusing on the Trenton players and visiting coaches. As a result their autograph binders are pretty eclectic.

My youngest’s binder is organized alphabetically by first name. His idea. It’s a wonderfully random bunch of cards.* Seven Thunder players. Five coaches. And one card that Marc Brubaker mailed to him. I find myself wondering how much a first grader even cares about people like Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, or Matt LeCroy. These aren’t guys he knows. Some, like LeCroy, aren’t even guys I’d really talk to them about.** But they’re in the binder and he’s super-excited to show them off.

*Unless you make the Eastern League connection.

**Even though the Frank Robinson story is pretty touching

Can he tell you about the players? Only what he knows by turning the cards over. But he’s into this as a hobby even though he’s, so far, just tagging along with me.

His brother’s binder is pretty similar except that his one TTM return is in there and there are a couple 1991 Topps cards that he pulled from his own binder because he got the set for Christmas last year. As a result he has a bit more of a connection to guys like Harper and Oliver but LeCroy, Mark Johnson, and Mike Rabelo are all ciphers to him.

As the season’s progressed I’ve been questioning what it means to collect autographs of guys you’ve never heard of and second-guessing the importance of what I’ve gotten my kids into. Are they excited only because I’m excited? Am I pushing them to do something that only means something to me?

I jumped into the hobby in 1987. I bailed in 1994. Not a long period of time but it felt like forever. And in a way it was. Not only did those years represent half my lifetime by the time I stopped, they covered most of my years in school—pretty much my entire youth.

Now, 25 years later as a father, I’m seeing things from the other side. What was a lifetime when I was a kid is already flashing by in the blink of an eye. I know I only have a handful of years where my sons will legitimately share my interests. Yes legitimately. At the end of the day I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter why they’re interested in the hobby, the fact that they are and that we’re able to share it is what matters.

My two boys love collecting and everything it entails. Getting cards. Sorting cards.* Re-sorting cards.** Showing me their cards. Asking for new cards. Etc. Etc. It’s great. It reminds me of being a kid and it inspires me to document their adventures so that in a decade or two when they look back at their collection they’ll have my thoughts and memories to go with their memories of those years when the three of us were enjoying baseball together.

*On the floor as God intended.

**One day will be by number, the next by team, the next by last name, the next by first name.

I get to experience what I put my mom through, how patient she was, and how much she enjoyed seeing me get excited by the hobby. She kept a journal which I eventually turned into a book so that we could all have copies. I still enjoy rereading her essays and I’m looking forward to my boys reading them too.

Instead of journalling I’m blogging about our adventures and putting together summaries of events we’ve gone too. Like when we went to the Thunder Open House I took photos of their baseballs and printed out a letter-sized sheet for their binders. I’ll do the same thing with their haul of autographed cards for the season since I know they’ll re-sort them multiple times in the future.

It’ll always be important to have the biographical breakdown of their collection. As my sons get older, their cards and autographs will increasingly become markers for their memories rather than just objects to collect and hoard. The memories they’re attached to is what makes them special. It’s why I collect and why I hope they keep collecting.

In fact, I’ve been inspired to start doing the same thing for my cards and autographs. I know I’m going to be passing  everything on to my sons. I also know that “all dad’s stuff’ will be nowhere near as memorable as having an introduction to a given collection or set which explains who I was when I got these and why the set was important to me. This is a big project but I’m looking forward to it.

Moskau Memories

Jason Schwartz, one of the new co-chairs of our Committee, does a little game on our Facebook page. He takes little sections of four different cards and we’re supposed to guess who the player is.  Here’s a “Cardboard Detective” from May 15:

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Immediately I knew it was Paul Moskau. For reasons unknown, his 1978 Topps cards is indelibly burned in my brain. I’m not quite clear why Paul Moskau holds a secure place in my memory, but I have some theories.

Not that I didn’t have a keen eye on the Big Red Machine, but after Tom Seaver was traded to Cincinnati mid-1977, I was more attentive. Moskau was, as far as I recall, heralded as part of the new wave of Reds starters. He, along with Mike LaCoss, Bill Bonham, Mario Soto, and Frank Pastore were the pitching staff that would continue where Don Gullett, Jack Billingham and Clay Carroll left off.

Not sure why, at least where it comes to Moskau.  He had success in the low minors, but was clearly mediocre in AA. He didn’t get better in the big leagues.

Seaver was definitely the entry point, but I was hooked on these Reds pitchers. Moskau was my favorite, and I think a lot has to do with his 1978 card. It’s a solid picture, making him instantly known. I assume I saw him pitch, either at Shea Stadium or on TV, but, really, my knowledge of Paul Moskau’s look is through his cards. The cards, as they often did, came first.

Moskau floundered in the majors, his best ERA+ coming in the 1977 season, when he was slightly below average (98). He bottomed out at 57 with the Cubs in 1983 and was gone.

The Cubs? I had no idea he was with Chicago, and with the Pirates the year before? No way. If you had asked me about Paul Moskau’s career, and there’s no reason why you would have, I would have bet that he was a lifelong Red. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CARDS OF HIM ON ANY OTHER TEAM! I read a lot of books and magazines about baseball back then, and watched a lot of games, but it was in the cards that I relied on where players played and how they appeared.

I’m glad I recently discovered this about Moskau. I still have a fond spot for him in my baseball memories. Here’s something I have, picked up in Cooperstown for a couple of bucks.

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Dealing from the Bottom

I once read that good collectors sell the bottom of their collection to pay for what they need. That seemed very shrewd and made me realize I was not a good collector, at least by this standard. It’s only in recent years that I’ve sold the bottom, or some of the bottom (doubles, triples, stuff I don’t want) to subsidize my new needs.

In the early ‘90’s, my interest in cards and my income were equally high, and I thought I’d begin to pursue one card of every Hall of Famer from when they were active. Of course I was covered from the 1950’s on (not counting Negro Leaguers, 19th Century guys and other similar cases), but I started in somewhat earnest. Within a few years that goal disappeared. I don’t think in a way that makes a personal collection of random cards, from various years, interesting to me. I don’t like things so open-ended and the failure of this effort underscored my collecting, and psychological, MO.

But I did get some nice pre-war cards, including two from the 1928 George Ruth Candy Company set of six. Thinking on it recently, I concluded that I don’t need two Ruth cards. One is plenty and selling the other would help me with my current needs. I listed it on eBay, ungraded, but I’ll likely get it slabbed by SGC. My gut tells me I’ll get $1250-1500, but who knows. I can’t even remember what I paid for it, though I know I bought both at once and I never spent a ton on anything.

Ruth front

Ruth back

So is a 90-year- old Babe Ruth card in the bottom of my collection? Can’t be, right, but I’m not so sure. It’s an extra, though not a double. I’m never going to finish that set (nor do I want to) and, the more I think about it, the more I WANT to sell it. And that, realizing that a card could be a one of a kind in my collection yet still be disposable, is liberating.

About 15 years ago, I decided I really wanted autographed cards of ARod and Jeter. I’ve always like Rodriguez, still do, but never cared one way or the other about Jeter. I got a good deal on a signed 1993 Jeter Upper Deck rookie, with LOA. I think it cost around $75. Noodling around on eBay I saw that one sold in the neighborhood of $300 (listed there, best offer accepted). Once I saw that I was intrigued. (Thought you’d guys would like to see the page Jeet is on.)

If someone walked into my house and said they’d trade me a 1956 Mantle in EX for the Jeter auto card and a couple hundred bucks, I’d take the deal (after saying “What the hell are you doing in my house?”). I know that to be true. Yet I’m having a harder time listing the card, getting the dough first, and then searching for the Mantle in the $450-500 range.

The jury’s still out on this. If I do list the Jeter, it’s going to open up the floodgates and I’ll look at what I have in a different light. There’s a lot in my collection that would qualify as “this is really nice, but I’d rather have that.”

Is that the bottom? I don’t know. I’ll let you know if I get there.

Christmas Cards

The week before Christmas has been a good one for cards. That’s too bold; the week before Christmas has been a good one for me getting cards. I have no idea how cards in general are doing. A few random stories:

Though a long time collector, my re-immersion into the hobby the past year and a half has come with some re-education. I am consistently surprised by the variations in pricing and how, with patience, there’s always an opportunity to get what I need at a price I can bear.

My pursuit of a 1956 Topps set has been slow in comparison to the pedal to the metal pace of my 1960, 1968 and 1969 set building. I’ve gotten lots on eBay of cards in EX or better for less than $3 a card, low numbers and high, but there are usually too many cards in those lots that I already have. I never end up selling my doubles for more than $2 per card.

On Monday an eBay seller, justcollectcards, had a big 40% off sale. I was almost late for a lunch appointment because I went through all their EX listings. It was worth it though. I got 60 cards, including Minnie Minoso and a couple of teams, for $2.75 each. That put a huge dent in my checklist. Now I know I’m not going to get the big dollar cards for any discount from book, but if I keep getting the rest of the set for about 1/3 of stated value, I should have enough savings to make the Mantle and Ted Williams somewhat easier to swallow.

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Cooperstown definitely needs more general interest stores, but that’s a difficult hurdle to jump with a year round population of around 1,800, slightly more if you add the surrounding area. Are there too many baseball stores? Sure. Do I want there to be no baseball stores? Absolutely not.

I’m not a binder and sheets person by nature but it has definitely been easier to put sets together when I can add a few cards into pages, rather than pull out boxes and sort through all the cards to put the new ones in their proper numerical place every time I get two new cards.

Yesterday Joey met me at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St., where I usually buy my supplies. I decided I’d put my 1967 set in sheets, since all my pre-1970 sets seem to have ended up stored that way. Joey needed sheets for his hoped for misprinted, psychedelic card collection.  

We got what we needed plus I found a 1988 Pacific Eight Men Out set for $5! Any set with four Studs Terkel cards is worth having.

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From there we headed to Baseball Nostalgia by Doubleday Field. I’m sure I’ve written how BN is my favorite store, filled with cards, cheap autographs, yearbooks and more. It’s been in Cooperstown, in a few different forms, since the mid-1970’s. Pete at the store had read the post I wrote about Joey’s quest for cards with messed up printing and he emailed me to say that he had a bunch of 1976 SSPC misprints. (Baseball Nostalgia began as a TCMA flagship.)

Boy, did he have misprints! Joey bit the bullet and bought all 140 of them, each a trippy nightmare of color mistakes. The Bruce Bochte card (left) looks like a still from a Peter Fonda movie and our buddy John D’Acquisto (right) seems to have two sets of eyes. Freaky stuff.

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A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!

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And so, that’s how my card year is ending. The 1956s are on their way, as are 4 more 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

I’ll wrap things up as I did last year, with great thanks to Mark Armour and Chris Dial for not only restarting the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, but dragging me, quite willingly, into participating in a big way. That’s been the best gift of all.

Pat Neshek, Card Collector

61nefYpg0RL._SY445_I’ve had a few opportunities to be in the Colorado Rockies clubhouse and to ask players about memorabilia they collect. Those who do collect are few and far between, though Mark Reynolds has a pretty extensive Hall of Fame autograph collection.

Pat Neshek, who was acquired this past July by the Rockies from the Philadelphia Phillies for their wild card push, is a bit of a throwback in that regard. He loves collecting baseball cards and autographs. His passion comes across in the many interviews he gives on card collecting, how he interacts with his fans on Twitter and his eagerness to autograph any cards he receives. Not only does he collect cards about himself, but he approaches collecting with a professional eye as he cultivates cards that improve his 1970 Topps set which in 2014 was ranked third best in quality in the world. He’s since improved that to the best set in the world. Recently I got the chance to talk to him and ask him about his favorite cards and his collecting beliefs.

Richard Bergstrom (RB): Do you remember the process for getting pictured on your first card?

Pat Neshek (PN): The first card you get is when you are in the minors, when you will get one with your team. It was in 2002 with my first team, the Elizabethon Twins. But my first Topps card was a 2006 Box Topper.

You had to buy a case of cards, then if you opened the case the Box Topper is the one on the top. They weren’t even in pack, but that was my first card. There were 50 different box toppers so your chance of getting it was 1 in 50 so it was really hard to get. They made 600 of my Box Topper and then they made a refractor of that. Twenty-five of those — it was pretty cool that Topps did that but I had to rely on eBay to get those. Once, I actually did buy four cases and I did pull a couple of mine but I didn’t get one of the refractors. Still eBay is a great source.

HeritageFront  HeritageBack

 

RB: What’s been your favorite baseball card of yourself?

PN:They made a short print card in 2007. I don’t know what quantity was released but it’s kind of a hard card to find. It was in Topps Heritage. I just don’t see many of them. People send autographs in and I maybe get two or three of them a year in the mail, so it’s pretty rare.

RB: What’s your favorite thing about that Heritage card??

PN: It’s scarcity. I tried to get a print run of them but they never gave it out. Whenever I see them, I usually buy them. You can usually get them for like three, four or five bucks. Sometimes you have to pay eight or nine. But there was like a hundred and ten short prints that year. I just don’t see the card so it’s a card I collect of myself.

RB: So Topps didn’t send you one directly?

PN: No, they never do. That’s the thing. People think we get boxes of them. No, you don’t get any. They’ll give you a check in spring training for $500 bucks for using your image. But no, we don’t get any from them. I have to buy my own usually or people will send them to me and I’ll give them out.

RB: How did you get into collecting?

PN: Like a lot of kids in the 80s, that was the cool thing to do. Then I kind of got away from it. But when I went to college, my roommate, he used to collect autographs a lot at hotels and after Triple A baseball games so I kind of tagged along a few nights and I thought it was really fun so I started getting into it a little bit. A lot of good stories, that’s what I enjoyed the most.

58Front   58Back

RB: It doesn’t seem like many players collect cards anymore.

PN: It’s weird. Certain guys collect certain things. I know with the Phillies, Howie Kendrick did a lot of bobbleheads from the 60s. A few guys did balls, some guys did jerseys. But not many guys collect. There’s a few guys who do cards. Brad Ziegler does it. Chris Perez did for a little bit. You kind of got to get to know each guy. I think a lot of guys do collect but they just don’t let it be known.

RB: It seems harder to get autographs from players than it used to be.

PN: It does. That’s why I started building a lot of these Topps sets to get signed. I think a lot of these guys are making a lot of money and it’s not worth their time to do a signing for $500 bucks and a lot of guys don’t do their mail so I don’t think it’ll be as easy as it was in the 70s and 80s with the fan interaction.

RB: What are your favorite sets?

PN: I love the old cardboard. I don’t like the new stuff with the gloss. I really like the Topps Heritage design. They’ll take it back 49 years so they’re doing 1968 this year. I’m looking forward to [2019 when] the 1970 set with the gray border comes out. I got the best PSA graded (original 1970 Topps) set in the world. I’ve been doing that for 11 years now. It’s hard. I always look for upgrades but they’re not out there. I’ll look forward to it in two years when they make that Heritage set.

RB: Do you have any favorite statistics on the back of cards?

PN: I liked it when I was a kid a lot because it helped you understand math and you could compute averages and make sure your work was right. The set building you get to know, I was born in 1980 but when I work on my 1970s sets I know a lot of who was on that team that year, where that guy’s been, what kind of hitter he was. And they had really cool cartoons back then. Some of the heritage do have good cartoons this year.

RB: Do you still chew the old gum?

PN: I did buy a box of Garbage Pail, built a really cool set of Garbage Pail Kids like eight years ago. I tried some of that gum… it was disgusting! Yeah, I bought like six boxes so when I got done. I think I put a picture on Twitter. It was pretty nasty. Some of it had brown stains on the gum. If you go back to the cellophane packs from the 1970, that gum is completely white. It can’t get any worse than that. It just turns into this candy cigarette chalk.

RB: When I was a kid, I’d buy packs, then boxes, then I’d skip and just buy the set. How do you collect sets these days?

PN: It depends. Like, if I’m in it, I’ll try to buy some of the boxes just to see what I crack open. It’s hard to pull some real nice stuff in some of those boxes. I’ve come to the point now where I’m relying on eBay and I’ll just wait for that card to come up. There’s a lot of really cool local sets. Especially in the 1950s, the dog food ones. It seems every restaurant had a local team set.

RB: If you could bring back one thing that was done on older baseball cards, what would that be?

PN: I want cardboard. Just real cardboard. I think that would change a lot of stuff for me. Maybe make the printing process not as good as it is. Some cards are off-center so it really makes it tough but fun to find nice gem mint cards. I like the gum in there. They tried that with Topps Heritage a few years ago but I think that’s more of a logistics thing where they try to ship so much and for such a cost that the gum kind of screws everything up. But I’d really like to see the cardboard come back.

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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.

Lee card

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).

Keri card

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.