One Man’s Garbage

If you’re reading this post you’ve probably bought at least 1 pack of baseball cards, if not 100’s of packs of baseball cards, in your life. Well, my experience was just a little bit different.

As a child growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s, Topps baseball cards were the gold standard, and for four years they were all mine. Every card and every insert were mine for the taking, and I do mean taking.

I grew up just six blocks from a Topps manufacturing plant and from 1967 to 1971 I got every single card for free. During that time, before the baseball card boom of the 80’s it was the practice of Topps to toss any cards that hit the floor into the garbage. At 5 or 10 cents a pack they weren’t worth much, and were treated as nothing more than litter. By pure luck I happened to live only a couple of blocks from the private garbage hauler that had the contract to take away Topps’s garbage. They picked up the garbage every Friday, and they wouldn’t take the trucks to the dump until Monday, so the trucks would be parked for the weekend loaded with Topps baseball cards, packs and packs of unopened cards. Every Saturday morning myself and a couple of friends would go “shopping”. It was dirty work, but when you’re 10 years old, it wasn’t much dirtier than a typical summer’s day.

Each week would yield anywhere from 75-100 packs of cards. Baseball card nirvana. Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Rose, all mine for the taking. Rookie cards of Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Thurman Munson. I had dozens of them.

After 4 years it was all over. Topps must have changed to another garbage hauler, because no more cards showed up on Saturday morning. It sucked at the time, but hey, I had several thousand baseball cards, in near-mint condition that I got for free, and in 15 years those cards would be worth thousands of dollars…….if I had only held on to them.

All the cards were faithfully placed into boxes, every set complete, from 1968 to 1971, along with 100’s of doubles. Being a Yankee fan I had a bunch of Yankee cards including at least ten 1968 Mantles. All “safely” tucked away in my closet.

High School, girls, college, girls, work, and girls took up a lot of my time and when I moved out in 1981 after I got married, I failed to take my cards with me. It never crossed my mind to do so.

A couple of years later the baseball card industry exploded, and I realized that I had a small fortune “safely” tucked away in a closet. As you can probably guess, the cards were not “safely” tucked away. My Mother had “thrown them out years ago.” No Mantle, no Mays, no Clemente, not even a Danny Cater. All gone, no small fortune, no new car, no Hawaiian vacation…..nothing…nada….zip…..or so I thought.

When I moved out I did take my books with me, mostly baseball books, but many classics as well. Catcher In The Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, All Quiet On The Western Front, among others. A couple of years after what I like to refer to as, “Baseball Armageddon”, I watched Fahrenheit 451 on TV, and decided to reread the Ray Bradbury classic. This happened to be one of the books I brought with me when I had moved out 10 years before and when I opened the book out popped this 1971 Thurman Munson card. I had used it as a bookmark over 20 years before when I first read the book.

munson

It reminded me of all that I had lost, but it also reminded me of some of the best times I’ve ever had. 4 summers of baseball card heaven, 4 summers of playing non stop baseball, 4 summers of childhood innocence and joy.

I’ve continued to use this card as a bookmark for the last 20 years. It’s creased and bent in 15 different places, and not worth a nickel.

Check that, ……it’s priceless, and every time I look at it, it makes me smile.

What Condition My Condition Was In

I’m not a stickler for condition. For the cards I’ve collected on my own, I like them Near Mint (NM), maybe EX-MT. It’s more important to me that the picture is sharp than that the corners are. I’m not bothered by off-center cards, slightly bothered by miscuts. All my sets are in pretty solid shape.

Then there are the cards I’ve gotten from other people over the years. Those tend to be more hit or miss. Not everyone put their cards straight from the pack into a shoe box or plastic sleeve. Some of the cards I’ve picked up from friends are nice, maybe EX or better; some look like they’ve been driven over by a car in a rough, cement-floored garage.

It’s the latter conditions I grappled with when I decided to finish my 1971 set. 1971 was the last year I let my mother (yes, let) throw out my cards. She would ask if I wanted them anymore and I, shockingly, told her no. Over time I reacquired a bunch of those, but in conditions that made me wince.

But when I looked and saw I only needed 57 cards to complete the set, I figured, what the hell, I’ll go for it, but I’ll go for it with cards in similar condition to the rest of what I had. Not only was pursuing 1971’s in Very Good (VG) condition a cheaper choice, it was also a liberating one. I didn’t have to worry if the corners were pointy enough, if the borders were as close to solid black as they could be (a notorious 1971 problem), if the cards were relatively well-centered. Once I finished the set, I was thrilled by it, happy to have them all, less concerned about the state of any individual card. I can tell you my Rich Morales (267) is a crime against collecting. Some slight upgrading is in order.

morales

With 1971 wrapped up, I turned to 1970, the last set I didn’t have that I was reasonably close to. In mid-July, I assessed the situation. I needed 187 cards to complete the set, lots of high numbers, some big stars too. Whoever at Topps put Nolan Ryan at #712 should be subject to enhanced interrogation.

ryan

Again, I had some condition problems, but, if I went after VG or EX, I could get this done reasonably and that’s what I’ve done. Starting with a solid nab of 25 cards at the great Baseball Nostalgia in Doubleday Court, Cooperstown, I was well on my way. Then I tweeted that I was working on this set and, lo and behold, prayers, had they been said, were answered. Two friends (Chris and Mike) gave me significant piles of their 1970’s. Not only did these windfalls fill a lot of holes, but they allowed me to upgrade to a more EX set.

I’ve been working the old eBay machine for the rest. While I miss the fun of card shows (there aren’t any to speak of in the greater Cooperstown area), I don’t miss haggling with dealers. I’m eminently patient and will wait out losing auction upon losing auction until I get my price. There’s a fun to buying on EBay, a different entertainment than shows. Swooping in at the last moment to get a good deal makes me feel, for no valid reason, a bit smarter. With much good fortune, I picked up a lot of EX-NM cards at VG prices. I’ve also been selling some doubles and triples to subsidize the endeavor. I’ve had a lot of fun with this, which is sort of the point of card collecting.

As of this post, I need only three cards – Johnny Bench (660), Ron Santo (670) and the Pilots team card (713, Nolan’s neighbor). I’m almost there.

Yeah, yeah, oh yeah!