Are they a commodity or a memento of our youth?
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Something near and dear to a young man's heart is his collection of baseball cards. Although cards today are bought and sold as a commodity, years ago we collected them simply because of the love of the game. My friends and I would trade them, discuss the stats of each player, and chew the lousy gum accompanying each pack of five cards. We would also attach them to our bicycles using clothespins so they would flicker between the spokes of the wheel thereby making a rather impressive sound as you were riding, something like a motorcycle, at least so we thought. In my day, you weren't cool unless you had a Stan "The Man" Musial baseball card powering your bicycle. In hindsight I wish I had kept that card as opposed to ruining it on my bicycle, but such is life.
The nirvana of baseball cards in my day was to get Mickey Mantle's (see accompanying photo). As a kid growing up in the New York area in the early 1960's, Mantle was a god to us. Sure, we watched other teams and other players, but there was something special about the Mick. So much so, obtaining his baseball card meant a step up in your social stature. Fortunately, I got mine in a regular pack of cards and I was the envy of my friends. I was offered stacks of cards for the Mantle card but I stubbornly held on to it, and I'm glad I did. I was even offered a Willie Mays, Roger Marris, and Whitey Ford. If he had thrown in a Yogi Berra I would have been tempted, but such was not to be. Besides, I had a couple of Willie Mays cards already.
Most of my card collection ended up in a shoe box where I kept them neatly organized. For my really good cards I've got a special binder with plastic sleeves which keeps them neat and clean. As the cards were important to me, I kept them hidden in my bedroom. As I grew up and moved away to college, the card collection remained hidden in my room. It's a good thing I hid them too as my room was purged and cleaned by my mother after I moved out. As is common for moms to do, she disposed of my old comic book collection and "Mad" magazine collection, both of which dated back to the early 1960's. I'm not sure why mothers do this, perhaps as a form of revenge for leaving the nest, but I know a lot of guys who lost such collections, not to mention coin and stamp collections. Moms view such things as nothing more than dust-catchers, guys cherish them as mementos of their past.
Today, baseball cards are bought and sold at hefty prices, a lot more than the nickel we used to pay for a pack and probably without the bubble gum. In my day, "Topps" was the only manufacturer of baseball cards. Today, there are many others, but I can't say the quality is any better. Some now have special stamps emblazoned on them, some come packaged in air tight plastic containers, and some are real works of art. Whereas baseball originally had a monopoly on such cards, today there are cards for football, hockey, basketball, soccer, even wrestling, entertainment and politics. I still don't think I would trade my Mickey Mantle for a Barack Obama, no way, no how. I would be much more interested in a Jackie Robinson or Satchel Page, but I think I would still hold on to the Mick.
I still appreciate the simplicity of the cards from years ago. In preparing for this article, I brought out my baseball card binder so I could scan the Mickey Mantle card. Afterwards I stopped by a friend's house and showed him the binder. He enjoyed it immensely and as he flipped through it we would discuss the various players, what teams they played on over the years, their statistics, memorable moments in their playing careers, and argue over who were the better players. A lot of baseball ears should have been burning that day. Then again, that's what we did as kids, we talked baseball, and this is what I think baseball cards were originally designed to do.
I just wish I still had that Stan "The Man" Musial card instead of ruining it on my bicycle.
Keep the Faith!
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