How The World Wags
By Dave Kiffer
Now that I 'm in my really, really, really, really late 20s (like 46!), it's not like I can grab the old leather glove and head down Walker Field for the Little League games anymore (Go Crystal Dairy!). If I did, I'm sure that Henry "The Hanging Umpire" Keene would come out of retirement to "ring me up" a few more times as I continued to stand paralyzed by Larry Settje fastballs. There's a good reason why they don't have "Old Timer's" games in Little League.
But I can still capture that aura of youth by tearing open a fresh pack of Topps cards every so often and that to me is the surest sign of spring....baseball cars appearing in local stores.
Once upon a time, I used to squander a whole week's allowance on cards, 10 packs for five dollars. As I got older, I would use my fishing money to buy even more cards. Sheer bliss was to spread out several hundred cards on the floor and play imaginary games. In my games, the Dodgers always beat the Yankees (told you they were fantasy). I hated Mickey Mantle and scratched words like "loser" on his cards. Undefaced, those cards would be worth over $1,000 today. Guess who feels like the loser now?
My cards suffered through pretty heavy use in those days, although I never stuck them in the spokes of my bicycle like some other kids. Thanks heavens for small favors. I also managed to avoid the other common baseball card plague....that of 'my mom threw out the cards when I left home.' I don't think my mom ever threw anything out and now those baseball cards are worth a decent sum of money. My wife - of course - suggests that they are actually valueless because I refuse to sell them.
My cards even survived - more or less - the sinking of Dad's trolling boat in Kaigani Harbor in the early 1970s. I can still remember looking down into the half-flooded foc'sle and seeing baseball cards floating on the rising water as we left the boat. I was worried about the cards. Dad was concerned about other things.
When the boat was refloated and dried out, I took the cards out and air dried them on the deck. I suppose some were too damaged and got thrown out, but I still have a few cards in my collection that have slightly, puffy once-dipped-in-water look so I obviously saved some. I'm sure I saved even the most damaged Dodger cards and undoubtably tossed out some more Mickey Mantle or Whitey Ford cards that would be worth a little something today.
Even if they weren't wet I would have traded them anyway because they were "Yankee" cards. I remember once dispensing of two old Roger Maris and Yogi Berra cards that had probably been around the house since my brothers' time in the early 1960s. I traded them both for a brand spanking new Bill Singer (Dodgers pitcher, natch!) card. Now you know why I've never been good at gambling or the stock market.
Fortunately, I rooted for the Miracle Mets of 1969 and that allowed me to hang on to Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan rookie cards from those years. The Ryan card is - of course - worth the gross national product of most African nations...in mint condition. I quite naturally played with my card a bit and it's probably worth the gross national product of Loring these days.
I am a little more savy these days. I started collecting cards again about a decade ago and immediately snagged some rookie cards of folks who were doing pretty good (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens etc). Rookie cards of Hall of Famers could put my son through college...if that danged steroid issue would just go away.
A particular fave is a rare Mark McGwire card from when he played for Anchorage in the Alaska League one summer in the early 1980s. Yes, I cringed when he obfuscated like crazy before that recent Congressional hearing on steroid use in baseball.
Anyway, it doesn't do much good to collect cards based on possible future value. I have an older brother who used to do that. At one point, he had hundreds of unopened packs of baseball cards in his house because unopened packs are really valuable (if you can convince someone else that the pack may contain a true gem). But what's the fun in that? Isn't part of the joy that thrill of tearing open the packet and finding that gem card?
Or having the converse feeling of opening the pack and finding a bunch of unknown rookie cards or utility infielders? I'm sure I wasn't excited about coming across a Nolan Ryan rookie card in 1968 (he even shared the card with another rookie Jerry Koosman who blossomed quicker and was a star on the 1969 World Series winner). Times change.
But here I am some 35 years later, still grabbing a pack of cards or two when I stop in the store. The clerk smiles because she thinks I'm buying them for my son. Or maybe she smiles because she knows the truth.