Wednesday, May 11, 2011


by Dick Mac

About 30 years ago I started reliving part of my childhood by collecting baseball cards.

I knew about Topps Bubble Gum Company; and two upstarts forced their way into the market in 1981: Fleer and Donruss.

When I was a boy, I would buy a pack of baseball cards for a nickel and hope for a Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, Tony Conigliaro, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, or Pete Rose card.

Completing a set was never a goal, and cards were won and lost in the hallways of the projects as they were flipped against a wall and scooped up by the winner. The balance of power changed daily, and the same Yaz card could pass through many collections between July 4th and the World Series.

And then, of course, there was the checklist or league leaders card that was clipped with a clothes pin to the spokes of the bicycle wheel.

I would collect a handful each of Phil Roof, Ted Abernathy, Wes Parker, and Joe Schulz cards for every Orlando Cepeda, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, and Hank Aaron card I coveted. And although I was never trying to complete a set, I would faithfully check-off each card on the checklist with a ballpoint pen.

I'm not sure why I checked-off the cards. I guess it was because I had gotten a checklist, and I thought of it as a verb as well as a noun.

Each year, after the World Series was complete, my mother would scoop up all the baseball cards, throw them in the trash and explain that I would be able to get new cards next year. The notion of next year's cards and the anticipation of opening that first pack was plenty enough logic to throw away my 1964 Pete Rose, my 1965 Willie Mays, and my 1966 Mickey Mantle! And out they went.

In the early 1980s, it was suggested to me by a mature adult that perhaps I needed a hobby, since I had so much free-time on my hands. I had tried hobbies in the past, and always lost interest. Then one evening after work I was buying a pack of cigarettes in Fermoyle's Drugs in Brigham Circle and on the counter near the register was a box of baseball card packs. I bought a handful of packs, put them in my briefcase or jacket pocket and promptly forgot about them.

Later that night I opened them. The smell of the bubble-gum and the feel of the gloss on the front of the cards transported me back more than twenty years to a spot behind 104 McGreevey Way, near Oregon Court, during the Summer of 1964.

I was hypnotized by these new baseball cards. I looked at every single card, front and back, over and over again. I examined the statistics (vital and baseball), admired the design, which actually wasn't that nice, and started checking the boxes of the one checklist I had gotten.

The next day I bought more, and then the following week there were different baseball cards by different manufacturers, and I bought some of them.

By 1984, I was purchasing whole boxes of wax packs (36 packs to a box, 10 cards to a pack). I started compiling sets, instead of just randomly sorting through the packs. I began to notice that some brands had better collation than others. Donruss, seemed to package all cards in the same sequence all the time. It got so that collectors could open the first package in the front right corner of the box, and be able to determine exactly which packs below would have a Don Mattingly rookie card inside.

This is when I learned about collation, and I didn't think much about it at the time, as I acquired a quarter-million baseball cards in the course of ten years. I was acquiring so many packages of cards that collation really didn't matter: I was going to complete my sets, no matter the cost.

Eventually, I lost interest in the hobby, not because I lost interest in the game or the cards; but, because the industry had become absurd. By the early nineties there were a half-dozen card manufacturers, each releasing multiple sets of cards, charging two or three dollars a pack.

The market had become saturated and it stopped being fun.

I continued to acquire some cards from the early 20th Century, and kept the cards from the 50s and 60s; but, the vast majority went into storage for more than a decade, until I handed it all over to my nephews. 25-year-old baseball cards are like history to them, and they represent the 80s to me. Letting go of the collection was also made easier by my total lack of interest in the sport. Baseball has become so dull, so tediously long, with so many commercial interruptions, and run by such a lot of dullards, that I just can't be bothered anymore.

Recently, a friend gave me a gift: a 1967 Pele card, by Italian card manufacturer, Panini.

It is beautiful and unique. It is a card I would never dream of buying for myself these days, now that I am a dad. So, when I received it, I almost wept. Actually, later that night when I was home at this keyboard looking at the card, I did weep. I almost sobbed, actually, not only because I owned such a beautiful little piece of paper; but that someone thought enough, cared enough about me that he decided to give me that gift. Somewhere inside me there is still that six-year-old that gets an incredible sensation from holding a baseball card, or in this case, a soccer card.

Now that I had a Pele card, I had to have a Thierry Henry card.

I started searching the internet, starting with eBay, until I landed at the Upper Deck site where they advertised: Buy 2 boxes of last year's (2010) MLS cards, at a deep discount, and receive the special-edition Thierry Henry MLS card, not available any other way except through this offer. The 2011 cards were not yet released, so I did it. Now, I have a card of Titi dressed in a Red Bull New York kit (and two unopened boxes of 2010 MLS cards).

Last week, while looking for something else, I saw a listing for the 2011 MLS cards: one box, 36 packages containing 6 cards each, for $36.00 plus shipping. The set is 200 cards, and this box would give me 216 cards. I knew it was unlikely that I would get all 200 different cards from a pool of 216, but I thought it would be fun to try and assemble a set with my daughter (who is a big MLS fan, especially of RBNY, and assorted handsome players like Andrew Boyens, David Beckham, John Rooney, Rafa Marquez, Johnny Gilkerson, Michael Palacio, Titi, Austin Da Luz and others).

Sport card manufacturers are notoriously, and historically, bad with the collation of cards in the packages, and the notion that you might collect 200 unique cards out of a pool of 216 is absurd, at best.

I opened 30 packs, one-at-a-time as you are supposed to do, glanced at each picture, and sorted them by number in groups of ten.

I pulled the cards of Juan Agudelo, Titi, Backham, Tim Ream, and Rafa Marquez, and slid them into rigid plastic holders.

I sorted the cards as they came out of the packs and I was surprised to see that I only had a few doubles. With six packs yet to open, I was pretty close to having a complete set. Then, with the 35th pack open, I had successfully collected all 200 cards, and gotten a Brian Ching special insert card!

I couldn't believe it! I collected a full set of cards from a single box of packs, and still have an unopened pack!

So, it looks like Upper deck has solved the collation problem, and now that cards cost upwards of twenty-cents apiece, they have made it easy (and relatively cheap) to complete and entire set of soccer cards.

Which I have done.

1 comment:

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