By way of introduction, I have collected baseball cards for over forty years, since I was a skinny ten year old in June of that wonderful summer of 1969. To be precise, it was June 9th that my love affair with bits of cardboard began. I committed the date to memory, it seemed that important at the time. Do you remember the summer of 1969? Mornings were spent playing pick up ball games and the afternoons, well, the afternoons were just made for my old cane fishing pole (the one with black thread for line) and the little stream out back. Jeez, they were crummy little fish! When the heat of the day dissipated and dinner was over it was time to toss the horsehide around again. I’m pretty sure that was all that was happening that summer, the whole world over.
Like many of you, I can remember the very first cards that I held. Even now I can’t really put my finger on why I found them so interesting, so compelling. I didn’t know the players, except Kaline and Cash. I wasn’t a baseball fanatic by any means, though I enjoyed the game. Some of the attraction may have revolved around a latent desire to grow up and be like the young men pictured on the card fronts–healthy, strong and independent. And these young men were part of a team, a brotherhood, committed to doing something very, very important–namely, fighting for the honor of the cities that they represented. They were fighting for something bigger than themselves. I’m sure that was part of what attracted me.
Since that first day cards have remained an important part of my life. And yes, as an adult I have taken a fair bit of ribbing from my friends because of my addiction. I am glad to report, however, that I no longer dream about completing sets or finding a hoard of cigarette cards. Well, not as often, anyway. Still, it astonishes me how much I learned about life by studying those cardboard rectangles. I pored over the backs, especially the year-by-year statistics. Before long my young mind learned how to calculate things like batting averages, earned run averages and total bases. My math grades improved at school. But more important than the cold numbers, I was fascinated by the names of the far-flung cities that the young men played in. Eau Claire? Where the heck was that? And how do you even pronounce it? Little by little I pieced together a map in my head, in time determining that the United States must be a really, really big place. Mexico, too. And then there were places like Puerto Rico, Venezuela and even the Dominican Republic. The world seemed to get bigger every time that I picked up a card. It still does.
Eventually I found that I was attracted to some card designs more than others. You wouldn’t believe how nervous I would get around the time that the first packs hit the local party store! Who knew what the new cards would look like? If it was a design that I liked, the summer held promise. If the cards were ugly (think 1972 Topps)…well, that would threaten to ruin my entire life. Cards were that important. Did you feel the same?