Baseball Cards

I bought my first pack of baseball cards when I was eight-years-old. It was 1979. I sorted through the small stack of cardboard looking for anyone I recognized, then I chewed the crappy, stiff piece of gum. I would love to say there was a Jim Rice or a Steve Garvey in that first pack, but there wasn’t. I don’t know why I kept buying them after that, but I did.

In fact, I became obsessed.

Within a year or two I had thousands of cards. I had Jim Rices. I had Steve Garveys. I had long checklists of players, and my collection was organized by team and card number. I no longer bothered to chew the gum.

At that time you could buy books with values listed for all the cards by the top three companies, Topps, Fleer and Donruss. I poured over those books obsessively until other kids, similarly afflicted, would come to me to appraise their best cards. I would make guesses, then consult the book, until I discovered I was correct all the time. I had memorized the book.

Soon I was investing real money, buying old Mantles and Aarons and Mays at the local coin shop, trading with my less informed friends, trading up, trading sideways, enhancing my collection, pursuing weird collecting tangents tied into baseball history and rearranging my cards to tell a story. Here are all the 1958 White Sox. I collected them because I liked Luis Aparicio, a diminutive short stop I’d never actually seen play the game.

Now I am one of those American men who keeps a cardboard box full of old cards up in his attic. Most of the gems I sold off in college, just for spending money. It pains me to think of it (although I still own a very good condition original of the card above).

Baseball cards gave way to vinyl records. I have carted those around my entire adult life, and they’re all shelved in the basement, next to the turntable that’s not plugged in.

After records, I bought guitars. Black Les Paul Std., vintage reissue SG Junior, Gibson ES150 hollow body electric, Travis Bean aluminum neck- through-the-body, Fender Telecaster, and on and on. Bought, sold, traded. For a while I was flipping vintage drum sets too. A white oyster Gretsch jazz kit. A Slingerland blue sparkle kit. Stacks of Marshall stacks and small Fender tube combos.

Just researching the color names for that last paragraph took me to the Gretsch drum site, and I had my credit card halfway out of my wallet when I came to my senses. These objects, they speak to me in a way I can’t all the way explain.

Of course, this story ends, for now, with the bike. Most of the time when I think of bicycles, I think of cycling, of pumping up steep hills at the end of my breath, of swooping down descents with the rims humming and of rolling along with my friends. The bike is a tool for cycling.

But that doesn’t come close to explaining what’s going on in my garage, every hook full, or my parts bin and its enclosed esoterica. It doesn’t explain the time I spend on eBay combing through listings for frames, memorizing the values, noting the idiosyncracies of each one.

Most of the time when I romanticize cycling, I reach for those first ride memories from childhood, the feeling of freedom and independence, but there is another side to it that harkens back to my time as an obsessive little boy, buried in the couch poring over books and delighting in arcane minutia, the sort of background that would lead a grown man to spend his entire day and large portions of his night reading, talking and even writing about bicycles.

Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.

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  1. Alan Lewis

    Wow, strikes a little close to home. Bass guitars, then Scuba gear for me, then that gave way to woodworking gear, then metalworking, back to basses this time upright, and now cycling, although for once, I can concentrate (better) on actually riding and using the gear, rather than just obsessing and buying more.

  2. Hammerhed

    Dude, How did you miss stamps and coins? Though I too started with baseball cards: In 1959, the White Sox–yep, Luis Aparicio for me too!–did spring training right down the street from my house, so I became a fan, especially of Nellie Fox. I still have an autographed ball that they passed around the dugout for me. I remember standing in the stands one day when the Cardinals were in town, and Stan Musial walked over to where I was standing to check out the warmups. Though he was one of my heroes, I didn’t recognize him–Hey, I was ten and TV coverage wasn’t what it is now. When I asked him for his autograph and saw who he was, I began to stutter; he was very cool though and stood there for a few minutes talking to a star-struck kid.

    In 1971 or so my mom gave away my entire baseball card collection while I was away in California being a dropout surfer-freak; but a few Topps from 1959 miraculously survived the purge: Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Rocky Colovito, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Ernie Banks, Duke Snider, and a Roger Maris, if my memory is OK. None of the cards are mint, so they probably aren’t worth much to a real collector, but to me, well, they are priceless, aren’t they?

    1. Padraig

      Hammerhed: My understanding is that we only get to choose one of the set of baseball cards, stamps, coins or comic books and still hope to pass ourselves off as normal. I did stamps.

  3. Tom

    I lost my baseball card collection to a cellar flood a few years ago. Fortunately, the bicycles survived. Gotta love durable goods!!! Also among the survivors were my pint glass collection, my shot glass collection and my ‘pile of shit from the house that I should recycle instead of throw away but haven’t yet’ collection. That, I was hoping would float away…

  4. Christopher

    You just described my life: baseball cards (I still have a dozen 3-ring binders filled with 3×3 plastic covered 80’s baseball cards and Beckett magazines), records, guitars (even a 1971 Hagstrom SuperSwede I ‘eBayed’ back to the company in 2005) and finally bikes. However, I have taken to bicycles more than any of the other obsessions, even if my guitar accumen outshines that of bicycles.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Howard

    Do lots of imtroverted kids, get into collecting and grow into cyclists? A lot of my collections got gone due to mom or preadolecent spendthriftiness. My cycling stuff got culled pretty hard when I moved across the country a couple years back. Does this sound familiar….. I rented a storage space for 15 years filled mostly with old crap….er, old sentiiments, gawdamighty, old college notes and papers!!! A museum nobody ever came to see, that realization made me ditch a lot of it Sansui AU555 straight amp, Phillips GA 212 turntable, all over 30 years old and seldom saw any hint of daylight. Packing a household and 7 bikes made me a little coldhearted. Still have a few treasures squirreled away. My grown son got my old Pinerello so its still in the family.

  6. racerfitz

    I too have collected a lot of objects, but mostly things that I actually use.
    I have been racing since 1976 and shortly thereafter, I did begin to seriously collect VeloNews, and then Winning magazine. Every couple of years, I head down to the basement to rifle throught the boxes and boxes of old issues revisiting old friends. Guys like Richard Sachs and his first cover (or rather,his bike)on Velonews. Friends of mine at Cycling Revealed were doing an article on the history of the Philly race and I was able to provide them with articles for every year of that event. I still cherish the premier issue of Winning which honored Eddy. Sometime soon I may try and find a new home for this collection, to someone who might visit with them a little more often than I do. Meanwhile, I continue to ride, to race, make new friends and collect some new memories.

  7. M M Smith

    For Me it was “Hot Wheels” from about 69 to 71. Had a chrome plated Boss Hoss Mustang that was hands down the fasted on the block and what seemed liked a couple of miles of track. Gave it all away when we moved and shortly after that found road bikes. It takes a whole lotta self control to keep from running up a balance on the credit cards to match that “Hot Wheels” collection, but I’m getting close.

  8. Scott Kingsley

    I feel for you. I started with the cards, skipped the vinyl and instruments, and went to the bikes. Now, there are 8 bikes hanging from the ceiling, numerous pairs of wheels, and a few frames, not to mention the tools. I love it though.

  9. DoubleUc

    Baseball Cards, Comic Books, Matchbox Cars, Hot Wheels with the purple tongue connectors making things happen for the off orange track, Johnny Lighting, Sizzlers were the best with the power pack, Balsa Wood Airplanes that took 100 hours to build and seconds to destroy…then the Schwinn bikes…had the classic bike with a blue banana seat…wanted the “Grey Ghost” but family couldnt afford it…BMX hit and then the mods started to happen…grew older and the Huffy “American Spirit” 10 Speed showed up among the many, Sears puts out Pong video game for home…can’t forget the Atari 2600…first Italian Bike was a Bianchi…still have that one with the Bio-Pace Crank…want to make a fixie out of it but can’t bring myself to do it! sorry didn’t mean to get carried away…thanks for the memories!

  10. Karyn S. Davis

    My husband passed recently and left me thousands of baseball cards, stamps and coins. I didn’t want him to do that but he did. I have practically no knowledge about any of these items..I was never interested. I am a disabled senior citizen and I could use some extra money but I’d also like to get them out from underfoot. I could never afford an appraiser for that many items..that would be impossible I would think. If someone could give me some idea of what to do I’d truly appreciate it. Please help me someone. Please.
    God’s Blessings to All that Read This.. and oh, Happy Springtime!

    K. Davis
    Columbus, OH

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