What was I thinking?

I did not have a lot of money as a kid. I loved old cards. I couldn’t afford to buy them. Heck I could barely afford to get a pack or two from all the sets that the junk wax era was churning out. When I started collecting I was buying Topps, Donruss, and Fleer (plus a few randoms like Sportflics or Fleer Star Stickers). By the time the strike hit in 1994? Topps, Stadium Club, Archives, Bowman, Donruss, Leaf, Triple Play, Fleer, Fleer Ultra (and I could’t afford Flair), Score, Select, Pinnacle, Upper Deck, and Collectors’ Choice. My poor wallet couldn’t keep up.

I was able to save enough money to buy old wax packs going back to 1980 (except 1983 Fleer and 1984 Donruss which were both more than I could afford/justify so I bought Giants team sets for those years instead). But before 1980? No packs. No ebay lots coming up on the horizon. Occasional luck in repacks for 1979 (I had a handful). Extremely rare luck in repacks for 1978 and 1977 (I had one from each year). But aside from the lot of 31 1961 Topps cards my mom’s ex-husband gave me* my collecting goal was a single Topps card for each year.

*Beat up and a lot of spoke or flipping damage but not a bad pile of cards which included Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Don Drysdale, Lou Burdette, the Hank Aaron MVP, the first Minnesota Twins team card, and a Frank Robinson All Star. This is a post of its own now.

And by “each year” I really mean each year since 1960. The pre-1960 cards never seemed to enter my radar as a kid. I knew they existed but I don’t think I ever encountered one which wasn’t crazy expensive. My local shop had a few star cards in those screw-down inch-thick lucite protective blocks but I don’t think I ever saw any commons.

Anyway I wasn’t even able to accomplish my one card per year goal as I never got my 1965 Topps card.* But I did get one card—occasionally more—from every other year. Last summer I got a chance to looking through my childhood collection again and enjoy all the memories. I chose many of those single cards for specific reasons and remembering why I did so is a fun reminder of my adolescent tastes.

*Making it holy appropriate and a wonderful coincidence that the first card I purchased on reintegrating into the hobby was a 1965 Masanori Murakami.

At the same time, a good number of those cards completely mystified me as to why I specifically purchased them so I’ve found myself going through them all and asking myself, “what the hell was I thinking?”

Orlando Cepeda 1960 Topps

This was my favorite card when I was little. It’s one of the only cards I spent “big”* money on at a card show. It’s not in pristine shape but it was the oldest card I owned until I found some treasure at my grandmother’s. I always had a soft spot for Cepeda and felt that he was overdue for the Hall of Fame. In some ways purchasing this card in 1989 represented an investment in my belief that he’d eventually make it. That he did is not why I loved this card though. He was the nicest guy and a great community representative for the Giants and a very easy guy to like.

*Probably $5 but it might’ve been more.

Roger Craig 1962 Topps

The original Humm Baby was the Giants skipper when I became a fan. It was fun to have a card of him as a player too, especially since he looked basically the same. The 1962 Mets card whatwith the whole ignominious balk start and everything is an added bonus of fun.

Looking at his SABRmetric stats now I can see he was one of the brighter spots on that team. Still not a great year but I’m not sure how any of those “above replacement” stats works when an entire team is replacement level.

How could I refuse? The cartoon on the back of this is hilarious even today. And for an early teenager it was even funnier. I still can’t believe Topps shipped something like this.

The real mystery though is why I didn’t acquire any of the Claude Raymond unzipped fly cards or the 1969 Aurelio Rodriguez batboy card. Maybe that’s an oversight for me to address now that I’m older.

Inspired by Ball Four. Obviously. Not much more to say except that I’m sort of surprised I don’t have more Bouton cards. I’m also surprised that I had no other Pilots or Astros cards from the book either. I loved that book when I first read it and I love it still.

Speaking of having a bunch of cards of the same guy. This is the first mystery. I have no memory of having so many Aparicios. None. And I’ve no memory as to why I got so many either.

If I had to hazard a guess? He was probably the best mix of star with pricepoint. I couldn’t afford any of the big name stars and just grabbing a random common would’ve handcuffed me with too many options (plus how boring would that be?). Grabbing affordable Hall of Famers on the other hand is the kind of pragmatic approach I’d like to give myself credit for thinking of.

Buc Belters: Willie Stargell and Donn Clendenon 1966 Topps

I had a soft spot for Clendenon after he signed for me when I had no idea who he was. I suspect that Stargell was another affordable Hall of Famer just like Aparicio. Getting both on a single card would’ve been very appealing.

Matty Alou 1967 Topps

I’m not sure about my thinking here either. Ex-Giant was certainly a big part of the appeal. This is also just a nice-looking card from back when Topps knew how to take decent headshots.

Cardinals Celebrate 1968 Topps

I’ve even less of an idea about what I was thinking here. At least I can think of a plausible reason for my Aparicio fixation. But I’ve hated the Cardinals ever since their fans dumped beer on Jeffrey Leonard in the 1987 NLDS so this card just confuses me.

Looking at it now I can at least appreciate that having a card which so blatantly features alcohol is pretty distinct. I also only recently found out that Joe Shultz is the Cardinal coach getting doused in champagne while he’s pounding a Budweiser. So maybe I should file this with the Bouton cards now.

Manny Mota 1969 Topps

Humor. Also the most pinch hits thing is pretty cool. And, I don’t know, with so many Aparicios plus Cepeda, Alou, and Mota I was on a pretty-good latino player kick. I certainly don’t remember that being a factor but this was all 25 years ago. Anyway this is a fantastic trainwreck of a card with some godawful airbrushing. It is however fun to have a first-year Expo.

Ken Harrelson All Star 1969 Topps

No idea here either but the All Star design is pretty cool. Although for the purposes of my one-card-per-year project I really should’ve been focusing on the base cards.

Vida Blue and Gene Tenace 1970 Topps

This must’ve been a decent price. The appeal is obvious to me. Vida Blue is a Bay Area legend. Great name. Starred for both the A’s and the Giants and continued to work in the community after he retired. And Gene Tenace wasn’t a slouch either.

Giants! The Perry must’ve been a deal too since he was elected to the Hall of Fame right about the time I would’ve acquired this. I knew Hal Lanier more as the Astros manager than as a former player but as with the Craig card it’s always fun to get cards of managers from when they were players.

Billy Martin 1972 Topps

While I couldn’t afford to chase the Billy Ripken Fuck Face card, I sure as hell could afford this older version. As with the Jim O’Toole I still find myself laughing at this card.

These were gifts and represent probably the best mix of pricepoint and age for my parents. When I was 10 or 11 all I wanted for Christmas was a real—Topps from when he played not TCMA or some new “cheapo” printing—Willie Mays card. I think I got the in-action card and was happy but also disappointed (where are the stats!). I did eventually get the proper card as a gift and, other than the Cepeda card, these were my favorites in my collection.

Many of my 1970s cards were cards which I acquired specifically to get signed. I just needed them to be designs I liked and something which qualified as affordable. If they filled holes in my one-per-year project? Even better.

Dietz was the manager of the Giants’ San José farm club and, after many attempts, I finally got his card signed. Caldwell was the manager of Campbell University and randomly showed up in 1990 as a 6 seed at the NCAA regional at Stanford.

Ron Fairly 1973 Topps

He was one of the Giants’ announcers when I became a fan and was paired with Hank Greenwald during the 1989 pennant-winning season. As with the Roger Craig card I found it fun to get a card from his playing days. This was probably a “good to have on hand in case an autograph situation comes up” card and since I sure as hell wasn’t going to get him as a Dodger, here he is as an Expo.

Stanford Alumni. Growing up in the Bay Area, Bob Boone was sort of the only big success story for the Stanford system until a bunch of guys (McDowell, Buechele, Aldrete, Ballard followed by Sprague, Amaro and Mussina) took off with decent careers in the late 80s to early 90s. I always wished he’d show up at the Stanford Alumni game. I eventually got his signature at a game in Tacoma. These two cards sort of presage the Stanford Alumni project I’m starting on.

Tito Fuentes 1975 Topps

Giants again! Also an announcer for the Spanish-language Giants broadcasts. I may have gotten this for potential autograph reasons before deciding that I don’t like that with facsimiles.

So 24 cards for 17 years. For 17 of those cards I have a pretty good idea why I chose them. For the other seven I have to guess at best or remain completely confused at worst. Still it’s fun to remember back to when my collecting goals were ridiculously simple and my card buying was based on day-of gut-level decisions rather than having a plan and stalking a specific target.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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