A post-Christmas, pre-New Years trip to Virginia.
Category Archives: family
A much better day for it than the last time we did this. Both boys being old enough to have opinions meant that we spent most of this trip negotiating a jointly-acceptable tree. Also, where our tree two years ago turned into a spider tree as soon as it warmed up inside, this year our tree ended up being full of woolly bear caterpillars.
When I was kid one of my favorite things was exploring my grandmother’s house and looking at all the old stuff in the backs of office drawers. Most of it was junk to me but every once in a while I’d find something cool—typically old coins.* While these were always welcome I was much more interested in baseball cards.
*This should probably be its own post but among the wheat sheaf pennies, buffalo nickels, and Mercury dimes were some pretty cool finds both in terms of old US coinage as well as interesting international coinage.
Much to my dismay there never any sports ephemera. I knew that neither my dad nor my uncle collected cards but I always held out hope that they’d accumulated even a dozen or so anyway. No dice. Then one day I pulled out a pile of paper and two 1.75″×3.75″ cards fell out. I still remember getting goosebumps. They weren’t worth anything much—two 1917 Zeenut commons—but for a kid whose oldest card was a 1960 Topps* just having any baseball card that old was exciting as all hell.
I hadn’t thought much about those cards until SABR Baseball Cards’ recent Johnny Lindell post reminded me. In the over two dozen years since I found them I have a lot more resources to figure out what they are and who they depict. So that’s turned into a fun day of poking around the web.
Del Baker turned out to be pretty simple. The Seals were a stable franchise which never moved or changed names until the Giants came to town in 1958. And Baker was not just a catcher for the Detroit Tigers but went on to manage them to the 1940 pennant. This card is from his only season in San Francisco although he later ended up playing in Oakland.
I also found it interesting that he stayed in the game long enough to get his own Topps baseball card in 1954. While 1903 is the beginning of modern baseball history there’s something about how integration with Jackie Robinson in 1947 and Topps baseball cards becoming a thing five years later produced a game which feels much more familiar to me than anything pre World War 2.
Bert Whaling meanwhile was a lot more work. First, the spelling variation in his name meant searching for “Walling” got me nowhere and I needed help in order to find him. Second, he only played for Vernon in 1916, not 1917 and his career wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Still it was cool to find out that he also played a few seasons for the Boston Braves.
What was more interesting was finding out about the Vernon Tigers. Unlike the Seals, the Tigers are an example of the way that franchises were moving around all the time. They started off in Vernon (and Venice) because those were the only wet cities in otherwise-dry Los Angeles County. Once Prohibition hit there was no reason to be in Vernon so they moved to San Francisco and become the Mission Reds—taking the place of the San Francisco Missions who had previously moved to Salt Lake City. That didn’t work out so they moved back to Los Angeles and became the Hollywood Stars—replacing the previous Stars who had moved to San Diego.
I collected baseball cards pretty seriously from 1986–1993. I got into the hobby at the same time I got into baseball…and I got out of it once the number of sets and subsets and insert sets and premium sets became overwhelming.* Sort of amazingly I never even looked back. I stayed a baseball fan. I picked up other hobbies—specifically printing and photography. The Giants even won three World Series. But I never felt the itch to buy a pack of cards until this year.
*Plus we had a strike which served as the coup de grâce and my last years of high school to keep me plenty busy without that hobby.
What changed? I started reading the SABR Baseball Cards blog. It’s not focused on any of the things which drove me out of the hobby,* instead it reminds me of everything I loved about it. Looking at the cards and the photos. Studying the backs and comparing stats. Completing sets rather than finding rarities. Discussing particularly beautiful—or particularly awful—designs. Thinking about which ones will work well with autographs. It’s a blog which is about the cards as they relate to fandom and baseball.
*The focus on scarcity and individual-card value and condition both swamped me and priced me out of the hobby.
So I’ve found myself wandering by the card aisles again to check out how much the landscape has changed in the past 25 years. And I find myself in disbelief that my collection is as old now as the mid-60s cards were when I was collecting. Those cards were always my dream cards when I was little. I wanted to see them and handle them and connect with baseball history through them. Eventually I managed to acquire one or two from each year but couldn’t afford more than that.
Meanwhile a lot of the guys on the SABR blog have complete Topps sets going back that far—or at least through the 70s. I can’t imagine. I have sets from 1987 through 1992—accurately capturing my peak collecting years—but I can’t even fathom completing the 1986 set let alone working back toward my dream cards. All the same, I have started thinking about what I would do if I were to start collecting again.
While focusing on complete sets is too much, I can imagine just focusing on the Giants. This wouldn’t even be expensive for the 70s or 80s but I’d expect the 60s, with Mays and company, to get a bit spendy. I can also imagine trying to complete the various weird sets I collected in the late 80s and early 90s. Getting that last missing Mothers Cookies card. Filling out my Dennys Grand Slam holograms. Completing the King B Disc set. Weird projects just appeal to me.
The bigger question for me is what I want to do if, or when, my kids get interested in card collecting. They’ve already shown an interest in soccer cards.* They also have a tendency to be interested in what I’ve collected. So in many ways it’s only be a matter of time.
*This interest probably planted the first seed of my renewed interest in the hobby.
I know that sharing a hobby with them could be a lot of fun. I also know that I want to give them room to do their own collecting, make their own choices, and balance their own allowance budgets. A large part of that is going to involve staying out of what they’ve chosen to collect. And to do that I need to leave territory undiscovered and free for them to have choices.
So maybe that’s a sign I should stop thinking about getting back into collecting and instead just enjoy the conversation and memories. Or maybe it’s a sign that my initial instincts about what to focus on are the extent of what I should do. All I do know is that the next time I’m at my parents’ house I’m going to go dig up my albums and take a good look through. I haven’t really looked at them for 20 years. It’s going to be nice to see some old friends again.
One kiddo dressed as Clark Kent but with Superman underneath. The other dressed as Batman but with Bruce Wayne underneath. Yes they’ve already figured out which is the disguise which is the true identity.