One of Night Owl’s recent posts involved memory and baseball cards as he grappled with his mother showing the first signs dementia (or worse)* and how things like music and baseball cards can trigger memories from decades ago.
*A story which reminded me of my grandmother who succumbed to dementia in the late 1990s (well she died in the early 2000s but by then there was no one home). As she regressed further into her past we’d still make small talk when we visited just to try and keep her brain working. One fall day we mentioned the upcoming World Series and jokingly asked her if she’d followed who was in the Series that year. She screwed up her face and guessed, “Yankees?” Which was both correct for the season as well as an accurate representation of where her reminiscence bump would fall.
It’s a wonderfully thoughtful and vulnerable post since it’s always awful to see someone going through the experience of slowly losing a loved one. It’s also a post which suggested that we could all think about our cards and our memory and how specific cards bring us back to specific moments in our youth.
This is the virtual card version of that scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack reorganizes his record collection autobiographically. One card per year of my collecting lifetime. With my memories of that year and the card attached.
I wasn’t into cards yet. Heck I wasn’t even in Little League. My parents didn’t want anything to do with the overly-involved Little League parents and wanted me to be running around instead. So soccer it was and besides kind of wanting to be in Little League with my friends baseball wasn’t even on my radar.
I remember a friend of mine giving me this card right before soccer practice some time in 1986. No idea why he gave it to me. I’m not even sure why I kept it but I stuck it in my sock and my shinguard kept it “flat” against my shin.
It then got buried in my desk until July 1987 when I went looking for it after Eric Show hit Andre Dawson in the face. I had remembered it was a Padres pitcher. I was surprised to find that it was the Padres pitcher who the Giants had just traded for instead. I had no idea it was the pitcher who’d feature in one of the most amazing games I’d ever attend.
I’ve mentioned it before but for whatever reason this card reminds me of my first year of ripping packs and really getting into the hobby. I remember browsing the rack packs at Toys R Us but I want to say my first pack was a surprise from my mom after she picked me up from school.
I usually took the bus after school so being picked up meant I had some programmed after-school activity instead. My memories are of opening my pack while sitting in the front seat on the ride home. I think I got a Dave Winfield Glossy All Star but the Magadan stood out to me most with all the promise that a “Future Star” holds.
It’s hard to understate how amazing 1988 Score was as a set. Its thunder got stolen by Upper Deck the following year but in terms of paradigm shifts in the hobby, I’d argue that 1988 Score was even bigger.
I had been in the hobby over a year now and had matured greatly as a collector. I no longer browsed the rack packs at Toys R Us for my new cards. Instead I had discovered a local card shop (LCS) located kitty corner from where I had piano lessons. I suspect I begged to go there every weekend and I know my mom indulged me and took me there a lot more than I’d want to take my kids to any such shop now.
My LCS helped me settle into accepting the Topps/Donruss/Fleer hegemony as it stocked wax boxes of all three brands all the way back to 1980. It was my goal to be able to buy and open a pack of each of those.* Then one weekend afternoon I discovered a new brand on the counter.
*I never did buy 1983 Fleer or 1984 Donruss but I did manage to rip a pack of everything else.
The packs weren’t too expensive so of course I bought one.
So much color and those photos. They were like nothing I’d seen before. Batters mid-swing where you could see the baseball as an oblong blur were pretty amazing but the catcher cards were where the set really shone and the Tony Pena was in a class of its own. I didn’t know cards could look like this and that’s before getting to the encyclopedic backs.
What a year. It started off with Gregg Jeffries mania. Quickly became Billy Ripken mania. And by the fall all was forgotten in favor of Ken Griffey Jr mania. For me it was pretty magical. My collecting world changed completely with a trip to Philadelphia and this Donell Nixon autograph which I’ve blogged about before. I also ramped up my collecting by getting team sets of Giants from all the major releases this year.
I looked forward to a lot of the 1990 sets because, despite the loss, I knew the Giants were going to feature in all the World Series cards. I wasn’t disappointed but this Score card caught me by surprise by being willing to recognize the seriousness of the event and how there are things bigger than the game.
In some ways 1990 topped 1989 for me baseballwise. I was that kid who was at the earthquake game. I went to the College World Series. I joined the Baseball Card Club in my Junior High. I was able to afford more cards and actually stay on top of the hobby to my satisfaction. The perfect balance between having money to spend and literally no other interests or obligations to spend it on.
Yeah my Junior High had a baseball card club. We knew better than to bring our cards out during class but during lunch we could buy/trade/rip and enjoy the hobby. I saw some cool pulls but the two big highlights were winning a set of 1990 Upper Deck Extended (I figured out the pattern first) and getting fingerprinted by the police when someone robbed a local card shop and they thought it might be someone in the club.
By 1991 I was deep into the autograph thing. The Stanford Alumni Game was my main event each year and the rapid increase in #1 draft pick cards across the hobby meant that I got excited to see guys I’d been watching at Sunken Diamond the previous spring show up on cards.
I could’ve chosen a number of cards here (I mentioned Steve Chitren in a previous post) but Mussina really captures everything about this year. He’s a guy I watched play in college. He’s a rookie I “invested” in because that’s what we thought we were supposed to do with cards then. And he’s one of my big autograph gets from when I started hitting the Alumni game in earnest.
I had gotten a few of his autographs the previous season* but finding this card in my set of 1991 Score that I got for Christmas** was super exciting and I know I looked forward to bringing it to the Alumni game the next month.***
*I remember him signing my all-session NCAA Regionals ticket and commenting on my being a true fan.
**I had saved up Bazooka comics and redeemed them for a Topps set earlier that year.
***Yup. One of the best things about growing up on the West Coast is that baseball started in January.
It wasn’t just the alumni games. I loved the Team USA cards in Topps Traded and used to set aside all the cards of guys who’d be playing at Stanford* the following spring. Some of this was going a bit crazy with the rookie speculation but it was also still a novelty to have real Topps cards of those guys.
*Either Stanford players, Pac 10 players, or standard opponents like Cal State Fullerton.
Willie Adams is six years older than me. That means nothing now but when I was only barely a teenager? That’s huge. And at 6’7″ he was huge too. I was pushing six feet by then but I remember Willie’s dad asking him to “sign for the little guy” when I approached him with my card.
This was another magical year. The Giants had a fantastic season (shame about the ending). I went to Spring Training for the first time. Lots of autographs and good baseball experiences. But in some ways what I remember most was tormenting my soccer coach with those Hostess Baseballs.
As a soccer player I was supposed to hate baseball. A lot of this was backlash to the way soccer was often portrayed as being “foreign” compared to baseball’s status as an “American” thing but I think it went deeper than that too. Anyway my coach was an inveterate baseball hater AND a health food nut so those Hostess Baseballs had him recoiling in abject horror. I’m surprised I didn’t have to run laps all practice.
I didn’t actually like the cupcakes that much. I preferred chocolate and the baseballs were boring vanilla and just sweet. But they came with cards in the package so I had to buy some.
I found all my 1994 cards in a shoebox last summer. Once the strike hit I dropped everything and none of those have any specific memories attached to them aside from “oh yeah I told this hobby to shove it.”
The only 1994 cards I didn’t shoebox were the Nabisco All Star Legends. Those were still cool and a super-affordable way of getting Hall of Famer autographs. I remember being excited to see who was on the checklist and who I wanted to order. Gibson was a no-brainer when I saw the list this year.
Not a card since I was no longer collecting but I went to Spring Training in 1996* and while I was no longer pursuing autographs in a big way I was still hanging over the rail just in case. Garagiola wasn’t worth a ball for me but I had a bunch of blank cards handy. As a result this was one of a handful of signatures I collected after I gave up the hobby.
*I’d gone in 1993 and 1994 but skipped 1995 for replacement players and anger at the whole thing reasons.
I wasn’t collecting cards but I still enjoyed the Mothers Cookies Stadium Giveaway and trading cards with other fans. Plus that Giants-Dodgers pennant race was fantastic. After a couple of years in the wilderness, the 1997 season kind of brought me back to liking the sport again.
I played hooky from my summer job to go to that late-summer Giants-Dodgers game which Brian Johnson won in extra innings. As exciting as the game-winning home run was, Rod Beck getting out of a bases-loaded jam also brought the crowd to its feet. I miss closers whose out pitches also functioned as double play inducers.
My last year of collecting in any form for almost two decade. I was still going to baseball card day but I was no longer trading cards there. Which is why I found myself with eight Alex Diaz cards when I went through my collection at my parents’ house.
While I still enjoyed going to games, things had started to intrude on my life as I hit the back stretch of college and my summers started to have to be more “productive” as I began to look forward to all the possibilities.
Fast forward 28 years in which I’ve not even really thought about cards and now I’m a stay-at-home dad living in New Jersey with two sons who are just getting into sports. Soccer mostly at this point which is why I don’t have a baseball card here.
Heck, it’s not even a card I own. But that Fall my mom sent my sons each a surprise pack of soccer cards. She’d noticed their burgeoning interest in sports as well and, I suspect, wanted to give me a taste of my own medicine. She mentioned in her letter that she’d gone to the same card shop I used to frequent starting way back in 1988. It was no longer kitty corner to my piano lessons nor was it owned by the same guy, but it was the same shop and according to her felt very familiar.
This caused me to want to visit the store again but also seeing my kids enjoy ripping packs just planted the collecting seed in my head. That my eldest pulled a Messi card—my being a Barcelona fan meant that he actually knew and was excited by the pull—was kind of icing on the cake. It reminded me again how much fun cards were and how much I liked them and totally primed me to be pulled in when the SABR Baseball Cards blog launched later that winter.