In 1975 I was 12 years old, and obsessed with baseball. During that summer my brother and a couple of friends decided we were each going to attempt to build complete sets of that year’s baseball cards. And we were going to do it the only way we knew how: by buying pack after pack after pack of cards. They went for 15 cents each that year, which is equal to about 75 cents in today’s money.
This became an obsession for me and my friend Steve. Some of the others were less enthusiastic, and a couple dropped out without completing the task. I remember typing, on an old manual typewriter, my own homemade checklist. There were 660 cards in the set, and I sat down and typed in long columns every number between 1 and 660. Then I began marking the numbers off as I purchased more and more packs.
By the time we reached a point where we each only needed thirty or forty cards we could buy many packs and not get any of the ones we needed. Of course we traded with each other and helped one another as best as we could. But there was a time, late in the season, when we were all buying tons of baseball cards and not moving the needle whatsoever. Plus, it felt like every pack I opened included the Los Angeles Dodgers pretty-boy Steve Garvey, and it was maddening. “Not Garvey again!!” I’d scream, standing outside Wagner’s Market, or Bowen’s Pharmacy. We were beginning to panic, because time was running out. And fucking Steve Garvey and his freakish forearms taunted us again and again.
But we powered through and completed our sets without resorting to mail order or anything of the sort. And the weird thing? By the end we weren’t chasing stars, or household names. No, it was obscure sumbitches on teams we didn’t care about. I feel like Topps purposely printed fewer of a handful of random players to take advantage of nerds like us. It was crazy! By the end of the summer I was spending almost all of my paper route money on baseball cards. Indeed, we were buying out all the stores of their entire stock, and would have to ask our parents to take us to neighboring towns to buy cards. At K-Mart and Murphy’s Mart they had these see-through display packs, which hung on pegs. But you could see six cards in each of them: three on the front and three on the back. Man… we plundered those bastards like the addicts we were. If one of your missing cards was visible it was like Christmas morning.
My brother, Steve and I completed our sets. Everybody else quit or came up short. And it was one of the most exciting and enjoyable summers o’ my young childhood. So much fun! Eventually we bought plastic sheets and put the cards into notebooks, and I still love those things. Just looking at them makes me happy deep down.
Then it got even crazier. We started buying cards through the mail, participating in auctions and subscribing to magazines about the hobby. The two main mags were Sports Collectors Digest (still around today!) and The Trader Speaks (long gone). I remember early in the process we found out about some outfit in Dearborn, MI, called The Trading Card Company. They had some kind deal where you sent them a small amount of money and they’d send you a random card from a long time ago. The first one I received was for a player I didn’t know — Moe Drabowsky — but it was from 1957. And man, that was like receiving a jolt of electricity. I romanticized the shit out of that card, imagining some kid having it before me, back during the Eisenhower era, and it just blew my mind. So cool! It almost felt like time travel.
And that was how it started. Steve and I went into it full-on. For a few years it’s all I thought about. I was quite literally obsessed. My Dad took my brother and me to a baseball card convention near Cincinnati one year, and I bought a complete set of 1954 Red Man tobacco cards. I occasionally ran display ads in Sports Collectors Digest, at the age of 13 or 14, and was just running wide open on that shit. I used to place ads in the local Penny Saver too, and bought cards off people all around the area. WANTED TO BUY! People couldn’t believe it that somebody would hand them cash for those old cards in the back of the closet. This was before the hobby became so insane. Most people still thought of it as something for kids.
But eventually it did become insane, and I tapped out. Prices went way up, and I couldn’t afford it anymore. Also, I became more interested in beer, music, and girls. Not necessarily in that order. But it was a great run. There’s something primal inside me that still gets very excited by old baseball cards. Just looking at that Drabowsky card, for instance, does something to me.
Did you ever catch the collecting bug? Steve still has it, and never really quit. He travels all over and is still deeply involved in sports collectables. He has an enormous collection. What have you collected? Did you ever reach the point where it was a true obsession? Or was it always fairly casual? Tell us about it, won’t you? Use the comments section.
And I’m calling it a day, my friends. As is the tradition, I’ll now link to the latest podcast episode right here. In it I share a long list of things I’ve never done. Check it out, if you’re so inclined.
And I’ll see you guys again soon.
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I was into baseball cards, KISS cards, Welcome Back Kotter cards, Start Wars cards, etc. I think I only have one card now. (Mark Fidrych)
I decided to do the same bit later in life. I picked up a 1990 Donruss Series 2 wax pack from the convenience store while on break from work every day that summer. Eventually I realized I had ALMOST enough to make a complete set. Then it became an obsession.
I would skip the Coke and candy to buy more wax packs. I got all but one- Kansas City Catcher Mike MacFarlane. I never could get one and the store stopped getting shipments, so I took 10-15 of my (many) duplicates to a card shop hoping to trade 1-1 or 3-1 (at worst).
I told the owner I wanted to trade for a ’90 MacFarlane. He asked what I had so I showed him everything I had, thinking he would pick out a couple.
He took the MacFarlane (priced at $2 I think) out of the case, handed it to me, and put ALL my cards in the case. I was stunned that he did that but so happy to finally complete my “set” that I didn’t argue with him.
I knew I wasn’t giving up anyone special, but seriously dude?
For decades I’ve been aimlessly accumulating (not collecting) books, records, CDs, etc.
And of course I’m collecting years, pounds and dust.
So, what’s up with your cards now, Jeff? Are it worth anything? Would you sell if the price was right? And what did you do with all of the extras you bought as you attempted to complete your set?
I collect trinkets from people I’ve worked with (murdered).
I mildly collected baseball cards, basketball cards, football cards. I found some card with a trophy on it in one pack and sold it to the card shop for several hundred dollars. I was interested mainly from a money-making perspective. Today I “collect” antique wooden boxes. I probably have 50 of them.
Not Oprah says
I am the opposite of a collector. I hate having things that can’t be useful, probably because I move alot. Doesn’t mean I don’t admire other people that collect things. If I did stay put and collect, I might have old useful tools (farm related) from many different countries.
When I was a kid, I like those little ceramic critters in the Tetley tea boxes.
Not Oprah says
Maybe it was Red rose.
vs. Row? Two ways across the stream.
The tea is Red Rose. The figurines are Wade. Wade made lots of figurines, including a moose and a squirrel. Moose and squirrel; always moose and squirrel.
Not Oprah says
Yep – but I recall my favourite was the turtle.
I have been collecting women over the past 4 years, since my wife decided to leave me. They range from 22 years old to 65 years old, and I sickly write them down, as you typed them out. 56 in four years. There was a year in there I was faithful to ex gf who just died, but I was just slaying! So let us us just say 55 in three years. I do not regret it. Being single again was good for my morale, and reckless lifestyle made me wish I could have done it sooner. I have a part time gf now, and live in a 3 br 2 b alone. She has a whole brood, and i am not inviting that into my house. I am not going to be around much longer, but i have no regrets. That is my collection.
I also collected baseball cards when young. I remember how I lost my entire collection flipping cards on a class trip one time. It didn’t take me long to recoup though. Then, when I was 18 and obsessed with girls, I decided I didn’t need that “kid stuff” anymore so I trashed the whole collection. Still kicking myself over that. So many future hall-of-famers from ’68-’77 in there.
I also collected sports stars’ autographs when a kid. I would write a heartfelt letter to the athlete and explain how much I liked them and they (publicity people?) would send me an autographed picture, sometimes a photocopy but sometimes a hand-signed picture. I still have those, Bobby Orr, Walt Frazier and others.
Then, when I was older, Coors used to make a Winterfest version of their beer, only available during the holiday season (at least in NJ anyway). Each year the label was different, with the current year on it. I collected a bottle each year for about 10 years and then I stopped being able to find it. Don’t know if they stopped making it or just selling it in my area. Eventually I trashed that collection too. Not much of a pack rat, lol.
2001 was a crazy year for the Seattle Mariners, who play their home games 25 miles up the road from my house. It was a veteran team: Dan Wilson, John Olerud and Bret Boone were all 32, Mark McLemore and Jay Buhner were both 36, and Edgar Martinez, Norm Charlton and Jamie Moyer were all 38. Oh, and there was a 27 year old rookie from across the western pond named Ichiro Suzuki.
Jay Buhner, who Ichiro was replacing in right field, graciously volunteered to teach the rookie English. Jay proceeded to school Ichiro in every vulgar, profane, obscene and objectional word he knew, and Jay knows them all. This became the genesis of Ichiro’s annual All-Star speech, famous throughout the American League, and reported here by Yahoo Sports in 2008:
Oh, yeah, and they won 116 games. And Ichiro was named Rookie of the Year and AL MVP. He hit .350 and made this throw the first week of the season, just to let other teams know he could do it:
With all the baseball talk in the air, I started buying wax packs of cards just for the hell of it: I probably got 100 Mariner cards and just stashed them away, discarding the other cards.
This year I was selling off (on Ebay) some of the crap I’ve accumulated over a life of excess, when I came across the 2001 Mariners stash and found seven Ichiro rookie cards. So I put them on Ebay one at a time, and they went for $40 to $50 apiece. Not a king’s ransom, but better than putting them in my bicycle spokes. And I got to relive that wonderful season of 19 years ago, when I was younger and Ichiro learned to curse like a sailor.
Ian in Scotland says
We used to collect football (soccer) cards across here. Scottish, English teams. European teams. World Cup. A lot of football cards. The big deal involved with this was when it was arranged with classmates, girls were invariably intrigued by the whole routine, to bring our stacks of cards into school to swap/trade. With the cards being dealt into piles of ‘got’ and ‘not got’, the trading could begin. These meetings were best kept secret. Lest some other mink catch wind, and try to weasel in on the action.
There was also a ritual where word would get out that ‘Angus McGrath (insert name here) is having a scrammy!’ This meant that Angus McGrath had turned his back on the card collecting brotherhood, and was going to to toss his stack into the air in front of the assembled pack! The result of this act of wholly equitable sacrifice (though it was well known that deals were frequently done beforehand. The likes of Pele or Karl-Heinz Rummenigge would never see the filthy hands of the horde! ) would be a frenetic scramble, or’ scrammy’, of fanatics chasing the airborne gold. Some people would be hurt.
This is true.
Adults mainly don’t collect sports cards here.
That was my favorite podcast ever, Jk. Except for the ice skating things you have never done, I have done the exact opposite, including the skydiving. Maybe that is why I am a mental and physical trainwreck now. I hope you and yours have a great Christmas! That is right! It is fucking Merry Christmas! Not that bullshit Happy Holidays the PC police came up with years ago! Merry Christmas, my old friend!