Monday, December 15, 2008

The center of my card universe

I enjoyed writing my first blog bat around post so much that I couldn't wait to write the second one. Until, that is, I began thinking about the subject. I kept getting hung up on the definition of "centerpiece," defining it as a single card or item. "What would that be?" I thought.

I have several decent cards in my collection, nothing great: the '82 Traded Cal Ripken rookie card, a signed '61 Sandy Koufax card, the '55 Sandy Koufax rookie card (don't get excited; it's beat to hell), a couple of '50s Willie Mays cards, a couple of '50s Duke Snider cards. Autos of Podres, Killebrew and Feller. But each time I thought of one of those, they didn't seem like centerpieces to me. The value I place on those cards comes from the value that others place on them.

Then it struck me: "You're a set-builder, idiot. What's your favorite set of all-time?" It's the first thing that should have crossed my mind when I read gellman's question. Duh! The centerpiece of my collection is my 1975 Topps set. It is the first set I collected as a kid, and completing it was my first mission upon returning to the hobby about four years ago. It is one of the classic card sets of all-time, one that I've written about several times already.

The complete set sits in a binder and I have continually upgraded it over the years. Each time I go to a card show I look to see if I can improve any of my '75s (finding a decent Reds team card is a bitch).

But I also have another binder of '75s. Those '75s are holdovers from the spring and summer when I was 9 years old, about to turn 10. I've held onto most of the cards that I bought that year. There are 70 of them.

Every card is scuffed and the corners are so rounded that you could take the upper right edge of any one and peel the front right off the card. Many of them are creased. But I won't get rid of them, even though I have a complete set of shiny, sharp-cornered ones, because those battered cards are the only concrete reminder (besides Polaroids sitting in my mother's photo albums) that I was once 9 years old.

What follows is a look at some of my '75 cards, through the eyes of a 9-year-old growing up in 1975 in Upstate New York. I'll begin with the original cards I collected, then move onto the newer ones, just because several cards I collected that year have since disappeared.

These three cards were in the first pack of baseball cards I ever bought. I don't remember every card in that pack, but I do remember that these three were in it. Ron LeFlore's rookie card is the best of the bunch. Knowles is airbrushed into a Cubs cap while posing in Oakland's stadium.

These three cards were some of the 30 or 40 that I traded for with my best friend in fourth grade. They were the first trades I ever made. I couldn't tell you what I gave my friend in exchange. The Ruthven card was one of my favorites of the entire set. It looks like he has no right hand.

These three cards were in a pack purchased by my father. I was sick and either had to go to the hospital or the doctor's during the evening. On the way home, we stopped at a drug store and he bought me a pack of cards and let me pick out a candy bar (I remember it was called "Milkshake"). I was more excited about the candy bar than the cards at the time.

These three came in a couple of packs that were purchased while on vacation in Western New York. A couple of times, my brothers and I would leave the hotel we were staying in and walk down to the drug store in the small town where we were. I can't imagine a lot of parents letting their kids walk alone like that these days. The Maddox card was another one of my favorites (My hatred for the Giants hadn't quite kicked in yet). The Gamble card, of course, is an icon. But we didn't give it much thought then.

These three cards were part of a pack that I shoplifted from a drug store. That's right, they are stolen goods. My first experience with lying, stealing and deception. I told my parents I found them on the street. It doesn't exactly make me feel good owning them, but I was the subject of a bit of karmic payback later that year.

One of the cards in that pilfered pack was the Hank Aaron card. Later that summer, one of my friends had the card of Ron Cey, my favorite player ever. I HAD to have that card. So I traded the Aaron card for it. My friend got the better of that deal and I no longer had the Aaron card that I obtained by dishonest means. And what about that Cey that was obtained with stolen property? I lost that card. I ended up having to purchase both the Aaron and Cey cards when I collected the set almost 30 years later. That's karma.

Here are three cards that would amuse only a 9-year-old. The Locklear card horrified my friends and I. We would play games in which we would trade away other cards and try to slip the Locklear card in with the traded cards. When the other person saw the Locklear card they'd throw it back at the prankster in horror. The Frias card just cracked us up because his name was "Pepe" and his batting average was about .213. The Lee Richards card amused us because of the bio on the back. In a single line it said: "'Bee Bee' has great speed." That's it. Talk about brevity being the soul of wit. That one line had us in hysterics.

These are three cards that I loved as a 9-year-old, and looking back at them now, I couldn't tell you why. Respectable players all, but they're not stars, the photos don't stand out. But I loved them. I carried the Foster card around with me when I went to school.

These three are '75 minis. I have about 100 of the mini cards, all purchased in 1975. I haven't made an attempt to find more or to upgrade any. The cards were sold at the corner grocery store that sat across from my elementary school. I'm still not sure if these cards are rarer than the regular cards. I'm guessing they are because I don't see them as much.

OK, on to the upgraded cards that also tell stories of my 9-year-old existence:

I'm not 100 percent sure, but this could be the first card I ever pulled in a pack of cards that I bought myself. I definitely know it was in the first pack I bought. I followed Hiller's career for awhile because of that fact, and I've always liked the Tigers.

I KNOW this is the first Dodger I ever pulled from a pack of cards. I would carry the Yeager card with me to school every day, too. For a long time it was the only Dodger card I had, until I traded for a Geoff Zahn card.

Three cards that were owned by, ewwwww, a girl: My parents were good friends with this couple with two daughters. And over the years we'd see each other constantly. The two girls became our best friends. We'd see them every Christmas eve and plenty of days in between. The older girl collected baseball cards a little. Eventually, she graduated to other pursuits, like constantly playing "Frampton Comes Alive" in her bedroom. I have no idea where she or her sister are these days. But I do remember that they owned cards of Soderholm, Ellis and Leon.

Three cards of players who looked like girls: We may not have noticed Oscar Gamble's fro, but we did notice that these players and a number of others in the '75 set looked suspiciously like women (in the case of Sanders -- well, in the case of ALL of them -- really ugly women). I don't know how many times we'd say, "She looks like a girl."

Finally, more of my favorites from that set:

Cecil Cooper. Long before I heard of Dinged Corners and collecting cards of players who were smiling I loved this card. I always hoped Cooper would become a star just based on this card. I was thrilled when he did end up a great first baseman with Milwaukee.

I saw this card during my first visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame, in which they had all of the '75 cards displayed. I loved it. Eventually, I ordered it through a catalog, along with a few other '75 cards.

This is another one of the cards that I ordered. Roy White is probably my favorite Yankee ever. Childhood is full of role-playing, and invariably when I was pretending to be someone, my name was "Roy." All because of Mr. White.

Johnny Bench was such a superstar in 1975 and his card was so coveted that when I pulled the card I was half freaked. When I held it in my hands I was afraid someone would see it and snatch it away, or a gust of wind would carry it away, or the card would spontaneously disintegrate because I was unworthy of its greatness.

These three cards have been subjects of blog posts already. You can read about them here, and here, and here.

All of this love for '75 may lead you to ask if I've ever thought of starting a 1975 Topps blog. You bet I have, but I can't because I barely have enough time to keep this one afloat.

So, this post will have to do. This is my tribute to the '75 Topps set in one handy post.

As for the other questions that gellman suggested I might want to answer:

How'd I get it: Well, when I collected the entire set in 2004-05, I went to area card stores, card shows, traded for a few cards and bought about 25 on eBay.
How much did it cost: I have no idea. In the hundreds of dollars.
What is the value today: Well, the set books for around 600 dollars. I'm not sure how much I could actually get for it. I don't intend to find out.
Would I ever sell it: Yeah. If I was living in a box on the street.

This binder is the one thing I'd save in my card collection if the house was burning down. Now, I hear you asking, what if I had to choose between the binder that had the full set of cards and the one that had the ones that I collected when I was 9? That's a terrible question to ask. But I'd go for the new cards. I'm sentimental, but I'm not stupid.


  1. easily my favorite of the 2nd bat around posts i have read thus far - keep up the great work Greg

  2. Great post! Its refreshing to hear your stories about actually enjoying the cards when you were a kid and not worrying about how much they book for which is what I'm afraid most kids do.(the few left that still collect anyway).

    The Locklear story was great. I can just imagine you and your friends trying to come up with ways to each stick each other with the Locklear card.

    Its great to see that although you've upgraded the set that you haven't completely lost touch with the actual cards that first introduced you to this set.

  3. Dang it, I should the done the set thing like you did. I wouldn't have had to rack my brain out picking an actual card if I did it that way. Awesome post.


    JayBee Anama

  4. Like man, you gave me a flashback !
    The 75's were always a favorite of mine. Somehow the sunshine was always brighter, the grass greener and the names more interesting.

    That Bert Campaneris is a perfect example. Cards like that, and names like Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers were more influence than stats.

    Great "AT BAT" !

  5. I love that Vida Blue card. One of my favorites. Love this set too mostly because of remembering it from my childhood.