Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hall of Famers collect cards, too

The Baseball Hall of Fame's official magazine, "Memories and Dreams," is delivered to my newspaper office about six times a year.

Most of the time it doesn't have anything to do with my job, but I'm interested in baseball, so I take it home and read it. There's not a lot to it: a few stories about Hall of Famers and exhibits. Some stuff I knew, some stuff I didn't.

But the magazine that arrived the other day drew my attention. It was all about baseball cards. The cover features the T206 Honus Wagner. And there are articles about the Wagner card, Jefferson Burdick (known as the father of card collecting), Sy Berger and baseball card exhibits at the Hall of Fame.

There's also a story about the explosion of sports memorabilia and card shops in Cooperstown. People who have attended the induction ceremonies recently can't help but notice them. But when I was a kid, there weren't very many memorabilia shops when we visited. Later, I returned to Cooperstown in the mid-1990s after a long time away and, I couldn't believe how many stores sold cards.

But my favorite article in the magazine is about Hall of Famers' stories about card collecting. I really enjoy hearing about major league players collecting cards. Bo of Baseball Cards Come to Life does a nice job with this. I admit, I haven't heard of half the players he tracks down to interview about cards, but they're all very interesting.

The Hall of Fame magazine article, "Faces on the Cards," is similar, although the players being interviewed are all Hall of Famers. Some like, Phil Niekro, Dave Winfield, Gaylord Perry and Paul Molitor are quoted about their reaction the first time they saw themselves on cards.

But I like it when the Hall of Famers talk about collecting cards as kids. Here are some of their quotes from the magazine:

Brooks Robinson: "I collected cards, but they weren't necessarily baseball cards. I still have everything pasted in my scrapbooks. Prizefighters, movie stars; they were the kind you had to put a wet towel on to make them come through to see them."

I have no idea what Brooks is talking about. Wet towels? You sure did some crazy things back in the day.

Orlando Cepeda: "I still have all my cards. Every time a new one comes out, they send it to me."

That's great news. It always bothers me when a ballplayer says they used to collect but no longer do. Or that they tossed their cards. It sounds like they're saying, "I've grown up now, I don't need cards." That, to me, is sad. I'm glad Cepeda knows you don't have to be a kid to collect cards.

Billy Williams: "All you wanted as a kid was the bubblegum, but you could attach the cards to your bikes with a clothespin and have a motorbike. I probably put some Mickey Mantle cards on my bike."

I do remember being obsessed with candy and gum as a kid. It was the ultimate goal of childhood. Sugar was king. Even over baseball.

Mike Schmidt: "I had a normal amount of cards, but I loved the gum. Five cards and square piece of bubble gum came in a pack and I can still smell the gum."

More with the gum.

Rollie Fingers: "I stared collecting cards when I was 7. I lived in Ohio and it was 1951 or 1952. But I lost all of them on a clothespin clipped to a bicycle wheel. I bet there was a Mickey Mantle rookie card in there, so that is quite an expensive bicycle."

You're killing me, Rollie. Mantle clipped to your bike? I must have been a strange kid, because I never put any baseball cards on my bike.

Robin Yount: "I had maybe 100 (cards), but most of them ended up in our bicycle spokes. My favorites were Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle."

There is an interview with Yount about baseball cards in the old "Baseball Cards Magazine" from the 1980s. It's much more in-depth. I should re-read that some day.

Monte Irvin: "My two brothers and I collected cards. We had a trunk in the basement which contained 1,000 cards. My brother, Cal, would count his weekly to be certain all of his remained in the trunk."

My favorite story. I have two brothers, too. And we made damned sure that we had all our cards at all times.

There are some other interesting quotes, about how Bobby Doerr's wife threw out his card collection, about how Dick Williams' son gave away his collection -- which include some Mantles -- to a boy down the street whose father had died.

Anyway, Bo, keep doing what you're doing. It's reassuring to know that the guys who actually made the majors were just like us when they were kids.


  1. I second the Bo acclaim. I love reading about all of those guys, from the long time major leaguers to the minor league flameouts. It's pretty cool that so many guys answer those questions for him - I'm always impressed.

  2. I got the same magazine last week; I guess I'll have to take a few minutes to actually look through it. :)

  3. When I think of all the cards that gave their lives in bicycle spokes...why couldn't it be the junk wax generation that discovered that? It is nice to know that ballplayers were, and some still are, collectors.

  4. The cards-in-the-bicylcle-spokes thing has always facinated me. I started collecting in earnest in 1976 at the age of 10. By then (at least in my neighborhood) baseball cards were far too sacred to clip to your bike. Must've been more of a 50s and 60s thing.

  5. I did the bicycle spokes thing in my early years of collecting (74-76), but I made sure the cards that were sacrificed were doubles.

  6. When I went to Cooperstown about three years ago, I spent a lot of money on baseball cards.

    Me and the boyfriend call it Baseballtown. Sigh.

  7. These are great stories.
    Thanks for the kind words!

  8. My issue just arrived today, and looks like a cover to cover read.

    Thanks for tipping me off to it.

    Cooperstown is baseball card shop heaven! My favorite shop is the one that has the prize wheel, where you can win even more cards, but I forget what it's called. It's the only shop I ever actually pull any decent cards from, and their pack prices are reasonable.