Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Card-collecting lifer

You hear a lot about "baseball lifers." Those are the guys who play the game professionally, then go into coaching or managing and spend the rest of their time on this earth doing good baseball works until they're carted out or called home.

But baseball lifers are good for yet another activity. It's one that lets me know exactly how long I've been collecting cards.

What I like to do each year is find a person in major league baseball who has a current card and then find a card of that same person from my very earliest days of collecting. It has to be a card that I pulled back then. Then I add up all the years in between and that gives me an indication of three things:

1. The player has been working in professional baseball for ages.
2. I have been collecting cards for ages.
3. Everybody is way too damn old.

Last year, two specific people pointed out how long I've been collecting cards. I pulled Topps cards of  managers, Dusty Baker and Cito Gaston. Both were players during the first year that I collected cards in 1975, and I pulled cards of each person that year. Baker was a mini card and Gaston was the regular version.

So from 1975 to 2009, from Baker to Baker and Gaston to Gaston, that has been 34 years that I have been doing this. (I did take a bit of break between about 1994 and 2006, but really the only years that I did not purchase one single pack of current cards was 1996 and 1999).

This year, Topps Series 1 does not feature manager cards. Heritage does, but I have not pulled Baker or Gaston. I do have a Heritage Joe Torre card, but I never pulled the 1975 Torre card, so Torre is excluded (same goes for Lou Piniella and Jerry Manuel).

However, on Saturday, when I received the Albuquerque Isotopes team set from Kris, one card stood out for this exercise.

It's the Isotopes' pitching coach Jim Slaton. The same guy who is on the 1975 card at the top of the post. Slaton's 1975 card was one of my favorites from that set and I marveled over it as a 9-year-old. Notice that Slaton has kept his uniform number, 41, all this time.

Slaton has coached in the minor leagues for quite awhile for a variety of teams since his playing career ended in 1986. He's good friends with Orioles manager Dave Trembley. When I talked to Trembley, he praised Slaton's baseball attributes. Unfortunately, I was never able to get ahold of Slaton.

But for 2010, Slaton  is the guy who marks the passage of card-collecting time. Until I get a card of Baker or Gaston, he is the living example of how long I have been devoted to this hobby. It is now at 35 years (36 years if you count the few packs of 1974 cards that we threw out at the end of the summer).

Slaton's a baseball lifer. I am a card-collecting lifer.

There are the two cards together to show 35 years of collecting. I'm sure if Mr. Slaton stumbles across this, I just made him feel old.

I haven't been doing this for nearly as long as a lot of people. I'm sure someone who has been collecting since the '50s could pull out a '50s Don Zimmer card and a Don Zimmer coaching card and proclaim he collected Zimmer pre-gerbil, gerbil and post-gerbil. But when you get to your late 30s and into your 40s, you start realizing that you're not 25 anymore. And that people actually look at you as a voice of experience. Which is pretty damn scary.

Age plays funny tricks and it has a mind of its own. But after Sunday's news of Jose Lima's unfortunate death at age 37, I'm happy that I still can enjoy this hobby amid those both younger and older than me. And really, how old can someone who still collects cards and plays video games possibly be?


  1. I'll be 40 soon...are you saying I'm NOT still 25? I knew something was wrong...

    Great connection between the years. A very thought provoking post.

  2. Great post.

    I'm not looking forward to the day that Jamie Moyer retires. I think he's the last active major leaguer who made his debut before I started collecting cards.

  3. It's all in the mind. I'm happier and healthier today than I was 10 years ago.

  4. The trekkie in me appreciates the Isotopes' logo.

    I have a 1981 Donruss uncut sheet on the wall of my classroom. A couple of my students marveled about how young Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox looked in 1981.

  5. Baseball Lifer's are a great topical collection. Funny you should mention Don Zimmer. I started my Don Zimmer collection specifically because he is a lifer, and his baseball cards span 6 decades. Check out www.collectingzim.com for a baseball lifer's collection!