Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Indispensable and useless

I have been wise to the ways of the internet for a number of years now. I'll never claim I was there at the beginning. I can't laugh at techies' inside jokes over the early days as they chortle over GeoCities or whatever. Basically, I have no idea what they're saying.

But I do know enough to go online for any number of things that make life more efficient, or at least more bearable. I shop online, communicate online, learn online, you know, the usual.

That's pretty good for an old dog like me who generally stays with the same thing for decades because, duh, it still works.

I'm writing about all of this because today I believe is the last day that the Borders in my town is open. After today, no more book store for miles. If you want books, you hit the library, or go online, or buy a Kindle where the books --- ooooohh -- light up! Pretty!!!

I suppose there is a day in the future when I might buy a Kindle, but it's just as likely that I never will. I've held a book in my hands and I've held a computer/laptop/ipad in my hands, and I have to say, my hands still like the book better. My brain still considers the book the voice of authority and knowledge, even as the computer consistently demonstrates that it can do it quicker and better.

To illustrate, I'll give this one tiny example.

I'm a team collector. I hoard Dodgers. Perhaps you've heard.

Team collecting has gotten very complicated over the years. Somewhere in the mid-1990s, card companies declared all-out war on team collectors and decided to issue multiple and distinct sets and limit each team in the set to about 8 players. So, instead of collecting the traditional number of players in a team set -- like, say, 25, you know, the number of players on a team for many years -- you collected eight, even though there is no baseball team on earth that plays with just eight players.

But card companies knew that team collectors were hopeless addicts and they'd have to complete these "team" sets anyway. Haha, you stupid, stupid, stinking team collector.

To make things more complex, there wasn't a good way to track down all the team sets that were issued. There were so many sets and no way to find them all.

That's what makes teamsets4u.com so fantastic. I remember early in my blogging days someone introducing me to teamsets4u. The site does not have every team set, but I'd say there's a good 95 percent of them there. Teamsets4u made my want list what it is today, and it continues to develop as I'm in the middle of another want list update (I've just hit the mid-1990s, which, believe me, is TORTURE).

I would never know about many, many of these sets without teamsets4u.

So, you're saying, "yeah, so how's your smelly old book going to top that, buster?"

And I say, "it's not going to top it, buster to you, too."

But I still consult my smelly old book. Constantly.

I still consult the Sport Americana Team Baseball Card Checklist, 6th edition. It was issued in 1992 and when I purchased the book and it arrived at my home, I thought I had found the greatest book the hobby has ever known.

Since that day in 1992, I have consulted this book more than any other hobby book ever. More than my monstrous Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, more than any of the many price guides that I have owned, more than any magazine publication.

I admit, the book is limited. First, by the period it was issued. It's 19 years old. Pacific, SP, Metal, Circa, Chrome, Total, Masterpieces, none of that, had been born yet. Second, by its discriminatory nature. It recognizes only Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Upper Deck, Score, Bowman, Goudey, Play Ball, the major stuff.

But for the sets that it does include, it's tremendous. Page after page separated by team, with little check boxes next to each player.

That is glorious.

You would not believe how often I still use this thing. Even though teamsets4u is right at my fingertips and I use it constantly, I still go to the Sport Americana Team Baseball Card Checklist at least 5 or 6 times a week. For the 1975 Topps (it's far out, man) blog, it is invaluable.

I find tracking down a certain card much easier if it's categorized by team. If I can remember a certain player in a certain year, I probably know what team he was with at the time. And it's much easier finding that player by looking up the team than by trying to track down a card number and all the nonsense that goes with that.

(For years, I had owned the book and never realized that there was a "premium card sets" section in the back. It's amusing. A whole separate category for 1990 Leaf and '91 Fleer Ultra and '91 Stadium Club, as if they were too special for inclusion with the rest of the sets).

But one of the best parts of the book -- and this is something that book lovers will understand -- is the FEEL of the book. It's the perfect size for perusing. It's 6x9, with a soft cover that is flexible enough to flip through all 317 pages with ease, but tough enough to stand up to 19 years of searching.

Even after all my gushing, though, I admit, the book is essentially useless. There are probably even better ways than teamsets4u to track down players by team. There's probably a team-collector app created for the smart-phone people already and it'll take me 20 years to figure out that it exists.

I admit it. This book is just not needed.

But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it. That doesn't mean I can't be disappointed that a bookstore is closing (even my tech-loving daughter is disappointed about that).

There are people who will never know or appreciate the feeling of walking between column after column of books, the joy of sitting on the floor with a monster tomb spread out before you, the appreciation of creating book shelves for your home, and the lasting beauty of books standing next to a fireplace.

They'll never know what it's like to grab a Sport Americana Team Baseball Card Checklist (Number 6) with one hand, flap it back and forth a few times, pull it open and say to themselves "let's see, did Charlie Moore have a card in the 1974 Topps set? Let's check the Brewers team set and find out."

Sorry you'll miss out on that.

But I won't. The Sport American Team Baseball Card Checklist is so great, that I can totally ignore the Yankees team checklist on the front.

I think I'll keep it forever.


  1. As you know, I've recently posted my Topps, Upper Deck and Bowman Rangers want lists. Teamsets4u was THE resource for 99% of those lists. Still, I'd love to get my hands on a copy of that beauty.

  2. I keep a digital copy of the SC '08 guide on my computer (left the book in storage in GA), but I really miss my Beckett Almanac (I need to find another one, digital or hard copy). The digital PDF version is okay, but I find it can be tough to navigate compared to a hard copy. I've never had a need for team set lists. Digital is only handy in that it saves physical space. Theoretically, I could put it on my iPod or Blackberry, but a document that detailed just has too much going for it right now. Now, a well-organized database can be quite handy, but nobody's developed one yet.

    If I had the money and time (read: money to hire college kids for data entry) I could put together an app. That would be awesome, and probably not terribly difficult to do, but how many collectors would bring their iPod or iPad to a card show. I might be the only one.

    By the way, if anyone else decides to do this, I claim copyright on the idea and I expect some form of compensation if you sell it!

  3. Ryan G.: Just so you know, I saw a whole heapin' lot of collectors at The National with their iPads close at hand as they thumbed through cards.

    Better get crackin' on that app.

    Night Owl: I agree about books. When we finally find our new home, book shelves stocked with my favorites will be a must. (But, I have to admit, I now have a Kindle too.)

  4. I keep a digital copy of The Card Collector '96 on my computer. It's great for searching on players or teams...but only goes to 1996. Teamsets4u is vital after that.

  5. Thank you for the tip on the teamsets4u site!
    I had been using my big giant Topps Baseball Card picture book all these years, and somewhere like checkoutmycards or tradingcarddb for the years after 85 (which I don't really collect much anyway).

  6. As useful as this book, the online Beckett Price Guide, SCD's Standard Catalog and TeamSets4U are, I've found that you really need to use a combination of all four -- as well as sites like VintageCardPrices.com -- in order to find everything team-related. Even then, you may still find stuff that isn't listed anywhere. For 30 years now, the Phillies have issued team sets and none of them are listed on those sites. I believe it's now nearly impossible for any collector to know all the available cards for collecting a team or an individual player.

  7. Thank you for posting this Night Owl, I do appreciate it. I've been looking around for a site that has all the team checklists, and this is the best that I've come across.

  8. The guy who runs TeamSets4U is named Jeff, and he's a personal friend of mine. A great hobby guy, too.

    As for that book, I have that one sitting right here on my own hobby shelf. And right next to it...is a football/basketball edition that was the foundation for my Steelers wantlist.