(Greetings, and Happy Moldy Cheese Day. That's right, every Oct. 9th, we celebrate the wonders of moldy cheese. I happen to be a noted fan of moldy cheese. When I was a kid, Santa would actually put blue cheese in my stocking. That's how much I like it. Anyway, time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 189th in a series):
It's been a rough few months for cardboard heroes.
Three of my favorites have passed on since July. First there was George "Boomer" Scott, the man who taught me the meaning of the home run. Then there was Johnny "Yatcha" Logan, who grew up in my hometown. And then there was William "Gates" Brown, who went to jail but smiled at me from his 1975 Topps card the first year I collected.
All of them are gone.
And now, the guy who graces the first card in the first Topps set has died at age 92.
Pafko's status as an iconic baseball card has been handed down from collector to collector these past 60 years. There might be more myth to royalty when it comes to the actual worth of a 1952 Andy Pafko card. After all, '52 Topps isn't really Topps' first set. And Pafko's status as the No. 1 card in the set merely makes him a low-number common. Everyone knows the elite cards in the '52 set reside in the 300-400 area code.
Then there is this bit of business about the first and last card in the set. Supposedly, every collector on the planet in the 1950s stacked their cards in order by the number on the back. They would -- every last one of them -- put Pafko's card No. 1 on the top. And then they would, I don't know, maybe scrub the floor with the stack, Pafko card facing downward.
Yup, whatever they did, that Pafko card, rest assured, was the most beat-up in the entire set. Pafko was just a magnet for cardboard pain. Not Gordon Goldsberry or Sam Jethroe. Nope, Pafko was always the clumsy one who would get bent, mangled or hole-punched.
It's a bit difficult for me to believe that Pafkos were treated much more harshly than any of the other 1952. Based on my own experience as a card-collecting kid, I rarely stacked cards by number. I usually ordered them by team, or sometimes by batting average. Not once do I remember the Batting Leaders card in the 1977 set sitting on top of my stack.
So, Pafko's ability to show up in dynamite shape may be a little bit of a tall tale. Sure, it's a rarity. But probably only because it's a 61-year-old card with sticker shock. Once the baby boomer dealers leave this earth, it's possible Pafko's card will be more affordable to you and me.
But I already have my own '52 Pafko, acquired, it now turns out, in the very year of the player's death. I will always get a thrill looking at that card.
And whether Pafko's status as a cardboard icon is overinflated, he'll always be considered No. 1 by some collector, somewhere.
RIP, "Handy Andy."
You're safe from those rubber bands now.