Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The first thing that comes to my mind

Memory is a big deal when you're my age. Holding on to memories -- or even simply being able to remember -- isn't as easy of a task as it was even 10 years ago.

In fact, memory is constantly on my mind. So much so that sometimes when someone my age is recalling something that happened -- and I don't remember it, too -- I wonder if there might be something wrong. That's ridiculous hypochondriac behavior, of course, but it does make me run to the bookshelf and do a crossword puzzle or two to build up those brain cells.

One of the major reasons I collect baseball cards right now is so I can hang on to those memories of those happy times when I was a kid collecting cards. I'm long past the "next shiny set" and "the latest pull." It's all about cardboard memories for me now.

In an effort to preserve those precious memories that -- who knows? -- may disappear forever in a few decades, I thought I'd do a little exercise here. I thought I'd record my first memories of a number of sets from the past. The first things that come to my mind when I see those sets.

A lot of this I've written about here before so you may move on to the next blog if you're not interested in me wallowing. This is for posterity anyway, so that when I'm in the nursing home trying to figure out who I am, someone can call this post up and say, "See? You used to like baseball cards."

Here we go:

1956 Topps: I will forever picture myself sitting at the dining room table of my parents' house -- I was seated facing the one wall without windows -- and dividing up with my brothers all the mid-1950s cardboard that was spread out on the table before me. I can say without much fear of contradiction that this was the giddiest I ever was or ever will be about baseball cards.

1969 Topps (1968 Topps is also included here): The first thing I think of is sitting on my friend's porch as my other friend showed off the late 1960s/early 1970s cards -- mostly from 1969 -- that his older brother gave him. My brother and I were witnessing 1969 cards for the first time at that moment. And we quickly dealt away our 1978 Yankees in exchange for some great 1969 cards. Since then, I've probably acquired maybe only 20 more '69 Topps beyond those originals I saw on that porch.

1972 Topps (1973 Topps is included here, too): I remember my friend Jamie had a handful of '72s when we came over to his house to play. He must have discovered baseball cards earlier than my brother and I did. The loud 1972 design appealed to me right away and although it didn't make me run right out and buy baseball cards (this was probably around 1973), these '72 cards to me are what every baseball card should look like. The '72 design is the original template for baseball cards as far as I'm concerned.

1974 Topps: I can picture myself sitting or squatting in my bedroom. My bedroom jutted out in one spot, which is where my desk was, and I was in front of my desk. I am either opening the cello packs my mother got me and my brother from the grocery store or I am leafing through the cards I just pulled out of those packs. They are the first cards I ever owned.

1975 Topps: God, so many memories, it's difficult to settle on the first one. But I do remember opening those first packs (no memory of how I bought them). I'm sitting on the edge of my bed in that same bedroom and I'm looking through the cards as I look out the window. My house was on a hill and when you looked out the window, you could see the city, all the way to downtown. I must have felt like a king, opening cards that I had purchased for the first time, looking out on my kingdom.

1976 Topps: Most memories of '76 center on my friend Mario. And the first thing I think of is sitting at a desk with my friend, he on the left side and me on the right. The desk was facing a wall. We were in an experimental classroom where there were tables and desks scattered throughout three rooms -- and a kid or two at each one. Mario and I would bring our cards in and look at them when the roaming teacher wasn't near us and then slip them underneath the desk when she was.

1977 Topps: Possibly the peak collecting year in terms of the most people I knew who collected cards (outside of 2008-present when I joined the card blog world, of course). Half my classroom collected cards. But we were 11 and some kids couldn't be trusted. My first memory is sneaking into the classroom after everyone had gone to lunch, opening some kid's desk (the kind where the desk top was a lid) and stealing BACK the cards that a kid had stolen from ME.

1978 Topps: My first memory is when my brother received his order of the entire 726-card Topps set in the mail. I can remember him opening the box (it was the first time I had ever seen one of those long card boxes that everyone knows very well). And I can remember marveling at the sight of 726 perfectly mint cards all in one place. Nothing to chase, nothing to collect. It was glorious ... and just a teeny tiny little bit sad.

1980 Topps: By now, I was a veteran collector and the first thing I can think of is the frustration of trying to complete this set. I remember sitting in the basement of our house, looking through a binder of the set and counting with disgust how many cards I was missing.

1981 Fleer: My first memory is standing in the corner market, Monroe Market, trying not to look at the covered Playboy magazines that were just above where the cards were displayed, when this red wrapper with the yellow letters "Fleer" caught my attention. "What is THIS?" I thought. There was nothing to inform us that two new companies were issuing cards in 1981. We just went to the market one day and these things called Fleer and Donruss were suddenly next to Topps. It was so weird. A lot weirder than the magazine girl making eyes at me.

1984 Topps: That thing that my brother experienced in 1978? I would experience it in 1984. It was my first year in college and a high school friend I knew had a complete set to sell me for like 15 dollars. I can remember standing in the quad area of the community college that I attended. I had just walked out of the library. My friend is handing me that long white box and I'm handing him the $15.

1988 Topps: In my final year of college by now, I had barely collected in previous years. But each year I'd buy a pack or two to see what the cards looked like. I remember opening my only pack of 1988 Topps at my grandmother's. This Phil Lombardi card was one of the cards in the pack. I remember wondering who Phil Lombardi was (I still do) and a distinct "so these are this year's cards, I'm not impressed" feeling. I wouldn't buy another card until the following year.

1989 Topps: I'll always remember stopping at that drug store in the strip mall in Buffalo to buy a few more packs of '89 Topps, doing whatever it took to complete the set -- without buying a complete set. I would usually stop there in the afternoon before I had to go into work. And I think there was a Mel Hall card in every pack.

1991 Score (this also goes for just about every card product issued between 1991-93): I can recall standing in line at the drug store -- this time in another strip mall -- near my apartment, waiting to pay for my cards. I would usually buy cards and a Hockey News or Sporting News, along with whatever everyday items I needed. I think this is when I was at my peak of "mindless consumption."

2006 Topps: If you were to ask me my first memories of card sets between 1994-2005, I could tell you maybe one -- seeing cards of 1998 Topps in a bookstore in a mall and almost laughing that they still made baseball cards -- and that would be it. The '90s is a black hole for me when it comes to cards (and some other stuff, too, actually). But in 2006, my first memory is driving to Walmart -- sometimes TWICE A DAY -- to get another rack pack of 2006 Topps. It's embarrassing how many times I was in Walmart in 2006.

So those are my memories. I felt I was repeating myself a lot there, but it's good to have it all in one spot.

Maybe one day I'll have memories that I can write down of some of the cards from the last five years. But those moments are too fresh now.

Either that or I've forgotten about them already.


  1. I worry about my memories too!

    I remember 1991 Score - I was either looking for a Jeromy Burnitz rookie card or the Jose Canseco Dream Team card - ha!

  2. The 57 set is the very first "older " set I ever remember looking at . I think I picked 4 up at a yard sale. Still have them. I gad an advantage over the other kids in the neighborhood . My mother worked as the clerk at the local store where everybody bought their cards. I would always get my packs a day or two early. The salesmen always gave her one extra box. She would always bring it home instead of putting on the shelf.

  3. When I was in college I did everything I could to hide my hobby from the other students, so I laughed when I read your memory of the 1984 set. There's nothing there to indicate how covert that handoff was, but if it had been me it would've been more surreptitious than many drug deals.

  4. I got my first cards in 1980. I was six. I didn't understand that the players were shown with their '79 teams. In the first pack I got Willie Aikens, who I knew was a Royal, but was an Angel on the card. I decided that Topps must have made a mistake so the card would have to be rare and valuable.

    I was also of the belief that the card company would put fewer cards of players from the hometown team in the packs they sold in that area to get you to buy more packs. (I still wouldn't put it past them) So I would mail my cousin who lived in "Brave Country" money so he could buy packs of cards that would have more Royals in them than I could get in KC, and then have them mail the packs back to me.

  5. Great post. Certain sets (heck even specific cards) provide specific memories for me too. The three sets that stand out for me are: the 1979 Topps (the product that made me dive into collecting baseball cards--collected Star Wars cards a couple years earlier), 1981 Fleer set (the first set my parents purchased for me), and 1987 Topps (the first product I purchased as an investor).

    But specific cards are when memories start flooding in... since there are so many individual cards that played a role in my childhood.