Wednesday, December 3, 2014
A man collecting a boy's game
I'm sure you've heard the old cliche that professional baseball players are men playing a boy's game. They're getting good money for it, too.
The older I get, the more I wonder why I'm still paying attention to these guys, running around the field, swatting at a tiny horsehide ball, looking ridiculous in their lettered pajamas. Isn't this stuff for kids?
Yet here I am, still captivated by both the game and another "kids' pursuit" -- baseball card collecting.
All three of those aspects -- baseball, card collecting and kids -- have come together every few years in a Topps card set devoted to current ballplayers' childhood photos. They've arrived with different titles -- "Boyhood Photos of the Stars" or "When They Were Young" -- but each are the same: a large photo of the player as a kid, a small inset of the current player as he is now, and a write-up on the back about his childhood of playing baseball.
However, contrasting the earliest version of this theme, from 1972 Topps, and the most recent, from 2010 Topps, they couldn't be more different.
The 2010 Topps version was an insert set because we aren't allowed to have any cool subsets in the base set anymore.
The 2010 "kids" set is 18 cards, like the 1972 set was, but more difficult to pull than it was in '72. Also, the 2010 set (the seven cards above are the only ones I have), features kids photos from all over the age spectrum. Russell Martin is a toddler who may not even know what a baseball is, while Daniel McCutchen looks like he's already hit puberty.
Another notable difference is that with the exception of Martin, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Justin Verlander, Yadier Molina and a handful others, the checklist is dotted with guys who didn't make much of an impact. Does anyone remember Clint Sammons or Jason Berken anymore?
Now, take a look at the '72 subset:
That's some authentic star power there. Every one of those players are well-known major leaguers who were well-known when these cards were issued. (I'm missing one card from the set. It's Brooks Robinson).
The write-ups on the back address the same topics, but you can see that the '72 cards (and almost all of them are like this) include much more detail.
I'm not going to blame today's card researchers for this. It probably has something to do with the decline in attention spans for everybody (but don't get me started on the lack of card numbers in today's sets).
With the exception of the David Ortiz card, which is fantastic, I am not charmed by any of the 2010 When They Were Young cards. It doesn't have to do with the fact that it's a dreaded insert (although maybe subconsciously it does). I think it has to do with the fact that I'm a man collecting a boy's game. I see these cards, especially Russell Martin padding around in his onesie, and think, "what am I doing, man?" Should I be collecting cards of toddlers?
These WTWY cards are possibly my least favorite insert in 2010 Topps.
But I don't feel that way about the '72 Boyhood Photos of the Stars cards. Instead I'm fascinated by them and the world that I once knew or never knew.
How can you not be charmed by a picture of a future manager playing an accordian? (And check out that tiny airbrushed cap). Doesn't that look better than a kid holding an aluminum Easton bat?
I've shown this card before. Bob Bailey apparently lived next door to Dorothy and Toto before the tornado swept everyone away.
Look at this photo and tell me that Tom Seaver didn't know he was going to be Tom Seaver long before anyone else did.
I don't know. It's probably just a matter of perspective, both with where I am in my collecting life and because not enough time has passed. Right now, this is just another Facebook photo of a cute kid. There is no historical perspective.
But I do know one thing.
It sure would help if they made things like this a subset again.