Saturday, March 7, 2015

A cardboard tweener

Earlier today I was reading a post from the Junior Junkie about a mega Ken Griffey Jr. acquisition. He's had quite a week. Junior Junkie that is. I don't know anything about Griffey's week.

It takes me awhile to get to Junior Junkie's posts sometimes because his blog doesn't appear on my dashboard. I have to scan my blogroll to find him. So, by the time I find out what's up on his blog, several people have weighed in already and I feel late to the party.

But this time I felt particularly out of place because of what was being discussed.

TJ landed himself a 1994 Upper Deck card that features illustrated head-and-shoulders shots of Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr. and the card is signed by both athletes. I'm not going to pretend I know what set this card is from, or how it was issued, or how difficult it was or is to obtain. I just know that it had to cost one gorgeous penny.

This is the card:

Judging from the comments, this is a coveted card from the '90s and an outstanding part of a collection. I get that. And judging from the fact that TJ featured no words in his post, only pictures, pretty much every card collector knows what that card is except for me. Again, I do recognize that a card signed by both Mantle and Griffey is very cool.

But looking at the card and searching for something to say, other than "excellent!" I realized that I felt ... nothing.

The card meant nothing to me. It was just a card. With signatures on it.

Some of this is because I didn't grow up in the '90s or collect much in the '90s, some is because I'm not much of an autograph collector. But I think most of it is because I am a cardboard tweener. I'll explain what that is.

If you think about it, there are two great figures in modern card collecting (if you're covering all of card collecting then you can throw Honus Wagner in there). And they are Mantle and Griffey Jr. Find a mountain and carve those guys into it.

Those who collect Mickey Mantle are usually older than me. Mantle's cards are enormously coveted by the baby boomer generation and sell for amounts of money that virtually no other player could command on cardboard. Bob Costas carrying Mickey around in his wallet and all that stuff.

Those who collect Ken Griffey Jr. are usually younger than me. Griffey on an 1989 Upper Deck card is the symbol of "these aren't your father's baseball cards." He was the new generation of ballplayer representing a new generation of collectors. Most of his cards don't go for nearly as much as a Mantle card, but there are still some very pricey items, and I think I've come across more Griffey collectors in my days on the blog than collectors of any other player.

So here's the thing: I don't care about collecting either of those players. Mantle retired when I was 3 years old and, of course, played his whole career for a team I refuse to collect. Griffey's famed rookie card arrived when I was 24 years old and had all allegiances solidified, and starred for teams and in entire years that I ignored.

The oldest Mantle card I have is this:

It's a checklist, issued after his career ended, in the 1969 set. I don't own a playing days Mantle and have never pursued one. I'd be happy to own one, especially if I was completing the set, but his card specifically? I don't care unless you're giving away one from the '50s.

The earliest Griffey Jr. card I have is this:

It's from the year after he made his cardboard debut. I also own the 1990 Fleer Griffey Jr. card, but I like this one better.

I've mentioned this over and over on the blog, but I have never felt the need to own a 1989 Upper Deck Griffey card. Not even a twinge. Yeah, sure, I might get to it some day just for the Historical Artifact aspect of it, but my collection is kind of specific and Upper Deck rookie mojo has never been a requirement.

However, each of these players represent significant collecting eras, one before my time and one after. And I don't think there is any one player who represents the collecting era of a cardboard tweener.

I started collecting in 1974-75 and the players who I really respect and collect played in the 1970s and 1980s. But I don't think there's one player from that time with the "cachet" (once again, I hate that word) of Mantle or Griffey.

Pete Rose? He was in his early 30s before I knew who he was. George Brett? Robin Yount? Tony Gwynn? Yeah, lots of people collect them, but not like Mantle and Griffey. Reggie Jackson? Rickey Henderson? Sort of, but ... no, it's not Mickey or Griffey.

So, I can hear what some are saying: "Why do you care? You don't player-collect anyway."

Yeah, true, I don't really care whether there was one mega-figure to collect in the '70s and '80s. But it would be nice to be in on that "feeling". That shared sense of accomplishment when someone has achieved something rare that you are also pursuing. Hell, I wouldn't even know what set that Mantle-Griffey autographed card was from if it didn't say so on the grading label.

But overall, I think this might be a good thing. I like the fact that I don't focus on a specific player or players in my collecting and that I enjoy a wide range of players from the funkified 1970s and the flamingo neon 1980s. I think the fact there wasn't some giant cardboard figure looming over my era helped shape my collecting habits and enhance my appreciation for collecting Kellogg's sets, and who was on the 1984 Brewers, and desperately wanting that last Dodger reliever card from some obscure '90s set.

So I think I like being a cardboard tweener. Even if I feel pretty clueless sometimes.

Congratulations, Junior Junkie. Great card for your collection.


  1. You are a player collector. Cey and Nomo. At least that's my opinion. If someone came up to me, listed off bloggers and mention the first specific player that came to mind about them, I would recite either of those names when they got you Night Owl.

    1. I'm a player collector only if other collectors decide to view me that way. Actually, I'm a set collector and a team collector in a player collector world.

  2. Quite a few of us tweener collectors got excited over Jerry Koosman's 1968 Topps Rookie Card as well as the Bob Bonner/Jeff Schneider 1982 Topps Rookie Card.

  3. I see what you're doing there, but I think Ryan and Ripken fall short, too.

  4. You're on the mark with this one, Night Owl. No one really came into the league between the mid-1970s and 1989 to the same level of fanfare as that enjoyed by Mantle (still) and as Griffey had and then were able to sustain it. If Mike Schmidt hadn't been a Phillie -- and seemingly reviled in his own home stadium -- perhaps he would have been that transcendent player, or if Paul Molitor had been able to stay healthy between 1980 and 1986, or if George Brett had also stayed healthy and hit 500 HRs....but none of those guys carry the same cachet for fans outside of their own fan bases.

    Great post.

  5. First thought - seems like you're definitely a team collector first. I'd bet that's how you "self-identify" over being a player/set collector.

    Second thought - for modern cards, I'd agree Mantle and Griffey are heads above the rest. If I had to do a Mount Rushmore, I'd put Rose and Ryan on there next. But there's a big gap between Griffey and those 2 as far as hobby iconography (if that's a real word).

  6. I can appreciate that, but I'm sending you a Griffey rookie now just because. You've got to have at least one.

    Why don't I show up on your feed?

    1. Not positive, but I think it has to do with the "followers/members" function in blogger that people put on their sidebars. I've noticed that bloggers who don't have those, don't show up in my dashboard, but do on my blog roll. I just need to get in habit of starting with the blog roll first I guess.

  7. It didn't last for long, but Mattingly had a huge amount of collector's for about five years prior to gum going away.

  8. For me, the '89 Griffey Jr. is a contradiction. It's a valuable card smack in the middle of the least valuable time period of card production. Unless I see one dirt cheap, I'm not so motivated to pursue one either since I'm from the same time frame you are. My vantage point is of set building, so I think of most sets of that era as available at like $5 each, but that one you won't ever see like that.
    Mantle is the total opposite. He's the biggest (or at least top three) name you have to get to complete most vintage sets, but those sets are still worth more than his card alone.