I've never been a big dreamer. Even when I was in high school and college -- the times when we humans usually dream the biggest -- I was content with your painfully average future. If the future me had a wife, family, dog, house, job, car, a few random interests and a connection to the community, then I would be happy.
No need to travel to exotic locations. No need to experience hang gliding or motorcycle jumping or mountain climbing. I don't want to be a rock star or a media mogul or David Beckham. I'm satisfied with little victories.
The same goes for collecting baseball cards.
The biggest coups in collecting don't interest me. I have no desire to own a 1952 Mickey Mantle. I know people find that hard to believe -- like this is every collector's dream. But it's not mine. If I could get it, so I could sell it, then, OK, I want to own it. But there is no yearning for the Mick.
The same goes for a 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie. Or a 1914 Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson. I won't shoo them off if they fall into my lap, but you won't find them on my bucket list.
I have certain smaller goals in collecting, which you all know thanks to me babbling about them. I'm pleased when I finish them off, and then I move on. Contentedly.
I would only classify one collecting goal realized as a "dream come true." That would be the day when I finished off the 1975 Topps set in 2004.
This was the beginning of my re-entry into the hobby and as an adult with a semi-decent paying job (thanks to my modest goals), I knew I had the money to do something that I always wanted to do -- finish off the first set I ever collected.
It was a hoot. I've never had so much fun collecting cards. The nostalgia rushes. The feeling like I was 9 again. And, finally, the most colorful set in the world -- a set I didn't think I had the capability of ever completing -- was finished.
Truly a dream realized.
And the only one -- as far as cards go.
Until last Friday.
That's the day the 1971 Topps Roberto Clemente card came to my door.
It's the last one that I needed to complete the 1971 Topps set. That's right, all 752 cards of one of the most distinctive sets ever made are in my possession.
Even right down to the final card, I didn't think I'd ever be finished with the task. If the final card I needed was someone other than Clemente, then there would be a glimmer of hope. But Clemente? Have you seen the prices on that card? I was once at a card show and there was this absolutely gorgeous woman there collecting cards. I had never seen someone that beautiful collecting cards in my life. What was she collecting? Only Clementes. That's all.
This is why Clemente prices are insane.
I have never seen a price on a '71 Clemente at a card show that I was willing to pay. And even on the traditional online card places, like Check Out My Cards and Sportlots, they were too rich for me.
"Crap," I thought. "I'm going to have to go on ebay to find one."
I rarely go on ebay anymore. Too many issues. But if that's what it took, that's what it took.
Fortunately, that never came to pass.
A '71 Clemente, instead, arrived from western Canada.
All I had to do was shop around for some Bravos in exchange. Done.
And thanks to the generosity of Captain Canuck, I can say that another card dream is realized.
1971 belongs in the same class as 1975 because it's a set I never thought I could finish. The first time I thought about completing it was when I was around 12 and had seen my first clump of '71s all together (previously I had only seen them one at a time).
They looked glorious. What a great-looking set. I wanted to finish it.
But it was just crazy talk to me. The set was so old and so BIG. And then I learned about high numbers and how much they cost, and, sorry, it would never happen. Nice dream. But that's just what dreams are. Stuff that ain't gonna happen.
Years went by and I returned to the hobby and I had maybe 200 cards from the '71 set. I started a blog and somewhere along the way, I publicly proclaimed my desire to complete the '71 set. I'm sure there's a post somewhere in which I say -- with complete confidence -- that I won't finish it until I'm 97.
But then some things started happening. People started sending their '71s to me. It was overwhelming.
My first realization that maybe I really COULD complete the set came with this card:
This card was sent to me a couple of years ago for a bunch of Million Dollar Giveaway code cards. It was then that I realized that not every collector had the same dream and maybe I really could do this.
Soon after, '71 cards like Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Willie Mays arrived from collectors. And the '71 set would never be as intimidating again.
With the final piece of the puzzle in Clemente added, I thought I'd go through a few of the cards in the set. I didn't have time to scan as many as I'd like -- I could talk about this set forever. But you'll get the idea of what makes this set great.
So here we go:
FIRST CARDS FROM THE SET I EVER SAW:
If you collect the 1975 Topps set, then you know why these were the first '71s I ever saw. I saw them on this card:
I pulled this card out of the first packs I ever bought in 1975. It was immediately one of the coolest cards I owned, and when I obtained both the Blue and Torre cards, it was as if I was holding a world-famous painting in my hands.
FIRST CARD IN THE SET I EVER SAW IN PERSON:
I've told this story before. The first 1971 card I found was a badly damaged Manny Mota card lying in a street gutter that I found as I walked home from school. I took it home and patched it up with copious amounts of tape. But even with all that tape, there were still parts of the card missing, and a nice hole in the middle.
Still, it was the first '71 I ever saw and it would not leave my collection for a long time.
FIRST CARDS THAT MADE ME FALL IN LOVE WITH THE SET THE FIRST TIME:
Absolutely the best card of all-time to my way of thinking as a 12-year-old.
Until I saw this card. And then this card became the best card EVER!!!!!!!!
I thought these playoff cards were mind-blowing when I first saw them. The colorful titles, the yellow- and red-filtered photos (with the appropriate colors for the A.L. and N.L.). These were the most different cards I had ever seen.
I received all these cards in trades with a kid I knew whose older brother gave him some old cards. My brother and I traded some current (1978 was current at the time) Yankees for these beauties.
Speaking of which ...
CARD I'M GLAD I DIDN'T HAVE TO ACQUIRE IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS:
This card arrived in one of those trades.
One of the best things about living in Yankee territory is you could always find some misguided soul who would trade you anything for a 1978 Cliff Johnson card. Come to papa, '71 Ryan.
I also obtained the 1971 Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson and Al Kaline in the same way.
CARD I FIRST SAW IN A GIRL'S HOUSE:
This is the same girl I knew who collected 1975 Topps back in '75. I'm not sure why she would have a '71 Topps card in her possession as she was even younger than me.
But I think it was just that somehow, when you were a kid then, these cards from the immediate preceding years (usually '71s and '72s) would just filter into your collection. It was as if the card fairy knew that you were a new collector and placed these cards from sets you never knew in your collection just to give you a taste of card history.
CARD THAT I REFUSE TO BELIEVE IS REALLY OF A BASEBALL PLAYER:
1971 was one of the last years in which cards featured people like this -- guys who didn't look like ballplayers at all. The 1960s sets are full of these players. But somewhere in the early '70s every player on a card from that point on was definitely a ballplayer.
CARD THAT BEST DEMONSTRATES THE WEIRD ACTION OF '71 TOPPS:
Looking at the photo, you might assume that Tommie Agee is an umpire. And most of the players have their backs to the action. But Topps was going to put action photos on individual players' cards, dammit, and work out the bugs later.
ONLY CARD IN THE SET I BOUGHT AT FLEA MARKET:
You'd think there would be a lot more.
CARDS THAT DEMONSTRATE THE HAT ISSUES IN '71 TOPPS:
Oh, lots and lots of hat issues in this set. The card on the top looks like someone said, "Give me the Poofiest hat you can find."
The card on the bottom completely undermines my faith in what is real on a baseball card. Not only am I not convinced that Dick Williams is really wearing a cap. But I don't think he's even in that stadium, that he's even wearing that uniform, that there ever was a person named Dick Williams, that this game of baseball isn't just a front for a shadow government already controlling our minds for the last 50 years.
CARD THAT I PROBABLY SHOULD UPGRADE:
This is the worst-conditioned card in my 1971 set. Which, when you think about it, isn't that bad.
I have no plans to upgrade about 98 percent of my 1971 cards. But I'll probably upgrade this one, a Frank Quillici card I've owned since I was 12, and the Ed Kranepool card. Other than that, I'm good.
CARD WITH THE BIGGEST SIGNATURE IN THE SET:
My goodness. Couldn't they have filled more space with that thing?
CARD THAT'S A DISCREDIT TO THE DEFENDING WORLD SERIES MVP:
The guy just had a phenomenal World Series, and instead he gets "awwww, shucks, was that strike three?"
CARD THAT SUMS UP EXACTLY WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR HANDS:
FIRST '71 CARD I EVER FEATURED ON THIS BLOG:
Long before Cookie was prancing with ponies in the background of Cardboard Junkie, he was featured in one of the first blog posts I made.
CARD THAT MAKES ME SMILE EVERY TIME:
It's Dick Allen! As a Dodger! In a Dodger uniform! In Dodger Stadium!!!
CARDS THAT MADE ME FALL IN LOVE WITH THE SET ALL OVER AGAIN:
Foster smells something. And it stinks.
@&*$@# I popped out AGAIN!
Dugout shot. Check. Towels on hooks. Check. Bat rack. Check. Guy named Lefty. Check. His real name is Harold. Check. Gap-toothed grin. Check.
And on, and on, and on, and on I could go.
But I'll finally stop here (if you want to see the rest of the cards, join me on the Topps 1971 blog).
I still can't believe I have the whole set. Thanks to many people, another modest dream is realized.
I have the 1971 Topps Alpha:
And all the cards in between.
Yes, I really do have all the cards in between.
It's the collecting equivalent of pinching oneself.