Tuesday, December 20, 2005

+ = about 25 cents

The year was 1991...a time of great uncertainty in this country: the Gulf War introduced "chemical weapons" to our vocabulary, riots crippled Los Angeles following the beating of motorist Rodney King, basketball superstar Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive and the baseball Hall of Fame voted to ban Pete Rose. But if there was one certainty, it was that I was going to be rich when I grew up. Not from hard work, or a frivolous lawsuit, or hush money from Michael Jackson...no, I was going to retire young off what I thought to be one of the greatest baseball card collections ever assembled.

Forget putting the cards in the spokes of my tires...I deified my rookie Kevin Maas', my rookie Todd Van Poppels, my rookie Chris Sabos (and God knows you couldn't open a pack of Upper Deck cards without finding a Chris Sabo). But rather than appreciate the cards, or even read the stats on the back of them, I placed them in vinyl sleeves for safe keeping. The better the card, the better the vinyl. These were my little weekly investments...instead of putting my money in a cookie jar, I invested in glossy covered pulp.

Now, nearly 15 years later, it is safe to admit that I made a huge mistake. As baseball still recovers from the 1994 strike that shut down America's pastime, and deals with a steroid scandal that calls into question just about every single record on the books (except Craig Biggio's amazing hit-by-pitch total), one thing is for sure: baseball cards are worthless. What happened? Blame video games...when was the last time a Ken Griffey rookie card took its baseball bat and kicked the ass of Sammy Sosa's rookie card? Baseball cards are for dreamers, for baseball wonks, for kids like me that were completely inept at video games.

Now, my baseball cards are safely stored in the temperature controlled environment known as my bedroom closet in my childhood home. A relic to a more innocent time, when 2-D entertainment was still acceptable, when oversized baseball card folders made you cool, when collecting holographic stickers of baseball teams didn't call your sexuality into question. Will baseball cards ever become popular again? Doubtful. Instead, like their distant cousin "The Pog", they will likely be relegated to obscurity and nostalgia.

And that isn't going to make me rich anytime soon.

And now, some highlights and lowlights from my baseball card collecting days:

-The day I purchased a t-shirt from Dave's Dugout in Lafayette so that I could get a free pack of baseball cards every time I went in there (note to Dave's kids: you're welcome for that college education I paid for)

-The day I traded baseball cards with a fellow aficionado, with the biggest trade being the anti-Moneyball "Eric Davis for Mike Greenwall" move

-The day I switched from collecting baseball cards to collecting comic books, because the investment community seemed to favor Superman over Dave Kingman

-The day I found out that when you wrote to Nolan Ryan for an autograph, he sent you back an autographed photo; I wrote to him every week

-The day I got a book of home addresses of baseball players, making it possible for them to find love letters from me amongst interest-free credit card offers (thank you Ron Santo for actually believing me and sending me back an autograph)

-The day I got an entire set of Michigan State sports cards at a trading card show in San Francisco, just so I could get the Magic Johnson cards; brilliant, Wood, brilliant

-The day I started collecting these $5 glossy sports memorabilia magazines (the name of them escapes me), thinking they too would one day be worth money

-The day I went to a comic book convention in Orinda...even though I had never read a comic book cover-to-cover (I came home with a signed X-Man comic...by whom, I have no idea)



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