Friday, July 28, 2006

i'll give you lars molin, horace speed, tom younghans and phil huffman for mark messier!

Scrolling through Slate the other day, I came across an article about how hard-core sports card collectors and investors ruined that hobby. It gave me a chuckle, as that was the mentality that drove me away from a childhood passion.

Dad was one of those kids whose mother got rid of his collection. He apparently had two 1952 Topps Mickey Mantles, though not in any condition even then to be worth much (he was a happy man when we bought a set of 1952 Topps reprints). He bought some cards in the early 70s, either out of childhood nostalgia or laying the groundwork for any future child's collection that wouldn't be given away because they weren't "educational". I started buying packs when I was five and remained hooked well into my teens.

The card pictured above is from one of my favourite sets, 1981 Topps baseball. Those early sets are the ones I treasure most, the ones I've come closest to completing. Topps baseball and football cards would have come from Woolworths and K-Mart in Detroit, while O-Pee-Chee baseball and hockey cards usually came from J&J Variety in Windsor (across the street from now-shuttered Grace Hospital, where Dad picked up his Sunday papers in the early-to-mid 80s) or at Joe's Confectionary (a variety store in Amherstburg run by one of the janitors at my high school, whose brother built our current family homestead). Dad also started to pick up Baseball Cards magazine, when it was primarily nostalgia/history-focused.

I never fell for the rookie card hype; the "commons" held my attention. These were the players you never heard of, who changed teams every year, who had names more memorable than their careers(Shooty Babbitt?), the dependable role players, the guys you could amass a pile in trade for one or two well-known players. I suspect I was among the last group of kids who traded to pick up cards they didn't have or from older sets handed down from older siblings or parents eager to start them early. Trading was the only way to get rid of all those Dave Lemanczyk or Larry Lozinski cards that popped up in every pack. There was one kid on my bus who I fleeced out of most of their pre-1980 cards over a year - we traded small amounts each week to keep the ball rolling.

I think it was when Baseball Cards placed a higher focus on the investor/rookie card mentality, along with the emergence of "higher-end" card manufacturers that started my decline in interest. Fewer bargains to be had at local card shows. Sour looks from dealers when you wanted to look through commons. A brief boom where sets and packs could be had cheaply, before prices and gimmicks rose. A move to other interests in general, coupled with a diminishing interest in the sports pages.

By the time I hit university, the thrill was gone. I picked up the odd pack, convincing myself I was doing this to keep a sense of continuity for future offspring. This stopped by the end of the 90s, when it seemed sets were no longer made for a general audience, just the crack-addict collectors. When I read in a newspaper about an "ultra-premium" set where the retail price of a pack was $100, that was the end. I have even considered tossing out most of the later cards, when I bought large amounts cheaply and indiscriminately, as they don't conjure up hours spent in the rec room spent sorting cards by team or trading at elementary school. - JB

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