I’ve stopped collecting more than once. I stopped in 1995 after putting together the first series of the regular issue of Upper Deck and then I started again in 2003 to put together the Topps Heritage set (I’m still only about 11 cards from completing the Master Set). After that set I stopped again. And the reason I stopped both times was because, to paraphrase B.B. King, the thrill was gone. At the time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I suddenly saw buying packs differently, but I think I’ve since figured it out.
There are two distinct feelings that a collector feels upon opening a pack. After the inspection of each card, the sorting by number, team and on a rank of good to bad and the search for a coveted insert card, one feeling is a nice, full contentment with the world, (that things would suddenly go my way because my skills at picking packs gave me a Brett, a Sandberg all-star, a Puckett and three Red Sox all in one pack). The other feeling would be a deep bitter resentment, that somehow the guy behind the counter with the b.o. and the nubby fingers and the stained shirt had willed me to find a bad pack, that if only I had bought another pack that one would’ve contained the Alomar rookie, but instead I ended up with doubles of Dennis Rasmussen, a checklist, Dane and Garth Iorg, a manager and a couple losers from the Tigers and/or Indians. Both feelings are valid, in fact equally important to someone who collects. You can’t really enjoy those great packs without going through the rock-bottoms of each set (my God, it’s really almost too much like a drug habit, isn’t it?).
So you want to know how to tell that you’re not an avid collector anymore? Go down the local CVS or the Wa-Wa, buy a pack of the new Topps (to be reviewed in detail next week here at Baseball Card Blog) and go through it like you used to when you were a kid. If you feel one of the two emotions described above, there’s still an avid collector somewhere inside of you. If you don’t feel anything (except maybe a small pile of guilt collecting in your gut from spending almost three bucks on a pack of baseball cards), then you’re not an avid collector anymore (or maybe you never were).
I feel that I haven’t had much of a connection to new cards, or really any major issue in the last ten years, but when I look through my old cards (like when I came across Otto Velez’s 1980 card and I realized he was only one letter away from having not one but two palindrome names) and when I open packs of 1989 Donruss (as I’ve done this past week) these emotions return (even though I know they never really left).
1. Kevin Gross I remember the most sought-after Phillies player from this set (besides Mike Schmidt) was Ricky Jordan. Other than Jordan and Schmidt, there wasn’t anyone worth having. Even Phillies fans didn’t buy their team set, except to get Jordan and Schmidt. You don’t believe me, do you? Well, here’s my case in point: Kevin Gross, excuse me pitcher Kevin Gross, in a batting helmet, obviously during batting practice. To me, this photo says that the best hitter on their team is their pitcher, and he better get in extra licks at the plate or the Phils won’t be in the hunt in October. It was fun and irreverent (or devastating and groundbreaking, depending on how you approach baseball cards) when Upper Deck showed Nolan Ryan in a tuxedo as part of series two in their breakthrough 1989 set—not when Donruss showcased Kevin Gross in his batting helmet. That was just sad.
2. Duane Ward It’s incredible, but Ward is almost an exact face double for Peter Saarsgard. I wonder if Maggie Gyllenhaal would also, by extension, date Duane Ward. Better keep her away from SkyDome during a Blue Jays Old Timer’s Who Were Never that Great game, or she might run on the field and kiss him on the pitcher’s mound, like a younger, waifish version of Morganna, the Kissing Bandit. Remember when you got up kind of early on Sunday mornings and watched This Week in Baseball? Morganna featured prominently on that show, especially when there were Nolan Ryan-related highlights. I think she kissed him more than anyone else. And every time he would say her name, Mel Allen felt an uneasy pang of jealousy…just once why couldn’t she sneak into the voice-over recording booth and smooch Mel Allen on the cheek while he was narrating a Rick Dempsey mad dash around the bases during a rain delay? They could’ve even given her a mike so that the world could’ve found out if she had a high, pip-squeak voice like I always thought Miss Elizabeth had (of Macho Man Randy Savage fame), or if it was a tracheotomy-like growl, like the Macho Man himself.
3. Ken Dayley Yet another player who looked a little like Judge Reinhold, but not enough to matter.
4. Chris Bosio Was it just me, or was there a conspiracy promoted by Chris Bosio’s agent, baseball card companies, sportswriters and major league franchises in the 1990s to make unsuspecting collectors and baseball fans think that Bosio was better than he actually was? I think Mark Portugal was in on it too, and maybe Delino DeShields. Whenever I come across cards of these guys I think “Wow, Chris Bosio! He was great, wasn’t he?” and I don’t know if I really believe that because I don’t know any better, or if I’m just lying to myself because that’s something I want to believe.
5. A Picture of the Completed Warren Spahn Puzzle This was always one of my favorite Donruss cards, any set, any year. And it’s funny, too, that in 1988 the card of the completed Stan Musial puzzle was one of the more desirable cards in the set because he’s the best player in the set. Not that Warren Spahn isn’t the best player in the 1989 set (he is), just that the 1988 set was a real snoozer (except for the Glavine, the Alomar, and the mother lode that briefly was Mark Grace).
6. Stew Cliburn Uh-huh.
7. Curt Schilling Gotta say, as a Red Sox fan, that I was really excited that we traded for Mike Boddicker. But I also can say that if the Sox had held on to Schilling and Brady Anderson, there’s your starting center fielder (if you move Dewey to the DH and convert Ellis Burks to right) and your starting rotation includes Clemens and Schilling.
8. Don Carman Another stellar Philadelphia Phillie, this one with a name like a small-time mobster. Says on the back that he lived in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, one of the most posh communities surrounding Philadelphia, and also home to Donovan McNabb. I wonder if McNabb moved there on recommendation of Don Carman, the import/export magnate and former Phillies mop-up pitcher.
9. Tom Brookens How’s this for a worthwhile, meaningful career: The only reason I know who Tom Brookens is is because of his error card in the 1989 Upper Deck set, and even then I don’t really know why that card is important. But, you know, this card of him has all the markings of a classically bad baseball card: Batting helmet, check. Big glasses, thick mustache…check and check. Bad lighting and batting glove, check, check. Photo obviously taken in an empty park during spring training? Done and done.
10. Chuck Crim Here’s my story of how Chuck Crim got his own baseball card, told in ten sentences or less. The Donruss photographers went to go take shots of the Brewers. One of them grew up a Milwaukee Braves fan, and asked if he could get dressed up and have his photo taken like a player in a Milwaukee jersey. The other photographers (roustabout paparazzi on loan from Star Magazine) kind of liked the idea and conceded. They took the guy’s photo and when they made it back to Donruss HQ, someone in the photo department came across the photo. Not knowing who it was, she sent it to research, who contacted the photographer pool, who said it was his good buddy Chuck Crim. Not knowing who that was, research assigned the job of stat check to an intern. Not finding a record for anyone named Chuck Crim, the intern made up stats for him and fudged the sources. Research hastily approved the name, the photo, the stats and sent the card to press. The intern even did a nice job of giving Crim rags-to-riches credentials, as at the bottom of his Career Highlights paragraph it says: “Was not even on Brewers’ 40-man roster in spring training ’87, but made team after compiling 1.08 ERA and 2 wins for 16 2/3 innings of work in Cactus Lg…”
11. Steve Sax The world had big plans for you, Steve Sax. What happened along the way?
12. John Tudor I’ve written about the idea of the ‘minor star’ or the ‘semi-star’ before, and I think you can say that the real gem beauty of the minor or semi-star is that in any given game they do something and show just the slightest flash of brilliance, and for that second it makes the audience perk up and gets their mind racing to think You know, John Tudor could make the Hall of Fame, if only he’d pitch like this every night… Really, it’s the Derrick Coleman Theory in basketball applied to baseball.
13. Nick Esasky I still would’ve been happy to get this double, because it would mean that, along with the Biggio double, I could probably trade them to my friend for a Ozzie Smith or Dave Winfield or maybe, if I threw in another couple cards, a Kirby Puckett MVP card, like the one on the box.
14. Randy Bush Back-up filler from the Twins.
15. Dan Pasqua Pasqua was the late Eighties version of the Matt Stairs Idea: he’ll give you some power, but he’ll also strike out a heck of lot and give you maybe 60 hits a year that aren’t homers, which means his average will be crap, and will probably bring down the team average. Rob Deer was this kind of player, and so was Greg Vaughn for most of his career (and our good friend Gorman Thomas, who I always thought was the most intimidating baseball player ever…I could picture him decked in furs, pillaging a Nordic village as easily as I could him signing autographs for sick children and sweating through a post-game interview).
Not a great pack. If this were still 1989, and I was still 10 years old, I would’ve been excited to get Schilling, Tudor, Sax, Esasky, the Spahn puzzle card, Pasqua and maybe Bosio (though I wouldn’t know why). That’s not bad, nearly a 47% success rate, though if I tried to trade those 7 cards at the time I probably wouldn’t even be able to get a Wade Boggs in return. And who wants a Boggs? Even his girlfriend threw him out of a moving vehicle.