This post will run on Beckett.com on Thursday, October 11.
It's always the same: I go to a card show with want list in hand, and I come home with a stack of random cards I don't really remember wanting (or purchasing, for that matter). It's like I enter a euphoric sleep walk between the orderly rows of eight-foot dealer tables, amongst Baby Boomers in over-stuffed, well-worn Mets t-shirts whiling away the hours haggling over commons, commiserating about the cards they used to have, and trading stories about forgotten utilitymen who still sign through the mail. It doesn't matter where the show is. Arena, junior high school cafeteria, or drunk tank – the feeling is the same: Bliss.
This past Saturday, I took the train up to the White Plains October Regional (I'm unclear about the show's actual name) at the Westchester County Convention Center in White Plains, New York. The County Convention Center is an old Art Deco/Neo-classical hall that, if I had to venture a guess, was probably built as part of a WPA project in the Thirties. It had that musty public library vibe in spades. It was fitting, perhaps, that one dealer's endless stacks of old sports books were relegated to a corner.
The show was good; my haul was good. I'm a dollar-bin, off-grade kind of guy, and shows like this one are great places for guys like me. I got a handful of mid-Sixties league leaders cards, a whole bunch of cards to help complete my 1978 Topps baseball set, and a number of cards of two of my favorite forgotten Dodgers, Claude Osteen and John Roseboro, including a perforated 1961 Post Canadian edition with John's last name spelled 'Rosboro' ... I'm finding it more and more enjoyable to buy cards from oddball sets. Perhaps it's a subconscious rebellion against the homogenized cards made today, but I'm having a great time discovering Topps' Venezuelan issues – new favorite card: Koufax's 'Retirado' Venezuelan Topps card from 1967– weird Topps inserts from the Sixties and Seventies, and Redman Tobacco cards from 1954 and 1955. I've also found that I appreciate those sets with weak rookie classes much more than I do sets with strong ones ... 1964 and 1959 Topps are especially high on my list ...
I bought a 1969 Topps card of Johnny Podres on the Padres, though shied away from having it signed by the man, even though he was in the building and I got a free autograph with my paid admission (I hope the show's promoters paid Mr. Podres well; there were a lot of people at the show).
I've always done that; I don't feel comfortable asking famous people for their autographs. Even though I guess from a celebrity's standpoint, signing autographs comes with the territory, I've never felt comfortable about asking. I'd have a pretty good collection, if only I'd have had the nerve: On a family trip to South Dakota one year, my dad and my sister and I saw Oil Can Boyd (still in his cleats) sitting on the hood of his Caddy in the parking lot of our motel in Sioux City, Iowa. My dad hustled us over to meet him, then told him that, as we're from Boston, we loved him. Then he and my dad shared an awkward handshake (or high-five, or hug – I'm not sure which) ... Luis Tiant, Norm Van Lier, and a few other semi-forgotten superstar athletes came to my elementary school to do a workshop on teamwork and when it was time for us to get El Tiante's autograph, I stood off to one side and watched ... My dad used to take my sister and I to Celtics Rookie Camp (back when they had such a thing), and while she collected the autographs of future stars like Vin Baker, in the one time I asked, I got shrugged off by John Havlicek ... And I feel the same way about asking through the mail. I find it's awkward to write a letter to a player when it's obvious to both of us that I want an autograph. I mean, I did get a couple of signatures this way, including Anthony Young (a pitcher for the Mets who lost a whole bunch of games in a row) and Loy Vaught (the poor man's Derrick Coleman).
But my enjoyment at the show wasn't only from the cards I bought. It also came from the eccentrics who surrounded me. I overheard numerous guys congratulating themselves on finding the rogue common that had eluded them for years and a few guys in mid-gloat about all the rare, valuable and fantastic cards that they had back home that were in much better condition than similar ones the dealers had for sale. My two favorite moments: First, two dealers agreeing emphatically that the Yankees, in an 0-2 hole and on the brink of elimination, had the Indians right where they wanted them. (That strategy worked out well.) Second, an older man with a cane limping down an aisle and stage-whispering into his cell phone that no, he was not at the baseball card show. He was at home, resting.
Like I said before, it was a good day. And then, on the train ride home, everything seemed to come full circle, like it was meant to be. There was a mother and her young child. The mother, though still young, was doing a very good impersonation of the classic overbearing mother. Even at a young age, the kid seemed to know what he was in for (the mother repeatedly asked him "PLEASE don't bang your head, Robert"). So while I'm hoping that little Bobby figures out a way to break the chains later on and listens to a lot of heavy metal (or his generation's equivalent), I've also come to appreciate mothers like this. I mean, let's be honest: Card collecting would be in a very different place were it not for the best intentions of overbearing mothers everywhere.
So let me amend my previous sentiment for young Robert: Let us hope that he breaks free of his mother's clutches, but let us also hope that she retaliates by throwing out all of his baseball cards, thus preserving the time-honored ebb and flow of this, our great hobby.