March 09, 2006

Ask Ben A Question Or Tell Ben A Story

One of the best things about Beckett Baseball Monthly is that they publish letters from readers. I always feel let down when they don’t publish more of them, and over the years the number of pages of letters seems to have dwindled (much like the pages of the price guide of the sets that matter—those made 1992 and before. Have you noticed that? Here…in the December 2005 issue, three pages encompassed all sets between the T206 in 1909 and the 1994 Collector’s Choice Gold Signature parallel set, while the year 2004 took up fifteen pages alone. I think that’s crap, though I know your argument: that’s what Beckett Vintage is for, but where can I find that publication? Somebody email me and tell me). So in the spirit of Readers Write, I give you Ask Ben a Question Or Tell Ben A Story.

I’d like to kick things off by saying that it pleases me to no end that so many people like reading, talking and sharing about baseball cards. When I was a little kid (and even to a certain extent as a teenager), it always amazed me that other people collected cards, though I doubted that they reserved the same passion and time and energy for it that I did. And on those rare Saturdays that I bought cards down at the Watertown Mall during one of their saggy versions of a baseball card show, I always thought I was giving my new cards a good home, a better one than they had known in the back of some crusty old dealer’s station wagon. And while they may have seen more of the world than I had, I still thought I was doing them a favor, and that someday they would thank me. I’m not entirely sure how the cards were going to thank me, but I like to think that the cards I welcomed into my life appreciated my fervor for them. Anyway, it’s nice to know that there are others like me out there (and that they’ve found this little site and have contributed in their own way to its existence).

Also, I know that many readers have wanted to leave a comment on a post, but didn’t want to go through the hassle of signing up for Blogger. I can’t say that I blame you. Here’s the situation: Josh has done a great job of keeping the site up to date, like with the search and RSS features, but we really just don’t have the money to pay for our own hosting. It’s as simple as that. And until we have our own hosting, I don’t think there’s anything we can do. Post a comment anonymously or email me. I read all the emails I get and in the future will try to answer as many as I can, either privately or through this kind of post. Speaking of that, let’s get to the questions and/or stories…

Was there a demand for a "baseball button"? Until I had them, I would never have believed that some folks might want to wear a small button image of their favorite player on their lapel. After I had them, I was sure of it. Was this some kind of pay-off with the ever-powerful button folks or was this just an ill-conceived idea? Why are they so goddamn worthless today? Back in the day, I can remember actually thinking "these are so unusual (read: idiotic) they will be worth big dollars in the future." Now they're going for $4.50 for a big unopened box?

Richard, via email

I’ve never lost sleep over it, but the baseball button (and the baseball disc and the baseball coin, for that matter) has been a perplexing contribution to the world of baseball-related stuff. It really is weird: these things, no matter their age, have very little value. Oh sure, if you have a Christy Mathewson Sweet Caporal pin from 1910 with the small lettering, it’s going to be worth hundreds of dollars. But not thousands, like his baseball cards. Speed ahead fifty-five years to the Salada Tea coins and you’re looking at maybe just under $100 for a Mays or a Clemente in perfect condition, but that’s nothing in comparison with the value of their cards. And would you not agree that it would be harder to keep a metal pin or coin in good shape for fifty or even close to a hundred years than it would a baseball card? Both are hard to keep in good shape, but coins and pins (unless you collect political ephemera or are a high school kid sick of the world and love to rile The Man with hard-hitting photo pins of the New Kids on the Block and ironic post-modern wordplay, like ‘I brake for Cubans’) are not going to be in high demand and therefore quicker to wear, rust, getting crunched, lost in the air conditioning vent of your dad’s pickup truck or lodged in your throat. No one’s going to gag on a baseball card…unless, of course, it’s this mangled 1984 Nestle/Topps Darryl Strawberry.

I've got an unopened box of Donruss cards from 1990 or 1991. Are they more valuable as is, or would I be able to get more for them if I opened them and saw what I have there. Just curious.

Neil, via email

Neil, if you have spent the last fifteen or so years waiting for the right time to rip open that unopened box, now’s looking like a good one. And as much as it brings me pain to tell you this, they aren’t worth anything. In fact, I’m developing a theory that 1991 was actually the worst year for baseball cards and baseball card collectors (even though Topps Archives debuted that year, which got everyone in the Topps Fortress thinking about more ways to reap untold millions from their past).

In the late 80's-early 90's, Eric Plunk pitched for the Oakland Athletics. Check out his baseball cards, especially the 89 Donruss, and the 90 Topps. Long story short, a buddy of mine and I got drunk in high school when my parents were out of town. We got bored and went through my entire baseball card collection and decided Eric Plunk is the ugliest baseball player to ever live. Once you see the cards, you'll know what I mean.

Joel, via email

Eric Plunk was indeed a weird looking dude. But ugliest? To someone who’s drunk? I dunno…what about Kent Tekulve? Or Oil Can Boyd? Yes, that Oil Can Boyd, the one whom my dad approached in a hotel parking lot in Sioux City, Iowa, while The Can was addressing a streetwalker while sitting on the hood of his gigantic Town Car, or something equally ridiculous, like the Duke’s Cadillac in Escape from New York. And what was he doing in a parking lot in Sioux City, Iowa, let alone talking with a hooker? He had been thrown out of a game in neighboring Sioux Falls, South Dakota, so he obviously had time to get down without getting down on himself. So what did my dad tell him? He shook his hand and said “We love you, man.” I was never more proud of being a Red Sox fan in all my life.

Here's my Tom Gordon story, true story. At BP my wife was attempting to get our baseball signed by as many players as she could, so I took up the time talking to Tom Gordon. As many fantasy players and baseball card collectors have come to know, 2003, Tom Gordon was magically known OFFICIALLY as Flash Gordon on his cards, on, and in fantasy games. So first thing I asked him was why his name was now Flash. Evidentally, he was heading to the shower and the MLB official asked what he wanted his official entry to be this year, and he jokingly said Flash. He comes out of the shower, and the chick is gone, and he's known as Flash in every program, card, website for the remainder of the year. In 2004, this was corrected, and he was once again known as "Tom" but I hope this story solves the riddle that only losers like me wondered to begin with.

Joe, via email

Thanks for the story, Joe. It gets you wondering, doesn’t it? I mean, I guess anybody could technically go down to the courthouse and change their name to Flash, too, but I don’t know if anybody would take a guy named Flash Nussbaum seriously.

I live in the Boston area & due to the insane prices of rent have often thought of selling off my old collection of baseball & basketball cards. Do you have any suggestions on the best way to go about getting rid of all of them at once?

Brent, via email

Brent, there used to be a monthly called the Want Ads. It was a great place to sell your baseball card collection, as well as used restaurant equipment or that old Camaro up on cinderblocks in your backyard in Revere. I don’t know if the Want Ads exist anymore, but the modern, Internet equivalent of this is Craigslist. I would try there. I would also ask around at card shops to see if they buy estates or private collections. I would try starting at J.J. Teaparty in Downtown Crossing (near Suffolk University) and go from there. The guys there are pretty knowledgeable and will most likely be able to point you in the right direction.

I’d like to wind this down with two requests from readers. I don’t think I’m going to be able to help them, but maybe someone else reading this will.

I love your site. Seeing the Gary Maddox card the other day reminded me of a great quote from Dave Parker. I guess it was during the late 70's & someone asked the Cobra about possibly playing in Philly & his response was, "It'd be great, we would have a greyhound in center, a pig in left, & Adonis in right."

Do you by any chance know the name of a set of cards that came out in the late '90's early 2000's that had absolutely awful "street cred" rhymes/poems about each player on the back of the cards? I can't find the few I had, but they are comic gold.

JD, via email

I know you just cover baseball cards, but I'm really looking for someone to unearth the mystery of the 1977 Topps Dan Fouts -- specifically why there's a wood-paneled station wagon in the background with some people milling around it. Did the Chargers play their home games in a local park? I really would like to find out.

Mike, via email


Mike said...

To JD -

The set that you are asking about was the 1999 Skybox Thunder set, which included those awful rhymes that look as though they were written by Stuart Scott. Here's the rhyme from this Randy Winn that I have:

"Just Winn, baby, yo, even The Flash is givin' props to your lightning speed. Like a thief on the bases, you're Winnin' all the races."

Simply terrible.

josh Mueller said...

I know I work here but I have a question! Why isn't Tiger Town on DVD? It's a Roy Schedier classic. Scheider should do a stage show that combines Jaws with All that Jazz the catch line could be..."We're gonna need a bigger stage." Jazz Hands!

Compy said...

Looks like my comment about a mailbag came to fruition. Awesome idea always nice to hear other people's "war stories." Here's another suggestion to throw out. Have some sort of baseball card box opening meetup in NYC. We can meet at like the ESPNzone or even some random bar. Each person must bring a box of cards predating 1995, and we'll all rip them over and BS over them while getting hammered on $5 Harps. Sounds like a plan right?

JasonK said...

I would be down for a box meetup...but I live in Florida. I have some good stories about the MLB Golf Tournaments my dad used to play in during spring training every year. My family and my buddies family were both from Chicago and we were huge Cub fans, but too young to hate the White Sox. We must have had Bobby Thigpen sign about 25 different cards for us, plus those little helmet ice cream bowls with metallic marker. We would just come back to him every few minutes and he would ask us who else we got... my favorite Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey, everyones favorite Todd Zeile....good times.

Andy said...

How could you discuss ugly baseball players without mentioning Willie McGee. Bar none, the ugliest man to ever grace a piece of cardboard. It peaks with his 1983 rookie, but don't think it's a fluke. Look at his other cards. he really is that ugly.

Lance Richardson said...

Otis Nixon was every bit as ugly as Willie McGee or Eric Plunk, but Zane Smith was uglier than any of them.

josh Mueller said...

I have to agree with Otis Nixson fo sure! By the way- I went to a concert this weekend and one of the walls at the venue used old baseball cards for wallpaper- it was insane. Some of the cards even had value! I'll try to get a picture for the website soon.

Jim said...

2 words.. Verne Ruhle

Cliff said...

I can't believe you're having an ugly ballplayer conversation and no one has mentioned Don Mossi. For shame! That said: Tim Stoddard. Man looked like a walrus.

Anonymous said...

Wayne Twitchell, circa 1979. Ugliest man on a card. Ever.

Anonymous said...

I cannot bring myself to make fun of Don Mossi. I agree with Cliff (how can you not?), but Mossi's 1961 Topps card (by that time I believe he was with Detroit) is one of the greatest ever. He's posed like he's either just finished with his windup or he's about to field a grounder, and he's got this googly-eyed look sprayed across his mug...the kind of look that could severely damage a fragile person.