May 26, 2007

Beaten to the Punch

There are a few things you don’t know about me.

1. I still can’t get over how great Garbage Pail Kids are. I always kick myself for buying them instead of basketball cards back in 1986, but in all fairness these GPKs are pretty awesome. I heard once that Art Spiegelman of Maus fame did the original artwork for GPK, which is great.

2. I collect other things besides baseball cards. I have over 900 different souvenir postcard folders, a collection I’m quite proud of and for a time had been considering writing a book about. (I even started doing background research at the Boston Public Library, home of the remains of the Tichnor Bros. company assets, including a large collection of glass printing plates in storage). It’s an often-scorned, seldom-visited corner of the postcard hobby. Like sports cards, the postcard hobby is massive. Unlike sports cards, it’s a hobby whose collectors are, from my own experiences at shows, nearly all over the age of fifty. Many times I’m the youngest person at shows, and I’m nearly thirty.

3. I’m not a religious man, but I’m starting to think of collecting cards less as an addiction and more as a well-organized religion. Think about it: there is a God, and his name is Mickey Mantle. Or Ted Williams. Or Babe Ruth. Or Stan Musial. And there are lesser deities, like Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, Carl Yasztremski and Jackie Robinson. Plus don’t forget the many tiers of saints like Clemente, Campanella, Freddie Lynn and Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Cochrane. The list is endless. And there are those who’ve fallen from grace, like McGwire, Rose and Bonds.

And really the only way to denounce the religion is to tear up the cards, because cards are sacred objects. You can lose interest or give them away, but you’ll always keep them in your heart and find yourself coming back to their memory in an hour of need. Or at least I do.

There are two reasons I bring this analogy up. First, I started reading
The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card
by Michael O’Keefe and Teri Thompson, and while I’m only fifty pages in, they’ve already summed up this analogy (and my obsession) perfectly. So while I knew I was not the first person to elevate baseball or the act of collecting cards to religious experience, O’Keefe and Thompson beat me to the punch by at least six months.

Second, I’ve started thinking of contemplating the possibility of possibly, maybe selling some of my cards. Though I practically revere each and every one of my cards (all 175,000 of them), the thought of selling some of them does not tear at my insides as much as the idea of physically destroying them, or throwing them away. I’ve given cards away before, specifically 1991 and 1992 Score and Donruss in a quart-sized ziplock bag marked ‘Free’ in the mailroom of my apartment building (good luck hunting for Kevin Maas rookies; those suckers are still up in my apartment under plastic), but the thought of ripping up cards or throwing them away, no matter how ugly they are or what year they’re from, turns my stomach.

4. I’ve always regretted not spending the $19.95 plus $1.50 shipping and handling for a sure-to-arrive-oversized Topps sweatshirt. I’m sure I would have been the man of the hour on the junior high dance and party circuit, if only I hadn’t skimped on style. I mean, the sweatshirt had puffy lettering.

How could you not totally score while wearing it?

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