Baseball cards, life, and COVID-19

empty coors field

Coors Field in Denver has been empty since opening day 2020 because of the COVID-19.

I heard on the radio this morning that Major League Baseball and the players union agreed to play 62-games in the season truncated by the COVID-19 play at home orders.

It’s all about money and I’m wondering why the owners didn’t hire Andrew Yang and figure out how to pay the players a uniform basic income of $1000/month, rather than go through all the brain damage of setting up a season that’s only between teams that are relatively close to one another. That sounds like a local rec center slow pitch softball league.

The on-field rules are probably for the better: No spitting; no high-fives or fist bumps; no more patting players on the butt.

Pitchers won’t be able to lick their fingers. Instead, they’re allowed a damp hanky in their pockets to wipe off the crud from their grubby hands.

That got me thinking that the COVID-19 pandemic is moving me into the seventh phase of my life, based on my baseball card collection.

Since I moved to Colorado in around 1993, I was a born-again fan because the Colorado Rockies expanded to Denver. I was a season ticket holder, but after the All-Star game was played in Coors Field, my passion waned along with the team’s lack of success.

Here it is 20 years later since I paid any attention, but I’d rather watch a Little League game over at the Y than hassle with buying tickets and $10 beers. Not only is access limited to people with disposable income, the game is so much more about the monetary worth of this player or that player.

Gone are the days of, “I’ll trade you this Don Drysdale card for a Willie Mays.”

There aren’t near as many kids playing baseball, compared to soccer, which is a low-cost-of-entry pass time, plus any kid can play the game and learn the basic rules. Baseball is an ambidextrous sport with lots of subtleties to the rules of the game.

My life transitions have pretty much mirrored my baseball card collecting. In baseball card milestones, I’m entering into the seventh phase of my life.

mazeroski

This is the 1961 Topps card with Bill Mazeroski rounding the bases after winning the 1960 World Series with a home run.

Phase 1, the 1960s, Growing up and JFK – I really didn’t get into baseball until the early 1960s. My family got a TV around that time and the first World Series I watched was in 1960 when the Pirates beat the Yankees. My maternal grandfather was a Yankees fan and my dad was a Yankees fan, which would make me a third generation Yankees fan.

Watching Bill Mazeroski hit that home run to win the series in 1960 is still etched in my mind and to this day, I’m not much of a Pirates fan. I have a 1960 Roberto Clemente that was abandoned to me by Pat Higgins since his dislike for the Pirates was even greater than mine!

Also in that trade, I got a 1957 Frank Robinson rookie and a JC Penney golf putter. I can’t remember what I traded.

As for baseball cards, I don’t think I bought a pack until 1962 when my ranging pattern expanded. My grandparents lived a few blocks from a Safeway and the Missile drugstore in Cheyenne. I remember buying packs of Topps cards. In 1961, as my 8th birthday favors. Around that time was when I signed up for Little League and ended up playing for the Red Sox, of all things. In November 1963, my mom’s church circle group held their annual rummage sale in the Presbyterian Church basement.

wally moon

In 1963, I bought a Rawlings Wally Moon baseball glove at my mom’s church rummage sale. This is a 1963 Topps card.

My dad was a pretty good ballplayer. He bought me my first glove, which was from the Ben Franklin store. I used it for a summer but it didn’t have a very good pocket and a ball bounced out, hit me in the eye and KO’d me.

After that, I¬† found a Wally Moon mitt at the rummage sale, and bought it for a quarter, which was my weekly allowance. It was the weekend after President Kennedy was murdered. Besides the glove, I remember many of the women talking about JFK, when one of the women – who was a staunch conservative – came out of the kitchen area and said “It serves him right.”

Being a kid, I was awestruck by the comment, mostly because I didn’t quite know what to think of it. I think the others were caught by surprise, too. By this time, the Beatles were big and Topps put out several years worth of Beatles cards which were sold at the Save More Drug Store. I bought a bunch of those but don’t know where the bulk of them went. I still covet my 45rpm copy of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

We were baseball-starved in the Rocky Mountain west. The Denver Bears were the AAA affiliate for the Yankees off and on back then. My dad and some guys at his work had tickets to see an exhibition game between the Bears and the Yankees in 1964. They invited me along. Yogi was the manager and Ralph Houk the general manager by then. Seeing Maris and Mantle playing in the outfield is a life highlight.

nixon elvis

I lost interest in sports card collecting in the 1970s when I was in high school and college. I ended up voting for Richard Nixon in 1972.

Phase 2, the 1970s, High school, college – When I learned how to drive and was in high school and college, I out grew baseball card collecting and stashed the cards in old Quaker Oats boxes where they remained in the crawl space in my parent’s home in Laramie. Back then, there weren’t plastic storage boxes like there are now.

Luckily, my mother didn’t touch my cards and I eventually retrieved them. The reason cards are worth so much money today is because of moms who tossed out their kids’ collections while they were away.

I became more interested in politics back then and was involved in student government. I’m sorry to say, my first presidential vote in 1972 was for Richard Nixon. I was a Republican for a long time, until I was drummed out of the party for supporting a Democrat, John Vinich for U.S. Senate, in 1988. Wyoming is one of those states where you can change party affiliation at the polls and switch back the same day. Turns out, I probably was a Democrat all along.

munson rookie

Buzz Thurber was one of the first big time card collectors I knew. He had a complete set of the 1971 Topps cards which were tough to find in good condition.

Phase 3 – 1980s, started working – I got my first job and coincidentally, there was a resurgence in sports card collecting. I don’t know what started it all then, but some tipping point caused mostly guys to dig out their collections – myself included.

There were sports card stores opening and sports card trade shows happening around the country – mostly in the larger towns.

I was in Lander by this time and one of my friends, Buzz Thurber, was a bigger collector than I was. I was impressed that he had a set of the 1971 Topps cards. They have a black border and tough to find with edges not chipped up.

Buzz and I organized a small card show in the meeting room at the Crossroads Restaurant – which it was known back then. I always tell kids to study and get a good job so they can spend money on stuff like baseball cards and not have to ask for permission. I remember one guy who showed off his collection had a binder of HOFers – lots of different, old cards I hadn’t seen before, of course, this is before old cards were found in grandmas’ attics and now priced out of sight.

Back then, I acquired Babe Ruths, Ty Cobb, for around $50.

In 1995 I took my dad to see the replacement Yankees play the replacement Rockies in the first game at Coors Field.

In 1995 I took my dad to see the replacement Yankees play the replacement Rockies in the first game at Coors Field.

Phase 4 – 1990s, Moved to Colorado – I ended up staying in Boulder when the Rockies came to Denver in 1993. I went to Colorado, for what was originally a temporary stay when I worked for the Northern Arapaho Tribe setting up a “cultural conduit” between the tribe and its former homelands along the front range. The idea was to develop markets for Arapaho artists works.

I remember the first time I drove up to Laramie to visit my parents. My dad asked, “What are those green license plates doing on your car?” I had season tickets to the Rockies from the opening of Coors Field in 1995 until the All Star Game in 1998.

I forgot to mention that I joined a rotisserie baseball league in Lander. I didn’t quite get how to keep the stats since it was before computers and all the data was compiled by hand. My team was called the Yangs. As opposed to yin – yang, there is a Star Trek episode about an alternate world where the Civil War was fought not by the Yanks and Confederates, but the Yangs and the Congs.

In Boulder, I joined a league colloquially known as the Baseball Buttheads with Paul Pearson, Scott Deitler, Glenn Locke, et al. When I joined, it with my Yangs team, the data were figured quasi-manually, but with the explosion of fantasy sports, migrated to an online version. I kept baseball cards of all my players. I was the only team owner with enough guts to draft Colorado Rockies pitchers.

pine riders

My sports card store in Riverton was called Pine Riders.

Prior to my move to Colorado, my friend, John, and I – we both worked at the Wyoming State Journal started up a sports card store called Pine Riders in Riverton. He was a big sports card collector, too. That was a lot of fun buying and selling cards.

At our grand opening, we had former Yankees pitcher Bud Daley who still lives in Fremont County. I ran into Bud at the Wind River Casino working the slots a few months ago.  We also had former Cleveland Indian utility player Woody Held who lived in Dubois. He passed away in 2009.

bud daley

Bud Daley  makes his home in Riverton, Wyoming. He pitched the winning game in the 1962 World Series. He was a special guest when Pine Riders opened in Riverton.

It was around this time that the bottom started falling out of the market. The hobby became very weird. Topps had a corner on the hobby which was now being transformed into business. Two other companies, Donruss and Fleer came out with sets. All of a sudden, the market was flooded with cards.

To top it all off, a Walmart opened up in Riverton and if I didn’t know better, Walmart targeted Pine Riders and the office supply store across the street with predatory pricing.

Kids were bringing in cards they bought there for less than our wholesale price. Pine Riders slowly lost that part of the business which was a blessing in disguise since there were Donruss, Score, Topps, Fleer, Bowman, Leaf, Fleer Ultra, Upper Deck, Topps Stadium Club and a bunch of others. The store continued to do okay in the secondary market. I left the business when I moved to Colorado.

The old cards maintained their values, but for new collectors, artificial scarcity was created with unique “chase” cards that were traded and sold like stock. Those cards weren’t for collecting, but rather for making money. I think sports cards mirrored the dot com model. Whoever ended up with a suitcase full of chase cards ended up holding card board.

maris topps

Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961. All the boys in the neighborhood wanted to be Roger.

As for myself, I traded away my bulk cards which were sets spanning 1958 to 1990. I started collecting certain Yankees teams: 1996 the Seinfeld Yankees era with Jeter, Williams, O’Neill; 1977 – 78 with Reggie Jackson; 1961 – 62 with Mantle and Maris; 1953 my birth year, 1932 with Ruth at the end of his career; 1923 first year in Yankee Stadium and first World Series title, 1919 the year of the White Sox scandal NFL and Chicago Bears founder George Halas was on the team. Then lost interest.

ground zero

This is Ground Zero in October 2001. Every time I go to New York I go to the same corner and take a picture.

Phase 5 – the 2000s, Terrorism and baseball – September 11, 2001 was a strange day. I was working in Denver at the time. I didn’t have the radio or TV playing that morning. I rode the 204 bus to the RTD station in Downtown Boulder.

No chatter on the bus. There was not one mention of the World Trade Center terrorist attack until we pulled into the Table Mesa Park n Ride. When I got into Denver and on the 15 bus, the town was eerily quiet – no planes were in the sky.

Flash forward.

I’m a very experiential person and felt like I needed to get to New York City. Turned out the Yankees won the American League Pennant, but the World Series was delayed until late October because of the terrorist attacks. I flew from Denver to Boston and made my way to New York on Amtrak for games three and four. I bought game tickets on ebay.

    These are the two fans i befriended for game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium. Jeter hits a walk off homer in the 10th.

These are the two fans i befriended for game 3 of the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium. Jeter hits a walk off homer in the 10th.

This trip, I stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania which is across from Penn Station. It used to be well kept secret in New York City, but has since been “rediscovered” – at least they raised their rates.

The Yankees dropped the first two to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. The security was tight getting into Yankee Stadium. The game was dramatic. President Bush threw out the first pitch.

A flag from the World Trade Center flew over the stadium. Lee Greenwood sang “I’m Proud to be an American”. Clemens pitched well, I think a three hitter and the Yankees win 2 – 1 on a hit by Scott Brosius.

Game four was quite the nail biter that went into the 10th inning. Paul O’Neil gets on base and Tino Martinez smacks one into the stands to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth off BH Kim.

jeter rookie

Derek Jeter retires this year. He was one of many Yankees who appeared on Seinfeld.

Kim stays in the game in the 10th and ends up facing Jeter who hits a walk off homer to take a three games to two lead. I sat with a couple New York guys.

Everyone was a Yankees fan that night.

Jeter was dubbed “Mr. November” for his heroics. He’ll likely be the only player to be known as that since I’d be surprised if any more World Series games are played in November.

babe ruth w517

I’ve been filling in my 1919, 1923 Yankees collection. eBay has taken the challenge out of collecting. All a hobbyist needs is money and can buy just about anything.

Phase 6 – 2013, Downsizing – I had some pretty serious health issues in 2013 and came to the realization that it’s time to start sort through my stuff. I’ve been threatening to do this for many years.

I was in the hospital and rehab place for six weeks; physical therapy for four weeks and have been on my own for six weeks.

The acid test will be when I take on the Bolder Boulder 10K foot race on Memorial Day. I joined a facebook baseball card group which compelled me to get out the boxes again. Now that I’m old, it’s time to let other people enjoy what i have and am selling and trading to lighten my load.

I’m moving many cards, autographs, comic books and other ephemera on ebay. I’m converting the stuff that I no longer want into the few odd ball items I need to fill out some of my Yankees collections.

It’s very liberating but very time consuming. I’m still challenged by collecting and enjoy thumbing through my collection – I feel like a kid again!

ohtani rookie

I’m stuck with a couple cards of Shohei Ohtani. So far he’s turned about to be a bust after being hyped up during his rookie season.

Phase 7 – Memorabilia Existentialism. I knew I was getting old, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast. Most years, I buy exactly one pack of baseball cards from the local Target.

I don’t know many of the players these days, since I don’t play fantasy baseball anymore either. But I do collect one or two cards of a hot Yankees player who emerges during the summer.

There was Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani who debuted in 2018. He was the “next Babe Ruth” because he was as good a pitcher as he was a batter. It turned out that American baseball is a lot more strenuous than the sport in Japan and he was soon injured. Last season, he didn’t play much and used mostly as a pinch hitter.

I haven’t been tempted to chase the “rare cards” created by false scarcity. Before 1980, there was pretty much one card manufacturing company called Topps

After that the market has been flooded by cards by a bunch of card brands. There’s no inherent shortage of cards. Now, “special edition” cards are included, like autographs, or hyped up ones.

Now it’s less about the hobby, and more about investing. Whoever gets stuck holding last year’s fake-rare cards are the big losers.

During my self isolation, I’ve been purging like there’s no tomorrow, which could, in fact be the case. I’ve emptied seven file boxes filled with papers, taken countless books and T-shirts to the thrift stores.

Now I’m inventorying all my “good stuff” for future liquidation.

Since the bulk of my collection was acquired before baseball cards became investments, I don’t worry about resale value as much as I do about enjoyment from the hobby. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to scrounge a 1928 Yankees signed baseball with Babe on the sweet spot, a cut signature of Lou Gehrig, and obscure stuff for my 1960 to 1964 Yankees collection.

I see in some of my facebook collector groups posts by guys who say they are collecting to pay for their kid’s college educations. Fat chance that will happen. It’s an excuse for them to hold on to their pieces of cardboard with pictures of guys wearing funny hats for as long as possible.

My heirs won’t know what’s so interesting about a 1990 Fleer Ultra Frank Thomas, let alone where to sell it. I’ll be getting rid of all my stuff within the next five years, the next 20 years at the latest!

Not that there’s anything wrong with that

elway xxxiii

Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway in Super Bowl XXXIII

The Broncos fresh off a win in Super Bowl 50 are looking for a quarterback now that Peyton Manning is hanging up his spurs. His back-up, Brock Osweiler is on to greener prairies in Texas leaving the team’s General Manager, John Elway, in a lurch.

I’m sure Elway can relate to the quarterback replacement dilemma after his retirement following the Super Bowl XXXIII win which brings me to my story.

In 1999, I was doing some consulting work for a non-profit in Boulder called Rock the Planet that used mountain climbing as a metaphor for positive youth development.

The group sent me on a field trip to attend a climbing wall convention in New York City.

It was the dead of winter. I made arrangements to stay with one of my college classmates who still lives on the upper westside between Broadway and Central Park on 72nd.

A couple days before my visit, he called and said he was deathly ill with a cold and made arrangements for me to stay at one of his friend’s short term rentals in Greenwich Village.

I arrived and was greeted by Jon who escorted me to the little studio, that he rented to me for a couple hundred bucks for the weekend. It was cozy but cold. By the time the steam heated up the small place, it was time for me to leave.

I don’t recall anything about the meeting I attended, but it was Super Bowl Sunday and the Broncos were playing. I didn’t know the neighborhood that well, since I normally stay a little further uptown at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Near my room was a bar – or what looked like a bar. There wasn’t a prominent sign. Since neither of the New York teams were playing, I suspected the crowd would be light.

When I walked through the door, the place was rocking – loud music, people dancing. There was a TV behind the bar. I elbowed my way through the crowd, and sat down on an empty stool and ordered a beer. I asked the bartender to put on the game.

Meanwhile a couple guys walked over and sat down and struck up a conversation wondering what I was doing there. We had a couple laughs before they disappeared into the crowd.

Eventually, I noticed that the bar was not only full of mostly men, which wasn’t unusual, but there were men dancing with men and guys making out with guys in the booths.

Stonewall1

The Stonewall Inn was ground zero for the modern day gay rights movement.

Turned out, I had stumbled upon the infamous and now famous Stonewall Inn.

Back in the summer of 1969, it became the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. In those days, police routinely raided gay bars, but on June 28th of that year, nobody cooperated and a riot broke out. The following morning thousands joined a protest on Christopher Street.

My college friend is gay and while frat brothers at a small Presbyterian college in the middle of Nebraska, sexual orientation wasn’t of much concern since it was an assumed heterosexual world there. I didn’t learn that my ‘mate was gay until we were well out of school.

Back in the late 1980s when I was living in Lander, Wyoming, I was out drinking with a buddy. After the bars closed we went over to his place. That was the first and only time I had been propositioned by a man. I told him I prefer women. He made it sound like being gay was a choice and tried to talk me into it,  “You might like it,” he said.

I told him I prefer women.

That was that.

I imagined he felt the same as when I was when a woman turned down my proposition. My sexual exploits aren’t anything to write home about. I don’t imagine they are much different that the rest of the people I’ve hung around with over the years.

What may be different, I do have a documentary movie in mind about personal classified ads and online dating. I’m of the age where I’ve had success and failures with both. I’m now getting up the nerve to ask some of the women I’ve met through those means whether they’d be willing to share their experiences  – not necessarily experiences with me, though.

I watched a documentary on HBO about gay online dating which included some bizarre stories.

The Stonewall Inn will probably be a part of this project in someway, but i probably won’t get around to it until the next Super Bowl because I’ll have to make a pilgrimage there.

By the way, the Stonewall was hoppin’ by the time the confetti was flying at the end of Super Bowl XXXIII. I was the only one who cared that the Broncos beat the Atlanta Falcons 34 – 19. I got on the train and went uptown to Sardi’s to celebrate.

Purging baseball cards for the good of future generations

I put all my baseball cards from 1979 to 1998 in the neighborhood rummage sale.

Silver Sage Village is having a 16 household rummage sale on September 19th and everyone has been culling through their junk. My office mate moved to one he set up in his apartment and this has given me a good chance to go through my stuff.

I’ve been selling unwanted things on ebay, including parts of my sports card collection. My account is AnAmericanPlaceII which is an homage to social realism photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery in New York City.

In a past life, I had a sports card store front called Pine Riders in Riverton, Wyoming that opened during the sports card bubble in the late 1980s through the 1990s. The great thing about having a store like that was buying, selling and trading for my own hobby, as well as helping others support theirs. To this day, I’m amazed I was able to keep the doors open turning over cardboard worth a dime to a few bucks.

On Pine Riders opening day, former Yankees pitcher who won the decisive game of the 1961 World Series, Bud Daley, came over and signed autographs. I ran into Bud at the Wind River Casino when I was in Fremont County a few months back.

When I moved from Wyoming to Colorado over 20 years ago, I hauled literally a ton of cards with me in notebooks, boxes and brief cases that took up space in closets, crawl spaces and basements.

At the height of the card bubble, I had a colleague trade my entire collection of cards – complete sets from 1958 through 1998 – around 25,000 cards – for a handful of items that are of more interest to me and much less bulky to haul around. Among my newly pared down collection is a 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle card and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig autographs.

My friend Rodger McDaniel recently wrote a blog post about how he was once a millionaire before his mother threw away his baseball card collection with included a few 1952 Mickey Mantle cards. That Topps card is one of the few Holy Grails of the hobby. My mom, on the other hand, saved mine in a box which was the basis of my collection as I have continued it to this day.

Rodger’s lament is one of the classics.

In getting ready for the garage sale, I am doing my part to increase the value of the newer vintage of sports cards that are generally from 1980 to the present.

I realized I had no heart-felt feelings about them, like I do for the rest of my Yankees collections and started slashing and burning. I collect:

  • 1919 Yankees for no particular reason except that Chicago Bears founder George Halas was on that team and this also was the year of the Black Sox Scandal;
  • 1923 Yankees were the first to play in Yankee Stadium and won the first World Series title that year;
  • 1932 Yankees finished the season winning the World Series and highlighted by Babe Ruth’s supposed “called shot” home run for a sick kid and also the first year for Frank Crosetti;
  • 1961 – 1962 Yankees‘ third base coach was Frank Crosetti and this was also the first year I paid close attention to baseball mostly because of Maris and Mantle chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record;
  • 1977 – 1978 Yankees with Reggie, Reggie, Reggie!
  • 2001 Yankees since I went to New York for games 3 and 4 of the World Series a month after 9/11

I emptied out all my boxes of Donruss, Fleer, Bowman and Topps, cards, which in this day and age have little value to me personally or financially. The huge number of cards and sets and subsets became unmanageable. Now, I could care less about Harold Baines or even Mark McGwire who took a personal and professional nose dive in the wake of the performance enhancing drug scandals.

Those are all going to the garage sale along with hundreds more – George Brett, Nolan Ryan …

Free agency also screwed things up. It used to be a player stayed on the same team for his entire career. Now, a pitcher has a good year and gets traded.

I’ve always been a Yankees fan and many of those I’m tossing are of ballyhooed young players like Brien Taylor and Pat Kelly. I also have a lot of players like Joe Girardi who were okay, but not great players. I also had a lot of Girardi cards because he was one of the original Colorado Rockies in the 1992 expansion draft.

During this time period, I was in a rotisserie baseball league called the Buttheads. I always collected cards of the players on my team – the Yangs – which gave a bit of reality to the fantasy. I have a lot of Greg Maddux cards and Pedro Astacio, Denny Neagle (I was the only Butthead to select Rockies pitchers).

Why the Yangs?

In Star Trek Episode 52 “The Omega Glory” Kirk and crew find themselves in some alternate world where the good guys are the Yangs and bad buys are the Coms.

Back to sorting.

I’m a member of a facebook group called Baseball Card of the Day. Members post images of cards for various reasons, memories, updating about the status of their collections. Occasionally, there will be someone who talks about leaving their collection to their kids to pay for their college educations.

I say, do your kids a favor and cash in your cards while you’re still alive. If a guy like me who¬† has a pretty good idea as to how much a Frank Thomas 1990 Leaf card is worth and where I might find someone who would might buy it, an heir with no idea about the hobby will have a hard time figuring out how to parlay that 1989 complete set of Topps baseball cards into microbiology textbooks.

Baseball cards are for moms to decide to keep or throw away, it’s much less stressful.

By the way, If you’re holding a Joe Hesketh rookie card, it just went up in value because I threw mine away.