On My Unhealthy Relationship With Baseball Cards

By The Common Man

Everything I bought this weekend

 On Saturday and Sunday, I spent all day wandering around the Metrodome and standing in lines for autographs at the Minnesota Twins’ annual fan fest. It was, as usual, a nerdtastic good time. If you love baseball and are as immersed in a team’s history and invested in its success as Bill and I are, it’s a terrific experience to meet players, shake hands, question GMs, and check out memerobilia.

It’s also a tremendous opportunity, in our case, to check out baseball cards.

I don’t know what your relationship with baseball cards is, but here’s mine: I started collecting when just about everyone else did in the mid-1980s. I still have every Topps set from 1986-1994, and the 1989-1992 Upper Deck sets. There are also a few random Score and Fleer sets thrown in there. I collected as many cards as I could afford.

Eventually, like most of you, I tailed off. I got older. I got smarter. I realized they didn’t actually have as much value as I thought they did. I put them in a cupboard, and largely forgot about them.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think that collecting baseball cards ever goes completely out of someone’s system. Sure, you may realize it’s silly. What possible actual use could these cards have? Fuel and kindling after the apocolypse, maybe. And the Topps Aluminum set could be used as nifty throwing stars if you practiced long enough. But ultimately, they don’t have any value beyond the knowledge, deep in your heart, that they’re yours. That you have them, and that other people don’t. Despite their lack of usefulness, and the way they may be cluttering up your basement today, you still feel the pull of them. You want more, even when you know you don’t need them.

For me, this desire is too strong to ignore. So, when I hit the floor of the Metrodome, where they hold the self-proclamed “largest baseball card and memorobilia show in the Upper Midwest,” I’m unstoppable. As our friend Carson Cistulli, of FanGraphs and NotGraphs and assorted poetry, commented this weekend, “You haven’t seen impulse buying until you’ve seen The Common Man look through boxes and tubs of old baseball cards.”

It’s true. I dig like a hedgehog. I’m not looking for anything in particular, just anything that seems fun. A 1970 Bobby Bonds? I don’t have any of him. Wally Moon and his unibrow circa 1957? I can’t pass that up. Marv Throneberry? That dude was terrible. Of course I want his 1963 card. Two packs of Senior Professional Baseball League cards, commemorating a winter league for older players (everyone was 35 or older) that lasted for just a season and a half? How could I skip that? Just $5 for a whole box of Topps Big Baseball Cards? I would be a fool not to buy it.

The thing is that I know from experience that I won’t re-sell any of this. I don’t even try to fool myself anymore. I’ve tried that. I bought a factory-sealed 1987 Fleer set in 2003 for $30, as Barry Bonds was chasing the single-season homerun record. I figured I could turn around and sell it on Ebay when he hit #71. That set is still in its seal in my basement. I couldn’t part with it. And now, of course, it’s worth nowhere near that and Bonds is a pariah.

I bought a 1964 Pete Rose card just before his memoir came out in 2004 for $15, figuring I’d capatalize on the renewed interest in Pete flip it for at least twice that. Now, keep in mind, I hate Pete Rose for what he did. How he bet on baseball and lied about it for so long. I don’t want to meet him. I don’t want his autograph. I would be exceedingly happy if we could never hear about him again. So I had no reason for wanting to keep this card. And I kept this card. I could not let someone else have it. I am exceedingly greedy like that, I guess.

After I’m done opening all the packs and examining all the cards he bought front and back, they’re going to go down in the basement. I probably won’t see them again for at least a year. Maybe even for much longer than that. But I’ll know that they’re there. I’ll know that they’re all mine. And I’ll know that you can’t have them. And, for some reason, I like that feeling. And while it may ultimately mean fewer baseball cards for me, I hope you do too.