Archived Story

Remember the joy of baseball cards

Published 9:25am Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

I was part of a shifting economy.

I was penniless until I found a nickel behind a sofa cushion.

I dropped the nickel near the cash register at Sibilrud’s Cardinal Grocery Store (featuring three aisles) and received five Topps baseball cards in a packet with a piece of bubblegum. I didn’t like the bubblegum.

Gum had to be bad for a scabby-kneed dork like me not to like it. I once chewed a card instead of the gum by mistake and didn’t notice any difference. Mrs. Laite, the store clerk, gave me a small receipt, which I ignored. I rushed outside, sat on the steps in front of Sibilrud’s and made a wish before opening the packet. I hoped a card would feature the likeness of Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson or Harmon Killebrew. I freed the cards individually. I freed my greed.

“Got him. Got him. Got him. Need him. Got him,” I said to no one and everyone.

It was the traditional song of a baseball card collector. I sounded like a bad auctioneer or a boy with a rare form of Tourette syndrome. I groaned pathetically after each, “Got him.”

I had a flair for the dramatic. I remembered every card I owned. I’m paying for using up so much memory at an early age. It manifests itself in an inability to remember the actor that was in the movie “The Green Mile.” You know the guy. He’s in many movies. His name escapes me until five hours later when I’m standing in line in a convenience store and I blurt aloud, “David Morse!”

The “Got him. Got him. Got him. Need him. Got him,” chant meant that I already had all but one card. Four of the cards would be doubles in my collection.

There was no Musial, Mantle, Snider, Aaron, Mays, Kaline, Clemente, Mathews, Robinson or Killebrew. I would’ve taken Roger Maris or Warren Spahn. Whitey Ford would have been OK. The packet contained the images of Marvelous Marv Throneberry, Wally Post, Jerry Zimmerman, and Elmer Valo. The images smiled or looked determined. Looking at their statistics, I’ll bet some wanted to cry. They couldn’t. There’s no crying on baseball cards.

I got Johnny Logan. That was good. A shortstop with the Milwaukee Braves, Logan was an All-Star more than once and led the National League in doubles one season. Baseball card collectors knew interesting things like that. I needed Logan, but I got Throneberry, Post, Zimmerman and Valo, too. I had them. Everyone had them.

Most boys I knew collected baseball cards. A guy collected them for years so that one day his mother could throw them out the first chance she had after they’d been left in the closet for only 19 years after he’d left the house. You have to wonder what mothers are thinking sometimes.

Mom was OK with me collecting baseball cards. It was an annoying obsession, but it involved reading and math. The benefits outweighed the nonsense. Figuring out batting averages was more fun than regular old arithmetic. I had greedily amassed every baseball card I could.

Girls generally looked at the piles of baseball cards held together by rubber bands and kept inside cigar boxes, and rolled their eyes like an odometer clicking the tenths of a mile. One girl said that Del Crandall was cute. Cute? He was a catcher. If he had heard her comment, Del would have rolled his eyes.

I traded doubles with friends, but everyone had Throneberry, Post, Zimmerman and Valo. I offered three Throneberrys and two Posts to a buddy for a single Nellie Fox, Yogi Berra or Don Drysdale. I was willing to give two Zimmermans and two Valos for one Bill Skowron, Harvey Kuenn or Gus Triandos.

We flipped cards. I flipped a card into the air. Another boy did the same. If the cards matched (heads or tails) when they fell to the ground, the other boy owned both. If they didn’t match, I won his card.

I used clothespins to attach baseball cards of players like Throneberry to my bicycle so that the spokes hit them and made cool sounds. It was a motor to a good imagination. It was a motorcycle to a great imagination. Either way, it wasn’t good for the cards. Throneberry’s cards took many more hits than the real Marvelous Marv ever had.

I feel guilty about that.

If I ever get a motorcycle, I’m going to call it the Throneberry.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.