What happened in between


When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards. Baseball mattered to me, in a way that not much else did back then, and so I spent the few nickles and dimes that I could find on things to remind me of this.

For 15 cents, I could get  a pack of 15 cards with a stick of gum, and opening them up was an exciting thing for the younger me. There was just one company that sold baseball cards back then, unless you were able to cut the cards from the bottom of a Twinkees box or pull one from a box of Kellogg’s cereal. And the best cards to get were the Reggie Jacksons and Tom Seavers and Pete Roses–the best players in the game.

Mick Kelleher was far, far away from the best player in the game. But he was on the Cubs’ roster, and I saw him play when I watched the Cubs on TV, so his card would have meant something more to me than a player from any other team would. But I never, in my wildest imagination, would have thought to assign any monetary value to his card, or to anybody else’s, either. How valuable could these things possibly be, if you could buy them for just a penny apiece?

In 1981, after a long court battle that I never heard anything about in those days, other companies were able to sell baseball cards, too. And so companies like Fleer and Donruss and Upper Deck got into the action. But things also went wrong, somehow. Rather than a fun hobby, this became a speculative pursuit. And for the life of me, I can’t understand how that happened. But happen it did.

By the time the card on the right came out in 1990, I had lost interest in collecting baseball cards. I was unaware of the sea changes that had taken place. But apparently, the notion that these things had an intrinsic monetary value took hold. A player’s “rookie” card was somehow prized, more so than the cards of the best players in the game. Earl Cunningham was an unknown kid just out of high school in 1990, but someone decided that this “rookie” card might be worth some money one day.

Earl Cunningham never got a whiff of the major leagues. I shudder to think how many cards of Earl Cunningham, and who knows how many other players who you’ve never heard of before, were printed up, sold at a premium to some poor sap, and are now taking up space in warehouses and shoeboxes and wherever else these things go when they’ve become even more worthless than they originally were.

I now have stacks and stacks of these things that I don’t want. I got into collecting again about two years ago, for a reason that I will hopefully write about in this space one day, and I want to trade the ones I now have away to get more Cubs players, like the ones that I had when I was a kid, and these things were worthless.

If I’m out of step with the majority of people who do this sort of thing, that’s fine. But I can’t, in good conscience, go along with the notion that these things have an intrinsic monetary value. They’re worthless little scraps of paper to me.

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