The neighborhood around Cooperstown, New York was upgraded considerably in 2007 when two particular men, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, were enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame. To say that these guys represented the “Class” of 2007 is true in any number of dimensions.
I moved to the Baltimore/Washington area in 1983, which is right about the time both Ripken and Gwynn came on the MLB scene. Ripken of course, soon became a minor deity in Baltimore. Growing up in the Midwest and later living on the east coast, I did not much follow the San Diego Padres. They might as well have been the Pluto Padres as far as I was concerned. What I did know about them, however, was codified in the persona of Tony Gwynn.
No tribute to Tony Gwynn is complete without that hilarious commercial he and Bip Roberts did for MLB about twenty years ago. Bip mistook the value of Robin Roberts’ rookie card for his own, until Gwynn corrected him. As a baseball card collector, I could not stop laughing. Besides, I had a Bip Roberts rookie card, but not a 1949 Bowman Robin Roberts one, unfortunately.
Watch, remember, and enjoy. RIP Tony.
In the expansive world of collectible baseball cards, 1986 Topps Baseball comes cheap. In the base set, there are no classic rookie cards worth extorting people over. Barry Bonds’ rookie card came in the 1986 Topps Traded & Rookies set, which is not at all part of the base set, as it is a supplement released after the season. I bet you didn’t know that. That Bonds card used to be valuable, prior to the ‘roid rage era.
It’s been about 12 years now, but Tim—my stepson and partner in baseball card overspending crime—and I came across the opportunity to grab a vending box case of those cards for $75. Vending boxes are literally that…in those days, distributors would go around stuffing baseball card vending machines with these. That case held 15,000 cards, if I recollect. 15,000 essentially worthless cards, stuck in dozens of individual vending boxes containing about 500 each, totally at random. Cards with a big black banner, a weird all-caps font. Bad ‘80’s haircuts. Minuscule statistics on the back. 780-something of the damn things in a set. What to do with them? For starters, let’s have a collating party. That’s right, sort those bad boys into complete sets. Tim was unceremoniously pressed into indentured servitude on this one. I sent a set to my nephew in Texas, who happened to be born in 1986, figuring he might appreciate it someday…a snapshot of the professional baseball scene from the time of his birth. I wish someone would have given me a set of 1960 Topps Baseball back in the day, but if wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets, as the saying goes. So I had reduced my extensive 1986 Topps Baseball holdings down to 14,220. We made another complete set, and undertook a mission: get them signed by each of the 780+ players. All of them. Well, at least the ones who were 1) still alive, 2) able to write their name legibly in cursive, and C) willing to do it for the princely sum of free. This little mission went on for many years, in fits and starts. We were able to accumulate a couple hundred of those autographs. Some of the highlights of this journey:
- Pete Rose wanted something like $50 to sign his card. For that price, I’d rather have had him sign a betting slip from Caesar’s Palace. I passed.
- Cecil Fielder—papa to Prince—was the first one to send his autographed card back. He wins the prize.
- Cecil Cooper (another Cecil) from the Brewers wins the “You Are Now Forever Cool” award, as he signed the card to “Dino” personally.
- At one point, a fellow collector who knew about my quest said he was planning to attend a game in which the minor league Winston-Salem Warthogs (look it up) were a contestant. The man with the all-time coolest name in the history of major league baseball—who was the manager of the Warthogs—signed his card in person. My connection said that the Warthog players witnessing this signing event could not stop laughing at the player’s hairdo on the card. That manager was Razor Shines.
Anybody want some 1986 Topps Baseball Cards? Let’s make a deal! Only a few thousand left…