In recognition of the end of another losing season of Philadelphia Phillies baseball.
Regular readers would be excused for thinking that my family is a bunch of maniacal hoarders.
In the five-plus years of Hope Street, I’ve posted things like:
– my grandfather’s resume
– the license plates he got for his very first car, and the check he wrote the dealership for them
– itineraries and costs for a long-ago train trip on a line that no longer exists
– excerpts from a journal that show every significant improvement my grandpa made to his house, from the 1940s to the 1980s
– an internal company newsletter from 1963
– and, of course, all the day-to-day calendar entries that have defined the blog’s soul.
I suspect these are more mementos, and more obscure, than the typical American family has in its basement.
Now that they’ve turned out the lights at Citizens Bank Park, though, I’m going to write this week about one family item that didn’t make it down the years.
The old baseball cards scattered throughout this week’s entry date to the Fifties, but they aren’t from my dad’s collection.
That’s because, at some far-distant and unnoticed point, my grandma threw out my dad’s cards.
Coulda been while he was off at college; or sometime after he moved out and got married. Who knows? It wasn’t a big enough event to end up on my grandpa’s calendars, that’s certain.
All that matters is that, at some point, they went … the superstars, the bonus babies, the steady veterans, the flashes in the pan, even the umpires … all out to the curb, alongside the wrapper from last Thursday’s pound of hamburger.
Lest you think I am winding up to sing you the blues … no, not really. Despite being an avid card collector as a kid, I’ve never been all that worked up about the ones that got away.
I read about the hobby as a kid, and I was aware that quite a few American mothers had thrown out their kids’ cards — never anticipating that anyone would have an interest in them. It was a common thing, and easy enough to understand.
Plus, this was my grandma we were talking about … the kindly lady who baked blueberry pies. You don’t get mad at your grandma, or at least you didn’t in my family.
So, while I would have found it interesting to have a big stack of Washington Senators and Philadelphia A’s to look at, it was no big thing that I didn’t.
I had a friend in elementary school whose dad’s collection had made it through the years. He let me trade some of my Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden cards for some of his dad’s doubles, which fulfilled any desire I had to own vintage cardboard.
At the time — circa 1984 — Dwight Gooden for Jim Greengrass seemed like highway robbery. Now, it doesn’t look quite so skewed.
The cards I’ve collected from my generation, including my remaining Goodens and Strawberrys, aren’t worth enough on an individual basis to buy a sandwich … and my grandma played a role in that too.
See, the supply of ’50s baseball cards is limited, in part because of all those cleaning-happy moms who threw out their sons’ stashes.
The sons, who never anticipated future demand either, are also to blame for doing destructive things like putting cards inside their bicycle spokes to go flap-flap-flap. Things like house fires and basement floods have claimed a percentage of the remaining ’50s stock over the years, too.
Rarity made the prices of older cards boom in the ’80s, as nostalgic baby boomers and new collectors alike pursued cards that were tough to find in good condition.
(The prices of those cards are still booming. Just last year, a pristine example of the famously rare 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle fetched upwards of $525,000.)
The prices being commanded by ’50s cards put the light of future profits into collectors’ eyes. They bought brand-new cards and socked them away in pristine condition — all the better to cash in in 30 years — while card manufacturers stepped up production.
Unfortunately, nobody threw any of the new cards out, much less stuck them in bicycle spokes or doodled on them with ballpoint pens.
So the pendulum of supply and demand swung back on a grand scale. Relatively few cards produced in recent decades are worth all that much. Some cards are desirable, but few are truly rare or command anything close to the older cards’ prices.
This story about the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck card, the most famous card of my generation, provides some context. There may be as many as 1 million of these cards in the world, and while examples in absolute mint condition can cost you three figures, you can also pick one up for less than $10.
(The ’89 Upper Deck Griffey has been called “the last iconic baseball card,” a phrase that speaks volumes.)
These developments don’t really bother me either. I’ve never bought a pack of baseball cards, or an individual card, with the intent of reselling it — much less sending my kids to college on the proceeds.
The trends are amusing to watch from a distance, though, as I tell myself that the kindly old lady with the blueberry pies is partially responsible.
I enjoy looking at things from my grandparents’ daily lives, like car catalogs from years gone by. And I’ve made considerable hay from those leftovers on this blog over the past five years.
But I don’t have to have or hold everything that passed through 1107 Hope Street. What went by the wayside is interesting too.
Some things — like the hope that attends the start of each Phillies season — just have to be parted with.