If you’re reading this post you’ve probably bought at least 1 pack of baseball cards, if not 100’s of packs of baseball cards in your life. Well my experience was just a little bit different.
As a child growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s, Topps baseball cards were the gold standard, and for 3 years they were all mine. Every card, and every insert were mine for the taking, and I do mean taking.
I grew up just 6 blocks from a Topps manufacturing plant and from 1968 to 1971 I got every single card for free. During that time, before the baseball card boom of the 80’s it was the practice of Topps to toss any cards that hit the floor into the garbage. At 10 cents a pack they weren’t worth anything, and were treated as nothing more than litter. By pure luck I also happened to live only a couple of blocks from the private garbage hauler that had the contract to take away Topps’s garbage. They picked up the garbage every Wednesday and Friday, and on Friday they wouldn’t take the trucks to the dump until Monday, so the trucks would be parked for the weekend loaded with Topps baseball cards, packs and packs of unopened cards. Every Saturday morning me and a couple of friends would go “shopping”. It was dirty work, but when you’re 10 years old, it wasn’t much dirtier than a typical summer’s day.
Each week would yield anywhere from 75-200 packs of cards. Baseball card nirvana. Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Rose, all mine for the taking. Rookie cards of Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Thurman Munson. I had dozens of them.
After 4 years it was over. Topps must have changed to another garbage hauler, because no more cards showed up on Saturday morning. It sucked at the time, but hey, I had several thousand baseball cards, in mint condition that I got for free, and in 15 years those cards would be worth several thousand dollars…….if I only held on to them.
All the cards were faithfully placed into boxes, every set complete, from 1968 to 1971, along with 100’s of doubles. Being a Yankee fan I had a bunch of Yankee cards including at least 10- 1968 Mantles. All “safely” tucked away in my closet.
High School, girls, college, girls, work, and girls took up a lot of my time and when I moved out in 1981 after I got married, I failed to take my cards with me. It never crossed my mind.
A couple of years later the baseball card industry exploded, and I realized that I had a small fortune “safely” tucked away in a closet. As you can probably guess, the cards were not “safely” tucked away. My Mother had “thrown them out years ago.” No Mantles, no Mays, no Clementes, not even a Danny Cater. All gone, no small fortune, no new car, no Hawaiian vacation…..nothing…nada….zip…..or so I thought.
When I moved out I did take my books with me, mostly baseball books, but a couple of classics, Catcher In The Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, All Quiet On The Western Front, among others. A couple of years after what I like to refer to as, “Baseball Armageddon”, I watched Fahrenheit 451on TV, and decided to reread the Ray Bradbury classic. This happened to be one of the books I brought with me when I had moved out 10 years before and when I opened the book out popped this 1971 Thurman Munson card. I had used it as a bookmark over 18 years before when I 1st read the book.
It reminded me of all that I had lost, but it also reminded me of some of the best times I’ve ever had. 4 summers of baseball card heaven, 4 summers of playing non stop baseball, 4 summers of childhood innocence and joy.
I’ve used this card as a bookmark for the last 20 years. About 5 years ago I put it in a protective sleeve. It’s creased and bent in 15 different places, and not worth a nickel.
It’s priceless, and every time I look at it, it makes me smile.