The Birth of the Golden Age of Baseball Cards
February 28, 2014
by William Szczepanek
I have just gone through the trials and tribulations of having my computer crash, buying a new one and reinstalling my web development environment. I lost a few articles that I had just begun to work on, but for the most part have recovered in good shape. In moving paper files to a new office I came across something that I wrote more than 20 years ago. To give you an idea of its age it was printed on paper with sprocket holes down the side. As I read over it I realized that this was the seed of an idea that would ultimately become The Golden Age of Baseball Cards.
In 1993, before the advent of the internet as we now know it I first thought about writing about baseball cards and recorded some ideas. What follows is the transcript of that experience:
Why would a 45-year-old man be writing a book about baseball cards? “Won’t you ever grow up,” I can still hear my mother saying. Well, I hope not, I thought. Not until I finish this book anyway. Why? Because something is wrong. All the books I’ve seen on the subject of baseball cards pander to the whims and wishes of those out to make a buck — How to Make Money at Buying and Selling Baseball Cards, checklists up-to-date values — Give me a break. Sure, baseball cards were made to be collected, but to sit in a box or plastic case, or Plexiglas holder — what’s the point?
Baseball cards are meant to be enjoyed, but how can you enjoy a piece of colorful cardboard? That is the basis for this book. Baseball cards have taken on the same characteristics as baseball players themselves. Players are rated by how much money they make. Likewise, cards are valued by how much money they’re worth.
Should cards be treated like postage stamps, depicting something of historical worth and then doomed to an album to live in a closet (or Bank vault)? Certainly not. The value of anything lies in its relationship to its owner. Baseball cards are meant to be held, fondled, and loved like other objects of affection. We don’t buy a Wade Boggs model bat and put it in a case. We want to use it to help live the experience of playing in the Major Leagues. Line drives come off the bats of Wade Boggs, home runs come off the bats of Cecil Fielder and great defensive plays from the gloves of Ryne Sandberg. Why should baseball cards be different? After all it only takes a little imagination to bring those things to life.
Baseball cards are meant to be played with. I’ve played with my cards. The Mickey Mantle’s, the Henry Aaron’s, the Willie Mays’ and the Ted Williams’, not to mention the Jerry Kindall’s, the Sammy Esposito’s and the Dick Gernert’s. Who?
Who, most of you ask are Kindall, Esposito and Gernert? They are players of the past who for a short time played in the Majors, but if it weren’t for baseball cards, could have been forgotten. They are etched in my mind not only by how they may have been seen playing on the field or on TV, but how they are depicted on their cards. Jerry Kindall couldn’t hit major league pitching, but he was a terror in a baseball card game.
Do cards have less value because the edges are worn or the gloss caressed from the surface? Monetarily, sure. But for me nothing will ever replace the enjoyment these cards brought to me in my early years. Day after day, year after year, they never let me down. They were always there to fill some quiet time alone or with friends providing pure excitement of the mind.
Is this book for children only? YES, it emphatically is. But being a child or childlike is a state of mind that should never be lost, for the sake of your children and grandchildren. As I alluded to earlier, I never really have grown up yet.
So this book is for all of those kids who today do not know the true meaning of baseball cards. For those kids who might take those cards and play with them without fear for loss of monetary value. After all, baseball cards prices have really only risen substantially over the last 5 to 10 years. The cards produced over that same time have not increased in value enough to make them true investments in the future.
Cards from the Fifties and Sixties were made in somewhat limited and unknown quantities by a small number of companies. Cards today are made in the millions by many more manufactures interested in cashing in on the experience. The current card boom has been profitable for manufactures, dealers and those who have escaped having their mother toss those “worthless possessions” of a by-gone youth. From, ”Haven’t you grown up yet?” to “I don’t need them anymore,” are the words of anguish of some bygone collectors.
But, if the cards were truly meaningful to these boys and some girls of the past, they wouldn’t have parted with them or have allowed their mothers to throw them out. The valuable cards of today are kept (neglecting the dealers, who are only in business to make money) by those who couldn’t bear to throw them away because of the memories they carry.
We don’t throw away old pictures of our family, friends or relatives — well, under most circumstances we don’t. We keep them to remember the times of the past ---the smell of the gum, the powder on your fingers as you open card packages and flip through the pack hoping to find a favorite player.
My hope is to rekindle this love of baseball cards in the minds of kids of the past and provide a basis for the kids of the future to remember their childhood, not for nostalgic purposes, but to learn from the experiences.
Bookstores and magazine racks are full of magazine editions and special issues which instruct people in the nuances of baseball card pricing and investment. Some give a history of cards and what has made them valuable collectibles. This is fine for the investor and pennies spent in the past have turned into big bucks for some. Does the enjoyment come from knowing you possess something valuable? Sometimes.
The epitome of this occurred in 1990 when a young 13 year old in Addison, Illinois purchased a $1,200 Nolan Ryan rookie card for $12.00 from an unknowledgeable temporary shop clerk. The case was finally settled without a court ruling, with the issue never being resolved. Now, are we talking about a 13-year-old business man or crook? It’s not that we don’t want kids to grow up to be aware, but is the market actually fostering the growth of dishonest businessmen.
Now I hope I haven’t insulted any kids today. I’m sure
some men, like me, have played with their baseball cards. For them this
book will be meaningful and will hopefully expand their
horizons. Many of them are already creative have developed
terrific ideas for the rest of humanity.
I hope not.
I never did write the book and did not start this website and blog until 14 years later in the middle of the economic turndown. The website now reads like a 500 page novel. The basis for my writing has been not to dwell on the past, but to realize that the past has a lot to offer for recognizing where we will be in the future. While many will visit this site with a feeling of nostalgia, it is my goal not be nostalgic but to offer historical snippets of a time past as a barometer of cultural change. For almost no one will be able to relive those years or understand what they were about unless the events can be translated into concepts of today.
The act of playing with baseball cards is dead — never to be revisited or understood by the people of today. It’s a shame.”Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?” can only be understood by people who have loved. Likewise, the real joy of baseball cards comes from having played with them.
“Is it better to have played with cards and seen their monetary value drop, or to have never played with them at all?”
So few today can even understand the question.