By: Matthew Kohl
The baseball off-season can be fraught with peril for some. Especially if you don’t care for many,
or any, of the winter sports. Baseball fans who aren’t content to follow the free agent game or the trade rumors have a few options to scratch the baseball itch. For example, I like to take a trip through my childhood baseball card collection. My card binder is one of very few things I have left from my youth and it’s the oldest thing I own that I purchased with my own money. It’s interesting to see who I thought was worth putting in the book versus who got clipped into the bike spokes since I only collected cards from players and teams I liked. I didn’t care if they were stars, though many were, and I didn’t care if they played for a rival team. Sometimes a card would get promoted from the box to the binder and sometimes they would get demoted, a practice which accounts for entire pages with only a single card on them in some instances. I don’t change it these days even though the order of cards and grouping of players is ramshackle at best and absolutely maddening when I’m looking for something specific.
Whenever I go through the book, I’m reminded of cards I had that would be worth having today or in the future had I kept them. I didn’t care enough about the players at the time to do so. Allusions of monetary gain be damned as I firmly stand by those edicts that decided what or whom was worth keeping, mysterious as they were. Mariano Rivera’s 1992 Bowman rookie card may disagree with me tossing it aside, but what kid keeps a baseball card featuring some twit standing in khakis and a polo shirt in his collection? Besides, he played for the evil empire. Sometimes though, I get confused as to why I kept something in the book.
WHO THE HELL?
“Who in the hell is Mariano Duncan?” That’s usually the first question I ask myself whenever I peruse the book. He’s on the first page. He was a 2B/SS and career .267 hitter who is currently the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs AA affiliate Tennessee Smokies by the way. I learned that from Wikipedia just today! Even though his career may have been a bit underwhelming, I don’t dare take the card out. For one reason or another an eight year old me thought it belonged in the book and I don’t doubt that reason was a good one. Its placement on the bottom right corner leads me to believe it’s one of the first nine cards I ever put in there. It’s possible it could even be from my very first pack of cards.
Another player who I have several cards from that also has a Cubs connection is Pat Listach, though I know why I kept his cards. He was second place to only Kenny Lofton in stolen bases and won Rookie of the Year honors in 1992. All but one of the cards I have from him are from that season. Coincidentally, he didn’t do much else the rest of his playing career. He’s currently the Cubs third base coach and was voted Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2008 for leading the Iowa Cubs to the postseason. So he has that.
There are also some strange phenomena that permeate my card binder. One of which I call the “Doc Strawberry Page.” It’s weird that two players who got famous in two different decades that both practically ruined their respective careers through drug use ended up grouped together. I knew about the drug problems they had even as a kid. Maybe I thought if I kept them together, but segregated from the other cards, the other players couldn’t do drugs with them. I really loved Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. I was disappointed to see their careers go downhill for such stupid reasons when they both had such great natural talent. I never really gave up on either of them though. That’s probably why I’m so unforgiving of players today.
Another bit of weirdness is what I like to call the Eric Karros Quartet. I’ve grown to dislike him even more as an adult due to his lackluster commentary but I absolutely hated Karros as a kid. Why I kept any of his crap let alone four of the same card is completely unexplainable. In hindsight though, he looks a lot like my cousin Gary. Maybe I thought he was just moonlighting as a police officer.
I don’t have a name for this one but probably the strangest thing that appears in my collection is the random presence of a Damon Berryhill card every other page or so. It begins on the tenth page mysteriously adjacent to Mike Scioscia. Then he appears again on the very next sheet next to Gary Gaeti, another player whose inclusion I have no explanation for. This continues on for another 15 pages until the second to last one where a wall dedicated to Ryne Sandberg ends the curse. I don’t really think I liked him as a player and I can’t imagine I would have liked anything about him other than the fact that he was a catcher, but even that’s a sketchy theory. I didn’t even really care for the Cubs too much until later in 1998 or 1999 so it’s weird that I would have so many of his cards let alone put them in my binder. I can’t figure out why they’re so scattered either. Unless somebody else can come up with a reason, I’ll just have to leave this mystery to future generations.
Still, there are some cards that really do deserve to be in my collection. In fact, one of my favorite pages in the book is the Bo Jackson page. I loved everything about Bo Jackson when I was young. I loved him so much I even picked up a Raiders hat when I had no connection whatsoever with football. In fact, Bo Jackson was the reason I began watching football. If it wasn’t for Bo, I would have entirely missed the final years of Joe Montana’s amazing career (another player I idolized as a child) and the best days of Steve Young’s. I was excited as all hell when he came to the White Sox, and now that I really think about it, he was the reason I started paying any attention at all to my local sports teams. Well, he and Mark Grace, who I was never lucky enough to get a card of…