While driving to work the other day I was listening to Mike and Mike on the DFW local ESPN outlet. During that time I was driving, they were conducting an interview with Tony Clark, who is now the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
During the interview Clark uttered these words which Mike Greenberg astutely picked up on: "Baseball is a regional game". While we like to think it’s the “national” pastime, Tony's words rang true and reminded me about some old parts of the baseball card hobby. Do you realize in many ways baseball cards were themselves a regional hobby?
When people wax nostalgic about card collecting in the 1950's and the games they used to play with the cards it seems that they are usually city based and especially Eastern city based. And if you think about where the two major card companies (Topps and Bowman) and big league teams were headquartered at the time, that may not be surprising. To top that off, the world of Pacific Coast League (PCL) collecting was of course active as Zeenuts produced cards for more than a quarter century and there were plenty of other Western regional issues which even continued for a few years after the major leagues headed west in 1958.
In Texas, the hobby is noticeably stronger for card shows in the Houston area then in the Dallas area. And I'm convinced one reason for that is that Houston got big league baseball a good ten years before the Rangers arrived. And if you wonder why the megalopolis is still the primary area for shows, well it is because the hobby was stronger traditionally there and that has continued to this day.
But we've even discussed some of these card regional quirks of the past. The 1967 Topps semi-high series apparently never made St.Louis (or at least not many did) but the high numbers were very prevalent there. The 1972 Topps high number football card series was released in the Dallas-Fort Worth area which was then, and still is today, a football hotbed at all levels. So yes, there might even be other important regional variances and if you remember any we'd love to hear about them.
Of course, baseball does not help itself by not having a weekly game on network television. We went through this in 1990 when CBS, while throwing a ton more money at baseball than NBC or ABC, only televised Saturday games each week for less than half the season. Even in 1990, if you really wanted to watch national baseball telecasts, you did so on Sunday night with Joe Morgan and Jon Miller.
If you really want to make baseball a national sport again, you need to ensure there is still a network presence. I get the amount of money the regional cable networks pay for these rights and I know cable and satellite have blurred the lines of ‘national’ TV, but more teams should do what the Texas Rangers do. Each Friday night there is a game on free TV (Channel 21). The other problem with regional networks is that not every cable provider is carrying all these games. Dodger fans know all about that.
The good thing for most card collectors is that there are many ways one can keep up with baseball even without the network coverage. We have computers with great web sites such as mlb.com, which has great highlights, ESPN, SI.com and many more. Heck, there are always a great deal of old games available on YouTube to help pass the time when there are no live games to watch.
And today, while the game of baseball may be regional, card collecting is surely, thanks to the Internet, a truly international hobby.