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Ramblings: Baseball, Baseball Cards Always Changing

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I was glancing through Facebook when I read this rant the other day:

“Before they’re done they’ll turn baseball into a Sunday softball league playing for kegs of beer. First they gave us the DH, causing the World Series to be bastardized. Then we got wild card playoffs when teams qualify for the postseason even though they don’t finish in first place. Then we got esoteric statistics to complicate a simple game that work for 100 years without them. Now we have reviewed plays and sliding paths to home plate. Please Mr. Doubleday, save our game. Adding to my previous rant, I abhor inter-league play which reduces the uniqueness of the World Series, homogenizing the umpires, seventh-inning specialists, eighth inning setup men and finally, the closer and one of my favorites, the pitch count. I once asked Johnny Sain about pitch counts and he said “check out how many complete games I threw. They weren’t all 100 pitches.” 

Rich Ramblings 2014The man who wrote this was Hal Bock, who for years was the respected lead baseball writer for the Associated Press before he retired a few years ago.

A person reading this realizes Hal would like go to back to the eight-team league days where the two winners played in the World Series and the post-season might even end before October 1. And yes, at least in 1955, the World Series ended in September after a seven-game World Series no less. But what he is really saying is he misses what he remembers from his younger days. And while I agree with parts of what he says, especially about how pitchers do not complete games, the game has always evolved in one way or another.

And the same can be said of baseball cards. I have been told on more than one occasion that this column is one of the links back to what many people consider the golden days of the hobby. And while we realize in many ways the days of base sets being key made life simpler, we understand the business realities of today’s world where parallels, insert cards and autograph hits are the key items while base cards mainly end up sitting in 5.000 count boxes. It’s the modern reality and there’s no going back.  And if I ever say that the current evolution of baseball cards is a disgrace, please hit me over the head with whatever object is readily available.

While it would be nice to go back to the days of base cards, do a show almost every weekend, make money from a full ‘wax’ box we just bought (after we put our sets together) and get a giant sports collecting magazine in the mail every week, we understand that time has passed.  We can, however, still urge more  interpersonal communication in our collecting activities.

1968 Topps Gary NolanHere’s another way things have changed for the better, really.  In the 1968 Topps set (which was the first one I actively collected), we see players such as Gary Nolan who struck out more than 200 batters as a teenage rookie. Can you imagine what hype Nolan would have if he did that in 2014? He carved out a decent career but back in ’68, there was no ‘rookie card hype’ and Nolan was never much more than a common card.

Every card has a story and it does seem like the stories were better in the days when guys weren’t set for life after their first three-year contract.  How about  Bob Tiefenauer, a knuckleball specialist who was still pitching in the minors at age 40?  Or even Jim Campanis, who enjoyed a few years in the big leagues but it was his father who really ended becoming famous after some unfortunate comments during a Nightline interview.

So, we will continue to talk about not only the Walter Paytons of the world but also the Gary Nolans because to us growing up they were the same in so many ways but we will, unlike Mr. Bock, continue to adapt to changing times.

A few other notes:

I’ve been finding a  lot of former ball players are on LinkedIn.  Thanks to one of our readers, I think we even found Steve Stroughter, whose 1982 Topps Traded rookie card I wrote about earlier this month. We definitely found Mr. Stroughter on Facebook. But a different former major league sent me a message recently, no doubt part of a mass messaging campaign he was undertaking for this business he’s gotten involved with.

“Our team is expanding in Mexico launch in process & Central & South America next! Nows the time to get in. With your connections, Id love to talk to you about this huge opportunity to join our team and make crazy $$. You won’t regard it, I promise. Call me asap”.

Well at least it appears baseball is continuing the global expansion that Bud Selig has pushed for in so many years.

And we also found another former major leaguer on LinkedIn. My memories of this player have to do with a Beckett recollection. You see almost 20 years ago, my colleague, Theo Chen, created a web site dedicated to the very attractive South African tennis star Amanda Coetzer. One day he told me a current major leaguer had actually contacted him to see if Theo could put him in contact with Ms. Coetzer. I don’t think he ever did but since the player was on AOL, I was able to check his biography and the request was indeed from a major league player.  Seeing his name pop up again, made me remember those days and I used to keep him on my buddy list just in case my curiosity ever got the better of me.

Now players find other people through social media among other ways. Could you imagine telling someone in 1950 that they would use computers to find a person they wanted to meet? Yep, things changed in terms of what baseball was, things changed in terms of baseball cards and things have changed in terms of how some people meet other people. And it’s for fun to roll with the punches and keep going.

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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