Tales from Young Collectors’ Pasts: Part IV

Collectors share their stories from growing up around sports cards…part IV.

Al Barlick, You’re OUT!

In the summer of 1955, I was seven years old and living blocks away from Connie Mack Stadium in Swampoodle (the name of this section of North Philly). My Aunt Dot sent me to the corner store on Somerset Street for candy (they had a huge penny candy display). She gave me a penny to spend for myself.

Right in the middle of the display, I was transfixed by a yellow & blue wax wrapper stating “Full COLOR Picture Card AND GUM”.  I couldn’t plop down that penny fast enough. Running home with my prize (I forgot all about Aunt Dot’s Bolster bar), I locked myself in the bathroom (a seven year old’s only sanctuary!) and carefully 1955 Bowman Al Barlickpened my prize. Would it be Richie Ashburn (my favorite Phil), or Robin Roberts; I’d settle for Puddin’ Head Jones OR Granny Hamner.

I opened the wrapper; and sneering at me was Al Barlick! I got a stinkin’ umpire card. Heartbroken, I popped the gum in my mouth, threw Al and the wrapper in the trash can and left card collecting behind me until I was an older and much wiser young man of nine.

Oh, my first pack that year did yield a Phillie; Elmer Valo. Standing in front of the bat rack, TV camera behind him, his card became my first favorite and, 55 years later, it still is.

-Steve Mackenzie


Unintentionally cornering the playground George Brett All-Star market

It was the summer of 1982.  I had started collecting the year before, but this year I was more involved, following the game closer thanks to 1982 Topps. I was reading the little trivia bits on the back of the cards, learning who the winningest pitcher in the 1960’s was, learning about career highlights on the back of the All Star cards, then there were those great ‘In Action’ cards like Carlton Fisk stretching out to catch the ball, so his card had to be horizontal.

The backs had highlights from All Star games, Championship Series, and World Series. I was really starting to enjoy the hobby.  When school started up again in the fall, George Brett AS 1982I got to talk to other kids in my class who collected. Three of the biggest collectors were talking and all of them had finished their 1982 sets except for one card: the George Brett All-Star.  All three of them were missing the same card. They were saying the checklist must be wrong, they must not have made them that year, or something happened when they printed it that they didn’t get put in packs.  I went home and looked though my cards…no George Brett All Star. I figured they must be right and they had been doing this a lot longer than me.  

Later that weekend I was at the school playground on the slides and swings, when we decided to stop at the store for candy bars and a soda.  I had enough left over for two packs of baseball cards.  The first pack had some new cards for me, so I was excited.  I opened the second pack, and there it was…the George Brett All Star.  I ran back to the playground and show them it DID exist. After a little bit of oohing and aahing, one of the kids said “what else was in the pack?”  I hadn’t even finished looking, so I thumbed through the rest of the pack and suddenly a SECOND George Brett All Star!  I was the center of attention the rest of the day.  

The next Monday at school the three of them cornered me and started asking if I’d trade with them.  I said I could trade the Brett because I knew they needed him and I wasn’t nearly done with my set.  With three people wanting two cards, the offers just kept going up and up.  By the time we settled on a trade, those two cards got me several hundred 1981 and 1982 Topps doubles to put a huge dent in my sets, and one very grumpy friend who was the odd man out.  It took a while to get him to forgive me for that.

-Paul Eckel

Carter and Company Gone with the Hurricane

I’m sending this email from my mobile phone, since my house and computer are still non-functional from Hurricane Sandy. Here’s my most memorable card collecting moment. I remember I was 8 years old (Feb. 1991) and my favorite player at the time was Gary Carter of the New York Mets, so after making the honor roll in second grade, my mom came home from work and gave me his 1987 Topps card, which was personally signed.

 Unfortunately, and due to above mentioned hurricane, his card, along with about 300 autographed and graded cards were lost when eight feet of water flooded my mom’s basement in Howard Beach last year. As a collector, there could never be another card like that, so not only was it my most memorable moment, it was also a piece of baseball history I’ll never get.

-Matthew Schilling

Connecting Generations

I started collecting cards in 1992.  I grew up in New Jersey.  I had no hopes or dreams of making it rich with cards. I was ten years old and like most kids had no income So I started very slowly building a collection until a friend told me of a card show not too far from where I lived and so we went!   It became a ritual saving money and getting cards together in hopes of trading or selling them. My friends and I would stay there all day until the end. Packs were cheap and so were some great vintage cards.

I walked around with my price guide and stack of cards , in search of a great deal or to trade and sell .

We knew the dealers by name and they knew us.  I still know some of these dealers and still attend the same show! I now take my son there and remember the good times I had with my friends.  I remember the cards the laughs and smells of the shows. The great cards we collected and traded and sold. The best players we ever seen and the arrival of new young stars.   We each wanted to have a better collection then the other one. This is what kept us coming back for more.   We all did it for the love of the hobby at the end of the day. Since then the industry changed. The cards changed. Even the players have changed but my love for cards has not gone away and it probably never will.

-Dustin Marino

When the Bird Was the Word

Everyone knows in 11977 Topps baseball pack976 Mark “The Bird” Fidrych took the baseball world by storm. In 1976 I was 10 years old.  My older brother and I were already huge card collectors, as we still are today. On day in 1977 my mother took my brother to the store grocery shopping with her. When they returned, my brother presented me with a just released wax pack of 1977 Topps baseball!  I was so excited I could not stand it.

I immediately opened the pack, but was curious as to why the wax was so loose on the pack.  I opened it and started screaming!  I had hit the Fidrych rookie with the little picture of the Topps All-Rookie trophy on it and the A.L. ALL-STARS stripe on the bottom.  My brother then grabbed it and started laughing.  He informed me that he had already opened 4 packs and got it.  He then planted it back in the pack he gave me to fool me.  I was crushed. 

My mom then gave me the 4 packs she bought for me and scolded my brother for being mean. The best part was to come.  Not only did I hit a Tigers team card and a Bill Freehan in my first pack, but I then pulled the ERA Leaders card featuring the Bird AND then in the last pack HIT MY OWN FIDRYCH ROOKIE!  I will never forget that day as long as I live.

-Thomas Trudeau

Confessions of a teenage pack searcher

My first job was at a local supermarket.  The only reason I really got the job was so that I could order baseball card packs through the store manager.  This happened to be the year when Action Packed football “24k” gold cards were the hot item.   Anyway, the supermarket was the old fashioned kind, where we had to weigh all the fruits Barry Sanders 1995 Action Packedand vegetables on a big gray scale.

While i worked at the checkout lanes, I would sit there and weigh the packs on the scale since it measured out to the one thousands of an ounce.  I was able to determine which of the packs had
the gold card in in because it weighed more than all the others.

I would come into work about 30 minutes early to go through all the packs!!   I probably wasn’t popular with the others who kept wondering why there were no gold cards in the boxes sold at the store.

I would make about $75 a week working after school at the store, take all that I made and buy the boxes of cards at the supermarket.  Then over the weekend I would break the packs or sell the boxes at the local card show and make $300-$400 in a day.  When you’re a teenager that’s a lot of money!

-Al Richards

Bagboy with a Heart

My father and uncle owned a grocery store in the 1970’s and 1980’s. They happened to stock a few sports cards. So whenever my dad would ask if I wanted to go and help him close up the sto1977 Topps football packre, I jumped at the chance. I would sweep floors, stock shelves, take inventory, or whatever other odd job my dad would give me to keep me busy while he reviewed the books for the day. He would pay me a little change that I would stockpile until I could turn it into cardboard gold.

Packs in those days were 20 cents with sales tax of a penny. Somehow I had saved up 42 cents, enough for two packs. I shared a tiny bedroom with my brother in which things were always getting lost. When I went to collect my money on the way to the store, to my horror, I only had 40 cents! Oh no, what had happened to my 2 pennies? My 7 year old brain devised a plan. I would take the money, buy the packs, and hope the clerk would forget to charge me the sales tax. It could work.

Everything was going according to plan. I had my 2 packs of 1977 Topps Football and set them on the counter. She said I didn’t have enough money! What?! Didn’t she know who I was? Just about the time sheer panic was to set in, the bagboy set down a quarter and said, “Sure he does.” He smiled. I quickly grabbed the packs and the change and got out of there. I don’t know if I even told him thanks.

By the time I got home and had calmed down, I realized what a miracle had just occurred. I had my 2 packs, plus enough for another pack! An incredible event for a young boy. So, Scott, the bagboy, if I left without saying thanks, I’m sorry. Thanks for helping me out.

-Todd Huntington