Earlier this week, I noticed that former Yankee pitcher Johnny Kucks had passed away at age 81. In addition to seeing a post that Kucks, such as many players of his era had shaved a year or two off his age, I was also reminded that Kucks was the last pitcher to face Jackie Robinson in a major league game. Kucks faced Robinson in game 7 of the
1956 World Series, which he won with a shutout. My good friend Mel Solomon informed he was actually going to attend the wake for Kucks this week.
And receiving that email reminded me of what we used to have as collectors and what we have lost in more recent years. Back in the days before tons of easily available activities including those on the Internet, all sports cards were one of our best links to our heroes who were part of most average communities. A great example of how players were part of the community involves Pee Wee Reese for whom a Brooklyn memorial service was held more than 40 years after the Dodgers left Brooklyn.
As the great sportswriter Stan Issacs wrote in Newsday: “When Reese, the great Dodgers shortstop dies in August, 1999, I spoke at a memorial service for him at St. Patrick’s in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. Does one really think today if any major leaguer will have a memorial service in a town 40 years after his time in that city ends?”
That is an important difference between yesterday and today. While yesterday we wanted cards of our hometown heroes, today many collectors just want to invest in (not collect) in the hottest youngest prospects for whom there is no guarantee of any major league success. Think about Jeff Clement who was the #3 overall amateur draft pick in 2005 and has never established himself as a major leaguer as an example of a once great prospect who never made it big.
Here’s of the biggest differences in the sports world of yesterday and today. Steve Foucault, had a decent enough career with the Texas Rangers in the 1970’s and then became a police officer in Arlington, Texas. Today, if you have a reliever with a six or seven year career such as that, the player has a good chance of earning one contract sufficient enough to retire on if he so chooses, thus never being part of any average community.
To me, one of the great advantages to growing up back in the day was hearing about people who were neighbors with the likes of Phil Rizzuto or Yogi Berra. Those neighbors, it seemed, would always tell the story of how nice the players were and how they answered their own doors. Do you really think someone, even one considered as personable as Clayton Kershaw will be part of any average middle-class community? Kershaw grew up in the wealthiest part of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and with the contract he will sign, will likely end up living in some exclusive gated community and we as fans will only see him during games or in photo-ops for his very legitimate and impressive charity work.
And that my friends is really what is missing from baseball (and other sports). We are not as easily able to make personal connections with our heroes and something has been forever lost.
And now, a few other notes and comments:
I received a Facebook message from my old friend Dan Paley, asking how to get in touch with long-time collector Ralph Nozaki. Somehow I remembered Ralph had been a Chicago-based smooth jazz radio personality and he has since established a web site and even mentions his hobby works. Always good to see our old collectors remember their past.
Another good friend, Steve Koenigsberg, once told me this story. During the 1980’s, he worked very closely with Don Smith and his wife who dealt very actively in high quality older cards. Steve once relayed to me this quote from one of Don’s customers: “My, this is the perfect business for laundering drug money.” In the 1980’s in the New York I will tell you we had lots of “mob-like” elements in the baseball card business and a ton of cash was just floating around. Remember with a show each weekend, you could spend an unlimited amount of money very quickly.
Sports Collectors Daily’s Facebook page continues to grow. Over 21,000 people have liked the page and there is always something interesting to see or comment on. Every once in a while I mention I’m the admin for another Facebook page called simply ‘Sports Collectors. Here is a link to that site: Feel free to join.
Did you see the latest COMC Challenge about the 1994 Collectors’ Choice Future Foundations subset in terms of Silver or White lettering on the back? We’re still looking for input. Here is a link to the article and remember if you can add anything to this, please send me an email at [email protected]. Twenty years after these cards were issued and we’re still searching for some answers on heavily produced sets. That is pretty amazing if you ask me.