This section will take us back to those times when a piece of cardboard with a picture of a baseball player had a different meaning than it does today. Click on the link below to locate the story.
|Transported to the Golden Age of Baseball Cards||This short story tells of a young boy from current day who is transported back in time to 1960 and interacts with a baseball card collector with different priorities.|
|It’s Back, Back, It’s Over the Couch||Fantasy and reality collide in this description of a game played with baseball cards.|
Let’s imagine that present day Peter Johnson, age 12, has been captured by aliens and after 15 minutes of questioning, the benevolent aliens return him to Earth. However, they mistakenly transplant him to the North Side of the City of Chicago in 1960. Pete finds himself walking down a typical Chicago street in mid-summer. Bungalows with neatly mowed lawns line the street. An old Hudson Hornet ogles the tailfins of a new DeSoto, whose chrome grill gleams proudly in the midday sun. Pete has no idea where he is when a voice shouts out from a nearby house.
“Hey kid, what you doin’ here?” questioned Tim Lasko from his watch post
on his front porch. “Are you new in the neighborhood?”
Tim read the words on the front of Pete’s T-shirt to himself. I am hot.
“You’re hot because of the shirt? Tim laughed heartily. “It’s summer. Of
course it’s hot. And look at those shoes. They’re
The two of them ran up the six concrete steps and sat in the shade of the red brick house on two old springy, metal chairs. A small transistor radio blared, “She wore an Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini…” Tim rotated a knob on the side of the radio and turned it off.
“You keep them in a box?” Pete asked in utter astonishment.
Pete peered into the shoebox and saw 16 groups of cards held together
with rubber bands taking up about three quarters of the space
in the box. The box smelled like bubble gum.
Each bundle of cards had a team card on the front. Tim pushed the bundles
from side to side and pulled out one that had about 30 cards in
Pete shuffled through the cards in amazement. Roy MacMillan, Cal MacLish,
Frank Herrara rookie card, and then his eyes popped as he
fingered the Frank Robinson card from 1958 and then the Ted
Kluszewski card from 1957.
Tim banded the Reds team and watched as Pete shuffled through the Yankees
Tim walked to the table, looked at the phone for a few seconds and picked
up the heavy, black receiver.
Pete pulled his cell phone from his pocket and flipped it open. The
display indicated that there was no signal. He flipped it
closed and put it back in his pocket.
Pete picked up the big black receiver again. He remembered seeing a
phone like this in a museum once. He recognized the
pattern and began to clumsily dial a number. A busy signal
beeped in his ear before he could finish dialing home.
Tim led Pete down a dark set of stairs to an unfinished basement.
The cool air was damp, but very refreshing. The
temperature dropped with each downward step. They walked
past an old furnace and water heater, toward a large wooden
table. On the table was a makeshift baseball stadium made
of cardboard. The playing field was hand-colored with a
dull green crayon and the outfield walls were streaks of green
also. By the indentations in the left and right field walls even
Pete could recognize that it was Wrigley Field.
Tim explained the rules of his game and Pete listened carefully. He wanted to tell Tim about his video games, but he knew he wouldn’t believe him. The game began, after placing cards around the field and listening to the Star Spangled Banner played on a small player with a scratchy record that sounded as if it had been played a million times before. At first Pete was skeptical as to whether he would enjoy this experience, but after a while he was yelling and screaming with Tim as they battled away. Pete led the game until the final couple of innings when Tim’s experience took over and he came from behind to beat his new friend. Pete then knew he was being manipulated, just like he had manipulated his friends when they played video games that he had mastered, but he did have fun. He really had fun. It didn’t make him want to give up his Xbox, but it was a different experience. For awhile, he had forgotten that he was in a strange place and time.
Pete started to become afraid. He didn’t know where he could go in this strange, but comfortable, old place, so he convinced Mrs. Lasko that he had spoken to his mother and that it was not only alright for him to stay for dinner, but that he could stay overnight, since Tim had invited him, with his mother’s permission, of course.
Mr. Lasko had arrived home and dinner was served at the kitchen table. Mr. Lasko talked about work and politics and Mrs. Lasko talked about her day around the house and their plans for the weekend. Pete was happy that he didn’t have to say much. After dinner Pete and Tim played again with the baseball cards and talked more about baseball. Mrs. Lasko threatened to throw away Pete’s cards if he didn’t listen to her better. Pete indicated he would never talk to her again if she actually threw them away.
After playing, the boys joined Mr. and Mrs. Lasko in the living room in front of their black and white 23” Zenith console, which they seemed very proud of. They watched the Democratic National Convention. They watched intently as Kennedy spoke of the plight of unemployed American people, of those without medical care, of children without decent schools, of a world that was close to nuclear war and of whether our country, organized and governed as such, could endure. But Kennedy said these things, not by putting fear into the hearts of the American people, but by uniting them to face the New Frontier. Tears welled in the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Lasko as Kennedy gave his speech. A tear fell from Pete’s eye listening to Kennedy, wishing he had the chance to live though these exciting times, but knowing that Kennedy would be killed. The convention ran late into the night and the boys went to bed, Tim on the floor and Pete in his bed.
Now, so we don’t leave poor Pete hanging around in 1960, let’s presume that the aliens realized their mistake, find him and transport him back to the present. Mr. and Mrs. Lasko worry for months that Pete disappeared from Tim’s bed in the middle of the night and that he was never heard from again. When he gets back he realizes he still has the Robinson and Kluszewski cards in his pants pocket. Pete, through diligent effort, tracks down the current address of Tim Lasko and mails the cards back to him.
The true value of baseball cards has a different meaning to Pete.
Like many young boys who grew up in the fifties, before electronic games and computers, I needed to find a way to occupy myself when there was no one to play with. This time alone was never a problem for me. I would devise all sorts of games to play with cars, toy soldiers or whatever else I could find around the house. But nothing gave me more pleasure than having a game of baseball with my baseball cards. I played with baseball cards for more years than I would like to admit and the game I invented was refined over the years.
I would play with friends who set up stadiums in their houses. They would pitch to another player by rolling a marble and the batter would swing a pencil, or something resembling a bat, and the ball would roll along the ground, and if it managed to not roll over a players’ card, then it would be deemed hit. The number of bases was determined by where then marble rolled or hit the outfield wall. Their game was not very exiting to me.
Friends would laugh when I would tell them of my game. They never quite understood that you didn’t need to use a round ball or something round like a marble to get the effect that made the game truly extraordinary. I would love to set up my field in the living room of our house. The field was definitely geared toward right handed hitters, so I always batted right handed no matter how the particular hitter batted, but I did give consideration to the handedness of the pitcher. A right handed pitcher who pitched to a right handed batter would throw to the inside corner and vice versa.
The key to my game was that the ball wasn’t round. It was an off-centered rectangle, probably better described as a trapezoid. It was also flat, like a coin. It was made of a piece of cardboard, wrapped with shiny slick white tape. It was soft and would give slightly when struck with a bat that was about 8 inches long. The effect was very unpredictable when played on a carpet. If the disc were hit on the flat side into the air, it would have the effect of a lazy fly ball or pop up. If struck on the edge, it would jump off the bat and travel great distances, sometimes as much as 8 feet, which was enough to fly over the center field wall. If the disc were hit into the carpet it would roll for awhile, but would quickly slow down because the edges were uneven. This would give the effect of a ground ball traveling through the infield and stopping in the outfield. A catch was made if the ball hit a fielders’ card on the fly. Since the fielders’ cards can’t run on their own I needed a way for them to move. One card length was a running unit and the distance for the fielder to get to the ball was measured in the number of card lengths to retrieve it. The batter would be allowed to run this distance around the bases. The distances seemed magically proportional, just like real baseball.
If a ball stopped near a fielder in the infield, the fielder generally could get to the ball within four card lengths. It was 5 card lengths between bases, so if the fielder could throw the ball, which traveled somewhat like a miniature Frisbee, to the first baseman, who was also allowed to move respective card lengths to cover first base, and either hit the first baseman on the fly or land on the first baseman, then the batter was out. This also allowed for double plays, and rarely, if the ball happened to roll and land on a fielder, was it possible, with perfect throws, to get a triple play. It was truly exciting when a ball would fly in the air and hit an outfielder on the fly. If the ball happened to roll and land on an outfielder, it was possible for the outfielder to throw to first base, but it was highly unlikely that it would be successful, and could result in an errant throw and most likely allow the runner to make second base. So, this was only attempted in desperate circumstances, like trying to preserve a no-hitter.
Since moving the players on and off of the field every three outs was very burdensome, an inning was deemed to be a full rotation of the batting order, with the cards shuffled to make the lineup unpredictable. A game was composed of 3 innings. Naturally, if one team was ahead by more than nine runs going into the last half of the last inning, then the game was over. This event was very rare since seldom were more than 9 runs scored in a game. No hitters were also rare.
I kept statistics for the home team for the entire season. The entire baseball league was under my control. My father once brought home a large color cardboard scoreboard from the tavern he frequented, which they used to inform customers of the score of the game on the TV at the time. The addition of the scoreboard to the playing field made my ballpark modern and up to date.
The calculation of batting averages and earned run averages helped my math skills. I also think that managing the players helped in later life, but it was rare to get arguments from pieces of cardboard, so I was not only an owner and manager, but also a king.
"The strongest thing baseball has going for it today is
"It is the sport that a foreigner is least likely to take
to. You have to grow up playing it, you have to accept the lore
of the bubblegum card, and believe that if the answer to the
Mays-Mantle-Snider question is found, then the universe will be
a simpler and more ordered place."
"When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I
went fishing... I told him I wanted to be a real major league
baseball player... My friend told me that he'd like to be
President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish."
"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind
of America had better learn baseball"