The Golden Age of Baseball Cards™

...its influence on society and the game

 

Baseball Card Stories from the Collector's of the Past

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.

 


Transported to the Golden Age of 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?”
  “I – I don’t know,” answered Pete. “I think I’m lost.”
  “Well, you look kinda lost.  “Where’d you get those funny looking clothes with all the words on them?"

  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 gigantic.”
 “They’re… like… Nike.”
  “They’re like ballistic missiles?” Tim says laughing heartily.
  “No, Nike is a brand of shoe. What’s a ballistic missile?”
  “Where have you been?  We have Nike missile bases in the city to shoot down incoming enemy aircraft, but we have bigger problems with the Soviet ICBMs and Sputnik flying over us.
  “Sputnik?  I’ve heard of Sputnik in our history class.  Didn’t it go up in the 1950’s?"
  “The first one went up in 1957, but right now the 4th one is orbiting the Earth,” Tim responded emphasizing his knowledge of the space age upon them.
  “Right now? What do you mean right now?  What’s today’s date?” Pete asked with some hesitation.
  “July 15th”
  “What year?”
  “1960.”
  “Holy sh__! 1960?"
  “You don’t know what year it is?”
  “Sure I do.  Well, maybe not.  See, I’m from 2007.”
  “Okay, I get it.  You saw Twilight Zone last week. That’s funny. You’re okay,” Tim remarked with a tone of approval.
  “Yeah, okay.”
  “So, where did you get your funny clothes?” Tim asked with sarcasm. 
  ”I got them at Hollister.”
 “Who’s Hollister.  Does he live in your neighborhood?”
 “No it’s a store at the mall.”
  “A store at the what?  What’s a mall?" 
  “A place with all kinds of stores.  Don’t you know what a store is?"
  “Sure, we have them all over the city.”
  “You know, your clothes look pretty funny too,” Pete struck back trying to stand his ground.
  Tim was dressed in faded blue jeans, Converse hightop sneakers and a white T-shirt.
  “Okay, well at least I don’t have holes in my jeans.  You should get them patched.”
  “I bought them this way,” asserted Pete.
  “Oh, I’m sorry.  You must be pretty poor,” Tim said apologetically.
  “Look I’m just trying to find my way home.”
  “Where do you live?”
  “Cincinnati.”
  “Sure, just make a right at Cleveland and you’ll be home in no time.” 
  Tim paused and put his hand on his chin reflecting on the current situation.
  “I know. You’re visiting relatives here,” Tim concluded, trying to make sense of the situation.
  “Yeah, that’s right,” Pete lied.
  “Hey, do you want to see my baseball cards?” Tim asked almost as if begging Pete to stop and look.
  “Sure.”
  “They’re in a box on my porch.  C’mon over.”

  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.
  “Yeah. They’re sorted by teams.”
  “That’s cool.  You sorted all the cards?”

  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.
  “Can I see your Cincinnati Reds?”
  “You mean Redlegs? Oh, yeah, they changed their name back to Reds this year.”
  “Yeah, right.”

   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 it.
  “Here they are.”
  Tim smiled as he tossed the bundle to Pete. Pete caught it with ease.
  “You should be careful with these.  They could be worth money someday,”  Pete said.

  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.
  “Wow.  Look at this Frank Robinson card.  This is fantastic… and Ted Kluszewski.”
  “You like them?”
  “Wow, I sure do.”
  “You can have them,” Tim said without hesitation. “I have a new card of Robinson, and Kluszewski is on the White Sox now. I hate the White Sox”
  “I can really have these?” Pete said in disbelief.
  “Sure, they’re old and I really don’t care about Cincinnati, I’m a Cubs fan.”
  “That’s too bad”
  “Oh yeah.  Well, the Reds aren’t doing that well this year either.  Next year the Cubs will win it all.”
  “I’ll bet you the Reds win the pennant next year and that the Cubs don’t win for at least 50 years.”
  “Nobody goes for that long without winning.”
  “You’ll see,” Pete said as he tried to hide the smile.
  Pete slipped the two cards gingerly into his pocket, not wanting to bend them.  
  “Can I see your Yankees?”
  “Okay,” replied Tim.  “Here they are.”

  Tim banded the Reds team and watched as Pete shuffled through the Yankees cards.
 He stopped and stared and plopped the 1956 card of Mickey Mantle down on the porch floor.
  ‘What do you want for this card?” Pete   
  “Oh, I don’t want to give you that card.”
  “Why not. You’re a Cubs fan. I’ll pay you for it.” Pete haggled.
  “I don’t know.  I just like the card and I like Mickey Mantle. I don’t know why.”
  “I don’t blame you.  Keep this one for as long as you can.  But, you’ve got to do better than to keep these cards in a shoebox.”
  “Why?  I can carry them around anywhere in this box.  They’ve been in here for four years.”
  “You really shouldn’t be handling them this much.  The corners are getting rounded.”
  “So what?”
  “Well it decreases their value.”
  “I like my cards just as well with round corners as square.  In fact, I like some of my older cards better than the new ones.  Do you have any cards?”
  “Yeah, I’ve got thousands, but they’re not worth much.”
  “Why to you keep talking about worth and value.  It sounds like you’ve never played with your cards.”
  “No. They sit in the boxes. Some are in Lucite, er, plastic containers."
  “What good is that, if you never do anything with them,” Tim remarked with no sense of understanding.
  “How do you play with baseball cards?  They’re just pieces of cardboard.”
  “So are most other games,” Tim replied.  “Come inside and I’ll show you.”
  Tim led Pete through the front screen door.  The house was warm and a fan was blowing in the corner of the living room. Tim led Pete to meet his mother and introduce him.
  “Hello Pete, very nice to meet you.  My, that shirt looks… interesting,” Tim’s mother commented.
  “We’ll be in the basement for a few minutes, Mom. Okay?”
  “That’s fine, Tim.  Just a few minutes though.  Your father will be home soon for dinner and he wants to see the Democratic Convention on television tonight. I expect that John F. Kennedy will get the nomination."  
  “Does that mean that 77 Sunset Strip won’t be on tonight?” asked Tim.
  “That’s right.”
  “Oh, mom,” Tim whined. “The convention has been on all channels all week long.”
  “All channels?” Pete questioned in bewilderment.”
  “Yes, all four of them.”
  “That’s a good thing, Tim,” his mother affirmed. “This is history and you’ll remember it for your entire life. Would your friend Pete like to stay for dinner? You can call your mother to ask her.  The phone is on the living room table.”

    Tim walked to the table, looked at the phone for a few seconds and picked up the heavy, black receiver.
  “Where are the buttons?”
  “Buttons?” Tim’s mother exclaimed.
  “Never mind. I’ll just use my cell.”

  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.
  “Neat looking toy.  What is it?” asked Tim.
  “Oh, it’s nothing. It doesn’t work anyway.”

  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. 
  “I guess she’s on the phone.  I’ll try later,” Pete promised.
  “Okay, let’s go downstairs.”

  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.
  “How do you like it?” Tim asked, his eyes gleaming with pride.
  “Cool,” remarked Pete, not wanting to insult Tim, even though the stadium looked very crude.

   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 Pete 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.

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Baseball Quotes

"The strongest thing baseball has going for it today is yesterdays."
Lawrence Ritter The Glory of Their Times

"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."
David Halberstrom

"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."
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball"
Jaques Barzun

"Game Called"
Poem on the Death of Babe Ruth

Game Called by darkness — let the curtain fall.
No more remembered thunder sweeps the field.
No more the ancient echoes hear the call
To one who wore so well both sword and shield:
The Big Guy’s left us with the night to face
And there is no one who can take his place.
Game Called — and silence settles on the plain.
Where is the crash of ash against the sphere?
Where is the mighty music, the refrain
That once brought joy to every waiting ear?
The Big Guy’s left us lonely in the dark
Forever waiting for the flaming spark.
Game Called — what more is there for us to say?
How dull and drab the field looks to the eye
For one who ruled it in a golden day
Has waved his cap to bid us all good-bye.
The Big Guy’s gone — by land or sea or foam
May the Great Umpire call him “safe at home.”
            
Grantland Rice ©1948