It all started with an email.
A couple months ago, Tony, author of "Wrigley Roster Jenga" and a longtime friend of the blog, reached out to me on an otherwise ordinary afternoon asking if I'd be interested in taking some cards off his hands. He wanted to free up some space in his house and asked if I'd be up for meeting somewhere in the suburbs since the two of us actually don't live far from one another. I said something along the lines of Sure, I'd be up for that -- which was a massive understatement considering the excitement already pouring through my head.
The next day, Tony and I met up at a roadside oasis (don't worry, we wore masks!), and he bequeathed everything to me. From what I can understand, this was Tony's entire collection aside from the treasured pieces of his Cubs project(s). And while I knew from the picture in the email that it was a lot of cards, I don't think I realized just how many cards there were until I saw them in person. There were six(!!!) 3200-count boxes and a couple other smaller boxes of random stuff all together. They filled up the entire backseat of my car, and let's put it this way -- I needed a gosh-darn hand truck to get 'em all up the two floors to the apartment. There was that much.
And so I wheeled the hand truck into my room, plopped down on my bed, and dug in.
I'd like to note that, although I did put together a small box of Cubs stuff for him, Tony didn't ask for a single thing in return for this amazing act of generosity.
I should also note that this all took place right in the middle of my quarantine at a time when I was itching for some sort of card project...and this sudden development sure took care of that. I'm somewhat of a sorting fiend: it astounds me that people can get bored organizing their cards. I can do it for hours -- I credit my lifetime of dime box hunting for building up my stamina. Even for me, however, sorting through Tony's cards turned into a two-day project, because I just couldn't get through it all in one night (though I sure as heck tried).
The final numbers are as follows: it took me about a week just to sort the stuff I needed from the stuff I didn't need, and I ended up keeping about two 3200-count boxes' worth of what Tony gave me -- and believe it or not I'm still a long ways away from having everything filed away in my binders even though this fateful day happened over two months ago now.
This is by far the most cards I've ever acquired at once, and it's the first time I've ever inherited someone's collection -- one of the first thoughts that hit me was what if there's a Trout rookie in there?
The answer, of course, is that I'd give it back to Tony, but I was admittedly a bit worried about finding some big ticket item mixed in with everything. Could be kinda awkward. Although perhaps that's just a reflection of my own paranoia, because I'm always worried leaving something I need and/or might one day be able to use in a dusty box under my bed. There weren't any Trout rookies, but I did find a few pre-stardom goodies I'm betting Tony stashed away a while ago.
Good news: I was able to find a fellow local collector to take what I didn't need from Tony's donation, thanks to a Next Door-ish-type app, and he was quite excited about getting them -- bad news: I still have way too many boxes of baseball cards under my bed.
Many of the boxes appeared to be organized by team, and what made this all so fun was that I literally had no idea what I'd find inside each passing stack of cards.
Sometimes a Topps Tribute card would pop out right after a brick of '92 Fleer -- such random surprises were paradise for a dime box fanatic like yours truly.
There were even some oddballs sprinkled in for good measure -- we're talking monumental stuff like sausage-ish mascot renditions of Dick Allen, and cards like the Schwarber that were given away with New Era hats, which is good since I haven't bought a baseball cap in twenty years.
(And yes, that Fathead ad qualifies as a David Wright card in my book.)
According to the backs, these Cuban League greats were giveaways at a card show in Puerto Rico(!!!), which leaves me wondering how they ended up here in suburban Illinois.
I'm not sure where/when Tony got all these reprints, but MAN were there a lot of these things in his boxes.
This was perfect since I'm admittedly one of the last reprint fanboys out there, but these were doubly good since they're not your dead-horse T206 Wagners and '54 Aarons -- these go back to brands like Old Judge and names like Arlie Latham, back to forgotten times when you could get baseball cards with your loaves of bread (like the Waitkus reprint from your friends at Tip Top Bread!).
Unsurprisingly, a sizable chunk of the cards Tony gave to me were Cubs, since he and I share a fondness for the North Siders (though Tony's Cub collection absolutely dwarfs mine).
Looks like Tony was a yearly customer for the retail team sets I see at big box stores almost every year -- though I'll obviously take any new Cubs and/or Rizzos, I'm especially fond of team-set cards like the other three in this scan that feature completely different (and sometimes better) photos than their Flagship counterparts.
I still can't decide whether or not I consider playing cards as actual baseball cards -- I always have to resist the urge to start playing War or Blackjack or something.
But I guess if that David Wright Fathead thing is a card, then these kinda have to be too, right?
A few of Tony's extremely well-done Cub customs slipped into those boxes as well, and I hope he doesn't mind me showing them off here!
I decided against buying this Cubs Old Style set at the flea market a few years ago, and I've been kicking myself for that ever since.
Guess my subconscious knows best though, because apparently it was just making me wait until Tony came along way later and just gave the whole thing to me -- lots of big greats (Ernie Banks) and somewhat forgotten names (Charlie Root!) here, but my favorite of the lot is easily that "Tip of the Cap" Billy Williams centerpiece.
This was one of the first things I plucked out of Tony's boxes when I sat down on my bed, and at first I thought it was just a cool magazine...
...complete with a full page devoted to a whopping 44 different stars of the '70s.
(O if I only had a time machine!)
But toward the end of the magazine I discovered the real hidden treasure -- entire uncut pages of '78 SSPCs!
I guess the "27 Full Color Photo Fact Cards" inset on the front should've given it away, but I honestly didn't even know '78 SSPCs were issued in team-specific magazines like this. The '78 SSPCs seem to be way more scarce than the '76s, and you can probably count how many of the former I previously owned on one hand. To suddenly fall into so many more '78s (and all Cubs at that!) was nothing short of a jackpot.
And while I continue to be an absolute nightmare with a pair of scissors -- I would've been the kid who cut the Hostess cards all wrong in the '70s -- I can't begin to describe how FUN it was to free these gems from that 40-year-old magazine.
And I guess since my mind seems to function in lists...
And since this post as already gone on longer than I intended...
I've decided to undertake the near-impossible task of culling Tony's collection into my ten favorite cards...
And believe it or not, everything you've seen so far was an also-ran on that list -- pretty darn awesome also-rans that deserved a spotlight on the blog, of course, but still also-rans...
And so after that most triumphant offering of cards, it's time to reveal my ten favorites from Tony's collection!
#10 -- 1985 7-Up Cubs Team Set #23 Ryne Sandberg
Ryno double dip on a stadium giveaway card?
#9a -- 1985 TCMA Iowa Cubs #25 Dick Cummings
#9b -- 1985 TCMA Iowa Cubs #33 Bruce Bielenberg
I'm already cheating here, but I couldn't help acknowledging the fact that the Iowa Cubs made history by hiring Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds and the man with the most unfortunate name in all of humankind in 1985.
#8 -- 1990-91 NBA Hoops #205 Mark Jackson ("Famous" People in Background)
Some of the cards Tony gave me were hockey, football, basketball, etc. -- but as luck would have it, one of the extreme few non-baseball cards I want was in there.
I quote this Mark Jackson as having "famous" people in the background because that's actually how it's listed on COMC right now. For those of you who weren't around for the brief craze, that's none other than the infamous Menendez brothers making a cameo in the crowd, seen here at the far left in the courtside seats they bought after their heinous crime.
I still can't decide what's more fascinating: that the Menendez brothers are on a basketball card, or that someone actually noticed the Menendez brothers are on a basketball card.
#7 -- 2010 Topps Update #US-50 Mike Stanton RC
I'm almost positive I owned (and subsequently traded) this card at one point, which made not having it in my Mike/Giancarlo Stanton collection all the more painful.
Nothing like erasing a ten-year-old mistake.
#6 -- 2015 Topps #20b Madison Bumgarner (Photo Variation)
The only thing better than a photo variation is a photo variation of a pitcher hitting.
#5 -- 1988 Donruss Baseball's Best #4 Mark Grace
I'm as surprised as you that any kind of '88 Donruss offspring would wind up on my list, but I'm pretty sure this was the last rookie-year Mark Grace card I needed, which is a banner day for any top-tier player collection.
#4 -- 2011 Topps Attax #94 Hideki Matsui
I've never played Topps Attax, nor do I ever plan on doing so in this lifetime.
But unbeknownst to me, Topps Attax did do one thing I long assigned to the lost episodes of baseball lore -- they made a card of Hideki Matsui with the A's! Even though he appeared in a healthy 141 games with the 2011 A's, Matsui was basically shunned by every card company that year. This is the only card I've ever seen of him in the uniform, and it's relegated to a strange game-based brand that almost no one remembers. And hell, I didn't even find out about this one until nine years later.
Matsui also played for the Rays in 2012, but no card exists of that stint either...although maybe I shouldn't close the book there quite yet.
#3 -- 1991 Line Drive Pre-Rookie #122 Jim Walewander
Jim Walewander loves the Dead Milkmen, is from my hometown, and went to high school with my mom.
I've never had more reasons to collect a guy. I think I've managed to scrounge up all of Walewander's major-brand cards from his cult-classic Tigers days, but his oddball & minor league cards have remained mostly elusive. I spent so much time torturing myself with all his scarce team-issued minor league cards that I didn't even notice he was in the '91 Line Drive set, which as far as I know was nationally distributed.
Guess I won't have to jump up on a table and shout anarchy now.
#2 -- 1971 Topps #570 Jim Palmer (autographed)
It was the best of times: holy hell, A SIGNED JIM PALMER CARD!
It was the worst of times: wait a minute, I still don't have a REGULAR '71 Topps Jim Palmer!
It was the best of times again: Who cares?! JIM PALMER SIGNED IT!
#1 -- 1985 Donruss Box Bottoms #PC-1 Dwight Gooden
Somehow, out of all those boxes, and everything in them, it was a Mets card that wound up being my favorite of the entire lot...which I received from a Cubs fan, remember.
I suppose that's why I've never quite understood rivalries. A great baseball player is a great baseball player, a great baseball card is a great baseball card. Dwight Gooden here is both of those, and this box bottom has been near the top of my want list for years. I love box bottoms anyways, and this has to be the Box Bottom to Rule Them All. It wasn't even on my mind when I reached in for another stack of Tony's collection that night, and it wasn't on my mind when I flipped past the card before it, but then, all of a sudden -- there it was! -- it instantly became a
NEED IT GOT IT! card on my list.
I really don't know what else I can say in thanking Tony for all this. Not only for giving me his cards, but for even thinking of me as a remote possibility of someone who might give them a good home. I seem to say it every day on the blogs, but fact is I don't feel worthy of this. I probably never will.
In the end, I hope I've communicated even a fraction of the fun I had going through Tony's cards, because believe me, what comes through on the virtual page here doesn't even come close to doing this act justice.