Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why we collect

Before I start, I'd like to wish all the fathers out there a very Happy Father's Day!

I know my father has influenced me a lot over the years. Everything from the music I listen to, how to treat others, and perhaps even my slight addiction to Diet Coke.

He's also played a major factor in my card collection...which leads me into tonight's post.

Last month, I speculated why we write. It generated some great discussion, and even a few spin-off posts that brought up some ideas that had never occurred to me.

But without collections, we obviously wouldn't be part of the baseball card blogosphere. Most of us probably had collections way before we started our blogs, anyways. So for a bit of a deeper question, I ask:

Why do we collect?

Sure, we all love the game of baseball, but not every baseball fan collects baseball cards, of course. Why has cardboard captivated us so much over the years?

I'm sure we all have varying answers. Some of us probably got our start in the hobby as small children (as I did), while others might not have picked it up until their mid-twenties or so.

As they say, no two snowflakes are exactly alike. On that note, I'd also say that no two collectors are exactly the same.

One of the more personal reasons I collect is because of my dad.

He collected as a kid in the mid-to-late 1970's, which was pretty typical of children during that era. (Unlike now.)

Like many others, he probably had complete sets of 1975-77 Topps, along with multiples of the famous Brett, Yount, and Fidrych rookie cards. He remembers the famous '75 Topps Herb Washington "pinch runner" card like it was yesterday.

But as was also typical of his generation, much of his collection was either given away or thrown out as he got older.

In a way, I view my collection as a "passing of the torch" of sorts.

My collection is really our collection. He's certainly helped me out financially over the years, always tossing some extra money into the "card show budget" whenever he can, and picking up a few packs for me from Target every now and then. (I have my dad to thank for almost all of these.)

Even more than that, he's always interested in any new pickups I may get. He enjoys a new "score" to my collection almost as much as I do.

As a result, I've made it a point to pick up any "father-son" cards I may find. My favorite one in that regard is probably the above "Griffeys" one from '91 Score. I'd never seen the card before, and I still haven't seen it since. (Perhaps that's a card that everyone should own.)

It's a great reminder of who my "baseball card mentor" is. (As my dad nicely puts it.)

I spent a couple hours last afternoon poring through my binders in an attempt to find out why I collect. Simply relaxing with your collection is a good way to come up with ideas, as I've found.

Here's what I came up with...

Let's get the obvious answer out of the way first.

We collect because it's fun, man! Why else would I spend so much time (and money) on such a seemingly mundane task?

I could never get sick of dime boxes. I could never get sick of vintage. I could never get sick of something-you-don't-see-everyday types of cards.

Case in point, this card of Indians utility man Enrique Wilson. If there's a card out there with more shades of green, I'd like to see it. I wouldn't be surprised if there was an alien invasion seconds after they took that picture. It just looks like something out of one of those bad horror movies.

Cards like these are part of the reason that I love collecting so much. If every card had the same old hitting or pitching poses, I'd get bored awfully easy. Luckily, every card is different in its own way. If you're lucky, you'll find a few that really stand out, like this one.

That's what makes the hobby so much fun.

I could never understand how some people could only collect one player or one set, and then never move on to anything else.

After a while, you'd run out of new acquisitions.

That's part of the reason I love my approach to collecting, and it's a big reason as to why I've stuck with the hobby for so long.

It's literally a "never-ending chase" for me.

For one thing, I collect dozens of current players. Guys from Ichiro to Zack Greinke to Yorvit Torrealba. There's no rhyme or reason to it, but in an odd way, it makes sense to me.

I also collect cards of pretty much every pre-1980's Hall of Famer as well. (And a slew of other non-HOFers to boot.)

I'll pick up any new Whitey Ford or Harmon Killebrew cards that I can get my hands on. I still get excited when I get to add a new piece to my collection of "The Big Train", Walter Johnson. Even though I'm nearing the 100-card mark with him, it's still a treat to find anything new, especially if it comes from a dime box. (Or in the case of the above card, a 12/$1 box.)

It's the same with team collectors. There's no possible way you could own every Dodger or Oriole card ever made. While I imagine it's a daunting task at times, it keeps you interested and involved in the hobby.

I know I still come home with stacks upon stacks of cards from every show I've ever attended. My mom still can't believe that I still manage to find that many cards I need.

It's because there's still so much I haven't discovered yet.

The next reason of why I collect is purely a speculative one on my part.

During high school, I lost touch with a some of my friends from grammar school. It was bound to happen. It would be nice if friends from kindergarten through 8th grade were your friends for life, but it just doesn't work that way.

Some of those friends, who were always of the hard-working and polite kind of crowd, completely changed during high school. Some of them became "jocks", some of them started liking rap music out of the blue, and some started to run into trouble by the time their four years were up.

In terms of purely my outward appearance, I didn't change much during those four years, or at least I like to think I didn't. I hung out with the same crowd most of the time. I loved The Ramones when I was a freshman, and I still love them to this day. I never much liked participating in competitive sports, and wasn't one of the "rah-rah" people. That definitely hasn't changed.

I was still in transition from hockey to baseball card collecting when I was a freshman. I was an all-out "professional" card collector by the time I graduated.

I like to think that baseball cards played a role in keeping me out of trouble.

I didn't like parties. I would've much rather been in my room reading about Tony Perez's minor league stats on the back of his awesome 1970 Topps card than at some kid's house party.

Luckily, I was able to meet a few kids who felt the same way during high school.

I'll never know for sure whether my collection kept me out of trouble.

But I'm pretty sure it did.

I'd say a good half of the books I've voluntarily read in my life have dealt with baseball.

I've always been interested in learning about the sport, especially the history behind it.

In that regard, baseball cards are perfect. Every single one is like a little piece of history. Whether it's Pokey Reese's batting average in 1999 or the names of the first National League teams in 1876, there's something to be learned from every card out there.

Even the little bios on the back of a lot of cards are a great source of information. For instance, did you know that Al Rosen was the 1953 American League MVP, or that Al Oliver had baseball's largest collection of men's cologne in 1985?

Part of the reason I love baseball so much is because of the history behind the game. Like my collection, it's a never-ending series of little facts.

I could never possibly learn everything there is to know about baseball.

Perhaps the easiest question I ever had to answer on a test at school was one from my junior year US History class.

"Which one of these was a star pitcher in the Negro Baseball Leagues?"

"D. Satchel Paige".

I'd like to know if anyone in my class got that one wrong.

I know I didn't.

My final reason for why I collect is probably one that hasn't entirely hit home yet.

Others who have a few years on me might relate to this one a little better than I ever could at this point, but I still recognize it as an obvious factor in why I still collect to this day.

Baseball cards make me feel younger.

This '58 Warren Spahn was one of my first big "scores" as a young collector. I bought it (or I should say, my parents did) at the local card shop one afternoon.

I didn't have to worry about finding a job then. I didn't have to worry how tough next semester's calculus class will be when I was eleven years old.

While it might sound cheesy, this card takes me back to that point in my life every time I see it. It's like a cardboard "time machine".

Sure, I bet there's thousands of copies of this card that might be in better shape than the one I have now. But I wouldn't trade mine for anything.

Baseball cards really are special. One of the great things about being collectors is that all of us are able to recognize just how special they actually are.

Perhaps the hobby has gotten a bad rap at times. I shake my head when I hear someone say, "They're just pieces of cardboard", or "they're just pictures". What they don't understand is that it's not that simple.

They're a lot more than just pieces of cardboard to me.


Hackenbush said...

Well put, Nick. Happy Father's Day to your Dad.

Play at the Plate said...

Nice post Nick.

rcsportscards said...

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rcsportscards said...

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rcsportscards said...

Great article!

Fuji said...

Wow... what an awesome post! Thanks for sharing.