This entry was posted on Oct 22 2009 by

A Ball Was Made to Be Thrown

I saw this video a few weeks back as it was making its way through the news cycle, and it got me thinking about the nature of collecting and the perceived value of things:



One of my first steady jobs was working weekends at a baseball card store in the late ’80s, where I witnessed firsthand the collector’s craze that ultimately unraveled the hobby (sound familiar?).  During my employment I was taught that the proper way to handle a Mark McGwire rookie card was with clean hands and by the edges, and only for as long as it took to slide the card into a plastic sleeve.  I was told to put a short stack of Wade Boggs cards in the display case, even if we had more on hand, because if the stack was too tall, then the cards would seem less valuable.  I was made to believe that if I bought Topps, Fleer, and Donruss by the case and never broke the seal, they would someday provide the windfall that would lead to early retirement.

The owner of the store dealt in autographed sports memorabilia as well, and the events he hosted afforded me the opportunity to acquire signatures from a slew of players, including Hall of Famers such as Brooks Robinson, Willie Stargell (he let me try on his World Series ring), and even the great Joe DiMaggio.  Young as I was, I had quite the formidable collection, none of which is worth much now, the memorabilia and sports-card market having cratered long ago.    

The little Phillies enthusiast in the video has already learned at 3 what I have not at 35: My autographed baseballs were made to be thrown, not entombed in plastic cubes which are in turn entombed in a plastic bin which is in turn entombed with the rest of my life’s debris in the storage area under the stairs.  Maybe she didn’t need to learn this truth.  Maybe it’s instinctual, and my years as a hobbyist caused me to unlearn it, the same as all of the other kids I used to see working the fence line at Fort Lauderdale Yankee Stadium with their pens and backpacks full of balls and flats (for the uninitiated, the latter term refers to cards and 8×10 glossy photos).  All I know is there are at least a dozen official Major League baseballs in my house, but if aliens in pinstripe uniforms and cleats landed on my lawn and said they needed a ball to begin their game or else they were going to detonate the planet, I’d have to grab my flashlight and hope they were willing to wait.

It was a common occurrence during those years working the counter at the store, an older customer marveling at the prices of the items in our inventory, saying that when he was a kid he used to clip baseball cards to the spokes of his bike because they produced a cool clicking noise when he pedaled.  “If only I’d known how much they’d be worth some day . . . .”  I’ve never clipped cards to my spokes, but I’m confident that whatever thrill is derived from the experience is far better than staring at a cardboard box, the lid sealed tight to prevent the contents from fading in the light of day. 

Give a three-year-old a CGC-graded copy of Action Comics #1, and you know what he’d do?  Read it.

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