Failing to meet up with a certain someone at the airport yesterday left me in a mood somewhere southwest of melancholy. To heal this, I took an extended route home and ended up passing by my grammar school. Having nothing else to do with my day, I pulled over and walkd around the gorunds. Noting that although some things had changed a great deal, it basically looked the same as I remembered it. I reminisced a bit about some of the very fun times I'd had, some of the foolish or not-so-nice things I'd done as a child, and some of the scary moments.
It can't say it was a particularly moving or important experience to be back at A.G. Bell School, but it was nice to remember faces and events.
Afterwards I decided to see if the baseball card shop we occasionally patronized (and occasionally shoplifted) still existed. I've thought recently about unloading some of my old collection, and I decided if the shop was still in business I'd drop in and see what the current market is like. Indeed, the shop did still exist, and I spent quite a while there talking to the lady who runs it. It turns out she was heavily involved with the baseball league I used to play in, and in fact I think I was on a team with her son Mitch for part of a year. We talked about the park and some of the characters who used to play and coach there. I had no idea, but it turns out lots of the coaches there were cops. I found this humorous, since I remember a great deal of the kids in the league being hoodlums-in-formation.
Anyway, this was a sweet old lady, possibly lacking for people to talk to (or possibly just that friendly), and I tried to leave several times only to be coaxed into further conversation. We talked about baseball cards (she was quite helpful), asthma (her son and I also both spent a good deal of our childhood in the Children's Memorial Hospital emergency room), how the neighborhood's changed, what kind of job I should look for, her parenting strategies... anything and everything.
Anyway, let me get to the baseball card part of this story. In short, I'm glad I lost interest when I did. The current scene is nothing short of ridiculous. I don't see how any child could on his own be a serious collector anymore. There's too many brands and sets and subsets and special collections and limited editions. Players now sign exclusive contracts, and the card companies don't even make cards for all of the players anymore. Every year, the rookies autograph a special set of cards which people hoard hoping that this particular rookie strikes it big.
I flipped though the pricing guide, and my stomach turned a little bit more. The pricing guide gives a value to coupon-cards that come with each pack that you are supposed to collect and then send in to receive memorabilia. This is like saving UPC symbols from cereal boxes for their own sake, rather than sending them in for a prize. The coupon-cards don't even have a picture on them, just the name of a player.
The absolute most ridiculous discovery I made, though, is the craze for relics. Bat splinters, glove leather and jersey material inserted into reliquary-cards are the newest card-fad. A card featuring a splinter of floor from Michael Jordan's last game (before he un-retired this most recent time) goes for forty or fifty dollars. Similar second class relics can be found in all sports for all the biggest stars. The most morbid sight I saw was a card, selling for forty dollars, featuring a piece of Craig Biggio's real, authentic, true-to-life, genuine, certified game-time pants. Yes kids, for months worth of your hard-earned lawn-mowing money you can purchase a shred of lycra which caressed the rear end of your favorite second baseman/left fielder.
I understand there's a place for these objects in collecting, but it just seems wrong to tie these objects in with the cards. It makes it harder and harder for kids to achieve the satisfaction of completing a set or getting all the cards for their favorite player. Even the lady running ths shop admitted that it was ridiculous. "I keep telling people that the only thing they don't sell yet is the jock strap, so it must be coming soon."
As for my collection, my expectations weren't that high, and they were about met. See, I started collecting in the early-mid eighties, right when things started getting out of hand. New companies were being formed, "traded" sets and special subsets were appearing. The scene was by no means as fanatical as it is now, and it was still possible - though challenging in a character-building sort of way - to collect a whole year's set, but it was starting. The collection of my brother - five years older than I and a collector for a couple of years before I started - might contain some real valuable gems, but by the time I started, people already had the idea that these things were going to be valuable in a monetary way as opposed to mere sentimentality. Cards were already becoming investments as opposed to keepsakes, and so great numbers of well-preserved cards exist, and so mine are not worth all that much.
Now mind you, I'm not complaining too loudly, for the fact that my collection might be worth anything at all is due entirely to this trend. Still, there is something wrong. I once heard Father William McNamara (quoting somebody else I believe) define a fanatic as one who having forgotten the ends, multiplies the means. It seems like the end of collecting baseball cards was once to honor, celebrate, commemorate our sports heroes and their achievements. I remember poring over statistics, memorizing them along with the bits of trivia that would be printed on the cards. Collecting was about the sport, especially the team. I would trade any superstar from another team (well, you know, within reason) if I could get my hands on that one unknown "scrub" who played 10-12 games for the Cubs. Now, however, it appears that it's about the players. The card containing the piece of floor was not commemorating the sixth of the Chicago Bulls' amazing championships. It was commemorating Michael Jordan. With the end forgotten, or replaced - the means have become multiplied. I could get Sammy Sosa's regular card, All Star card, relic card, Stadium Club, Donruss, Upper Deck, whatever... none of it would increase the end of honoring or celebrating anything. It's fanaticism.
Insert appropriate religious analogy here.... there are plenty of them. But I'm not in the mood just yet. I'm still lamenting the destruction of the hobby that filled my childhood days with hours of joy. Of course, the event related in the first sentence of this entry is not helping.