Thursday, June 27, 2019

Things will never be the same

A few days ago, I was given some baseball cards by a family member. This has never happened to me before, even though my family has observed me flipping through stacks of baseball cards semi-routinely for most of my life.

But these baseball cards are pretty different from any I have ever been able to collect before.

I still can't really believe that I own this:
Of course, that is not THE baseball card of all-time. But it is a Honus Wagner baseball card.

I own a Honus Wagner baseball card! Like, one actually issued while he was still actually playing baseball. I own a Honus Wagner baseball card! Pinch me.

I have been collecting Honus Wagner casually for several years now. Mostly just via saving his cards that fall out of the packs I open. But those are all 21st century issued cards. My goal is to collect nine different baseball card designs using the same picture of him, which I think I will eventually reach, but has nothing to do with these cards.

My interest in Wagner was piqued by a biography of him I read a few years ago, one that I can't seem to locate right now to share a cover image with you. It was rather breezy, and barely touched on THE baseball card of all-time, but it was a fascinating look at the early days of the sport.

Reading that probably lead me to read this excellent book:

And now, I own this baseball card:
And this one:

You think the "baseball vest" the Colorado Rockies can't seem to ever un-like is strange, check out the baseball button-up ... sweater?

And I own a Christy Mathewson baseball card! Pinch me.

I now have a clear image of some of the greats of the game, one far more clear, to me, than most photographs and such photographs used on standard sized baseball cards. I will soon be re-reading those two books, and, yes, I know there is a book all about every player in the t206 "set." Unfortunately some of that reading will be on top of a mountain in West Virginia, where I might not have any access to baseball at all (nor any of you fine folks) - I think I might actually go shopping for a portable radio that can accept an external antenna, so I can rig up at least a few innings of a radio call in the evenings - hopefully.

I have never dreamed that I would end up owning some "t206" baseball cards. It just didn't seem like I would ever have the spare cash to purposely collect these, and still don't, and don't ever expect to. The luxury of collecting things I don't really need ends at an occasional $20 'blaster' of new cards, or a $5 single card from eBay. Pulling the trigger on a $20 card once a year or so for my 2013 parallels project is always a fraught decision. I need so many things in life more than I need more baseball cards.

I have been inching closer to the idea of buying a reprint set perhaps, just to enjoy the original artwork by tacking them up on a wall. I still might do that, though that would probably be with a 1933 Goudey to start.

But now suddenly owning these - don't wake me up - 
Is making me re-think a lot of things, collectible.

And historical. Eventually, most long time baseball fans learn this name:
And that it connects to this name:
But there is one missing in the middle. I don't know much about that historic radio call, just that it exists, and is, or now, to be honest, was...pretty famous. I know what card I must add to this collection, though I have quite a fear of discovering the price of that brand new collecting goal.

In total, I now own 36 of these cards -
And I know some of them are not actually "t206". Few are in any sense approaching what we would consider in acceptable condition for a 'modern' card.
Though I know very little about card grading and have neither ever seen a "slab" in 3D daily life, let alone held one in my hand, I think I would be lucky if any of these cards graded as high as a "2", perhaps?
Perhaps some day, I will find out, though for my purposes and overall happiness with these, that matters little. Already, I figure I could spend about one whole day on each and every one of these cards, learning about the player, trying to web crawl my way through the oldest audio recordings of the radio call of a baseball game that might mention any of them (seems doubtful), and just generally oooh-ing and ahh-ing over every little color change of the shading of the > 100 year old printed object I am actually afraid to actually touch with my fingers.
It will be a very enjoyable pursuit, I can tell already. It will help distract from the daily following of a team with not a single batter sporting an .800 OPS or better this year, and no eagerly awaited Rookies arriving any time soon. A team of non-star veterans aging out of the game, and similarly aging "AAAA" players just not quite capable enough to win more than 2 out of 5 games in MLB. Yes, detouring into the statistics and careers of baseball players from over 100 years ago will be quite a bit more enjoyable.

These cards were originally purchased in the 1970s, in an auction in a deeply rural county in eastern WV - the county with the highest average elevation on the east coast, though not the highest peaks. They were not purchased deliberately. The remains of an old man's possessions from an old farm house were simply assembled together in boxes, and sold one box at a time. For a few dollars, the winning bidder got just about anything - some cutlery, some pillow cases, copies of Reader's Digest, whatever random items weren't worth selling individually. A rubber banded stack of old baseball cards was included in the bottom of one of the boxes.

I knew these cards existed but never expected to see them again. The owner of them had no interest in baseball, or any sports at all. Now, they have a good home.

I have no plans to ever sell these, considering the 'provenance' of them. But I do have one quite enjoyable problem to have, with such an amazing little assemblage of baseball cards. In grand baseball card tradition, my first acquisition of such wonderful cards includes one ...

PostScript: I received an inquiry on one card I haven't clipped out of the high-res image yet, which turns out to be an E97 B&W, so to share a better image I am hosting it here: