“But they’re just cardboard after all,” I told my best friend, Paul.
“Not to you,” he replied, smiling. “Not to you.”
The year was 1992. I was a mere 22 years old. The setting was my first, and last, baseball card show in which I participated as a seller, not a buyer. At least that was the intention.
Even at 22, baseball cards meant more to me than statistics on the back and pictures of athletes on the front. They were my memories of playing catch with my dad on the front lawn. They were my youth. I dreamed of the day I could pass down my collection to my sons.
Since elementary school, Paul and I had collected cards together. Of course we each had our individual collections. The term “together” also is relative. While it was Paul who convinced me to get serious about my collection, the idea only came after he bought many of my best cards for much less than their actual value. That included a Rickey Henderson rookie card for one dollar which had a street value of fifty dollars at the time.
Still, it was Paul who took me to my first real baseball card store. We were 10 years old at the time. For a mere two dollars, I purchased a rookie card of future hall-of-famer Billy Williams.
As years passed, we continued to build our collections. We attended shows together, always searching for the player to autograph his own card to increase its value. We traded with other friends and each other. But through it all, I never collected for the financial reward. I collected cards of now hall-of-famer Baltimore Orioles superstar Eddie Murray, because I loved how consistently terrific he was each year, and because he played the same little league position as me: first base. My collection of third baseman Mike Schmidt was a tribute to the famous game when the Philadelphia Phillies defeating my hometown Chicago Cubs 23-22.
But at 22, I thought about the elusive dollar. I rented a table at a show for a fee and went to work. Paul helped me free of charge. I still think he felt guilty about the Rickey Henderson deal.
I made about four hundred dollars from the show. Having paid fifty dollars for the table, it wasn’t a bad day’s work. With money in hand, and just an hour left in the show, some attendees asked me to buy their cards at incredible deals. By the time I was done, I’d spent it all.
I had turned my profit into at least $3,000 worth of cards. The final purchase was a Satchel Paige rookie card. Until Paul’s “cardboard” comment, I was devastated.
I haven’t sold cards since that day, but have continued to build my collection. They are organized in binders with my best cards displayed proudly in a glass case on the wall.
Where is all this located? In the rooms of my eighteen-month-old sons, Teddy and Ari.
Thanks Paul, you were right.