Best dollar I ever spent
by, 08-06-2012 at 06:08 PM (939 Views)
Normally I live for Saturday afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. As a middle school teacher, my week is typically filled with cleaning up spills, writing up dress code violations, and holding back indescribable rage. I even manage to slip in a few minutes of instruction when my kids least expect it. So when my wife asked me if I wanted to spend a summer Saturday afternoon at the "Best of the Midwest" flea market, for unknown reasons I agreed. When we arrived, I was absolutely blown away at the amount of "junk" that filled six buildings at the county fairgrounds, not to mention a couple more buildings worth of vendors that set up shop outside. As I wandered through what seemed was going to be an endless maze of knick-knacks dusted off from grandpa's basement, I noticed that a number of dealers were selling sports memorabilia and souvenirs. I saw metal signs (which will be perfect for the future baseball room of the house), wooden bats (which would be perfect for the wooden baseball bat coffee table I'm planning to build in the near future), and...to my delight...baseball cards.
Now, I'm not sure I'm I am what you would consider your typical baseball card collector. I absolutely treasure my baseball cards. Growing up, I can remember only a handful of times where I traded my beloved baseball cards. My parents weren't the parents that would let me buy a pack a week, or even a pack a month. It was truly a special day when my mom finally gave in to my brothers and I and let us pick out a pack to take home and add to our small collection. I remember feeling each pack in the box, convinced that some packs felt thicker, and hoping that the thickest packs might contain an extra card. I remember when we found a "card store" an hour away from our small farming town in southwest Minnesota that had binders of cards for 25 cents/each. I have to laugh at myself (mostly since I still do it) that I would spend our entire trip to the mall paging through those albums, searching for a card that the dealer misplaced, hoping to find that $10 card that somehow was stuck in the 25 cent folder. I remember coming home with a Jose Cruz Jr. Donruss Elite and a Shawn Green Bowman's Best because I was convinced they were worth serious money. After purchasing my beloved card for the trip, I would tell my mom of my "steal of a deal", and her response was always the same, "Who would pay you that much for that card?". She knew me better than I thought. I wouldn't ever find someone to pay what I thought it was worth, much less entertain the thought of selling one of my precious cardboard treasures. So that was my childhood, one card at a time, one pack at a time.
So when I saw a dealer selling baseball cards at the flea market, my heart jumped. I had to know the value of these cards better than these dealers who were seemingly emptying their basements, attics, and garages just to make an extra buck. I bought a tin of a dozen cards for a couple bucks from a dealer that contained replica cards of Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, and Walter Johnson. Also in the box were a couple of team cards (Milwaukee Braves and Boston Red Sox) from the early 60's. I was pretty sure I was carrying around a tin of cards worth much more than what I just paid for them (again, fully knowing I would never sell them, but I felt like I got the best of the deal, so it was a win for me) when I stumbled upon another dealer selling boxes of hundreds of cards, some for $1, some for $2. I could hardly contain my excitement as I wolfed down the last of my homemade peach ice cream waffle cone (which could be an entire blog post of its own). I had always dreamed of buying a "box" of cards that would entertain me for days on end. I can't begin to explain the hours I spent while growing up reading stats, organizing "teams", and researching prices. Now that dream was right in front of me, and only the dollar in my pocket was separating me from it. There was a card taped to the top of the box, a 1990 Topps Rafael Palmeiro which I can vividly recall having in my collection growing up. As I flipped open the box, I saw that all the cards were from the 1990 Topps set. On the side of the box was scrawled in pen "extras", presumably the cards that weren't worth selling on their own, which was just fine with me. A dollar later, I couldn't wait to get home and start picking through the cards to see what treasures lay ahead (and I actually didn't wait until I got home, I got out of driving home and started organizing the cards by team during the 45 minute drive).
When I got home, the real investigation started. I pulled a stack of cards out of the box and as I flipped through them, arranged them on stacks alphabetically by team. Some of the cards, as obscure as the players may have been, brought back so many memories from my days of flipping through my albums in my bedroom. As I flipped through them, the names came flying back to me from 20 years ago. Mike Devereaux, Mickey Tettleton, Mariano Duncan, Danny Tartabull, Billy Hatcher, Robby Thompson, and more. I came across a B.J. Surhoff and remembered that card was the reason I knew he had been converted from a catcher to an outfielder. I pulled out a Tim Burke card and remembered reading his book "Major League Dad" in middle school and being amazed how he had to have been one of the most underrated pitchers of his time. (In '87 he went 7-0 with a 1.19 ERA in 55 games out of the bullpen for the Expos for a 4.2 WAR, 6th best among NL pitchers.)
As I continued through the stack of cards, I could clearly see that many of the best players were removed and sold in smaller packs or individually. Honestly, the best card in the box may have been the Palmeiro card taped to the top. However, after going through the first 3/4 of the cards in the box, my luck began to change. All of a sudden the Pat Clements and Chuck Crims of the world were replaced by Lee Smith, Joe Carter, Dante Bichette, Wally Joyner, Jimmy Key, and some Indians slugger by the name of Joey Belle (I knew Albert had gone by that name, but it surprised me to see it on the card regardless!). I even pulled out a few Rookie/Future Star cards out that contained the faces of Tom Gordon, Greg Vaughn, and Todd Zeile.
In the end, I ended up with 399 player cards, 2 checklists, and 1 All-Star/Hot Prospects Collector's Set offer (which expired in December 1990). I had cards from twenty-five of the twenty-six teams in existence in 1990.
The top 10 player cards I pulled out were: (listed by career WAR)
Player WAR Fred McGriff 48.2 Jamie Moyer 44.9 Jack Morris 29.3 Joey (Albert) Belle 36.9 Kirk Gibson 35.5 Harold Baines 34.0 Tom Gordon 32.5 Lee Smith 27.9 Greg Vaughn 27.7 Jay Buhner 20.0
So on a weekend where the Twins began to show some life and take three of four in Boston and the monster that is Miguel Sano smacked his 22nd HR of the year, the real victory for me was found in the fact that off the 399 player cards that I pulled out I came away with two things that put a smile on my face. First of all, off the 399 cards I pulled out a stack of 37 Twins, more than any other team. Secondly, you may have noticed that I was one team away from having all twenty-six teams from the 1990 season. The team I was missing? None other than our beloved Chicago White Sox, who I was just fine being without.
So there you have it...the best dollar I ever spent.