(Blogathon ’16) Michael Clair: An (Abbreviated) People’s History of the World Through Baseball Cards

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

In the beginning, there was nothing. Just a swirl of atoms and gasses mixing about in a sort of cosmic stew. Perhaps there were some Lovecraftian elder gods with tentacle faces flitting about but honestly, that’s all just conjecture.

And then, for some unknown reason, everything smashed together. This was the Big Bang.

From there … everything was set into motion, like when you’re playing Mouse Trap and you flip the switch that starts the aforementioned trap. Eventually, single celled organisms had to combine into fish who had to crawl out of the ocean and onto land.

Those things then turned into dinosaurs. I think.

Of course, Carl Everett may disagree with that.

Humanity eventually showed up, evolving from apes. Somehow,like Leo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” they survived against the cold and the dark and the ancient beasts that wandered the world. After stumbling around, smashing rocks into things, the first farmers showed up about 8,500 years ago to plant crops.

It was at this time that animals were first domesticated, too. Little could these wild and violent creatures have imagined what would one day become of them:

With our faithful Labradoodles by our side, humans were safe to grow and learn. 5,000 years later, the first signs of writing appeared. Some say this was the first thing a homo sapien ever scratched out:

Flash forward to 800 BC and not only do we see the very first Homer, who is busy penning the Odyssey (side note: I can’t believe Topps has never come out with a Homer’s Odyssey line of cards, with dinger gods receiving Grecian-style prints), but, fittingly, that’s also when the Iron Age began.

Jacked bros will tell you that it’s never ended.

A few hundred years later, alchemists got busy looking for the philosopher’s stone that could transmute base metals into gold. They generally dressed like this:

Then in the 5th century King Arthur and his McKnights of the Round Table showed up. If you’re trying to tell me that Lancelot did not look like this, then you clearly haven’t been attending many Ren Fairs.

Soon enough, the Renaissance was upon us, ushering in a new world of emerging thought and, most importantly, art. A new understanding of human physics and how to depict them made humans look almost lifelike. Almost.

But the Renaissance would eventually be swept away under the coal-fueled wheels of the Industrial Revolution. Soon, the repeatable precision that came from factories and cameras forced man to become machine and art to change its very definition.

Soon after, the Wright Brothers would get tired of riding bikes all the time and they discovered flight. Sadly, it left poor Sean Lowe without a purpose any longer.

After some of the worst wars man had ever seen (shockingly, not a whole lot of World War I baseball cards featuring the poetry of Wilfred Owen), man discovered nuclear fusion and the world would be plunged into a new terror.

That fear would force humans to look to the stars. And if you believe the “official story”, we walked upon the moon. Yeah, right. Wake up sheeple.

Not much happened after that until the internet was created. Finally, people could send letters without having to write anything down, while also doing sex stuff without ever leaving their houses.

And cell phones were invented. And people could do more types of sex stuff without leaving their houses.

What will the future bring? Will we soon walk amongst the stars? Will we discover the purpose of existence? Will we be able to order pizza through emoji? Humans may have no idea, but baseball cards do.

(Image sources: Baseball Card Bust, eBay, Trading Card Database, Stunning Purple, This Card is Cool, Garvey Cey Russell Lopes, and probably more.)

Michael Clair writes for MLB.com’s Cut4 and will likely one day suffocate under his baseball card collection. Follow him @clairbearattack.

This guest-post was part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

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(Blogathon ’16) Patrick Dubuque: A Ghost Among Cardboard

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Baseball cards are a kind of clumsy yearbook, a collection of forgotten names and awkward photographs. Each bears a moment frozen unnaturally, the cheesy portrait grin followed by the unnatural, bent-back elbow of the pitcher. They demonstrate the historian’s drive to squeeze the eyes tight and remember: not only the championships, not only the highlights and the heroes, but the busted prospects and the utility infielders. All the losing teams and players get their 1/nth share.

GAC1But no set has room for every player, let alone every moment; there are too many minor league callups, too many injury replacements who come and go. Topps neglected to create a Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card in 1989, his having no major league experience, but picked Mark McGwire out of the Olympic roster two years before anyone else. Rookies are hard to predict, but guessing the right ones, giving kids a whale to hunt, is good salesmanship.

It’s a little strange that, given the parabolic path of the average career, a player’s most valuable card is generally his first one, and always descends from there. Perhaps in our hearts, all rookies are Babe Ruth or Cy Young until time gives them the opportunity to prove otherwise. Perhaps it’s our drive to feel like investors, to get in on the ground floor. But while rookie cards are traded and sold at a premium, the opposite, the last cards, rarely even exist.

There’s no real pattern as to who gets a final stat line. Mantle got a final card in 1969, but Aaron was left off of the 1977 set; Mays got a card in 1974, but not his own, only a World Series highlight, his bat looking heavy in his hands. It’s a common paradox for baseball cards: representing the year before, they’re sold the year after. So many retired players, no longer around to root for on summer afternoons, rarely have their final year’s stats commemorated. Some of it is timing in the print runs; some of it, one assumes, is alchemical.

GAC2There’s a variation in one of the 1988 Topps checklists. You couldn’t be blamed for missing it: one line has been changed, #455, Steve Carlton. The Hall of Famer was cut from the set at the last second, replaced by orange chip prospect Shawn Hillegas.

Lefty was essentially done by 1986; starting the year with the Phillies, he was cut just shy of 4,000 strikeouts, and signed with the Giants to reach the milestone. When they gave up on him as well, he moved on to the White Sox, and pitched just well enough to latch on to a last-place Indians ballclub in the offseason. Topps dutifully gave him three different cards with three different teams: a White Sox regular 1987 issue, an Indians traded issue, and a Giants box-bottom highlight card (his jersey and cap painted on him, since no photographer caught up with him in his six-game San Francisco career). Perhaps it was too much.

Apparently in 1988, Topps had had enough, and even though he put in 150 innings with the Indians and Twins, and refused to retire even then, they decided to ignore his sad final full season. Fleer alone, of the Big Four companies of the time, gave Carlton a final card. It proved a fitting tribute. It’s a strangely tragic still life, an old man in a foreign uniform on an empty bench, staring off camera at the rest of his life. He looks speechless.

GAC3Did Carlton deserve that final card more than Hillegas and his 58 innings of middle relief? It seems strange that an industry couched so deeply in nostalgia flinches at the final sad days of a ballplayer. Maybe Topps didn’t want that last image of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, throwing slop down the middle of the plate, to burn into our retinas. And maybe it’s a good thing they stop making yearbooks after high school. But sports aren’t about what we want to have happen; they don’t let us choose our memories. Only rain can undo a game.

It’s ironic that Griffey’s own denouement, twenty-some years later, proved just as tragic as Carlton’s. And like Lefty, he too failed to receive that final card when he closed his own career midseason. But while it requires extrapolation to combine that Griffey with the one of our childhood, we all do it; we can appreciate them all as one man. Heroes can be young and old at the same time, even frail and human. Carlton’s weary despair, caught on a single, worthless card, is every bit as much baseball as Griffey’s boyish smile.

Patrick Dubuque co-edited the 2016 BP Annual and serves as jester/editor at Lookout Landing. You can follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

(Blogathon ’16) Greg Gay: Victim of Circumstance

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Circumstances conspire to form our major league baseball alliances. Perhaps we live near a team and going to games forms an unbreakable bond with the franchise. Maybe our rooting interests were handed down, family member to family member, a continuous line of Cubs or Reds or Orioles fans.

My circumstance was my mother handing me a pack of baseball cards.

She had just returned from the grocery store. It was 1974 and it was the first time I had ever seen or even heard of baseball cards. It was a cello pack, which contained around 35 cards back in the mid-1970s. Don’t ask me how I remember this, but the first card I pulled from that pack featured someone on the brink of a career-threatening injury. They thought he’d never pitch again.

I didn’t know any of that as an 8-year-old. I just knew that I liked this Tommy John fellow, standing there on this piece of cardboard, with a glove held up in front of his chest, his mouth half-open as if he wanted to tell me something. Instantly, I pledged allegiance to the team featured on that card, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers were my team from that moment, even though I lived 3,000 miles from where they played their games. It was a tenuous relationship, which could have withered and died, if not for circumstance.

A few years later, during the first year that I actively watched baseball on TV — my interest in cards had blossomed into a full-fledged love for baseball — the Dodgers made the World Series. My Dodgers. The guys I collected on bubble gum cards.

I lived in Upstate New York, Yankees country. Almost all of my classmates were Yankees fans. They were relentless. I could never hold onto Yankees cards because everyone around me always wanted to trade for them. Gradually, I grew tired of their hounding, their superior attitude as they bragged about how good their teams’ players were. And now my Dodgers were playing their Yankees.

My Dodgers lost. Something about Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in Game 6. The following year, my Dodgers played their Yankees again in the World Series. Something about Reggie Jackson sticking out his hip. I was deflated. Two years in a row of my team losing to the team everyone around me thought was so superior.

I resented them. But the experience strengthened my resolve. Circumstance saw to it that I remained a Dodgers fan.

In 1981, the Dodgers obtained their revenge, beating the Yankees in six games, just as L.A. had been beaten in six in ‘77 and ‘78. I saw that my team COULD beat their team in the ultimate series. I went to school the next day and announced to the Yankees lovers in the hallway, “How about those Dodgers?”

In 1986, I picked up a book called “The Boys Of Summer.” I was in college, a journalism student. Roger Kahn’s famed memories of the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers appealed to me as a fan and a future writer. But I didn’t know how fascinated I would become with my team, thanks to that book.

Kahn’s very human stories of the very human Dodgers, and what became of them, sealed my allegiance forever. I was proud of the stories my team had to tell. Jackie, Pee Wee and the Duke. Campy, Billy Cox and Joe Black. The Dodgers’ history is as rich as any team in  professional sports. I wanted to follow a team like that.

Circumstance — an interest in stories and the human condition — drew me tighter to this team. Forever to this team.

Today, I appreciate every moment of my Dodgers’ history. My favorites — Kirk Gibson in the ‘88 World Series, of course — are both large and small. Ron Cey’s crazy RBI April in 1977. Reading about Fernandomania from afar on the floor of my dining room in 1981. Shawn Green’s four home runs against the Brewers in 2002. I could go on for pages. And the characters–so many. Tommy Lasorda. Mickey Hatcher, Nick Punto.

The Dodgers, in my lifetime, have experienced highs (the epic 4+1 home run comeback game against the Padres)  and lows (which franchise gave up both Hank Aaron’s and Barry Bonds’ record-breaking home runs?) . They illustrate the humanity of baseball as well as any team. Bob Welch’s and Steve Howe’s battles with substance abuse. Brett Butler’s battle with cancer.

Living so far from my team, I have watched them play in person only once (Eric Gagne’s blown save in his hometown of Montreal in 2002). But thanks to my third-shift job and night owl habits, I can keep careful track of my favorite team from a distance, far better than when there was just a newspaper and a Saturday Game Of The Week.

I am a victim of circumstance. A faithful fan following his team from the other side of the country, spurred on by a single baseball card and some well-placed moments in time.

And to think my mother — not a baseball fan in the least — started it all by handing me a pack of cards in 1974.

Thanks, Mom.

Gregory Gay is a editor and sportswriter for a newspaper in Upstate New York. He operates the popular baseball card blog “Night Owl Cards,” under his blog alias “night owl.” His twitter handle is: @nightowlcards.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Picture of the day: Old Baseball Cards were weird

Many old baseball cards were done back before cameras were all that good, especially in outdoor conditions. So instead, the action was staged indoors, like this card of Billy Sunday, who would later become a noted evangelical preacher after his career ended.

This image, from the Library of Congress Flickr feed, has no known copyright restrictions.