I’m pleased to present this guest post from Gerry Garte, a regular contributor here.
Dwight Eisenhower was President when I first started collecting baseball cards. From year to year, I had the biggest stars of the day – Mantle, Mays, Berra, Banks, Aaron. A small pack of Topps cards cost a nickel, gum included. My collection lived on a 25-cent weekly allowance, plus benefits.
Neighborhood guys and cousins had baseball cards. We’d trade players or flip for them. It was usually closest to a wall or curb wins. Leaners were great.
After Roger Maris hit an amazing 61 home runs in 1961, his card became prized. I had two. One of the neighbor boys offered to swap 12 marbles for my extra Maris. Transaction accepted. Funny thing, nearly 50 years later I still have the marbles.
The cards were a neat hobby, but like most kids, I never thought of their long-term value. Keeping a card in nice condition was not one of my concerns.
By age 16, baseball cards were like bicycles – left behind. So I yielded closet space. Long story short: None of the cards survived my high school years.
In the mid ‘80s, I went to a couple of sports card shows. It had been about 20 years since the early cards. I’d buy one or two cards at a time, spend maybe $10.
I met Enos Slaughter at a Raleigh, NC, show. He is a 1985 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I got the gentleman’s autograph and was honored to be shaking the hand of a Hall of Famer.
My son, Benjamin, was born in 1991. When he was about 9, I introduced him to baseball card collecting. I was hoping he’d catch the bug as I had 40 years earlier. Turns out, the bug just winged him. But for the second time, it caught me flush.
After we had put together a great set of 1991 cards (year born), I took it from there.
Newly divorced, but with a steady job, I reverted to age 10. I decided – because I could– to buy all 587 cards in the 1961 Topps basic set — the great Maris year.
This time, I focused on the condition of the card. To ensure authenticity and condition, all cards were graded. It helps avoid getting cheated.
The authentication services I trust most are PSA, SGC and BVG (Beckett). Their service determines if the card is fraudulent or has been tampered with — trimmed, re-colored, etc. Also, it renders a rating or grade for the physical condition and appearance of the card.
It took several years to complete the set. The journey was its own joy. I don’t know what it cost me, but two years later the set sold on eBay for enough to pay off the bills and buy the son a used Jeep. It was an investment in baseball history.
Three years later, I did it again. This time, I had a complete set of graded 1955 Bowmans (320 cards) auctioned off. The pay-off was smaller – due to condition, popularity and size — but the search was just as much fun.
In childhood, baseball had become imbedded. As an adult, seeing Major Leaguers from the ‘50s and ‘60s on baseball cards is a pleasant way of renewing memories and appreciating the game and life as it was.
As the country transitioned from Ike to JFK, I kept up with my world as best I could. I’d check the box scores daily. On Saturdays, after pick-up games at the schoolyard, I’d hurry home to catch Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese call the game of the week. I’d be engrossed, centered in front of the black-and-white TV set, with my baseball cards close by.
Email Gerry Garte at email@example.com