Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Where have you gone, Steve Kilkenny?
I'm always sad when I read headlines like this: "Honus Wagner card sold for record-setting $2.35 million." I can only think about all the cards I sold to pay the rent in college, all those cardboard Aarons, Mays, Clementes, Mantles and Roses sold off for another couple of months in a dingy apartment or for a few more credits at the community college. (As if education is as important as pictures of childhood heroes.)
Collecting those cards were some of the best times of my life. I learned to negotiate by trading with the neighborhood kids, gladly handing over the Mets' Rusty Staub and Cleon Jones for the likes of Steve Carlton, Harmon Killebrew or Bobby Murcer. I learned to organize by putting cards in order both by team and by numbers, depending on my mood. And I also learned to finish what I started by trading for even the most obscure players (like Cleveland Indians pitcher Steve Kilkenny) because I needed a complete set in 1972.
I also pored over statistics on the back of these cards. As a result, I understood more about baseball, football, hockey and basketball -- especially about baseball. I learned that a 3.00 earned-run average and a .300 batting average make for pretty impressive seasons. And a 4.0-yard per carry average and 1,000 total yards is equally impressive, especially back when the season lasted 14 games, not 16. (Nobody was better than Jim Brown, who regularly averaged 1,000 yards during a 12-game series.) I can still recite Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average (.367) and that Lou Gehrig has hit more grand slams (24) than anyone else. Of course, some other records have been erased along the way, like the amazing new strikeout mark by Nolan Ryan and the new record for hits by Pete Rose.
I still have thousands of cards, but I have very few of the years that mean most to me -- football and baseball cards from 1971-74. I might have to start putting a set together. I don't have many of those cards left, but I do have some great memories. (And a college degree, too, I guess.)
I can't wait until the new set comes out so my daughters and I can compare ERAs, batting averages and runs batted in as we sit and watch the Yankees on satellite TV.