In this era of the coronavirus, it’s been a test for newspaper sports sections to find content when there are no games.
At the Times Herald, we’ve been fortunate that with St. Bonaventure, particularly basketball, the NFL Draft, various retrospectives, updates on the pandemic’s effects, and the Senior Spring Spotlight, where local scholastic athletes share their thoughts about losing their final season of athletics, surprisingly we haven’t had a shortage of local copy.
Even the wire services have changed their sports content to a more feature-oriented menu. And last week, the TH ran an Associated Press story that brought me particular enjoyment.
It was a piece about a book called “The Wax Pack,” the chronicle of a baseball fan who ordered a 15-pack of unopened 1986 Topps baseball cards and tracked down those players and what they had done with their lives after leaving the spotlight of the major leagues.
That story got me thinking about baseball cards from my own youth.
GROWING UP in a suburb of Albany in the mid-1950s, I loved the game, particularly the Brooklyn Dodgers. Naturally, I hated the Yankees and Giants lurking a mere borough away, teams which most of my friends followed religiously.
But beyond the trash talk and needling, our loyalties paid a dividend. We all collected baseball cards. Back then, a pack was a nickel with about five cards and a piece of flat pink bubblegum that had the consistency of cardboard and was dusted with a white powder that could have been chalk dust for all I knew. Of course I still chewed it … I’d paid for it.
I wouldn’t trade a Mickey Mantle or a Willie Mays, if I was lucky enough to get one. But my Yankee fan friends could barter for all the Moose Skowrons and the Giants rooters for as many Sal Maglies as they desired.
And while today’s kids are entertained by their iPads or phones, back then we played a game called “pitching cards.” Contestants would squat near a building and flick a baseball card toward the wall — preferably stone. Closest won the other card(s) during each flip. The optimum toss was what we called a “standee” when a card actually stood up against the wall … a guaranteed winner.
Many post-dismissal spring afternoons were spent in the fully-paved schoolyard pitching cards while we waited for the school bus.
Needless, to say you didn’t risk your prized players … that’s what the Jimmy Pearsalls, Joe Altobellies and Roman Mejiases were for.
My Duke Snider card never left the house … and rarely did any other Dodger.
All these years later, I don’t have a single card from those days. That’s true of most of us, and many blame their mothers. Not me, though it’s possible mine were “misplaced” when we moved between my junior and senior years of high school. But it’s more likely I was the victim of too many “standees” during my after-school and recess “pitching.”
ANYWAY, I wasn’t the only person taken by the AP’s “Wax Pack” story.
So was Wellsville’s Darrin Cornell, formerly of Franklinville, who shared, via email, his own recollection of those days.
The story of the gentleman who took a 1986 “wax pack” of baseball cards and planned a “road trip” to visit and interview those players for a book was a grand distraction from our current news stories. The article got me thinking of the parallels to my childhood. Most kids of our era grew up living and breathing baseball … it seemed you were either a Yankee lover or hater.
My first year purchasing cards was 1957. You either got one card with one piece of bubblegum for one cent, or five or six cards and a piece of gum for a nickel. They were Topps cards; I don’t remember being able to purchase any other size packs or brands. Back then, you got mostly “commons” with the occasional above-average player that you recognized by name. Rarely did you find a Mantle or a Mays. I can’t tell you how many Gene Greens and Taylor Phillipses I got that year or how many Washington Senators I found in my “wax packs”.
Two or three nickel packs may have netted eight or nine (higher-profile) players out of 15-18 cards … maybe a Whitey Ford or a Pee Wee Reese. I had so many Whitey Ford cards that year I took a quarter and a nickel and drew circles on the back of his card, filled in the circles with “magic marker” and used them as target practice for my BB gun. Yes, I got my Mantles, Mayses and Williamses, but by trade, purchased collections or inheritance. But the story made me think back to running to the store with coins to purchase more cards and the fun collecting, trading and comparing cards with my buddies. Yes, being one of those Yankee haters, I did try to accumulate Yankee cards because their players were among the best-known. My team that year was the Braves and a few years later the Pirates, both of whom beat the Yankees in the World Series in 1957 and 1960, respectively.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)