As 1964 turned into 1965, my cousin Greg moved with his sister Dru and my aunt and uncle from Louisville to Bowling after my Uncle Dee Gibson accepted a job offer from what was then known as Western Kentucky State College.
They made a couple of trips back and forth to bring all their belongings, and after returning from the last trip Greg, 13, handed me his box of baseball cards. They were mine, he said — to keep.
And, for the next decade or so I was hooked on collecting sports cards.
In the spring of ‘65, not yet 6, I disintinctly recall buying my first pack of Topps baseball cards. I don’t remember every card I got that day, but I do recall one. It was a card of Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Edwards. I recall thinking I had never seen anything more beautiful in my life. I studied it with the same intensity art afficionados study the Mona Lisa.
I was an only child and card collecting turned out to be a great hobby for me. In the beginning, what spare change I could muster up I spent only on sports cards. Down the line my interests diversified, of course, but early on I just wanted to accumulate as many cards as I could. Word about my collection got out in the neighborhood, particuarly among collectors older than me.
One spring day in 1968 I got a call from an older neighborhood pal named Bobby Coke. He invited me to come over to his house and do some trading. Eager to make some good deals, I hung up the phone, packed up some cards, hopped on my blue Schwinn Sting-Ray 3-speed, and was at his door within five minutes or so.
His sidewalk was shaded so we sat in front of his house and prepared to swap — he looking at my availables, I looking at his. Pretty quickly I was thinking, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ In the right-hand corner of every single one of his cards, he had written his initials “BC” in blue ink, and, well, my heart sank.
Bobby tried to convince me that didn’t matter, but I was no dummy. Even then, decades before professional grading became all the rage, I knew different, and our day of trading cards was over almost as quickly as it had begun.
There were many more days, of course, when I traded with other friends in my subdivision and sometimes well beyond it — each of us trying to make the best deal we could. Sometimes, it would get a little comical. One time a friend got frustrated with me and said, “I know you’re offering me six Joe Foys, but, no, I wouldn’t take 20 Joe Foys for this Mickey Mantle, so quit asking me!” Ha! I tried.
In those days, most kids, unfortunately, kept their cards in rubber bands separated by teams. I did the same thing until I had so many cards that the rubber band wouldn’t wrap around my cards (a blessing, as it turned out, for the condition of my cards).
Back then, though, we weren’t collecting cards with the notion that we would eventually sell them. We played with them in a number of ways, including dice baseball games. You could use any Reds you had, for instance, to make up a lineup and play your friend, who could use any of his Braves to do the same.
On rainy days, such games went on for literally hours.
We didn’t disregard the backs of the cards, either. Not hardly. I know I digested every word and as many statisitics as I could. I’ll be 61 in July, but to this day, without looking it up, I can tell you that Bobby Bolin went 10-5 for the Giants in 1968, that George Scott belted 27 homers in his rookie year with the Red Sox in 1966, and, yes, that Johnny Edwards batted .281 for the Reds in 1964.
I memorized the faces with the names on the front, too.
My great friend Mike Moore spent the night with me in 1973 and went through more than a thousand of my cards, hiding the name of the player with his hand and I could name every player. He thought he had me at one point with an obscure 1960 common card and was about to celebrate victory when it finally came to me: “Wait a minute! That’s Dutch Dotterer!” Mike fired the card at me and we both cracked up laughing before falling off to sleep.
By late 1975 I was 16, had my driver’s license, and, in truth, had become burned out with card collecting, which by that time included a healthy stash of football and basketball cards, as well.
Two friends of mine, hard-core collectors and several years older, bought my baseball card collection that year. My glorious run was over.
A decade later, when the card market skyrocketed and top dollar was being paid for older varieties, I lamented that move — but the feeling of disappointment didn’t linger. I’d had too much fun with baseball cards for too many years to have any lasting regrets. They had, in many ways, defined my youth, and I look back now with only fondness on the hobby that brought me so much joy in my formative years.
Besides, how else would I know that Tony Taylor batted .280 for the 1959 Cubs?