On the internet, nobody knows you're a Juan Gonzalez fanatic.
When I was a kid, I loved old magazines. Books were fine too, as far as they went. But there was something surreptitious about reading old magazine articles, reading outdated reviews and glancing at anachronistic advertisements. Something about the transitory nature of them made them feel forbidden, like they were written for a specific moment that I was intruding on. Like the powder blue pullovers and the shaggy hair of the baseball generation just before mine, they made me feel like I was peeking into the wisdom of adulthood.
The set in question is not important, but since you asked we’ll be using Topps Stadium Club, 1993, the first set without Gary Carter. The number in parentheses is how many of the player’s cards you’d have to give up to get a Griffey from the same set. Mike Piazza’s ranking reflects an attempt on the author’s part to control for Rookie Card status.
The offseason is a time for contemplation, for signing free agents, for longing for the simple pleasures of watching young dudes who will never see the field come April run around on one in March. For me, it has also emerged as a time to discover baseball cards. I never collected baseball cards as a child. My father, who didn’t have a son until I was 12, was happy to have me watch Star Wars and Star Trek and all sorts of other things that rendered me undatable for a while, but he was never a baseball card aficionado, so they sort of passed me by. But baseball cards are snapshots, freezing players in time even as they look ahead to hypothetical seasons. As much as they look back on the statistics and accomplishments of prior campaigns, they serve as a first draft of history: They include reporting, punditry, forecasting, personal biography, data crunching, photography—all the tools in a journalist's toolbox, crammed into tiny one- or two-sentence capsules. But unlike beat writers’ columns or the roving words of internet writers, destined to be largely forgotten by the time the next season rolls around, these first drafts are permanent.
Sometimes, they mark brief stints in unexpected places, like when you remember Yoenis Cespedeswas on the Red Sox for a minute. Sometimes, they’re a reminder a player existed at all, or that Rickie Weeks really did play baseball in 2015—I have the card to prove it! They do their best to get it right, but often they get it wildly, hilariously, tragically wrong. Here is brief exploration of some of the textual oddities in my admittedly Mariners leaning baseball card collection. I am very sorry.
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It started when I bought my own house. My parents made good on their threat to bring all my old baseball cards (along with various other mementos of my childhood) from Cleveland to Atlanta. They’d been storing them for years, mostly because I had been in college, then graduate school, and had lived in a series of small apartments in three different cities.
Solving baseball mysteries with the aid of an unlikely source.
Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers, and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Tom Shieber is Senior Curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where he has worked since 1998. Shieber founded SABR's Pictorial History Committee in 1994, serving as chair of the committee until 2000, and served on the Board of Directors of SABR from 1997 to 2000. He blogs about baseball history and research at Baseball Researcher.
What the backs of old baseball cards reveal about some players' off-season hobbies.
Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.