Baseball Prospectus is taking Monday off to celebrate Memorial Day, but to revive a tradition from a little while back, some of our staff have put together a little collection of writing on a specific topic: Our favorite pieces of pointless, ridiculous baseball memorabilia. Baseball is already a pretty meaningless pastime, if we’re being honest, which make its dead ends and dusty corners all the more endearing. So please enjoy this series of personal memories, and feel free to contribute your own in the comments. Thanks for reading.
What’s the ideal end-of-the-school-year gift for a student to give a male elementary teacher who doesn’t wear ties or drink coffee? I have no idea and I’m him. I’ve gotten some weird stuff in 17 years of teaching because I flummox well-intended parents: shampoo, potpourri, cologne… Wait, do I smell bad? Most of the time I get mugs or Starbucks gift cards. The mugs eventually get thrown out—my cabinet is already full of them and they rarely get used. As for the gift cards, I usually give them to other people because, again, I’m not a coffee drinker.
One student gave me a baseball printed with all of the signatures from the Declaration of Independence. Why would someone create and sell such an odd thing? All of the signers had died by the time baseball came to exist. It doesn’t matter; I love it. The student knew I enjoy baseball, and the Declaration of Independence is something kids learn about in school, so it was a wonderfully thoughtful gift. It resides on a bookshelf in my basement nestled between Duke Snider and Willie Mays, neither of whom signed the Declaration of Independence. —Daniel R. Epstein
Long before countless websites pounced on the opportunity to turn every small baseball joke or semi-odd quote into a t-shirt, novelty gear could be found in the wild, but not nearly as often. One such attempt that I capitalized (?) on in the mid-2000s was when the Yankees put out a “got melky?” shirt in honor of one of their few standout rookies from that decade, Melky Cabrera.
I’m not even sure why I got it. It was probably just at Modell’s or one of those many t-shirt kiosks at the mall, and I said, “Huh, neat! I do like that Melky.” Decisions were not well-thought out back then. I don’t think I even wore it that often because for as fun as his robbery was of Manny Ramirez in June 2006, he wasn’t that good a hitter and I was already wearing the hell out of Robinson Canó merch anyway.
I haven’t tried to put it on in years and there’s no chance in hell that it fits me anymore. But maybe one day it will be a goofy item of ephemera for some future Mearns family member. It beats “JOBA RULES,” I’ll say that much. —Andrew Mearns
Collecting baseball cards is incredible because there’s no wrong way to do it. You want to blow thousands of dollars on PSA 10s? Go right ahead. You want to collect all the cards of one particular player? Sure. Personally, my niche is finding the most outlandish or interesting cards I can—and believe me, there’s plenty.
One of my favorites has to be a Rickey Henderson card from the notorious 1992 Score Dream Team series. Rickey looks effortlessly cool, he always does. However, the composition of the card is unusual. Rickey is holding a bat, like he’s getting ready to swing, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s sitting on a stack of bases. Inexplicably, he’s wearing nothing but boxer briefs.
It’s hard to describe why this card is charming. Is it the tasteful black and white color palette? The JC-Penney-esque photo background? The understated smile Rickey sports, like he knows just how ridiculous this is too? Maybe. Perhaps it’s just that this card captures how sports don’t need to take themselves so seriously. Regardless, this card has kept me company through four moves and half my college career. I only regret giving away the matching shirtless Jose Canseco. —Catherine Galanti
Here in the Dallas area, we house a man who I can only imagine is Mike Trout‘s hero – a professional-baseball-player-turned-weatherman. He goes by the name of Pete Delkus and despite a completely unreliable forecast, he has become popular locally. For a grand total of $3, my parents were able to find and put in my stocking a signed baseball card from the man himself. How he didn’t make the big leagues with 35 strikeouts in 94 Triple-A innings is beyond me, but his cards and pictures live on nonetheless. Also: What a great logo Portland used to have. —Grant Schiller
A year after he pitched for Cleveland in the 1995 World Series, Julian Tavarez (yes, the well-traveled reliever of the very same name!) sat in the stands at Greer Stadium in Nashville charting pitches for the Buffalo Bisons against the Sounds. I don’t know how my dad recognized him, why he sprung for a Cleveland-branded baseball or why he encouraged me to go bother this perfectly nice-seeming man quietly doing his rehab assignment for an autograph in the middle of a game—we were not Cleveland people, autograph people or particularly (until then, at least) Julian Tavarez people. But get the autograph I did and thus began my warm affection for one of baseball’s most journeyed journeymen. After a brief hiatus in the farthest reaches of my parents’ basement, the ball now occupies a place of prominence on my bookshelf for reasons I can’t explain to anyone, including myself. I hope someone shows this to Julian Tavarez and it puts a pep in his step for the rest of the day. —Colby Wilson
I have a Tyler Clippard shirsey signed by Drew Storen hanging in my hallway. I got it on a hot July afternoon. Given a “would you sign my shirt?” request, Storen answered with a certain apprehension. (My back was, to be fair, pretty sweaty.) Then he registered the name printed there—not his own, but a friend’s. He laughed and put Sharpie to fabric. His signature spanned my shoulder blades.
The shirsey still retains that day-of sweat, though it’s mercifully contained in a glass case for future sweat paleo-anthropologists. The whole shebang is larger than most of my family photos, than some of my professional awards. Larger, perhaps than, the Nationals’ accomplishments in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017. A reminder that you sometimes have to knock, and knock, and knock, before the door swings open. That by the time it finally does, you might not be there to walk through. —Sydney Bergman
In the back of my desk drawer I’ve assembled the least valuable collection of baseball cards imaginable, a scrapbook of futility. It begins with a Mark Langston card that—at 85 cents—once was the most valuable baseball card I owned, the better ones all stolen. The Gregg Jefferies rookie card that cost a tiny fraction of my soul. The ugly, blurry Tettleton rookie card tha made for an uglier high school freshman art project, the dots stippled one by one as I chatted away my youth with friends.
There are the joke cards I made with children at the afterschool program I worked at through grad school. There’s the Rick Jones card I wrote about while student teaching, amidst a 60-hour work week of lesson plans, the first indication that I’d never escape sportswriting. The Paul Gibson shrinky dink I would later use to threaten authors who refused to send in their bio for the Annual. And Jack Daugherty, the card my daughter feasted upon nearly a decade, god, a decade ago.
How horrible it would be if these cards were mint condition, locked in slabs, perfect. Instead, they’re worthless: defaced by my having lived through them. —Patrick Dubuque
In the bygone days of the early 2000s, MLB instituted what was known as the “Final Vote,” a collection of wayward, grindy, fan-favorite type guys who were considered snubbed by the All-Star fan vote and reserve selection. Let me turn your attention to 2005, where none other than speedy menace Scott Podsednik had been delegated to the AL side for that coveted final roster spot, along with Derek Jeter, Torii Hunter, Hideki Matsui, and Carl Crawford. As an 19-year old college student working in the White Sox team shop, I was given a five-inch-wide pinback button to don on my uniform, with the phrase “Vote For Scott”—a reference to the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Podsednik’s name replacing Pedro’s down to the red-bubble typeface. 2005 was the first year text voting was introduced; I encouraged others to pull out their Motorola RAZRs to send our beloved left-fielder to the midsummer classic. Podsednik had won the hearts and minds of fans nationwide, overcoming Jeter and winning with 3,965,473 votes. The button, and my 2005 employee badge were kept in a safe place; it would later prove to be a very good year to be a White Sox fan. —Janice Scurio
Thank you for reading
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