Once upon a time, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, we could drop into Haenel’s corner grocery store in Pecan Park, at the corner of Myrtle and Redwood in Houston, to be more precise, and just to drop another nickel on dreams, we could buy a stick of bubble gum that came stuck to five new baseball cards. For those of us who were Pecan Parkers and kids back in that day, it was one-third science, one-third hope, one-third luck, and one hundred per cent magical each time we so acted and got anything we were actually hoping to find.
What would you rather find in a single pack, two more O’Brien twins cards from the Pirates – or a much more rare appearance by Pittsburgh slugger Ralph Kiner?. Easy answer to a tough accomplishment. A kid could throw all of his money and end up with Elmer Valo, Al Zarilla, and Johnny Wyrostek by the dozens and never to see the day he landed a Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, or Stan Musial. It just didn’t seem fair at all, especially since we had to scrounge around and find ways to earn most of our nickels doing odd jobs at home or trying to run corner-located cold soft drink businesses.
The key was learning the delivery guy’s schedule and being there as soon as the new cards hit the store. It never took long to evaluate the latest harvest. If your first purchase included an O’Brien’s twin card that was usually a bad omen of more mediocrity to come. If you happened to land a Jackie Robinson or one of those sacred Stan Musial cards, it was whoa! Go find some more nickels before everyone else discovers that a possible mother-load has landed. Yes. We were worse than Wall Streeters when it came to hoarding rare baseball cards. And the street trading that grew from that little sub-culture was fierce.
Unlike the Ohio family who recently learned that their older generational patriarch inadvertently left them a small fortune in pristinely stored and preserved 1910 tobacco cards, most of our post-WWII collections went the famous bike-spoke or housecleaning mom routes to the garbage dump. My killer-discarder was my dad. He threw out anything that didn’t move for two days. And that was also one of the big reasons we kept moving. Dad would have done the same to us – or, at least, we thought he would.
Somehow I managed to end up with one card from childhood.It turned up in a little souvenir box I found in storage a few years ago, but, no, it was not a classic Mantle rookie card. It was a timeless Clyde Vollmer card. – Who could ask for anything more?
Today I keep my most valuable card in the safe deposit box at our bank. It’s the same Rube Waddell card featured in this column, a 1909-11 T-206 series item that I bought at a Tri Star show at the GR Brown Center back in 1994. It’s not nearly as important to me as some of those I bought as a kid – even though it cost me far more than a nickel.
Nothing will ever exceed the adrenaline rush joy of those childhood card searches or the ecstasy of finding a cardboard version of a Williams, Musial, or Mantle that you could actually take home.
While I’m thinking of it, I just got to experience another loss that my dad inflicted – and this one is hitting me for the first time: When I was kid, I ordered a collection of 16 pennants, one for each of the 16 major league teams of 1949, and I used them to border the four walls of my bedroom, four pennants per wall. I’m not sure when they disappeared, but it was probably when I was in high school. I must have taken them down by then because I have no memory of them being there later on, but I must have taken them down and stored them when I did. I would never have thrown them away, but I have about a 99 per cent idea as to who did.
Thanks, Dad! You’re not here anymore, and I love you anyway! What you gave us will never be thrown away! You were the loving guiding light that brought me to baseball in the first place and that gift was worth all the baseball cards and pennants in the world to me.
Tags: baseball cards