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The Suburbanite
  • Gary Brown: ‘Old guy’ baseball cards worth something, after all

  • A chill went over me when I read that a New Jersey man paid $1.2 million for a very rare 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card. What if I had one in the box full of baseball cards I accumulated when I was growing up, and I didn’t cherish it with the same amount of greed as my favorite other cards because, after all, Honus Wagner was an “old guy” card?

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  • A chill went over me when I read that a New Jersey man paid $1.2 million for a very rare 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card.
    What if I had one in the box full of baseball cards I accumulated when I was growing up, and I didn’t cherish it with the same amount of greed as my favorite other cards because, after all, Honus Wagner was an “old guy” card?
    Maybe I attached that card to the frame of my bicycle with a clothespin and rode off down the street, letting Honus Wagner’s valuable face go flapping against the spokes while making some semblance of a motorcycle sound.
    Who really can distinguish the difference between a valued collectible and a homemade bike accessory when he’s 10?
    I went online and looked at an image of a 1909 Honus Wagner. No offense, but with his hair parted in the middle and with what looked like pink painted on his cheeks, he would have appeared spokesworthy to a kid in my neighborhood.
    ME AND CHUCK
    It could have happened. I fueled my bike with a lot of dog-eared cards I got from friends and relatives early in my card-collecting career. I wouldn’t have wasted a Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. But maybe I’d have destroyed a Wayne Terrwilliger or a Wes Westrum, two New York Giants who wouldn’t have been missed by a Yankees fan.
    Granted, most of the cards that made it to my “motorbike” were doubles or even triples — cards that were merely duplicates of cards I already possessed, instead of filling some gap in my collection. Why on Earth would you have more than one card of Baltimore Orioles third baseman Johnny Lipon, especially if you’re sitting in my friend Chuck’s basement in western New York?
    The two of us would spend hours in Chuck’s basement on rainy summer afternoons sorting and resorting our cards according to year, team, or card number. In our attempts to complete each year’s set, we would open countless packets of cards, carefully stacking the hard and tasteless gum that was enclosed with the cards so it could safely be disposed of later in a manner that has filled up our landfills for decades.
    And, we would trade cards, often throwing in an “old guy” card that we might have gotten handed down from an uncle — a player neither of us knew anything about ... “You want this Honus guy?”
    NO RECOLLECTION
    Now, I don’t remember if Chuck ever tried to trade me a Honus Wagner card. It’s unlikely, since it was a tobacco card and neither of us was around to smoke in 1909. And only 200 of them were circulated, so the odds are against one of them ending up in the hands of two kids who wouldn’t know that they would want it — a lot — a half century later.
    Page 2 of 2 - Still, I read an article that said baseball card historians only know of 60 of the cards that still exist. Something had to happen to the other 140. This is where I start to hear my bike revving up.
    What sort of makes the sound less distressing when I recall it is knowing that, at this point, I would never be able to sell my Honus Wagner card anyway.
    You see, when I still was young and stupid, but old enough to believe I’d out- grown collecting baseball cards, I gave my entire box of cards to my younger brother. If I ever had a Honus Wagner it would have gotten handed over with the rest. He hasn’t retired, so apparently it wasn’t there.