Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blog Bat Around - How Hard Can it be to Choose the Best Card in My Collection???

The first one went so well, even though nobody left a comment (Ego...ahem). I guess I should have complained about being the last one listed on the first Blog Bat Around huh Gellman (ha ha ha...just kidding). It was really a nice thing to read everyone's take on the topic of what kind of collector the blog writer is and why he or she decided to become that type of collector.

The next Blog Bat Around discussion topic is a bit more challenging for a collector like me:

We all have blogs that focus on the hobby, but its few and far between where I get to see your favorite/best piece of your collection. It does not have to be a card or worth a million dollars, it just needs to be a part of your sports collection. Please post your favorite(s) on the post, and go from there.

Some questions you may want to answer:

How did you get it? How much did it cost? What is the value today? What makes this item the centerpiece of your collection? Would you ever sell it?

Also, with the enormous number of player/team collectors out there today, has the focus shifted away from obtaining a centerpiece to build around to becoming more of a quantity thing? Has the hobby created 1/1 monsters that don't focus on the sentiment and memories behind the cards? Do you attach memories to your favorite pieces?

That's like asking what your favorite blade of grass is in a whole lawn or your favorite ant in the colony. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you have to understand my dilemma.

As I pointed out in the first Bat Around, I have a total of 42,072 + cards in my active collection. I say "+" only because I have 14 cards between both 2008 U & H Target and WalMart cards and am not even close to finishing both sets. I'm not adding them to the total until both are complete (yes, I'm crazy). How in the heck am I supposed to choose my favorite card out of all my cards??? What card is the best piece in my collection??? Aren't I emotionally attached to all of them (okay, that's stretching it a bit)?

After a couple of days to think it over, I did begin to think about the cards in my collection that are near and dear to my heart. Not necessarily because the person on the card is my favorite player, or plays on my favorite team, but because of how I was able to get the card, and what the circumstances were in acquiring them. They were the cards I needed that finished a set for me after long period of searching for them. They were the cards that taunted me as I sifted through the pages of my incomplete albums. They were the cards that kept me up at night (again...stretch much???). They were the cards that gave me the greatest satisfaction when I finally had it in my hands, slipped it into its waiting space on the nine-card sheet, and call another set completed. Those are the cards that I can call my favorites. Because even if I have not physically seen the card after a long period of time, I can still picture it in my mind.

Now, the first one that comes to mind is a 1992 Topps Jose Tolentino card #541. I wrote about this particular card before. You can look at that story later, but for the sake not leaving until you're finished with my post, I'll summarize the history between me and this specific card here:

Jose Tolentino only played in the MLB for one season, 1991, and only got into 44 games. Apparently, that was enough to earn Tolentino a card in the following year's 792 card set.

It got to the point during the 1992 season where I'd be screaming to the baseball card gods, "how many Jose Tolentino cards did you make???!!! And why can't I find even ONE??!" I'd search pack after pack at the supermarket, being able to read through the wrapper to see the name of the player on the front of the pack. After finding fifteen of the sixteen cards through this method, and after running out of money on many occasions, I'd wait for the day to come again that I could run around looking for that card #541.

I must have spent countless weekends searching for just this one card, many times coming up empty. I even bought the 1992 Topps Mini Set, just so I could see what the darn thing looked like. There was Tolentino, in his Houston Astros jersey, smiling in a head shot, as if he was mocking me, saying, "Nyah nyah na nyah nyah, you can't find me!!!"

Even then, not too many card shops specialized in singles and commons, and I was to afraid drive further than about 10 miles from home because my sense of direction was terrible back then (okay, still is now, but back to the point). I did finally come upon a comic book store...THAT'S RIGHT, A COMIC BOOK STORE...that had a card shop all the way in the back of the store. They carried singles, and when the owner brought out that box of 1992 Topps commons, it was only a matter of time until...


"You're mine. All mine!!!" I shouted. I paid that $0.10, and ran out of the store, handling the card as if cradling a baby. I couldn't wait to get home, open up that binder, and put him in his place.

I can list a few other cards that drove me insane (not as nearly) as the card above:

  • 1984 Topps Greg Brock #555 (bought what I thought was a full set only to find I was one card short. Went back to the store, complained, gave me the card I needed and $5.00 for selling me an incomplete set...too bad that store is gone.)

  • 1990 Topps Chuck Cary #691 (gave up on it when I bought the factory set)

  • 1993 Topps Bo Jackson #400 (one of three cards needed, all found in the same pack)

  • 1995 Topps Orel Hershiser #61T (didn't get the card until the fall...of 1996!!!)

  • 2002 Topps Traded Andres Galarraga #T39 (Short printed veterans cards...What??!)

  • 2004 Topps World Series Programs 1945 Tigers vs. Cubs (either through trade or eBay)

  • 2004 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites Willie Horton #142 (went on a pack ripping binge. Told the store I will buy every pack I open until I get this card. Wound up opening about 10 packs of the stuff before getting the card. Expensive lesson...would have been a lot easier to spend if found in the first one or two packs)

  • 2005 Topps Turkey Red Rich Harden #28 (caved, bought online)

  • 2007 Topps Horacio Ramirez #549 (held a contest on the Topps Message Boards. Person would guess what card would be the last one I'd need. This was the winner.)

Nowadays, since I've had a bit of disposable income, it's much easier to complete a set by buying one or two boxes of product. I could always get the insert sets online. But when I was younger and had to build my sets by hand, or even now when I decide to tackle an large insert set (ie. 2007 Topps Generation Now) by hand, it's always that last card that eludes me that gets me going. It's always that last card that mocks me. Haunts me. Taunts me. Until the day comes that I get my hands on it, the chase is on. And while many times I feel like Dick Dastardly failing for the umpteenth time to catch Yankee Doodle Pigeon, I'm the happiest man in the world when I find that last card.

Regardless of how one collects, every collector has a centerpiece to build around for his or her collection. It may not be the most expensive card in their collection. It may not necessarily be the one with the most number of colors on a piece of cloth. It doesn't have to have the cleanest on-card signature of their favorite player (or any player for that matter, unless you're a set collector of course). There is a friendly competition taking place between all collectors, seeing who has the best collection of whatever it is they collect. I can't speak for player or team collectors, but I have this impression that one of the factors in determining who has the better set is by how many cards of their focus they have. The more cards, the better right? The big competition between player collectors of the same player would be those elusive 1 of 1's. Bidding wars can make for classic stories, for the buyer, the seller, and even the person who lost out on it. As for me, the number of cards I have may be impressive, but when it gets dissected into what I have, then that might be a different story entirely.

For a set collector like me, the most important card is always the last one I need to finish a set. And it's always that last card that provides me the most memories about my adventures in card collecting.


JayBee Anama


night owl said...

Great post. You've gone through much of the same angst that I have, both in trying to narrow down the "centerpieces" of your collection, and by being driven mad by the elusiveness of a single card.

The funny thing is I have maybe 200 cards from the 1992 set. Jose Tolentino is one of them.

mmosley said...

I have often marveled at the completeness of your collecting. Your pursuit of the 2008 "gimmick" cards was impressive. The quest is both fun and agonizing. Although I am no longer a set collector, I still have a soft spot for my 1985 Donruss Razor Shines. It was the last card of the first set I collected. I remember buying a rack pack just for the Bill Madlock on the front.

Laurens said...

Jose Tolentino was the Anaheim Angels' Spanish radio analyst in the late 1990s, early 2000s. He was always telling collectors that he was looking for quantities of his 1991 Topps Major League Debut card.

I know it isn't his 1992 Topps, but that story is how I remember Tolentino

dayf said...

Those last cards really drive me crazy... I just got two more last cards this week though: #305 Randy Johnson Allen & Ginter and #95 Warren Spahn Masterpieces shortprint. The Spahn was the only SP I really had to have and it caps off that set nicely. Two pretty good lefties there too!