Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Mickey Mantle Baseball Cards

Growing up in the sixties, baseball cards held a hallowed place in our hearts. Other than the occasional Saturday Game of the Week, it was the closest chance we had to actually see our heroes. Each year, there was an unspoken contest to be the first in the neighborhood to get the new year's cards. We couldn't wait to see what the design was, what jokes or little factoids were on the back, and what pose our favorite players had. There was an incredible joy in opening the waxy packs, smelling the sweet chalky aroma of the bubble gum and finding out who we had gotten. There was nothing like the feeling of our aching jaws as we tried to meld that tenth piece of the brittle foul-tasting bubble gum into the wad which stretched our aching jaws to the limit. There was nothing like the ecstatic squeals from our bubble-gum loaded mouths as we discovered a Mays or an Aaron in that last pack.

We didn't need no stinking price guides to tell us what our cards were worth. We didn't know and didn't care about rookie cards or limited runs. Mint condition was something that made your breath smell good. The only thing that mattered to us was the man on the front of the card. We all knew that a Bob Gibson was worth more than a Juan Pizarro, a Harmon Killebrew was worth more than a Rich Reese, a Mickey Mantle was worth more than anybody and two Mickey Mantles were worth more than any punishment known to western civilization.

Back then cards came ten in a pack (plus an insert of a game card, poster or coin) for a dime. For a few hours work riding our bikes around collecting Coke bottles for the two cent refund, we could get quite a few cards. It wasn't always easy to find cards though. Frequently the food stores, dime stores and gas stations only bought a few boxes--and there were always jokers around who bragged about "buying out" the stores. The most reliable place for us to score some cards was a 7-11 store which, unfortunately, lay on the other side of a four-lane road which we were forbidden to cross without adult assistance.

 One fateful day in 1969 my brother and I heard from a guy who knew a guy who said that there were only a few cards left at the 7-11. With ready cash burning holes in our pockets, we decided that we could not simply wait for it to be sold out and we decided to sneak over there. To our amazing good luck, our haul included two Mickey Mantles! The Mick, the All-Time World Series Home Run Leader himself, the last remaining link to the great Yankee dynasties--to the time when giants roamed the Earth (or at least roamed New York). He had already announced his retirement and we knew this was the last baseball card he would ever have. To a kid in 1969 this was like finding the Hope diamond in a box of Cracker Jacks.

With a sibling cooperativeness usually reserved only for snooping for Christmas presents, my brother and I quickly agreed to divvy up the loot fairly (one Mantle each), hid the cards in the garage, put on our best poker faces and marched into the house. We were amazed to find out that we were already busted. Somehow my mom was always one step ahead of us. Later we discovered that our neighborhood held an elaborate network of mother-spies which would have put the CIA to shame--kids in that neighborhood never had a chance--and someone had seen us crossing the road and ratted us out.

 My mom confiscated our treasure and put it on top of the refrigerator, announcing that we would be lucky to get them back before winter. We were semi-celebrities at school that week as news of our great fortune spread quickly. Along with the notoriety, however, came scoffs from wise guys who doubted our story and said that since we couldn't produce the evidence, we must be lying. Finally after an eternity (one week) of torture, my mother, understanding the gravity of the situation, commuted the sentence and the cards were ours.

I don't know what happened to my brother's Mickey Mantle card, but I know what happened to mine--I still have it. According to Beckett's Price Guide grading scale, the rounded corners and numerous creases the card sustained as it went to school in my back pocket every day that week 42 years ago make it virtually worthless now. But, like I said, we never needed no stinking price guides to tell us what our cards were worth.


  1. A wonderful story about the TRUE value of cards, Doug -- I feel the exact same way about my creased 1977 Mark Fydrich and my 1972 Fisk/Cooper/Oglivie rookie, which looks like a dog took a bite out of one corner (which I have never figured out, since my brother bought the card new and we didn't have a dog). I am sure Bob Costas' Mantle has a few creases in it too after decades of being carried around in his wallet.

  2. Thanks Saul. I like Jane Leavy's line about collecting memories, not memorabilia. To a true fan it's what's inside your head that counts.