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Into the Blogosphere

This is my blog. I am a 56-year-old formerly computer-phobic weenie who now finds himself quite unceremoniously propelled into cyberspace. I am the editor of Sports Collectors Digest; I have been here at SCD for nearly 14 years and worked for several years before that as a freelancer. I would still have the original Topps cards that I bought as a 9-year-old in 1959, since I politely asked my mother not to throw them away while I was overseas in the Navy from 1968-72, but I have upgraded most of them over time. If that sounds like I am – at some bizarre level – ashamed of having done so, then there it is.

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I am not so much a reluctant cyberspace traveler as I am a bit intimidated by the undertaking. That’s odd, since I trace my computer roots back to 1969 when I operated a UNIVAC 1004 computer at the Naval Communications Center at Subic Bay in the Philippines. That particular contraption was roughly the size of old Crosley Field; as the computer age rolled on through nearly four decades, the actual hardware kept getting smaller and smaller, as did my comfort level with each new advancing generation.

I whine like this because I welcome any help that loyal readers can provide in terms of pushing me in this or that direction, with this or that nuance or emphasis. Remember, I was the guy who thought Pong was breathtaking in 1975 with its graphic sophistication and frenetic pace.

So with that convoluted introduction, here I go. I will be updating this periodically, as they say, so hopefully there will be good reason to revisit from time to time.
Five, four, three, two, one ...

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One of the main reasons I love going to shows, aside from seeing old friends and great cards and collectibles, are the reminders that I get from those very same friends and collectibles about why our hobby has such an enormous underlying strength and resilience.

For many years when I would get treasured opportunities to visit with famed collector Barry Halper, I would come away from virtually every meeting with an overwhelming admiration for his scholarly interest in the game of baseball and its history, rather than an overriding preoccupation with investment value or other such details concerning dollars and cents.

Naysayers might pooh pooh all that, saying, with some sarcasm, something to the effect of, “Yeah, and he wound up with nearly $40 million for all his scholarly pursuits.” True enough, but I can promise you that when you talked with Halper about his stuff (which will be the kind of exchanges I’ll be featuring in this blog), it wasn’t about what he paid or what he could get for something: it was about the item and its history, and no detail was spared.

Anyway, when I was at the Chicago Sun-Times Show over the St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, I ran into a host of old friends – just as I usually do at George Johnson’s biannual show, our own SportsFest show, the Philly shows and other major East Coast events (read auctions) and at the National Convention.

And speaking of the National Convention, I briefly saw John Broggi, National Convention co-manager, who was there in his official capacity to check out details for the 2008 National. I also ran into one of my favorite people in the hobby, Steve Juskewycz, president of Megacards, the company that produced the wonderful Conlon Collection cards from 1991-95. Juskewycz is a standout golfer; he was buying autographs from another friend, Kip Ingle, who is regarded as one of the top sources in the hobby for golf items.

On Saturday at the show – St. Patrick’s Day – I was walking around in a garish, bright-green jacket, a bit of sartorial splendor mildly out of character for somebody who dresses in the dark and thinks that “dressing up” means finding a T-shirt that doesn’t have any advertising logos on it.

Anyway, the jacket was loud enough to prompt Mounted Memories president Mitch Adelstein to ask if I had won the Masters, but it also elicited a wave from another friend, autograph expert/dealer Phil Marks from New Jersey.

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“Who’s the second-most-famous Irishman in Chicago,” he asked. I was pretty sure I wasn’t it. “Charlie Comiskey,” Marks said, and he proceeded to produce a great pile of artifacts, including photographs and postcards, from the Hall of Famer’s estate.

He had items from a 1907 spring training trip by the White Sox to Mexico City, a number of stunning Indian postcards from Comiskey’s travels out west, and even PC’s from the 1924 World Tour. And the whole time I was talking to Phil about the Comiskey cards (listening, really), he never once mentioned the price of anything. Not that he doesn’t sell stuff, just that he has that estimable Halper-like quality of being so genuinely interested in his own material that the monetary aspect isn’t the overriding focus.

I was also personally interested in four or five images from Comiskey’s summer home in Eagle River, Wis., the place where he died in 1930. My grandmother had owned a “cottage” in nearby Three Lakes, Wis., where we vacationed nearly every year until 1960 or so, and my cousins still own the summer home now, though calling it a cottage would be akin to calling an aircraft carrier a boat. It’s one of the most beautiful areas in the state, if a bit forbidding in the winter, unless you’re a snowmobiler or skier.

And on the subject of that neon-green sport coat, I wanted to point out that I had actually been given the jacket the night before from my mother. My father, who died 11 years ago, was as natty a dresser as I am, uh, less than fashionable. I had stopped to see my mother in Stoughton, Wis., en route to Chicago for the show, and the only remarkable thing about her giving me his boisterous green jacket was the mystery of why she had waited more than a decade to do it.

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Fathers and sons; that’s big-time stuff. It’s still fun when old-time collectors remember my dad from the early 1980s and the days of O’Connell & Son Ink. Lots of people still recall that quirky little outfit we started in 1982, though not that many actually remember meeting my dad, except for a few dealers in Indiana who met him when we first started selling the Baseball Greats set in 1983.

Around that time I was the director of public relations for the Empire State Games in New York, the prototype of virtually every state-sponsored “State Games” in the country, and I still have a staff jacket from that time, now all of 25 years old. I was wearing the jacket the other day when it occurred to me that it was a bit on the snug side.

As I sort of wondered why I hadn’t sent it to Goodwill or otherwise retired it, it reminded of a remembrance of my father when I was a kid and I was always wondering why in casual situations on Saturdays (like Connie Mack, he always wore a suit and tie to work), mostly, he would wear things that often seemed to be too small. And with the green jacket fresh in my mind, I suddenly realized that now I was doing the same kind of thing. We attach a lot of sentimental power to some garments, a power that keeps them in the closet long past the point when traditional notions of utility and/or style might have relegated them to the dumpster.

Keeping my Navy uniforms would be an obvious one, but I’ve still got a custom-made shirt from the Philippines, circa 1969. It’s the only custom-made shirt I’ve ever owned, and unlike my Navy dress blues or dress whites, I am pretty sure I can still fit into it.

At age 56, finding more evidence that I either already am or am continuing to become my father is hardly stunning, but it’s comforting in a spiritual sense. Heck, I’ve got his driver’s license and other such ephemera since his passing, and I could easily use it in some official capacity, if needed, since we have the same name. And for those youngsters who think this is a lot of maudlin claptrap, I can only remind you that you, too, are becoming your father. It's just a matter of time.

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Barry Bonds, he of considerable fame in his own right but also the son of a famous father, is nowhere to be found in the first couple of Topps sets this year, after a two-year run as an exclusive with the iconic card company.

I gotta admit I might not have noticed this, except that I took a lot of interest in the 2007 Heritage issue which came out a couple of weeks ago. As readers of my column in Sports Collectors Digest probably know, I am a big fan of these Heritage issues, so it’s a lot of fun when we open up the sample boxes that we receive here. I am also a fan of the idea of intermittent reinforcement, a notion that collides with the card companies’ modern emphasis on creating contrived scarcity.

There was something to be said about the way they did it i
n the old days, but of course, that relied to a great deal on the idea of printing cards in six or seven series every summer. If you opened packs of 1959 Topps, you would get (in theory, anyway) as many Mickey Mantles as you would Coot Veals. There was/is a good deal of power to the intermittent reinforcement concept; I don’t know if B.F. Skinner had baseball cards in mind with his revolutionary study in 1957 (is it just coincidence that this was the first year of the standard, 21/2-by-31/2-inch Topps card?), but I am convinced the application is completely relevant for collectors.

Being the online whiz that I am (facetious), I noted somewhere online that somebody likened the underlying principles of IR to the often seemingly addictive quality of e-mails and slot machines. I’ll confess to a substantial hankering for the latter; with the former, I have a bit more of a conflicted relationship.

I guess there’s irony in Barry Bonds’ absence from a baseball card issue prompting all this fuss and investigation, but he is the biggest star in the game, if not the most popular player in the game. In the spirit of this blogging business, I would note that Bonds has a good relationship with Topps, based on my understanding of the two years when he was exclusive with the company, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Topps eventually brought him back into the fold. I’ve never heard any rumblings to suggest that “His Barryness” might be inclined to exercise his egalitarian side and sign with the MLBPA; turns out his report card says he doesn’t play well with others.

One last thing in the Topps department: As I waddle around cyberspace both in my official capacity as editor of SCD and in preparation for this blogging venture, I wound up on a message board on the Collectors Universe website. There I found some of the original photos that were used on vintage Topps cards, including Willie Mays from 1952 Topps (and the image used for the painting in 1953), the background of several 1956 Topps cards, including Mantle, Nellie Fox and Monte Irvin, and a couple of others. It’s the kind of stuff I love, so here’s the link, as they say: CU Forum