A Collection Lost in Time

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After taking a couple year break from baseball card collecting, I recently jumped back in with both feet. Sporadically, throughout that time I continued to casually observe pricing, and what was hot in the hobby from the sidelines, but only purchased a handful of cards and did no trading. After talking with my little brother about reacquiring my zest for the hobby and trading, he offered me up his baseball card collection from when we were teenagers, for the agreed upon price of a handful of Silver Age Batman comics that I had. The night we made the trade, we sat at my parents house at the kitchen table thumbing through the two, three rowed boxes he was looking to move. Most of the cards dated from about the mid 90's until about 2001.

While meticulously thumbing through the cards, I was struck with nostalgia seeing all of the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa cards that were in top loaders. You see, my brother was a HUGE McGwire fan from shortly before the great homerun chase of '98 until he stopped actively collecting around 2001. I remember from the time we were 10 until we were in our early teenage years going out and cutting grass (at a whopping $5 a lawn, front and back, plus a daycare in the neighborhood who paid us $15 ) and taking our earnings to the local card shop. I would always spend mine on packs, while he would scavenge the singles boxes for McGwire's that he didn't have for between $1-$3 dollars a pop.Towards the back of the last box, I hit what had once been the holy grail from his childhood collection.

My brother was about to have his 13th birthday, and me being the oldest brother, wanted to do something special for him as he entered his teenage years. It was the late Summer of 98', and I had been working my first job at a restaurant. Little brother jealous, because he was too young to get a job, so he was still relegated to the lawn care thing ( I use the term "lawn care" as loosely as possible. LOL). The month leading up to his birthday I went to the local shop looking for a 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card, which as many of you probably know, was THE card to own that summer. The elderly man who owned the shop happened to have one in the case but the price was steep for a 15 year old kid then, $150.00. As I proceeded to ask to purchase the card, the gentleman told me that he could not in good conscious sell one of his young, loyal customers a card that expensive that was not in absolute MINT condition, he told me to wait, and assured me that he would find me the best possible example for me to buy before my brother's big day. I went home empty handed, yet excited that I was soon going to get him the ultimate birthday present.

The week before his party, I was summoned to the card shop. The Old Timer had come through. When I got there he proceeded to hand me a fabulous copy of the card. 50/50 centering all the way around, razor sharp edges and corners, and awesome color. So I handed over the $150 and out the door I went. Days later at the party, I shuddered with anticipation as little brother opened his gift, knowing this would be the most epic gift he had received in his young life. When he realized what he had gotten, I thought he was going to have a fit, he was so excited. I don't think that I have gotten such a reaction from a gift for anyone before or since.

We spent the better part of two hours going through those cards, remembering the acquisition of some of the cards, and the approximate prices paid during that time period, what they booked for in Beckett at that time, and where many of them booked today. We talked about some of the players we saw in the boxes who we thought were IT when we were teenagers. Such legends as Rick Ankiel, Ben Grieve, and Austin Kearns. We laughed about some of the serial numbered cards that were numbered to 10,000. All and all we had a great time, taking a trip back through our childhood. Before I left my brother asked if he could keep, the '85 McGwire, because it had sentimental value. I handed it over with a smile. Hopefully a 100 years from now, one of his great-great grandchildren can get that $150 dollars back. But I have no regrets over that purchase, it was worth every penny because of the memory of that summer.
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  1. bdangelo's Avatar
    Great story, and nice present for your kid brother.
  2. valediction's Avatar
    Thanks for the story. It's great to get perspectives like this from time to time. I remember the first McGwire frenzy back in 1987. I remember that card surpassing the Oddibe McDowell and Cory Snyders as THE card from that Olympic subset, and later as THE defining card in the set, beyond Eric Davis, Dwight Gooden, Kirby Puckett, and Roger Clemens among others. I remember it being $5 then $15, then $25, where it seemed to hold between $15 and $25 forever. I remember dealers in the mid 90's offering them for $10 each, even less if you were interested in a few of them. I remember 1998 and me hovering over display cases thinking "who in the heck would pay THAT much for a card produced in the quantities it was?" I mean I had six or seven just sitting around that were from busting packs and a pick up in the discount bins here and there. It's awesome to see a story like yours to remind me we all have different hobby experiences that helped shape where we are as collectors.