Idle Hands and Baseball Cards


It’s Christmas time!  This season is a reflective one for me, so my next couple posts are about baseball memories.  If you are looking for a column about the Royals off season moves, skip this one.  But if you collected baseball cards as a kid, you should probably check this out.  Merry Christmas!

I will always cherish the summers of 1984 through 1988. These summers were the sweet spot of my youth.

My team, The Kansas City Royals, were elite.  My brother, Bobby, was old enough to socialize with, yet utterly controllable. I was one of the better players on my baseball team. I didn’t care about girls yet. My sister had her driver’s license. My only real job was mowing the lawn, and even that seemed cool because I considered our family’s side yard my baseball park.  My brother and I pretty much adopted our best buddy and neighbor, Wes, as a sibling.

When we couldn’t get a game of pick up baseball together, I would ride my bike to the Circle K convenient store. I would always get a pop and a little candy, but was careful to save as much money as possible for baseball cards.

We loved baseball cards. Cards became our neighborhood’s currency. They really worked like money.  It didn’t matter how big of a dork  Andy Ranyun was, if he had a Ken Griffey Rated Rookie on him, he was the big man on the block that day.

We loved ripping each other off. We studied price guides and worked hard to know each other’s weaknesses. Example: Wes seems to have an emotional connection to Danny Tartabull that clearly makes him over value his card.  I will use this knowledge in order to steal that Don Mattingly rookie from him one day. ( I did too)

Many of the kids on our block had money to burn, but their parents wouldn’t let them ride their bikes more than a mile away. We lived in a developing Johnson County suburb, surrounded by stucco castles and tiny trees. But there was not a single convenient store within in a rich white kid’s walking distance.  It was old school, man.

Wes had, what I will call, “disposable fake-allowance income”. He also had a cool mom willing to drive him to baseball card distributors. Card distributors, to his credit, he found himself. (Pretty savvy for a 9-year-old kid pre internet)

That’s when Wes started buying in bulk. He changed the game. Bobby and I quickly got our mom on board by having Wes’s Mom tell her it was ok. We found a couple more baseball card “dealers” ( stoners selling cards from their single mother’s garages) and stocked up.

We bought sets and boxes of cards, and started selling them to the other kids in the neighborhood. We openly explained that there was a 25 cent mark up per pack, and everyone seemed cool with the arrangement.

Everyone but Wes and I.  We just weren’t making enough money for our time. Not only did we coordinate the logistics and shipping, but our creative fun machine was feeding all of this energy to the entire neighborhood.  All of that for a measly 25 cent per pack profit!? On top of that, it seemed like every pack of cards we kept and opened for ourselves was full of no name players.

It seemed like Bobby, Wes, and I never had a solid rookie card or bona fide stud in our packs, but the Ranyun brothers seemed to snake a Sandy Alomar Jr card every time. It didn’t seem fair that the others held the cards, and the providers just broke even. ( our Dads were Republicans)

You see, one good card in a pack could equal the value of 4-5 total packs of cards. If we kept losing out due to chance on good cards, it would hurt business. It would hurt the neighborhood. If we couldn’t afford to keep buying all of these cards, then there was no longer a local supplier. Then what are you left with? I’ll tell you what, throwing tennis balls at construction workers and talking kids into fights.  Nothing substantial…nothing real.

We were complaining about this scenario one afternoon in our basement, getting angered. We opened a carton of cards and decide which packs we would hypothetically sell, and which ones we would hypothetically keep for ourselves. Low and behold, the cards we were going to sell were filled with great cards, and the packs we were to keep were crap.

Right at that moment, Wes and I decided to find a way to re-seal opened packs of cards. And at that same moment, Bobby decided to keep working over his pudding pop and agree with our plan.

It was so easy. Six tiny dots of Elmer’s Glue had the exact same pull and consistency as an originally sealed pack. We decided it was fair as long as long as we collected enough well priced cards to cover our costs. Then we would just sell the remaining packs, unmolested.

It worked real well for about 2 weeks, but then we got greedy. Nobody had complained, so we started re-sealing all of the cards. We began to re-seal every day. We also got cocky. Not only would we sell our cards, but we had continued to trade with the other kids. We were like rich mobsters with huge stacks of chips at the table and it quickly wore thin.

One afternoon, nobody bought a single pack. We threw a few freebies out, but there was little impact

Back in the basement, we discussed our plight. Bobby took a break from his microwave chicken sandwich. Certainly echoing his own soul’s cries he chimed, ” If they don’t get to win some of the time..they won’t want to keep playing”. I had to admit, the little dork was on to something this time.

We started marking small green dots on the corners of packs that contained “hot” cards. That way we could reach for one if they were on a bad streak, keep them hooked, give them hope. It really, really worked.

We flew through packs of cards. My mom was worried about the large quantities we bought from the card dealers, and asked me why I didn’t just ride my bike to the store anymore. Then my Dad started asking questions. I then knew the heat was too high, and I best lay low to avoid any hard time.

Wes? He was on fire. His Mom didn’t care. She was just happy he wasn’t around the house and no longer glued to his computer.

Wes didn’t handle his new found purchasing power well. He went rouge. He got sloppy. Wes began re-sealing on his own.

At my house, we had a lookout stationed, a small assembly line, and a mom so unsuspicious, that we may have been able to get her to help without raising any red flags. His house held none of these built in safe guards. He was reckless, I tell you.

Of course he got caught. Thank God his mom was so nice. She didn’t want to sadden my mom or enrage my Dad, so she didn’t call our house. But it was made very clear that all of our card operations were to be terminated immediately.

Four days later, we started our neighborhood’s version of grade school fight club.