A common lament voiced by men is “I’d be wealthy today if my mother hadn’t trashed my baseball card collection.” I myself have made that claim, but it’s groundless. We beat the hell out of those cards – flipping them against brick walls, bouncing them off concrete sidewalks, clipping them onto bicycle spokes so that they made a motor-like noise when we pedaled the wheels. A slab of brittle chewing gum came with every pack, coating the top card with gum dust and permeating the entire deck with a sickly sweet smell which did not age particularly well. My mother saw the entire collection as a disgusting nuisance. She was big on cleanliness but lacked the soul of a collector.
I can’t remember the stars in my cardstock galaxy. I think I had Tony Oliva, maybe Joe Torre, and Cleat Boyer. I know I had all three of the Alou brothers: Matty, Felipe and Jesus. But the crown jewel of my collection was the rookie card of Phillies star Dick (Don’t call me Richie) Allen. I can still see Richie giving the camera a side-eyed smirk, and a gold cup with the words “All Star Rookie” printed in the lower right corner. At the time – as was printed on his card – we called him Richie which fit in with the Jackies, Willies, and Mickeys that comprised our pantheon of baseball heroes. What I loved was that the hard hitting phenom wore glasses. When you go through life with kids calling you 4-eyes, Glasses, and Mr. Limpet you have to love a guy like Allen, who made athletic eyewear look cool.
I owned a plastic wallet which had a western sheriff’s badge printed on the outside. It was useless except that it had a clear plastic window that was the perfect size for Allen’s card. At night I’d set him up on my nightstand – Richie Allen giving me the side eye as I slept.
One weekend I was deposited at my Grandmother Nanny’s house for the weekend. She taught piano lessons to a legion of neighborhood kids, banana-fingered hacks who murdered the basic exercises she taught. I was allowed to go outside as long as I did not leave the front porch. But that offered no escape from the repetitive plinking made worse by Nanny’s flowery voice saying, “Again please.” We lived one block from Nanny so I knew every kid on her street and could see them playing wherever I looked. I had a Dick Allen rookie card burning a hole in my pocket. So, I slithered from the front porch to the stoop, and eventually to the street corner where I could show off my card, and remind everyone that Allen wore glasses.
That night I stuffed my wallet holding Richie Allen’s rookie card into the pocket of my jeans, took the bath that Nanny insisted on, and went to bed. In the morning I noticed that my jeans and t-shirt were missing. That was cool because I had to attend church with Nanny, and she wouldn’t allow me to bring ball cards into the sanctuary.
When we returned home, Nanny handed me a freshly laundered pair of jeans and t-shirt and told me to pack my things. There was no need for her to have washed my clothes, but she was entrapped in a cleanliness pact with my mom.
I searched the pants pockets for the billfold and quickly found it, but it felt wrinkled and puckered. I opened the wallet and instead of the smirking image of Richie Allen, I saw the eviscerated remains of what used to be card stock. All I could make out was a fraction of a gold cup that said “ar ookie”. The rest was bits of disintegrated wood pulp embedded in plastic. Nanny, noticing my devastation, pulled me in for a hug and said, “That’s all-right baby, Nanny loves doing things for her boy.”
I checked recently, and a GEM condition Dick Allen All Star Rookie card just sold for $1336.70. That’s roughly what Nanny paid for her small house on Creighton Street where she mutilated Richie Allen.