Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Bubble Gum Is Back! But So Is The Rate Of Inflation

I see where Topps is coming out, once again, with packs of baseball cards that include a stick of cardboard bubble gum.

It retails for $2.99. I didn't even bother to see how many cards come inside.

I remember going to old Cunningham's Drugs, on my bike with my pals -- baseball glove hooked over one of the handlebars -- and plunking down 15 cents -- yes, 15 cents -- and getting 10 cards and the gum. Or, if they had the machine in the front of the store, you put in a quarter, pushed the sliding thingie, pulled it out, and cards would come out. The number varied, and we were convinced it had to do with how you jammed the thingie in and how you pulled it out. Of course, you didn't get any gum with that method. And I always liked the gum, and the stain of sugar it left on the card lucky/unlucky enough to to be placed against it.

Oh, we would buy the cards back then! We'd stand in front of Cunningham's, straddling our bikes, cheeks full of gum like hamsters, going through our haul and calling out the star players.

"Freehan! I got a Carew! Expos team card!"

Sometimes trades were made right there, on the spot -- impetuous deals designed to get rid of as many "doubles" as possible. Some cards just gravitated toward you. Triples, or quadruples of a certain card were not unusual in those days. And you could only trade so many Bert Blylevens before you had to suck it up and keep them.

I lost interest in card collecting -- I did all the four major sports, not just baseball -- when I moved away to college in 1981. But that's okay; I don't think I've missed much, because I don't think card collecting is anything remotely like it used to be back in the days.

It's too much of a business for my liking nowadays, and thus it's lost almost all of its romanticism. I hate to come off like an old fogie here, but we collected cards for the fun of it, and to see how close we could come to gathering the entire set, which we never did. I remember all the little things, like how the good players were given card numbers that ended in "5" or "0", and the scrubs got card numbers like 178.

Anyhow, the point being, we had no interest in going to the store, and buying an entire set at one shot -- even if we had the dough that required. The thrill was in the collecting -- not the buying and selling like so many commodities. And as for keeping them in pristine, mint condition? Pleeease. Not only did we not keep them in excellent condition, we placed them in the spokes of our bicycle wheels, rubber-banded them together, and shoved them in our pockets when we played baseball.

We shopped for baseball cards for the same reasons shotgun-toters venture into the woods: for the hunt. We had no conception of what they might actually be worth one day on the open market. Which explains why, sadly, none of my cards made it through my adult years. My mother tossed them in the garbage, but don't be angry at her. She wasn't told otherwise. Nor did she foresee any sort of thing called the Internet or eBay.

Our 12 year-old daughter and I started collecting basketball cards a couple years ago. We have them neatly organized in a large three-ring binder designed for such purposes, complete with clear plastic card sleeves that fit into the binder. Maybe we'll keep at it, who knows.

But at $2.99 -- or more -- per pack, it might be a long time before we come anywhere near to completing a set.


Blogger Ozz said...

I remember giving my mom a quarter in 1981 (I was 10) and asking her to buy me a pack of baseball cards when she went grocery shopping. She came home and told me that I owed her a quarter. The priced had jumped up to 30 cents. I thought that was crazy! I do remember getting an Al Cowens in that pack. I was always happy when I'd open a pack and get at least one Tigers card.

It used to be much easier to collect once upon a time. Topps was pretty much the only game in town, although I also kept the cards that came on the bottom of Hostess cakes boxes and in Kellogg's cereal boxes.

It was baseball cards that introduced me to the Tigers. I wasn't really aware of baseball until '78 when Burger King gave out packs of 3 cards with a purchase. I started collecting those and started watching the Tigers on TV to see who these guys were. I was pretty much hooked.

These days it is too much of a business, and it has been for a long time. Way too much emphasis on "rookie cards" and "price guides" and "limited edition sets" and things like that.

As I grew up a little more, I went from buying packs and keeping them in rubber banded stacks in boxes to buying complete Topps sets and packs of the other brands, keeping the Tigers and star players in binders. Eventually I would just buy Tigers cards at shows or card stores. It's been a few years since I've done that.

At the beginning of each season, I'll buy a few packs for old times sake. I'll probably end up doing that again, but maybe I'll send the cards from this season and the past few seasons to my 9-year old nephew.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

I don't know if you knew, but unfortunately Al Cowens passed away several years ago -- a young man.

I remember one of the oddest things I ever saw was in 1979 or 1980 when Cowens grounded out in Chicago and suddenly went after Ed Farmer, who had beaned him a year or two prior. It was bizarre. Then when the teams played in Detroit, Cowens and Farmer shook hands before the game. That, too, was strange.

Thanks for the visit and the memories, and good for you for sending cards to your nephew! You're a good uncle!

11:21 PM  
Blogger Ozz said...


I do remember reading that Cowens had died.

I also remember the Cowens/Farmer incident. I remember reading something the late Joe Falls writing about how he orchestrated the handshake.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Ian C. said...

Oh man. I'm not sure which is bringing back the bigger flood of memories: Baseball card bubble gum or Cunningham's Drugs. Wow. :-)

9:14 AM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

I actually worked at a Cunningham's in Ann Arbor for about a month in college. Then they got sold and changed their name to Apex Drugs, and I stayed. Then Apex got bought by Perry Drugs. And I stayed. So I worked for three stores under one roof from 1982-86.

Remember Cunningham's tagline?

"21 Stores Under One Roof."

They even tried a nickname: Cunningham's 21, if I'm not mistaken.

10:24 AM  

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