Athens Review, Athens, Texas

May 4, 2013

JAYSON LARSON: Pennies on the dollar and worth so, so much

Jayson Larson
The Athens Review

ATHENS — Sometimes I wish I could get back all the money I ever spent on baseball cards.

I could take the funds and buy a small island. And one of those scooters that get 800 miles to the gallon. Oh, and braces for the kids’ teeth. You know, important stuff.

Unfortunately, if I were to sell all my cards, I would get back only a fraction of what I paid for them. A pack of baseball cards back when I was a kid cost about 80 cents. You got something like 12 cards then; now the packs are $2.99 and some have only three cards.

Heck, I can remember thinking about stealing them when they went up past a dollar per pack (you can read more about that in my still-unwritten autobiography, “Confessions of Pre-Teen Hoodlum).

What I ended up with from years of collecting were literally thousands of cards and literally thousands of dollars spent. A quick check of the price guides, however, reveals that those thousands of cards now have a total value of only a few dollars. If you’re looking for a sound investment, try pork bellies — because most baseball cards are like your vehicle, declining in value from the moment you pull the temporary paper mats out of the floorboards.

Of course, that’s monetary value we’re talking about. Truth is, some of the most worthless cards I have managed to hang on to somehow take me back to the carefree, pre-9/11, pre-responsibility days of my youth.

Seeing these cards is like having a time machine, and you can’t put a price on that. Not that I wouldn’t try to put a price on it if I did have a time machine. I’d take the money from selling it and buy a small island. I’d call it, “Man Cave Island,” population, one.

But anyway ...

A few months ago, the Cain Center here in Athens had a community garage sale. I hate the name (“de Junque de Trunk”), but I love the event.

I’m a sucker for garage sales. I don’t like using cliches, but you just never know what you’re going to find.

I found a time machine.

I wandered the gymnasium where the sale is held as my wife tediously flipped through every speck of someone’s soon-to-be-our-problem former scrapbooking collection. (It should be noted here that I’m lobbying to have “possession of scrapbooking paraphernalia” criminalized as at least a Class B misdemeanor with our representatives down in Austin.)

Underneath one of the tables that had been set up was a box full of unopened baseball cards, most still in the case. I wondered how this box hadn’t already been scooped up, and then looked at the burgeoning cluster of people forming around the scrapbook table and understood.

“Those are $5 a box,” the seller said to me.

If you’re like me, you grew up buying one or two packs of cards but dreaming about walking into the store one day and carrying out an entire case (paid for, mind you — I wasn’t a pre-teen hoodlum in my dreams).

That dream was about to come true for the first time in my life.

I didn’t buy every box the seller had — just the ones with which I was familiar, including an unopened case of 1988 Donruss featuring Atlanta Braves slugger Dale Murphy on the front — skinny arms and neck and all.

I felt like a liberator, rescuing these heroes of my youth who had been stacked in a box underneath a table that (gasp) proudly displayed ceramic angels and wooden craftwork and a partial collection of Deal-A-Meal cards.

Included in my purchases was an unopened collection of cards claiming to feature “Baseball’s Best ’88.” Sure enough, I could peek through the cellophane and see some of the heroes of my youth.

Mark McGwire. Barry Bonds. Roger “The Rocket” Clemens. They used to have skinny necks and arms, too, before they unwittingly ushered in baseball’s Steroid Era.

I’ve yet to open any of the packs I bought and I don’t plan on it. I already know what’s inside — a bunch of cards not worth more than 12 or 15 cents each. Even so, I got everything I was looking for, and so much more.

Although it would be kind of interesting to see how 25-year-old gum tastes ...

Jayson Larson would like to remind you the statute of limitations has expired on any alleged crimes committed during his pre-teen years. You can reach him at editor@athensreview.com.