Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!
 
 
  The Great American
Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

By Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris
Ticknor & Fields, 1973 (Reprinted in 1991)

The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book was first published in 1973, two years after the massive success of The Boys of Summer created a demand for baseball nostalgia books. And in some ways, the The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book taps into the same misty water-colored, Baby Boomer memories as Roger Kahn's classic work.

But on the whole, the baseball card book is a very different sort of tome: It is far more light-hearted, more irreverent and ultimately more fun.

And fun is the key word here. While the book is thick in nostalgia, it is more a side-splitting trot down memory lane than an ode to baseball when the grass was real and giants walked the earth. In fact, giants play only a cameo role in the book. Sure, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks and Stan Musial make appearances. But for the most part, the stars of the book are the kind of forgettable, run-of-the-mill ballplayers who make up the vast majority of major league rosters (and, more to the point, fill most of the spots in a pack of baseball cards.) Players like Herbie Plews, a special favorite of the authors:

Herbie Plews is perhaps my favorite all-time second-rate ballplayer, just nosing out Chi Chi Olivo and Lou "The Nervous Greek" Skizas. There was something almost heroic about the stupefying mediocrity of his play, the polished indifference of his skills, which could, on occasion, move me almost to the brink of religious ebullience. It's no use trying to describe the feeling-- you'd really have to have been there to appreciate it.

Suffice it to say that if Richard Nixon could play baseball he'd play like Herbie Plews.

That description of the Washington Senators infielder, along with a picture of one of his Topps cards, comes from a section of the book simply called "Profiles." Pictures of hundreds of baseball cards form the structure of the109-page profiles section, which features usually hilarious commentary from the authors. For instance, one page features side-by-side cards of two players who look somewhat alike:

You see my problem was that I always thought that Mike de la Hoz WAS Bobby Del Greco. And vice versa. I had pretty much the same problem with Gerry Staley and Jerry Priddy, Joe Pignatano and Joey Amalfitano, Howie Pollet and Erv Palica and Billy Hunter and Billy Gardner. To say nothing of Walter Dukes and Ray Felix -- but of course that's a whole separate problem entirely. So anyway, what I want to know is, if Mike de la Hoz is not Bobby Del Greco, who, if anybody, is he?

Harris and Boyd were novices when they decided in the early 1970s to write a book about baseball cards, which had yet to become a multi-million dollar industry. "There was Topps and then there was Topps," as Harris describes it in the introduction to the 1991 re-issue. The book includes a section with "some reflections on a baseball card childhood" as well as a profile of Topps and one of its executives circa 1973. And though those sections have their merits, it is the profiles section that represents the heart of the order, so to speak.

The genius of the profiles chapter is that it captures that long-gone feeling of being a kid and collecting baseball cards for the pure joy of it. "Toby Atwell has to be remembered by any serious collector of baseball cards in 1952 as having been one of the most difficult cards to acquire," the authors write. "The career of Toby Atwell as player was secondary to the career of Toby Atwell as baseball card, and if you needed him to complete your set too, you'll know what I mean." The book is about such memories, about players who have long since been forgotten by everybody but those who grew up collecting their cards and thinking them important simply because they were Major League ballplayers. If, as Bill James suggests, baseball history is about much more than just the stars and the legends, then Bobby Del Greco and Toby Atwell deserve their place among Ruth and Mays.

Quick, name a major league baseball player who was born in San Remo, Italy, lived in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and couldn't hit. That's right--Reno Bertoia.

OK. Name another one.

The back of Reno's card is interesting. It says that his average last year was .162 and that, although he did not get to play in too many ballgames, he gained valuable information about American League hurlers that would help him in the future. I suspect that the information he gathered was that every pitcher in the American League could get him out, and that perhaps he should try another line of work.

There is this discussion of Hector Lopez's fielding prowess:

Now, it is not necessary for me to declare that Hector Lopez was the worst fielding third baseman in the history of baseball. Everyone knows that. It is more or less a matter of public record. But I do feel called upon somehow to try to indicate, if only for the historical archivists among us, the sheer depths of his innovative barbarousness. Hector Lopez was a butcher. Pure and Simple. A butcher. His range was about one step to either side, his hands seemed to be made of concrete and his defensive attitude was so cavalier and arbitrary as to hardly constitute an attitude at all. Hector did not simply field a groundball, he attacked it. Like a farmer trying to kill a snake with a stick. And his mishandling of routine infield flies was the sort of which legends are made. Hector Lopez was not just a bad fielder for a third baseman. In fact, Hector Lopez was not just a bad fielder for a baseball player. Hector Lopez was, when every factor has been taken into consideration, a bad fielder for a human being. The stands are full of obnoxious leather-lunged cretins who insist they can play better than most major leaguers. Well, in Hector's case they could have been right. I would like to go on record right here and now as declaring Hector Lopez the all-time worst fielding major league ballplayer. That's quite a responsibility there, Hector, but I have every confidence you'll be able to live up to it.

It is not necessary to have grown up in the fifties to enjoy this book (I grew up 25 years after the authors.) It is only necessary to remember what it was like to be young and a baseball fan.

The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book may be available for purchase on the web at one of these sites.

--Justin, March 8, 1999