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