Collecta-Bull

Gotta Have It

Maybe you are like me. (Accusative? Like I? Nah.) Every year, gotta have it.

Went out and bought Sporting News Baseball 2011, which for decades was known as Street and Smith’s Baseball Yearbook, along with Who’s Who in Baseball 2011. My Who’s Who’s go back to 1974 if not before. It’s the magazine that settles all the arguments. My first Street and Smith is coverless now, from 1965. Ken Boyer had been on the cover that year.  My first edition with a cover is 1966—Andy Etchebarren somewhere under his facemask. I still always pore over “Players’ Targets” first.

Suddenly, here come the collectors. Quality? Dog-eared? Water- (or tear-) stained? Folded? Spindled? Mutilated? (Readers of a Certain Age will recognize the FSM–IBM designations.) Uncirculated? Like the guitars in Spinal Tap never even looked at? By 1982, I noticed the geniuses at Street and Smith’s had started varying covers by region. I was in New Mexico then, and the stationery (and they were stationary) stores had covers other than, I believe, Goose Gossage. Hmmm.

My longest continuous friendship, since second-grade days, with Fill—I spell it this way based on a baseball autograph he got: “To Fill. Best Fan. Signed ______,” when the autographing player was asked how he liked being in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium he said, “A stadium’s a stadium, man.”—is “filled” with baseball cards and stuff, ever since our first game, May 12, 1962, still the hottest May day in NYC history, you could look it up. He saves everything. He lived in a house; well, half-a-house. Our small apartment couldn’t hold my 1964 and 1965 baseball-card collection. That was one Buster Brown shoebox too many. (I started collecting cards before I could read them: the late-1950s TV-screen cards by Topps, even Post Cereal cards a few years later, when I understood the statistics that my father patiently explained.)

But Fill (OK, Phil) is missing one collectible above all we each had. The last game at the non-refurbished Yankee Stadium in 1973 he, Tipsy, and I each marched off to Pretoria with chair bottoms. Mine, the survivor (unless Tipsy still has his tucked away in Toluca Lake), has stayed happily in my poor daughter’s closet till October just past. That’s when I ran into collector extraordinary and neighbor Marvin. “Hey Guy.” “Wait, look at this.” Marvin pulled from the trunk of his car a seatback from the recently “headache-balled” original-but-refurbished Yankee Stadium, which he had bought. (Don’t say “buy” to me unless you’re leaving, that’s my motto.) The fiberglass (or whatever) seatback is signed by a plethora of players. “Marvin, I have something better. A slatted-wood seat-bottom from the original Stadium.” It was out of the closet and into autograph land with Marvin. I now have Yogi Berra, Bobby Shantz, Jerry Coleman, and Bobby Richardson. Enough for a while, though the seat itself needs to be authenticated. Provenance is the word the museum-people use.

As the great sportswriter Jerry Eisenberg liked to say, actually spit slightly out of one side of his mouth, regarding empty stadiums: “There are a lot of ghosts here.” Collecta-Bulls.  And great Caesar’s ghosts of their own. As another, somewhat better writer, Bob Dylan, puts it in “Spirit on the Water”: “You’ve heard of ghosts. But have you ever seen one? (No.)”

Collectors we have seen, and plenty.

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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