Joseph Edwin Haeger

Baseball Cards: The Stats on the Back

(Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash)

It’s the middle of the baseball season, Joseph Edwin Haeger shares his take on the sport and card collecting. There’s love for the game, and then there’s the business side too.

 

For years, I had a Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves infielder) steel card buried deep in my closet. I got this card randomly out of a pack when I was ten.

Twice a year, in the spring and fall, there was a flea market in the parking lot of our neighborhood church. Between the ages of eight and thirteen, I’d ride my bike the quarter of a mile to the sale and aim all my attention at a single booth. On the surface of this plastic folding table was an array of sports cards and memorabilia. I’d buy packs of Topps and Upper Deck baseball cards—and occasionally a single in a hard plastic sleeve—from the man with a thick black mustache, the same kind all our dads sported in the nineties.

I was young enough to love baseball, but not old enough to care about the stars (unless that star was Ken Griffey Jr. or Edgar Martínez; at that point, I cared very much). Every time I cracked open a new pack of baseball cards, I made sure my dad was nearby. I’d ask him, “Is Don Mattingly a good player? Is Roger Clemens good? Is [insert any baseball player that didn’t have a Mariners logo on their jersey] any good?” More often than not, my dad would say, “He’s in the majors, isn’t he?” It never dawned on me to flip the card over and look at the stats on the back because those numbers never meant anything to me. It was simple—I liked watching the game, no matter how good the players were.

My dad collected cards for fun when he was a kid. Once he started having children of his own, he needed some extra cash, so he took his shoebox of old cards to the local shop and the guy gave him a grand for them all. At the time, it was a blessing. In retrospect, he probably could have gotten a lot more for the couple of Mickey Mantle rookie cards he had.

I knew this story and thought a box of baseball cards could be my golden goose.

Years later, when I was in my twenties, my friend Ehrman told me collecting cards in the nineties was a waste of time (if you were looking for any sort of financial return) because they overproduced them; meaning, the cards weren’t worth much more than the cardstock they were printed on. I learned this when I called him up and asked how much he thought my prized Griffey card was worth. He owned a Sports Cards and Memorabilia shop at the time and was my source for all things baseball. As nice as he tried to be, he couldn’t sugarcoat the fact that it wasn’t worth anything except whatever personal stock I had in owning a Ken Griffey Jr. card.

Here’s the thing about baseball for me: I loved the feel of the bat in my hands. I loved clipping all the catcher’s gear on and squatting behind the plate. I loved the smack of the ball into my glove. But it didn’t take long for the sport to outgrow me. In the same way I didn’t care about the stats on the back of the cards, I didn’t think much about the multiple pitches the guy on the mound could throw. As a player, I just wanted to catch the ball. I didn’t want to remember each batter and then try to predict what they were predicting, and then relay that information to our pitcher. I had enough foresight to know I was probably going to be wrong, so, why did it matter?

I was in eighth grade when I cycled through all four different kinds of pitches through hand signals. The pitcher shook his head at each of them, and then signaled to me what he was going to throw. As lazy as it makes me, that’s something I could’ve gotten behind. I didn’t want to be the guy calling the shots, I wanted to be the one catching them as they sailed over home plate.

 

A big part of why I love baseball is because it’s anyone’s game. Look at the standings and you see how many games these guys play. They’re constantly winning and losing and even if it’s the worst team’s night, they can still come out on top.

 

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to get into baseball again. It had been a long time since I’d watched a Mariners’ game, and I was determined to change that. When I moved back to Eastern Washington from Olympia, I ordered myself a proper Seattle Mariners hat; one with the classic yellow “S.” My wife, kids, and I stayed with my parents while we looked for a place to live. It was hard to squeeze all of us into the basement guest room for three and a half months, but my parents had ROOT Sports, so I was able to watch baseball five days a week. It wasn’t long before I realized the sport was still a step ahead of me and I knew I’d never care enough to take that step, but I still loved the game.

I drove to Seattle with Ehrman and we talked about Seattle’s roster. Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, and James Paxton were our stars. I said I liked the catcher too, in part because that was my position, so I’ve always had a soft spot for catchers.

Ehrman said, “Yeah, I’d like him a lot more if he could bat over .200.”

I couldn’t argue with that sentiment because it was true. But again, I’m far more interested in what’s on the front of the card. That’s where possibility lives. I think the biggest difference between Ehrman and me is I’m preoccupied with the magic of the game while he focuses on the reality of it. We both loved it, if only for different reasons.

A big part of why I love baseball is because it’s anyone’s game. Look at the standings and you see how many games these guys play. They’re constantly winning and losing and even if it’s the worst team’s night, they can still come out on top.

Since I continually rediscovered the Chipper Jones card, and then discarded it back into my closet, it got more and more beat up over the years. I looked it up and, if it was in mint condition, I could get twenty bucks out of it, but it’s far from mint. Now, it’s a hunk of metal with a player I never watched on it. But it doesn’t feel like I’ve lost anything. When it comes down to it, I was never really interested in a golden goose. I just liked being part of this game, even if it was opening my binder to slide some cards into their plastic sleeves.

Last week, I ordered a new pack of 2021 Topps Heritage cards. I’ve paid more attention to the season this year than I ever did when I was the kid who perused the folding table at the flea market. It’s nice to feel like I’m part of the game again, even if it’s listening to the Mariners on a junky little AM/FM radio I bought for ten dollars. When I open the new pack of cards, I’ll know more of the players, and maybe I’ll luck out with a Kyle Lewis or Mitch Haniger card.

Still, I’ll keep Ehrman’s number close by, texting him every couple of minutes to ask, “Is this player any good?”

 

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim, a memoir published by University of Hell Press.

 

Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.

Related posts

*

Top