You can tell a lot about a man from the cards he keeps

Posted 7/27/18

I imagine him as an older man. In my mind, he and his wife are leaving the home where their best memories were made. They're downsizing, and only the essentials are making the move with …

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You can tell a lot about a man from the cards he keeps


I imagine him as an older man. 

In my mind, he and his wife are leaving the home where their best memories were made. They're downsizing, and only the essentials are making the move with them. 

His baseball card collection does not fall into that category. 

He started the collection when his boys were young. They built it together, one pack at a time.

Occasionally, he splurged on a series set and hid them so that the boys wouldn't play with them. He hoped that one or two of the rookies from those years would do well so that their cards would be worth enough to pay for a semester or two of college one day.

Even after the market became oversaturated and the cards were no longer a wise investment, he and the boys kept buying them for the heck of it.

In 1993 and 1994, the great Ted Williams put out a line of baseball cards that paid homage to the greats of the game, including Negro League players and women. He bought two complete sets of each, perhaps believing that these would surely increase in value but perhaps just because he liked that the history of the game was in these cards.

He and his sons followed the home run chase in the summer of '98. Somehow, I can only imagine where and when, they got Mark McGwire to sign one of his baseball cards. Ironically, the card shows the famous slugger fielding instead of hitting.

Then came 2005, when McGwire's fellow "Bash Brother" Jose Canseco blew the lid on baseball's dirty secret. As the years passed, none of his boys' former heroes were unscathed by the steroid scandal.

Thankfully, they were older by then and didn't seem to care, but he did. One day, he took the autographed McGwire card and threw it in a box of cards he had never gotten around to sorting and cataloguing. 

That box went into a bigger box for the estate sale. 

The cards hadn't generated much interest that morning. Around lunch, he went out to get a couple of fast food hamburgers for him and his wife. When he came back, the cards were gone.

The man who bought them handed them off to his son, Daily Mountain Eagle sports editor Jonathan Bentley. Bentley, who already has more baseball cards than he knows what to do with, didn't want to risk his wife's ire by taking them home, but he couldn't just dump them in the trash since they had been given to him by his dad.

So he stashed them in a closet at the Daily Mountain Eagle that hasn't been used by anybody in years.

Several months later, he and I got to talking about Zac's baseball card collection, and Bentley told me about the cards in the closet.

He said Zac could come by anytime and see if there were any that he wanted.

A few days later, Zac stopped in and loaded up all of the series sets. I picked out the Ted Williams card collection and the box of random cards from which we unearthed the McGwire card.

In the past year, I've helped him sort out the cards of his favorites and Hall of Fame players for binders where he has hundreds of cards sorted by player and position. 

The rest went into several big white card boxes containing the cards that we have finally, finally, finally sorted by team and year.

A few weeks ago, I saw on Facebook that there was going to be a baseball card show at Rickwood Field. We drove over that Saturday morning and walked around a conference room full of guys who shared a love of the game and a weakness for sports memorabilia.

All of their wives were huddled in the back of the room. Maybe it was my imagination, but they seemed to be silently pleading with everyone who passed by to buy something, anything.

Zac bought several vintage baseball cards, including a Ted Williams. As I held it, I thought of the man whose name and true backstory will always be a mystery to me. All I really know is that Bentley's dad bought the cards at an estate sale.

But I also know that this baseball card collection meant something to its previous owner because he organized it as meticulously as Zac has organized his.

I wish I could tell him that it's safe with us.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.