Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How I wound up with Yogi

This is gonna be a bit of a sentimental post, because I'm gonna talk about two guys that are pretty close to my heart, and as of this morning, both of them have passed.

I don't get a lot of opportunities to talk about my grandfather, and I think that is a shame. I think my grandfather inspired my love for baseball, especially some of the old players, more than anyone else. And, as you're gonna read here, my grandfather, unwittingly, inspired my drive to collect.

In the 1940's, there were no hobby shops. No card collectors. No Topps. In 1948, the Bowman company got the bright idea to start putting little squares of baseball players inside those little penny arcades, so that kids could get a different one every time, and the pastime of picking up little cards of players could be started with the youth. I don't think they sold '48 Bowmans in packs. It had to have been solely from those little toy machines. And you'd get one card for a nickel.

My grandfather had to have been ten or eleven around the time that these came out, and without going into too many details, he found his time out of the house, and searching for these little machines, quite often. For a kid in his situation, without a ton of money, or a ton of hope, getting a card of a New York Yankee could be a great thing.

After a while, my grandfather found myself with a whole collection of these little square cards, mostly from '48 and '49 Bowman. Most people who had cards back then tell me that they'd stick them in the spokes of their bicycle and screw them up pretty well. I don't think my grandfather did that, at least not to the extent of other people.

After a while, he'd recognize some of the players. Some of them, like 'Babe' Young or 'Snuffy' Stirnweiss, would fade into obscurity, but there was a Bob Lemon rookie that he held onto, and there were cards of Hank Bauer and Pee-Wee Reese that he'd cherish.

And also, most people from that era didn't hold onto those cards, they let their mothers throw them out when they went to live their own lives. Not my grandfather. He managed to hold onto them, kept them in a place where he knew they'd be, and managed to keep them in his house, especially when my dad came around.

My dad collected cards too. I mean, of course, because how the hell else would I have a blog if he didn't?

My dad had it easier, though. He'd take his bike down to the 7-11 and get a few packs of cards. And he also had it pretty cheap, but he'd get more cards for a tiny bit more money. And he'd take 'em home, look at them, sort them, and occasionally run into his father's room and say 'hey, look who I got!'

We've all been there. We've all felt that.

The difference here is that my grandfather had a trump card. Every once and a while, when my dad would flaunt pulling a Vida Blue, or a Reggie Jackson, or a Goose Gossage, my grandfather would pull something out of a drawer and say 'c'mere', and he'd have, in top-loaders i presume, those '48 and '49 Bowmans, right beside all the coins he'd collected, and there were a ton of them, after those Bowman sets had been long finished.

And as he'd flip through the players that my dad vaguely knew, like Bob Lemon and Pee-Wee Reese, he'd come to the one guy that he KNEW my dad would gasp at.

It was Yogi Berra, from 1948 Bowman. And it was his rookie card.

My dad must have leapt.

Flash forward a few more decades. Now I'm in the picture. I've taken the reins of my father's collection, or at least what I knew of it that existed, and I'm sorting it by team, by year, by position (that one did not go very well. I had a very big pitcher pile). I didn't really have a sense of good or bad players yet, I just liked what looked cool. And then 2007 comes around, and I start buying packs, and I start really getting into it.

Around this time, my grandfather's health is failing. He'd been on a slope for a few years, and things, sadly, weren't looking too good. He was still himself, at times, and he still loved the hell out of seeing me, but a lot had changed.

We found out he had a gigantic cavalcade of cards still in his basement. Some were my dad's. So, one day in July 2007, I'll never forget it, we get there, and there's a whole mess of everything on the dining room table. Wax boxes. Top-loaders. 40-counters. There was a ton of cards there, and because my uncle collected some, he got a few boxes out of it, and the rest would go to us.

And as I was sifting through some of the really good stuff, I got to those top-loaders my dad had seen those years before. He didn't tell me. He didn't tell me the caliber of that kind of stuff. I knew there would be some sort of '48 line, but not who'd be there.

I got past the second Stirnweiss when I saw him.

It was a black-and-white card, but it had a hint of sepia. There he was, swinging his bat, looking at the camera, with a focused expression and a curled brow. He was a baseball legend, and he was staring my through this cardboard portal, through this square that could transcend time.

He was Yogi Berra. And he was mine.

My grandfather died a year later. It was heartbreakingly sad. Even at a young, semi-naive age I was very broken up about it. I spoke at his funeral and everything, and I had this optimistic tone. Like he'd be up there, chatting with Billy Martin and Casey Stengel about the game, or something.

Well, now Yogi's up there with him too. And he must be in joy, my grandfather. I can imagine them going on for hours.

I still have the Yogi card, by the way. I never planned on parting with it, and I don't think I ever will. It's a very important card to me, monetary value aside. Whenever I see that card, I think of my grandfather's young eyes, watching it as it tumbled down the machine and into the hand-slot. I think of his eyes when he realized how much it would mean to me to have it.

As long as I live, I will never forget that.


  1. Great story! However one factual mistake. 1948 Bowman baseball cards were sold in one card packs for a penny apiece (ref Those nickel vending machines were probably made to rip off kids in a secondary market. However I wish we could get those cards for Five cents today!

  2. Great read,man!I could relate to the part about running to your dad to show him what you got.I did that all the time because I knew It would bring a smile to his face!

  3. Awesome story; thanks for sharing. Rest in peace, Yogi.