Sports Commentary: “Cards in the Binder”

Dock Ellis
Courtesy of Jack Cobourn
Dock Ellis’ 1971 baseball card. Ellis led the Pittsburgh Pirates in wins that year with 19.



It’s funny what an email does to kickstart your memory. About two weeks ago, a large trading card company wanted me to write a piece about a new set it is putting out. While I am not going to do this, because I never give free advertising, it did make me think about the excitement of getting trading cards.

We all have special places in our lives, that even when they disappear, we can still remember little details. For me, this is true about the baseball card shop down the road. My father and I would spend about an hour every couple of months looking at the selection they had and possibly buying a pack on opening day to celebrate a new year.

But boy, were we unlucky. Instead of getting Derek Jeter or Ryan Howard, we’d get 10-12 C-grade players from small-market teams or top teams’ minor league prospects. Or, to cap off our terrible luck, we’d get the checklist, which is something no collector ever wants.

But that’s just it—who says it has to be about collecting? When I was a kid, I’d get 10 baseball cards a week for working hard in physical therapy. These cards were 20 to 30 years old at the time, and my father would regale me with stories of the players I had received. To me, it’s more about the stories behind the player than the value of the card.

Take, for example, the card at the top of this piece. The man featured is Dock Ellis who helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the 1971 World Series. This is not what he’s best known for though. He is best known for pitching a no-hitter on June 12, 1970 while under the influence of LSD. It is stories like this that are part of the folklore of baseball, which is always better brought up over looking at a card.

But it isn’t just baseball cards I have collected over the years. I own quite a lot of sports cards. When I thought about starting a card business, I purchased two display boxes of 1980-81 English First Division soccer cards. I opened them up to see an example, and I was surprised to find I knew some of the players. I looked up the ones I didn’t know and learned their backstories, furthering the history of these cards for future generations.

Senna Card
Courtesy of Jack Cobourn
Ayrton Senna races through the rain on this trading card from 1990. Formula One trading cards have been popular since the 1960’s.

My personal favorites are my Formula One motor racing collection. The Ayrton Senna card featured above came from a pack found in a little shop at the Booth’s Corner Farmer’s Market. Finding those ten packs for $1 each was an incredible steal and was a glimpse into a past that, though I knew a lot about, was nice to see again.

Some people say “the past is a different country,” and for that, I see these cards as little maps to the past. In this era of ESPN and online sports coverage, it’s possibly hard to imagine that for our parents and grandparents, last year’s stats on the back of a baseball card were all they ever had. I hope that trading cards as a whole never disappear, as that one link to the past would be ruined.

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