Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Very Own Joe Schlabotnik

In 1975, I was seven and growing up in Marion, Indiana. My beloved hobby was baseball card collecting - and baseball. At the time, I played T-Ball in the local PAL league for the Marion National Bank Giants.

1975 Marion National Bank Giants T-Ball Team
Rick Kughen, star player for the Marion National Bank Giants in 1975.
I remember my mother stopping at Dennison's Market after my T-ball games and buying me a red pop and five packs of baseball cards. That was my reward for a game well played. We lived just a few blocks from Dennison's, but I would manage to both down my red pop and open all five packs of cards before our Chevy Travelall reached our tiny house on Swayzee Street. My one and only goal: to find the coveted 1975 Pete Rose card - my Joe Schlabotnik.

1975 Topps Pete Rose
1975 Topps Pete Rose #320
Topps packaged their cards that year 10-to-a-pack and sold them for 25 cents each. (I wish I could say that I remember those details, but I had to look them up.) I estimate that we made this Dennison's stop 25 times that year (she was a good mom who didn't always require that I have played a T-Ball game in order to have collected my red pop/baseball card bounty). That means she purchased roughly 125 packs of cards for me, meaning I had 1,250 chances to get my Joe Schlabotnik. I never did. I guess you could say that Charlie Brown and I shared at least one similarity that year.

This specific card - and this specific set of cards - is what rekindled my love of baseball card collecting. I put my collection away when I left for college in 1986 and other than hauling them around from place-to-place in the 26 years since then, I really never touched them. That is until this year when something - middle age, missing my mother, missing the simplicity of my childhood, the purity of my own children - something made me dig into those 20,000 or so baseball cards that I had stowed away in a closet.

Once I pulled them out, it was on. I found myself instantly transported back to those mid-1970s to mid-1980s days when baseball cards and playing baseball were my life. I realized that the attachment that I had to those cards of yesteryear had never gone away. It had just gone to dormant place and waited until my important parts of my life were in check (love life, children, career, house, etc.).

I have spent the last few months organizing, appraising and in general slobbering over my baseball cards. In that time, I realized just how important these cards were to who I am today. I spent some time reading the blogs of other kindred souls (see my Other Good Reads links at the right) and decided that I had a lot to say, too.

A little about this specific card and set: it is card number 320 from a set of 660 cards. This set's multi-colored borders make it one of the most coveted sets ever produced, as well as one of the hardest to find in excellent to mint condition. The colored borders nick very easily and thus, even cards that have been handled fairly carefully show their age.

A little about Pete Rose: Rose's all-time hit record of 4,256 career hits still stands today. The fact that he is not a member of the Hall of Fame is beyond me. Whatever you think of his gambling issues that resulted in his lifetime ban from the HOF, the fact remains that Charlie Hustle was possibly the greatest player to ever play the game. We have forgiven Michael Vick, Charles Barkley and other sporting bad boys. I think it's time that bring ol' Pete in out of the cold. I believe he did more for baseball, baseball card collecting and the Cincinnati Reds more than any other player in history has done.

Rose retired in 1986 and was permanently banned from Major League Baseball in 1989. In addition to holding the career hits record, Rose still holds career records in singles, games played at bats, and most winning season - just to name a few. Rose's number 14 has never been officially retired, but no other Cincinnati Reds player has worn the number since and many believe, none ever will.

Interestingly, Rose turned 71 yesterday (April 14).