Let’s Open a Bag of Baseball Cards Amid Our Tears

We all have our reasons for mourning the inevitable heat death of NotGraphs. Not the least of these (for the present author) is the opportunity it affords to buy random bags of baseball cards in thrift stores, write third-rate witticisms about them, and somehow be reimbursed in some twisted, neo-Bolshevik parody of capitalism. One could make the case that this, not the newspaper, is the real tragedy of the modern media revolution. But we must continue on. Join me. There will be time to mourn when the work is done.


One of Ken’s favorite activities, according to his 1990 Topps card, is bicycle riding. I can imagine this. I can imagine Ken on a windless day, his face utterly placid, bicycling impossibly slowly into an empty horizon.


Fleer, in the late eighties, provided a little color to the back of its cards by supplying splits. In 1988, they included both home/road and day/night splits, thus giving fans basically zero useful information. For Eric Bell, however, they tell a rich story.


Fleer also had an edition called Star Stickers, which instead of 660 cards only included the 132 best players in baseball. The 132 best baseball players of 1987 somehow included Dave Righetti, Brook Jacoby, Ron Darling, and Bruce Hurst, so maybe they should have gone with a different number. The selling point of these cards was that a child could affix the face of Mike Pagliarulo to any object permanently. It’s like an drunken tattoo for antique furniture, or a act of elementary school locker terrorism.


The airbrushed hat has a long baseball card history. You even see an airbrushed face once in a while. But Jack McKeon may have been the first and only recipient of airbrushed glasses. Imagine is Ron Kittle had made it; all of 1990 could have been like this.


The follow-through is the prettiest pose in all of baseball cards. Danny Heep is unworthy of it.


Mark Grant had a combined 20-2 record between his junior and senior years of high school, with 294 strikeouts in 161 innings. Mark Grant, in his major league career, went 22-32 with a 88 ERA+. Paul Coleman, the sixth pick in the 1989 draft, hit .498/.657/1.094 over his high school career, and topped out at AA. An unintentionally poignant quote by his high school baseball coach, when Coleman was chosen by the Cardinals: “It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to this town. It’s the biggest thing that will ever happen to this town.”

My point in all of this is that the next frontier of FanGraphs is high school and college statistics. We need high school WAR. Not because it has any predictive value, although it would be funny to see people misuse it. We need it because it’s fun to find little Barry Bonds fish in littler pools, asphyxiating, condensed little black holes of greatness.

It wasn’t much of a bag of cards, really. Not that you’d expect much from a Value Village for a dollar, but the 1990 Topps border was already burned into my corneas when I closed my eyes. I was paying for my art this time. Until the final card in the stack offered its apology.


The slender physique! The knowing smile! The mustard helmet! The unpredictability of joy!

Patrick Dubuque is a wastrel and a general layabout. Many of the sites he has written for are now dead. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

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9 years ago

I like your term “neo-Bolshevik”. I feel like neo-Bolshevik or post-Bolshevik should be a movement in the visual arts or architecture. Like postmodernism or neoclassicism.

Maybe our own Craig Robinson is a neo-Bolshevik artist.