Baseball cards have gone the way of pick-up games and bike rides without parental supervision – but I bet they'll be back.
Once I was a very powerful man. I controlled the fate of some of the world’s greatest athletes. I was brash and bold – a bit of a gambler. In 1964, I acquired Mickey Mantle in what was eventually ruled to be a shady deal. It was the start of a long summer, the day school let out. I was six.
My friend Brett and I were flipping baseball cards in my driveway. I can still feel the dust on my fingers from the bubble gum that came in each pack. You couldn’t get that gum except inside a pack of baseball cards. It was gold. But it was nothing compared to the thrill of discovering a superstar wedged between two utility infielders you'd never heard of, or stuck to a pitcher who had no statistics on the back of his card because he was new to the Bigs. Brett had just unwrapped a Mickey Mantle.
But we were Cleveland kids, and fortunately for me, Brett was looking to acquire Max Alvis, the Indians’ third baseman. And so the baseball gods were shining on me as Brett and I prepared to flip. Flipping cards is a cross between roulette and archery – a game of chance and skill. Each guy flips a card, flicking his wrist to make the card spin down to ground. As you release it, you call “Heads” or “Tails.” Heads is the photo side, tails the statistics side. If your card lands on the side you called and your opponent’s card fails to land on the side he called, you pick up both cards. If you both hit what you called or you both miss, the cards stay there. And you flip two more. Winner takes all.
I flipped Max Alvis and Brett flipped Mickey Mantle. We both called “Heads” and we were both true. Then we each flipped nobodies from teams we didn’t care about. We both missed our marks. The cards piled up. I’m not sure how many rounds it took, but when I picked up all the cards and held Mickey Mantle in my hands, it was among the finest feelings I’ve ever experienced, before or since.