Baseball fans argue endlessly about the best ever to play the game, tossing around names like peanuts at a ballpark. But no one disputes that the greatest card collector was Jefferson R. Burdick….
The father of card collectors, as Burdick was known among his admirers, amassed more than 30,000 baseball cards that are presumed to be worth millions of dollars.
But they will never reach the marketplace because Burdick gave his trove to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the storehouse of civilization known for its Egyptian mummies, medieval armor and Renoirs. It also houses one of the largest baseball card collections in a public institution.
Awesome read from the Times about Jefferson Burdick, a lifelong baseball-card collector (and oddly, not a big baseball fan) whose collection is housed but not fully on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The article says that “the museum is trying to fulfill his wish that the cards be available to everyone,” which would be sweet. I happen to enjoy the Met plenty without a huge old-timey baseball-card exhibit, but I imagine I’d go there a lot more if there was one.
In the earliest days of my baseball fandom, I collected cards voraciously. I don’t know why exactly it petered out in the early-to-mid-90s — probably some combination of things. I remember growing slowly frustrated with the splattering of card brands, when it was no longer just Topps, Donruss and Fleer but suddenly Upper Deck and Score and Bowman and O-Pee-Chee Premier, and the valuable cards weren’t just the rookies of the good players but the Platinum Special Collection Rookies of the good players and other such nonsense. Also, I suspect my burgeoning interest in girls probably got in the way of considered baseball-card investments.
I still have every single card, though. They’re not worth nearly as much as I thought they’d be by now, in part because my brother and I scaled them and flipped them and traded them with our neighbors all the time, and never paid much attention to keeping them in good shape. Plus I’d never sell them anyway, because selling the baseball-card collection that I shared with my late brother for something less than the fortune we thought we’d someday reap from our binder pages upon binder pages of Pete Incaviglia rookies would be about the saddest thing imaginable.
Sometimes when I’m home, I look through them. The binders are a fun reminder of the dudes we hoped would one day be good and how infrequently prospects actually pan out, not to mention an entertaining peek at several of the late-90s’ beefiest sluggers in their much slimmer days.
But now I’m more taken by our huge duffel bag full of scrubs, all the heroically mustached and tragically sideburned lunchpail guys we tossed aside while weaning out the Wally Joyners and Kevin Seitzers. Some of the names and faces I recognize from later stints with the Mets or one of their divisional opponents, or from certain odd moments in the national spotlight forever inked in my memory; some are guys I’ve seen coaching or scouting, even spoken to in this line of work.
Most of them are just guys, though — smiling portraits or dirty uniforms with a baseball-reference page and a permanent home stuck face-to-face with Kelly Gruber in a duffel bag in my parents’ basement. And somewhere, certainly, those guys and their wives and their kids have those same cards framed and those baseball-reference pages bookmarked, and a lifetime of triumphant and tragic baseball memories to go with them.
And I don’t think that’s sad, really. I think that’s pretty awesome. I mean, Spike Owen doesn’t have any photos of me in his parents’ basement.