What was the first “old” baseball card you ever owned?
The answer to that question depends on how you define “old,” of course, and there’s a good chance the answer is incremental.
For instance, I clearly remember hauling in a 1980 Topps Tony Scott card as part of a trade with a friend at school in the spring of 1983. I had never owned any card issued prior to 1981, so that thing was ancient (and priceless) to me.
Not long after, though, my family and I began frequenting antique shops, flea markets, and even card shows, and I started to get a taste of what old cards really were.
In particular, they were cards that neither I nor my friends could have ever pulled from a pack at the store. They were cards that our dads might have pulled from packs. They were cards that featured dusty photos, archaic drawings or paintings, crude designs, defunct teams.
I had a new standard.
My first step backward from Mr. Scott was a 1971 Topps Boots Day card I found in a ten-cent box at one of those flea markets in the summer of 1983. It was pretty old, issued right before I was born, and it looked like it came from another century. Boots probably was my first old card, but he was really more just “dated” at that point — some of my friends older siblings could have easily pulled him from a pack and handed him down.
I didn’t have to wait long, though, to get hold of a couple cards that checked all the boxes for my definition of “old” and passed the sibling test in just about every case.
At one of those same monthly flea markets that same summer, I ran across a bona fide baseball card dealer who had cards in cases, cards in sleeves, cards in 700-count boxes, cards in wax, cello, and rack packs. He had everything, it seemed, including a small box of “old” cards that were bargain priced for one reason or another.
I had to have one.
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But as I shuffled through the box, it quickly became apparent that I had to have two …
First was a horizontally-oriented card that looked like an old wood-grained TV set and featured a young player identified as KALINE in a batting stance with a huge light tower over his right shoulder.
The guy wanted five bucks for it, but I pulled out my trusty pocket price guide and showed my dad that a 1955 Bowman Al Kaline card was worth considerably more — I don’t remember for sure how much — $10, $15, $20?
Whatever it was, Dad agreed it seemed like a good enough deal. (Only later on did I realize that the photo being detached from the card back actually dinged the value. Oh well.)
The other card didn’t look like anything I could find in my price guide or anything I had seen before. It was in the standard vertical format and started with a big red SENATORS pennant at the top, complete with team logo. Underneath was a photo of an old, old man who looked like he should be coaching Rocky or something.
The color shot seemed not quite real, and I thought it might even be a painting.
And underneath, in alternating red and blue letters, the guy’s impossible name clinched the deal for me: COOKIE LAVAGETTO. He was identified as “MANAGER * WASHINGTON.”
The back of the card was all cartoon, detailing Cookie’s careers as a player and a manager, and mentioning long-ago, unheard of years like “1947” and “1939.”
Here was the old card I’d been looking for, and at just a buck, it was going to be mine. And it was.
As the years passed, I pulled plenty of manager cards from packs and accumulated probably hundreds more as I grew my collection as fast as humanly possible. But none ever quite compared to that first memorable one of the guy named “Cookie.”
Dude just looked like a manager, even if his time in the dugout would end after the 1961 season with a career record of 271-384 … and even if he was only 46 years old in the picture on that 1960 Topps card of his.
Doesn’t matter … Cookie is always the one I think of first when I hear, or type, “manager card.”
So, when I laid out my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge and slotted a manager card here on Day 39, there could really only be one choice.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.