Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Cooperstown, Whatever, Etc.


I recently had the displeasure of turning 50.


            Okay, maybe it’s not a displeasure considering the alternative to turning an age, any age; but it feels kind of blah. I feel kind of blah. No longer a young man and not quite ready to be put out to pasture either. Fifty seems like the most middle-aged of being middle-aged. It feels like being a walking, talking ghost at times. And, yes, I can still wear all of my cool t-shirts. Wear my hat backwards and try and find cool, new music to listen to.

            But at the end of the day buddy…

            …you know what’s on the other side of that mirror.

            But I didn’t want be mired in 50. I wanted a brief respite from the malaise that I’d been feeling. I wanted to go somewhere to, not exactly celebrate 50, but to not exactly dwell on it either. I’ll revise that: my wife wanted to go somewhere to celebrate. I wanted to stay in bed in a dark room, doing nothing but stare at the ceiling. I like being mired in things, I guess. I love me a good malaise. And traveling? That’s another thing about tuning 50; I want to spend less and less time away from home. Thrill seeking to me used to be wandering the streets of Paris. Now it is checking out the grocery store after a renovation.

            Not the stuff of Kerouac, I know.

            After some hemming and hawing (and procrastinating long enough that a trip to San Francisco to revisit some old Beat haunts and see a Giants game, seemed unreasonable financially), I did decide on somewhere to spend my 50th birthday. Somewhere where I always felt good vibes. Somewhere out of my childhood.

            I went back here for the first time in 32 years.

            Through good and bad, happiness and depression, for most of my life, I can say that baseball has been my one constant. I had on brief spell where it wasn’t, but the less said about that here the better. But baseball. It’s been around me, casting its aura and magic, for as long as I can remember anything else tangible being around me. I’m as excited as a child when baseball season begins, and I’m as inconsolable as one when baseball season ends. There’s no salve for the first few weeks after the last inning of the last game is played. Not football. Not basketball or, god forbid, Hockey, for Christ’s sake. Baseball allows me to tolerate summer.

            Cooperstown was a good way to celebrate being the most middle-aged of the middle-aged.

            Of course, there were memories that I wanted to revisit.

            I’d been to Cooperstown twice before

            1989 when I was fifteen.

            1992 when I was eighteen.

            Memories aside, I couldn’t tell you if the town had changed much, or if it had stayed the same. There were a good number of closed storefronts. A continued epidemic of the pandemic, perhaps? Cooperstown was subdued, if I can say that. My teenage memories are of the place in the summer. A town in motion. The packs of people in the Hall. Loud families on Main Street. Me, my brother and Phineas running in and out of the Hall all day, running in and out of the various baseball card and sports memorabilia shops.

            That was the Cooperstown of memory.

It was April when we went this year. Things were just opening for the season. At 50 and 46, my wife and I might’ve been the YOUNGEST people visiting the Hall.

            *a brief aside, there was one kind in Cooperstown, a townie who ended up following me around a baseball card shop and talking to me about cards. The kid was maybe 11 years old. He was carrying his binder of cards around with him, and because I remembered doing that, carrying those cards everywhere, my initial W.C. Fields-ness toward children…well…it just had to melt a little bit. So, I let the kid follow me around and we talked Pirates and Mets. He was kind enough to gift me this…*


            Good kid…bad judge of character.

            And what has Mr. Hoy Park been up to?

            We were even there for the eclipse.

            ...for all that was worth.

            I suppose if I brought anything to Cooperstown as the most middle-aged of the middle-aged, is that the adult me is a student of the history of the game. The teen me appreciated the players that came before, and I wanted their cards for prestige purposes, but the here and now was foremost on my mind as a kid. Maybe because vintage cards of older players were hard to come by, and you could still buy a pack of cards with money you found under a couch cushion. But now I read books about the sport of baseball. Vast tomes dedicated to single seasons or a single World Series. I spend my time looking up articles on older players. I can afford the cards that I couldn’t as a kid. I have a more well-rounded experience with the game of baseball as the most middle aged of the middle-aged.

            But the kid (and beyond in me) couldn’t help but get excited by seeing the plaques of these guys.

            It being 32-years since my last visit, there was something very cool about seeing the plaques for the players that I watched growing up, the players whose cards I collected.

            It’s easier to insert the history of your own fandom into the sport when you see stuff like that.

            Of course, I bought some of the requisite postcards.

            Forgetting to buy one for Tony Gwynn and Ken Griffey Jr....sigh.

            Had a discrepancy, an alteration if you will, shown to me and my wife by a kindly docent who took a shine to this Pittsburgh clad guy.

            Can you spot the difference?

            Jackie’s plaque has also been changed from his initial.

            This is the one that hangs in the Hall.

            This is the one that is currently only loan to the Jackie Robinson Museum in NYC.

            And the folks at SABR have a whole article on this stuff right HERE.

            Sadly, Henry Aaron’s plaque was not there. It had been loaned to an exhibit in Atlanta.

            But my wife bought me a 1967 Henry Aaron for my birthday. And I bought myself the 1966 one. A little bit loved but that’s all right. 

            They are the first two base Henry Aaron cards that I own from the 60s. And they instantly matter. Growing up I’d never really been a fan of 1966 or 1967 Topps. I found them plain and less exciting than a design like 1962 or 1965. Now…now, I admire their simplicity. 1967 is the quintessential BASEBALL CARD. No frills.

            I feel that way about this set now too.

            Feeling a touch nostalgic for the teenage me, I wanted to find a box of something from my childhood to rip from one of the sports cards stores. And, if nothing else, there still ARE sports cards stores in Cooperstown. There wasn’t a lot of junk wax, though. At least not in wax box form. But I came across these in a sports card store a block or so away from the Hall.

            Now, I KNOW 15-year-old me ripped a lot of 1989 Topps Big packs. I know a lot of collectors were thwarted/daunted by the return of oversized cards in the late 80s, but 1988 and 1989 Big, as well, as 1989 Bowman, were a big hit with this collector. I just really enjoyed the throwback to 1955 and 1956 Topps cards inherent in the design. Maybe it did have a lot to do with the fact that, as a kid, getting my hands on anything 1955 and 1956 was next to impossible, and cards like Topps Big or 1989 Bowman...they were as close as I was getting to a seat at the table.

            1988 and 1989 Topps Big respectively:

            Picked up just a few more things.

            I never leave Andy Van Slyke rookie cards behind.

            And 30+ years later, Bobby Bonilla still doesn’t look right to me in anything but Black and Gold.


            Had to get my Yordan fix.

            And I'm strangley excited that Joey Bart is a Pirate.

            I didn’t go hog wild in Cooperstown with card purchases, which kind of surprised me because the lack of access to card shops in NYC is a big pet peeve of mine. I didn’t want to go hog wild, I guess. I mean I’m 50 now. The most middle aged of the middle-aged. The days of running into and out of card shops all day has passed. The excitement for those players hanging on the Hall walls and the history of what was in a lot of those glass cases.


            That was the real draw now. The blah-ness may have settled in, but it was nice to keep it at bay by taking a trip down memory lane and immersing myself in the National pastime.

            If you’re turning 50.

            If you’re feeling middle-aged.

            If the futility of it all is settling in.

            or if you just want to see Tony Gwynn hanging around where he belongs.

            Take a trip to Cooperstown.

            It’s worth it.

            And make sure you stop by the Farmer’s Museum to see this guy….

            I learned about the Cardiff Giant by reasing David McCullough's epic book about the Brooklyn Bridge. It was wonderuflly coincidental that he was in Cooperstown. You can read about him HERE.


Thanks for reading! Happy Collecting!





  1. Very cool. I love 88/89 Big as well. Farmers museum was closed when we went though so we didn't get to see it.

  2. A. Happy 50th! The way I look at it... the older I get... the closer to retirement.

    B. Love the photos of the Rickey and Tony plaques. They're my two favorite players of all-time.

    C. I'm a big fan of Topps Big (and 1989 Bowman) too.


1981 Donruss