Golden baseball player

Opening a pack of baseball cards was a two-bit miracle. The summer equivalent of catching snowflakes on your tongue.

So I’m glad we’re looking into a shoebox of famous baseball cards today, rather than just a plastic-cased display of the most valuable ones. I don’t care which cards are worth the most money. I want to know about the interesting ones.

* 1909 Honus Wagner: The Holy Grail. Fewer than 75 are known to exist. The cards were printed by a cigarette company without Wagner’s permission, and their production ceased as soon as he found out. A popular theory is that Wagner did not like the promotion of tobacco to kids. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once owned one. The finest example could be worth $1.5 million.

* 1989 Fleers Billy Ripken: The Dirty Word. Cal’s little brother posed with a bat, on the end of which was written an obscenity. Was Ripken in on the joke? How else could he have held the bat just the right way so the profanity could be read?

* 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle: The Boomers’ Favorite. This came out the summer Mantle emerged as a star, and kids across the country scrambled to get the card of the new hero. As they grew up, this card came to symbolize baseball in 1950s America.

* 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.: The Investment. This was the first series of pricey premium cards issued, just as the hobby turned into a business. Griffey seemed destined for greatness — maybe as the greatest of all time.

* 1957 Topps Hank Aaron: The Oops. The negative was reversed, so Aaron is shown batting left-handed. (Oh, well, it’s not like he was a big home run hitter or anything.)


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