Like many in my generation and the generations before me, I learned some very valuable life skills at a very young age. By the time I was in second grade, I had a basic understanding of supply and demand, negotiations, market value, currency, investing and debating.
I wasn’t dealing with cold hard cash or the stock market. No, I was learning these tools of the trade by dealing with one simple product.
It’s funny looking back, but as a young kid, having a sports card collection was a really big deal. Trading cards were the currency of the playground. I gained and lost friends because of cards. To be honest, I don’t remember buying cards, but I, like the majority of the kids in my grade, had binders full of baseball, football and basketball cards.
Trading cards with friends is how I learned a lot about life. I knew that if I had a certain card that a friend really wanted, I could hold out and not trade it to him until I got even more than what the card was worth. I became a salesman with my cards. If you happened to get a pack with a card you already had, you tried to unload that double as fast as you could. The key was not to say to your friend, “I’ve already got one of these.” No. You tried to sell it like it was a once-in-a-lifetime find.
We all had our favorite teams, so I was always trading for 49ers or Giants’ cards. But how would you know what card was worth anything and what was a “common card,” as we referred to them? The book to have was called a Beckett. That was the card price guide. We could look up the prices of our cards and try to trade based off of what the Beckett told you it was worth. If you ever had a card that was worth $5, you held onto that like it was gold.
But let’s face it, there was always a trader’s remorse. The good thing about being a kid is there are rules that you just have to abide by. Just like calling shotgun or saving a seat on the couch, those, in the world of a child, are legally binding. So, when it came to making a trade, we always said the same line after a deal was made. And once it was said, the deal was officially done.
“Jack-Jack, no trade back.”
Boom. That was it. And depending how good of a salesman or conman you were, that line couldn’t have been said any faster.
But what was the real reason why we traded cards? Well, we were told that one day, those cards would be worth a lot of money. And you know what? We were lied to! I’ve still got thousands of football and baseball cards and if I were to sell them all, I might be able to fill up my truck with gas. But that’s the thing about being a collector; regardless of how much money you spend on something, if you found out it was worthless, would you still love it?
When I think of my card collection, I don’t think I could ever get rid of it. I spent hours and hours looking at them, reading the backs of them and arranging them in a specific way. As a kid, trading cards were really the only way to see what a lot of these athletes looked like. Because there was no internet and limited TV, cards were the way for me to learn more about the players I heard of while listening to games on the radio.
Many of my cards were handed down to me from my father. So, yes, I’ve got Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry, Bob St. Clair, Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Leo Nomellini, Billy Wilson, RC Owens and many other classics. Maybe one day I’ll be able to give those cards, as well as my Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Barry Bonds, Matt Williams, Robby Thompson, Billy Swift and Jeff Kent cards to my son or daughter.
And maybe my children will view them the same way I did: priceless.