Tales from the Binder: Vintage Naivete

Posted: July 6, 2012 by Crackin' Wax in Minnesota Twins, Tales From The Binder, Vintage
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Way back when in the good ol’ days of the late 80s, my childhood collecting interest seemed to be piquing. Developing, at the very least. I had gone from just buying and receiving random packs for no other reason than to just rip into random packs to purposely and intently searching for specific cards. Well… not too specific. I mean, I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I was still learning the ropes of collecting and trading.

By that time I had heard plenty of stories from my grandparents and uncles about how the older men in the family once owned a good stash of baseball cards when they themselves weren’t even teenagers yet. Grand stories of Mantle rookie cards right down to the infamous T206 Honus Wagner were told time and time again. These stories always ended up with someone’s mother throwing them all away. Perhaps I can continue the tradition with my nephews with a little additional tall-tale-telling attached. Who’s to say that my uncle’s discarded Wagner isn’t in fact the Gretzky Wagner?

On a semi-related side-note, I wonder if a certain MLB team owner pays his players in baseball cards? Kubel? Are you now the proud owner of the Gretzkey Wagner?

It was these stories that furnished my imagination with the possibility of future wealth. I was already hooked on trading cards before that thought ever occurred to me. By believing the “big fish” stories and foolishly hoping that I was one of the few kids on Earth smart enough to buy new cards now and sell them in 20 years for millions, I was sure that I would never become unhooked.

If you remember, these thoughts occurred to me in the late 80s. The junk wax era. The worst time in the history of card collecting to get ideas like that.

Being that I was still a few years out from my driver’s license, I was at the mercy of wherever my mom decided to go. Sometimes I could lure her briefly into a local card shop only to leave empty handed. There were times, though, when I would get lucky in a destination not meant for me. One of those excursions was a flea market just outside of town. The thought of searching for cards in such a place hadn’t even crossed my mind. I assumed I would be bored to tears. That is until a beaten up cardboard box caught my attention. Sitting inside this box were a random assortment of all sorts of trading cards, mostly 80s baseball.

Since I had narrowed my collecting habits to “cards that will make me millions in 20 years” and “Minnesota Twins,” I quickly filtered through the modern cards until I came across something I had never seen before. A real honest-to-goodness vintage baseball card. Oh, but it wasn’t just any old vintage card, no. That card bore a name that I recognized. That name was Tom Kelley.

For those smarter than I was back then, you may be wondering what got me so excited by Tom Kelley. For those smarter than I am now, you may also be wondering what got me so excited by Tom Kelley. In the late 80s, the manager of the Minnesota Twins was a man named Tom Kelly. Being the Twins fan I was then and am now, I was intrigued by the card. I knew nothing of Kelly before his years as Twins manager. I didn’t know if he played in the majors. I had no idea what he looked like as a younger man. In fact, I had just assumed that Topps simply spelled his name wrong on his card.

Tom Kelley ≠ Tom Kelly

As a much more experienced and knowledgeable card collector and Twins fan, I now realize that Tom Kelley and Tom Kelly are, in fact, two different people. How was this naive boy of 10 to know the difference? Ya know, aside from the spelling. I took a chance on an older card and, worst case scenario, if that was in fact NOT the Tom Kelly I hoped it was, I had become the proud owner of my very first piece of vintage.

Of course, I still think myself a foolish idiot in those days for such a dimwitted maneuver. Nonetheless, there the card sits. In the very first pocket of the very first page of the very first binder.

While it was my very first vintage purchase, it very easily could have been passed up if I had been a little smarter and/or choosy. If I had then at my disposal the kind of information that is so easy to acquire in this day and age, I may very well have moved on from that beaten up cardboard box. A quick look at baseball-reference.com will tell you just how wrong I was back then.

Drafted by the Seattle Pilots in 1968 and later signed in 1971 by the Twins as a minor league free agent. Made his Major League debut in 1975 as First Baseman and Utility Outfielder for the Twins. Played his final game in July of that same year. In 1976, his contract was purchased by the Baltimore Orioles and used by the Rochester Red Wings, which is now the Twins’ AAA affiliate. He returned to the Twins organization in 1977 as a player-manager in the minors, then became a full-time manager the following year. He was added to the Twins’ coaching staff in 1983 and took over managerial duties during the 1986 season. During his time as Twins manager, he lead the team to its two World Series championships and helped to rebuild the team to its dominant form in the 2K era.

Made his Major League debut in 1964 as a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. From 1964-1967, he pitched in just 42 games for the Indians, used mostly as a reliever. In 1967, he was sent to Cleveland’s AA squad where he remained until he was moved to the Atlanta Braves farm system in 1970. He was called up to the big league club in 1971 where he enjoyed the best season of his career. He tallied a record of 9-5 in 20 starts with a respectable ERA of 2.96. He played his final game on May 20 1973 in the second game of a double-header against the Dodgers. Having pitched the day before, he went into the game during the 3rd Inning in relief of the Braves’ starting pitcher Gary Gentry. Tom faced 10 batters and gave up 1 unearned run on 3 hits and 1 walk in his final MLB performance. After that game, he was sent to the minors and never resurfaced. In 1976 he landed with the New York Mets’ AAA club where he played just 7 games. He finished that year out with a 6.26 ERA and a record of 0-1. He completely retired from baseball after the 1976 season.

See? Two completely different people.

I’m glad I still have that card. It serves as a reminder of just how innocent and dumb we all can be from time to time. It reminds me of a time when nothing in the world mattered more to me than life as it happened in each moment. I’ve since grown up, wised up and settled down. Still, I’ll never take for granted that something only 10 years older than me can make me feel 10 years old again.

  1. Great story. Love that you still have the card too!

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