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> Baseball cards -, and the meaning of life.

cbware88
post Jul 1 2010, 11:52 AM
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By TED ANTHONY, AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP)—Back in 1973, a pair of baby boomer baseball fans named Fred Harris and Brendan Boyd came forth with a baseball book unlike any other.

With cheerful sarcasm, an abiding love of the game and wink-nudge commentary on American life, “The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book” chronicled what it was like growing up as an American kid in the 1950s and early 1960s and seeing the world through baseball cards.

As a boy and rabid baseball fan in the 1970s, I checked this book out of the library repeatedly. I always wished for something similar about the ballplayers I knew, loved and despised—the athletic icons of what would come to be known as Generation X, from the forgotten (John D’Acquisto) to the permanently remembered (Reggie Jackson).

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Now, more than 30 years later, baseball-card blogger and memoirist Josh Wilker has come through.

The unforgettable “Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards” is many things: autobiography, portrait of an era, coming-of-age tale, exploration of sibling relationships. But most of all, it is an ode to the baseball card, late 1970s edition, that persistent token of boyhood that somehow, for a brief time in what Wilker calls that “awkward, searching decade,” managed to permeate everything.

Wilker summons all the questions that those of us poised to become teenagers at the end of the ’70s and beginning of the ’80s were asking:

How could disco be an object of ridicule when it had just arrived a few years ago? Why was Thurman Munson dead? What WERE those blacklight posters you weren’t allowed to look at in the back of Spencer Gifts? How could companies other than Topps be allowed to make baseball cards?

And—most important, but unarticulated until many years later—how on Earth were we expected to deal with things like the Carter administration, Three Mile Island and the Iranian hostage crisis after a childhood full of gas lines, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford?

Wilker—turtlenecked, awkward, holding rubber-banded cards—paints himself as a real-life ABC Afterschool Special, standing in for the outcast and runt in all of us. He is Holden Caulfield without the brio and bravado, struggling with family dysfunction and encroaching inauthenticity in an era where suddenly no one seemed to have many answers—even the people who were supposed to be in charge.

He wrestles with idolizing his suddenly teenage brother, with unorthodox family configurations, with moving around and failing, and wondering and trying to be liked without looking like he was trying to be liked. And behind it all, there is a persistent emptiness: the absence of a father who didn’t quite know how to approach him. Wilker finds perspective, of course, in baseball cards.

“His repetitive nondescript appearances were like those of the journeyman nobodies who showed up again and again in packs of cards,” he writes. “Doubles, we called them, even though the worst of them showed up far more than twice.”

As his life unfolds, he ranges through players and cards and years, squeezing each piece of cardboard unrelentingly for the bits of personality and wisdom he can glean from facial expressions, batting stances, random stats and snippets.

“Cardboard Gods” is not a baseball book. It is a baseball-card book if anything, and perhaps not even that. It is more intimate than much baseball writing because it taps into a real, uncertain existence rather than the polished Elysian fields of memory. Baseball can evoke pastoral dreams, but the warts of Gen-X reality are far more interesting fodder. This book is lyrical, but it’s Douglas Coupland lyrical, not Roger Angell lyrical.

What’s amazing about Wilker’s unusual narrative experiment is how true it rings—how, like a seconds-long snippet of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” or a fleeting taste of a Marathon Bar, it summons time and place and nostalgia in a rush of feeling and memory.

In Wilker’s hands, a pack of baseball cards becomes a Gen-X tarot desk, as if arranging them just so—a Charlie Spikes here, a Richie Hebner there—can unlock life’s secrets and chart a path to the future. Or, from the vantage point of that more complicated future, navigate us back to a past we didn’t appreciate enough as we lived it.

The most affecting part of Wilker’s narrative is the final third. It is there that, while he emerges as a competent, talented man, he leaves behind the cards and forges forward in a world where things are far more complicated than an orderly collection of at-bats, HRs and ERAs.

“When the gods stopped coming to me,” he writes, “years began rushing by in a blur, faster all the time.” When I read this, a lyric from ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ bubbled up: ‘Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.’

“Most of the unaccountable moments of life evaporate with no trace,” Wilker writes, “so it’s really no wonder I hold on with such desperation to what’s left, my baseball cards, those actual, physical, inarguable remnants of the past.”

For those of us who worshipped the same cardboard gods, the gradual, almost unspoken separation of boy and cards at around age 13 feels excruciatingly authentic. The ’80s happened, Fleer and Donruss got into the card business, the Reagan era began and high school loomed. Music and parties and angst unsentimentally brushed aside baseball cards and comic books and carefree summers. A 1976 Pirates team card was no longer enough.

And the players—not the Reggie Jacksons and Jim Palmers but the Bill Robinsons and Sixto Lezcanos and Mario Mendozas, for we were the children of those lesser gods, too—retreated into the baseball mists like so many disco-era Moonlight Grahams.

This is the pivot point that Wilker summons so adeptly. And it is this moment that he distills in his most withering line of all, buried quietly and unobtrusively on page 59. “All names, even those of the greatest among us, eventually unravel to silence.”

The cards tell all. And when they stop talking—when the faces upon them become anachronisms, rearview mirror reminders rather than fast-forward dreams— it’s time to grow up. A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.




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cardcrazed
post Jul 2 2010, 12:25 AM
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great article, great read!

Justin


Colts fan 4-life
I collect any Colts card, if they are wearing a Colt uniform I want that card!
256 Colts autos ND cards: 499 (119 AU)(TTM's 212(176/204)(86%)(HOF autos 13)
340 Manning cards and counting! (not counting dupes)
Notre Dame collector (must be wearing the uniform),
GO IRISH!

Starting a Murray State PC! Supporting my Alma Mater! # of cards: 10
Jeff Samardzija PC! # of cards: 53 (3AU)
TCC's only Draft "BUST" Collection! # of cards: 277
Red Wings Goalie Jimmy Howard PC! # of cards: 20
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My Colt's GU and Auto Collection:
Adam Vinatieri- 1AU 1GU
Anthony Castonzo- 5AU
Chandler Harnish- 1AU
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LaVon Brazill- 1AU
Coby Fleener- 2AU
Dwayne Allen- 1AU
Joe Lefeged- 4AU
Vick Ballard- 1AU
Reggie Wayne-10AU 7GU
Delone Carter- 4AU
plus too too many others to mention!

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cbware88
post Jul 2 2010, 08:17 AM
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I might actually buy it..........how about anybody else?



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Sportscard Collector
post Jul 2 2010, 02:52 PM
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QUOTE(cbware88 @ Jul 2 2010, 08:17 AM)
I might actually buy it..........how about anybody else?
*


Sounds like a good one, Charles. I read the reviews on Amazon and people really liked it. I'm going to see if my library has it.

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cbware88
post Jul 2 2010, 03:55 PM
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QUOTE(Sportscard Collector @ Jul 2 2010, 02:52 PM)
Sounds like a good one, Charles. I read the reviews on Amazon and people really liked it. I'm going to see if my library has it.

user posted image
*


I called mine but they didn"t have it.......so I'm going to order it this weekend. (If the boss will let me wink.gif )



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