Edson: Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict

I bought my first pack of baseball cards in the spring of 1959 when I was 5-years-old.

Normally, that would be forgettable for a young kid. But when I raced home with that first pack and carefully opened it at the kitchen table, the second card I pulled out was of a Detroit Tigers backup catcher named Red Wilson.

I showed my mom, who made a big deal about it. She shouted for my dad to come in from the next room and look at it. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I realized years later that my folks, both teachers, probably lit my passion for baseball with their reactions.

Well, fast forward 12 years and there I was as a 17-year-old high school junior setting up at my first card show at the Troy Hilton near Detroit. Those were the days when card shows were ruled by want lists, not card values.

We pulled off as many trades as we did sales. And when our show guests were guys like Ernie Harwell, Gates Brown and other Tigers dignitaries, the show would shut down for a couple hours while they told stories about baseball.

After college, I was doing shows all around the country during the summers. My friends and I went to national conventions in Texas, New Jersey and Georgia among others. In the summer of 1989, I hosted a seminar at the National Convention in Chicago that I called “The Good Old Days of Collecting.”  I was 35 at the time.

Not only did I put together complete sets of old Bowman and Topps cards, I wrote a column for the national publication Baseball Hobby News. Those were the days when it wasn’t unusual to buy and then sell the coveted 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card during the course of our 4-day national shows.

I don’t travel to do card shows anymore. I haven’t for about 20 years. In fact, when our family grew to three kids back in the mid 1980s, I sold off some of my old complete sets to help finance a new house.

But I’ve never lose my passion for collecting baseball cards and other sports memorabilia. I still love putting sets together and leafing through old cards.

The card collecting industry has changed. I do most of my buying and selling on the internet. I send cards out to be graded by PSA, which puts a number on the card depending on the condition. For instance, if a card is “gem mint” it is graded PSA 10. If it is banged up, it could be graded a mere PSA 1.

The common denominator in collecting sports memorabilia as a teenager and now is simple: The people.

I’ve met a lot of great baseball fans along the way and had many great experiences.

As a teen, a hobby icon named Frank Nagy from Detroit was very kind to young collectors like myself and either gave us old cards for free or at a very reduced price. He wanted us to do the same when we got older.

So when our son, our nephews and now our grandsons show an interest, we give them the newer cards of the players they watch on TV in hopes they will catch the collecting bug.

At the age of 64, I still get excited when the mail arrives with a vintage card I was expecting. I still tear the box open like a kid on Christmas morning.

And, yes, I still have that 1959 Topps Red Wilson card. It sits front and center on my desk, reminding me of what a beautiful road I’ve traveled collecting cards and meeting people.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.