Like many other boys who grew up during the 1950s and early 1960s, my husband Larry collected baseball cards. Each spring and summer, Larry would walk, run or bike to the corner market near his home in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he would exchange his nickel for a new hot-off-the-presses pack of cards. Once he entered high school, Larry lost interest and never again got caught up in the rush of completing a major league season’s set. There was only one exception, a caramel-coated summer when Larry took our family on a sweet journey to complete a set of cards highlighting baseball players from almost eight decades before.
Through the classic song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball has always been linked with a popular popcorn and peanut confection that included a prize in each red, silver, and blue box. In the summer of 1993, one of the snacks’ promotions was a series of reproductions of two dozen 1915 baseball cards. Larry decided to buy a three-pack combo in order to see what the cards looked like.
Of course, like the saying associated with a famous potato chip, Larry just couldn’t stop at just one. After obtaining his first three cards, replicas of Christy Mathewson, Napoleon Lajoie, and Walter “Rabbit” Maranville, he was hooked—and determined to collect all twenty-four cards. Every time he went shopping, he brought home three to six more boxes to see which cards he could add to his pile.
Our children, Adam and Julie, more than happy to eat the sweet treat, soon joined their father in his quest. Forty-five boxes later, along with thirty duplicates, we were up to fifteen of the two dozen cards. As we all became more determined, we bought and ate more boxes. We learned that the hot summer weather would make the contents of open boxes sticky and soft, and the solution was to keep them in the refrigerator. The sugar coated treat became the snack of choice and the number one offering to anyone who came to visit.
As the weeks progressed, and the refrigerator became more filled with half-eaten, somewhat stale boxes, the quest became even more difficult. Seventy-two boxes later, we had collected twenty-one cards, as well as doubles, triples, and even quadruples of baseball immortals such as Ed Walsh of the Chicago Americans and Fred Clarke of the Pittsburgh Nationals. Unfortunately, there was not a Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, or Leslie “Bullet Joe” Bush to be found.
In frustration, Julie wrote a letter to the company asking if she could be sent the three missing cards. (She decided not to add a suggestion that there be more peanuts in each box.) She received a relatively quick but, alas, disappointing response. The letter politely stated that it would not be fair to the collectors of their toys and cards if obtaining such items was as simple as writing and asking for them. As an act of good will, the company provided her with a fifty cent coupon good on her next purchase and a print-out listing fellow card collectors with whom she might be able to negotiate a trade.
Rather than giving up our quest for the last three cards, we not only used the coupon but also kept buying and eating more. Larry was thrilled when, after 90 boxes, he finally got Honus Wagner. Unfortunately, almost every card for the next six boxes was—you guessed it—Honus Wagner. Tris Speaker arrived just before we left for Cape Cod for our annual vacation. We now needed one more card: “Bullet Joe” Bush
My hope that our vacation would include a respite from the snack was not answered. The day we arrived at our rented cottage at the Cape, I unpacked while the rest of my family headed out to pick up groceries. They came back with a week’s supply of food and a two-week supply of the snack.
Then three days into our vacation, while Larry was on a day trip to Nantucket with a friend, Adam opened a box and found the elusive Bullet Joe. Three months and 138 boxes into our mission, our collection was complete.
We were still not done. Larry realized that with so many duplicates, we were only a few cards short of two complete sets. It took another two weeks—twenty-one boxes—to complete the search.
Our family still reminisces about the summer of 1993 and our quest to find the elusive Leslie Bush. Even today, when we head to a spring training game or even a regular season match-up, Larry will buy the familiar red, silver, and blue box to get into the spirit of the game. I, for one, settle for the peanuts.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.