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  • The Throes of My Addiction
  • Rick Burton (bio)

I was an addict.

Or, at the very least, during the mid-1980s, I was in the process of becoming one. My young wife didn't know it at the time, but I suspect she would've eventually caught on. The scary thing was knowing our two-year-old daughter was already wise to my habit.

Too often, on Saturday mornings, she would watch me drop her mom at work and nervously hustle to the drug store for my fix. For her sake, I never resorted to telling the pharmacist my purchase was for a son (who hadn't been born yet). I simply put two bucks down on the counter and watched young Stephanie destroy the gum rack.

My addiction?

It was the dreaded downward spiral of a grown man (in his late twenties) wanting to collect baseball cards. It was a fiendish fixation, that illness. I mean, how could a twenty-eight-year-old hope to emerge as a corporate titan when he continually purchased non-scarce goods with little relative value?

Didn't I realize many of those simple cards were already informationally inaccurate by the time of purchase? As I recall, the first card I unveiled one spring day in 1986 was a crisp Billy Martin, shown as the New York Yankees manager. That was interesting because Billy had been fired in 1985 before the '86 spring training camps even opened.

Make no mistake, I was not collecting the cards in order to resell them. This was not an '80s arbitrage play. No, this was nostalgia mixed with a marketer's fascination at the material markup and collective genius of Topps' business acumen.

Think about it. When I was a kid, Topps sold five cards (and that classic piece of pink, cardboardy-leathery gum) for a nickel. By 1986 they were offering [End Page 4] fifteen cards, a promotional/advertising card, and a smaller slab of gum for thirty-seven cents (a total that included two cents for the governor). That was easily more than a 600 percent increase in less than twenty years.

No matter.

Back then I couldn't wait to see if I had "doubles" or had stumbled upon an unusually catchy name that made me smile: Barbaro Garbey of the Tigers and Brent Gaff of the Mets worked at the time. It was a strange pleasure in the privacy of my then Midwestern den (when the lawn was mowed, hedge trimmed, sidewalk swept, and damp basement wall investigated) to place my latest purchase in numerical order. Or to carefully study the cards of relative unknowns who might someday emerge as familiar heroes to millions.

The other fascinating part of my affliction was analyzing the statistical journeys some of the Not-Ready-For-Stardom Players had taken. Take Scott Bradley (card No. 481 that year) of the Yankees.

In just five years, Bradley had reportedly lived and played in Oneonta, New York; Nashville; Fort Lauderdale; Columbus; Albany, New York; and New York City. Had he been able to add Buffalo, Batavia, Auburn, Syracuse, and Utica, he could have hit for the Empire State circuit.

Or how about Rick Lysander of the Twins?

His 1985 card noted he'd played in Lewiston, Modesto, Birmingham, Tucson, Chattanooga, San Jose, Vancouver, Jersey City, Ogden, Tacoma, Toledo, Oakland, and Minneapolis. That should have gotten him a Miller Lite commercial arguing (Less Filling! Tastes Great!) with legends like Marv Throneberry, Boog Powell, and Bob Uecker.

I guess what intrigued me the most was the mental pictures I began to form. Lysander's best year was 1979 when he went 10-3 in Ogden with a 4.39 ERA.

That dominance earned him a call up to Oakland where he pitched fourteen innings and gave up thirteen runs (well, okay, only twelve of them were earned). For those crimes, he went back to Ogden, Tacoma, and Tucson before he made the Twins roster in 1983.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not mocking Lysander.

He probably made good money, saw more of the country than I did, and undoubtedly told amazing tall tales when he hung up his MLB spikes...


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