You probably could not make up an All-Star team of them, but you might stock a couple of rosters, with active major leaguers who have a true interest of some kind in the history of the game. Adam Lind is an expert on Brooklyn Dodgers’ ace Carl Erskine, the other hero from their hometown of Anderson, Indiana. After a couple of generations of disinterest, nearly all players revere the memory of Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leaguers before and after Robinson broke the color barrier. Manager Joe Maddon of the Rays sat in the dugout on a sweltering day last summer at Yankee Stadium to watch the entirety of the Old Timers’ Day ceremonies and game.
You can include Tim Hudson of the Braves on this list. The veteran pitcher not only has a commendable knowledge of the history of the teams for which he played (coincidentally the only three-city franchises in the game: the Braves and Athletics), but also a reverence for the Hall of Fame that particularly extends to its original inductees. So after a couple of years of talking about it, it was my pleasure yesterday to arrange for this:
Huddy knew the history of this Relic – the 1909 Honus Wagner card, hardly the scarcest baseball card (not even the scarcest one in that series), but handily the best known. Hudson was able to explain to several others on the bench the history of the American Tobacco card set (known to collectors as T206) and why there are, at most, 100 copies of the Wagner known.
He studied it carefully, asked about the trimming of the card’s borders, the scrapbook residue on the back, some of the other key cards in the set, and how I happened to come by it (how else? I bought it. I’ve been collecting this set since I was 11 years old, and as soon as I became a really overpaid adult I reverted to being a really over-excited teenager and was able to scratch off the last T206 on my want list).
I have to confess I was genuinely surprised by the interest in the card in the Braves’ dugout. Even Chipper Jones was shocked to see it. I’ve known him since he was a rookie and his sangfroid – his amazing calm in the most charged-up of circumstances – was once illustrated when in the middle of a conversation with me his back once went into full spasm and he basically pitched over into his locker. All he did was say “And you know what else? I think I’m going to have to have this back looked at.” Yesterday, even Jones’ eyes widened at the sight of The Wagner.
Some were even more effusive. Phil Falco, the Braves’ Strength Coach and himself a collector (autographed ’57 Topps Football cards are his joy), arch-collector and Media Relations Director Brad Hainje, and broadcaster Joe Simpson were closer to the dropped-jaw stage. I only wish I had done this last year: Bobby Cox would’ve loved to have seen that card.
Incidentally, remind me to explain some time why I don’t believe either the theory that the card is scarce just because Wagner objected to his likeness being used to sell cigarettes, or even the alternate one I proposed nearly 30 years ago that as one of the few players of his era who was aware of the value of his own likeness he was actually holding out for money. I have lately come to believe that the timelines don’t add up, and that to some degree the rarity of the Wagner card was deliberately created, or at least enhanced, by the manufacturer.
For now, just seeing baseball players gape at a baseball card was a great deal of fun.