Mickey (Dis)Mantle(d); or, How Not to Teach Your Kid the Value of Priceless Baseball Cards

It's 1985 and a baseball card "convention" came to our local Lakewood Mall.  I was sixteen and while maybe I was a little old to still be interested in baseball cards, I had a good eye for them (in part, thanks to those bulky paperback Topps Baseball Card Price Guides I'd regularly get); a good eye for cards that had bona fide value and for rookie cards that were currently trending upward, such as Tony Gwynn's and Wade Bogg's cards at the time.  My Dad, learning of the baseball card convention, gives me fifty bucks and says "go find us an investment".  So off I went, with my newly minted California driver's license, in my Mom's 1977 Oldsmobile station wagon (with its rear seats reversed so that if you sat there and were anything like me you felt self-conscious with all those drivers and passengers in other cars staring directly at you while you awkwardly averted your eyes) to the Lakewood Mall.  A mall, in fact, named for a cookie cutter city built largely to house McDonnell Douglas employees that Joan Didion wrote about in one of her particularly scathing New Yorker articles, "Trouble in Lakewood," covering the infamous "Spur Posse" scandal that rocked the community and made national headlines in the early 1990s.

Once I was at the convention, it didn't take long to find Dad his investment: A 1961 Topps MVP Mickey Mantle card, offered for sale at $55.00. Not his regular playing card, mind you, which would've priced me out of the ball park completely, but a lesser valued MVP card that only spotlighted Mantle's MVP seasons of 1956 and '57 (no year-by-year statistics on the back, in other words).  Looking forlornly at the guy sitting behind the table with his cards displayed before him side by side, I asked, "Will you take $50 for that Mickey Mantle card?  It's all I have."  He proceeded to squint and slowly went sideways with his head and the hiss I heard of indrawn breath through his open mouth of clenched teeth was communicating, I feared, "can't do that, Son"; but then he let out his breath, sighed, and nodded 'yes,' and never said a word as we consummated our business transaction.

Years go by.  Every few months my Dad would inquire "so how much is our card worth now?" and year by year it steadily, incrementally, rose.  In 1991, when baseball card collecting was at its zenith, and some dealers at what amounted to like a Card Exchange were getting rich buying and selling little rectangles of four-colored cardboard, the value of our MVP Mickey Mantle broke the $100 barrier for the first time. Not bad, doubling it's value in six years.  Better than a lot of stocks, especially these rollercoaster days.  Soon thereafter, however, and not long after a Minnesota Twin shortstop and second baseman faked out Lonnie Smith in the most exciting seven game World Series I'd yet seen to date (did Jack Morris really pitch a ten or eleven inning complete game shutout, that game seven?!), real life intruded, college came, and then adulthood, and later marriage, and later kids, and yada yada yada, that for about a good decade-and-a-half I completely forgot about that Mickey Mantle card -- and I guess my Dad did too.  Time came when I was working for a boss who had a bunch of boys, and they all played little league baseball.  I went to their games. Found out they were (of course) also into baseball cards.

Baseball cards!  I remember them!

So I went looking for my old cards boxed somewhere in the garage and found them.  Showed my boss's boys my Topps MVP Mickey Mantle card that I had long ago bought secured in-between see-through covers, the hard plastic plates screwed together so the card couldn't slip out and be diminished my moisture, heat, and the acidity of skin.  My bosses boys were so wowed by it, by something that old, I guess (old and historic to them) that I thought, yeah, this card is pretty cool, so what good is it doing just being boxed up in the dark?  And so in keeping it out I priced it out and by that time, around 2007-2008, it's value, in mint condition (which mine was in), was around $250.  I thought it would be cool to display on our bookshelves, and so set Mickey Mantle, face out, leaning back at a slight angle against the hardcover, Mylar-protected spines, of novels by Thomas Pynchon, A.M. Homes, Robert Coover, David Foster Wallace, et. al. . . . Turns out, I wasn't the only one at home interested in the card.  Our adopted three-year-old son, Jordan, whom I wrote briefly about several years ago in my review of Walter the Farting Dog, was also interested in it.  Keenly interested, in fact.  So interested that one day when I got home from work and walked inside, I soon stared in abject horror at the floor by the bookshelves and screeched "What the f*&k happened!"  Oh God, it was so gruesome and simultaneously sad.  I almost cried.  For there lie poor Mickey Mantle, amidst shards of shattered plastic, torn in two.


And so I learned a valuable lesson in child rearing that day; learned that it's not wise leaving collectibles low to the floor for the naturally inquisitive fingers of a three-year-old who lacks both the wisdom and dexterity to handle gently your prized baseball memorabilia, and so hastily moved the 1983 Topps rookie Tony Gwynn card I still had, and the Fernando Valenzuela bobble-head I had, whom I still fondly think of whenever ABBA's "Fernando" comes on in a mall elevator in Lakewood (or in a mall elevator anywhere, whenever I have to unfortunately be there in the stupid idiotic mall in the first place because my otherwise lovely wife insists on shopping), who was apparently an eyewitness to Mickey Mantle's dismantling and dismemberment by Jordan (I mean look just look, will you, at Fernando's eyes to the right, see how sad and even disturbed they seem to appear?) -- who was the only damn Yankee I ever loved, Mickey Mantle, that is -- up to a higher shelf beyond the reach of Jordan's curious outstretched arms.

So long, 1961 Topps MVP Mickey Mantle Card. May you rest in peace.


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