Spoiling some old baseball cards

Originally Published: August 12, 2009
By Jim Caple | Page 2

When I bought a box of 36 unopened packs of 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards, I expected to enter my own little Wayback Machine to the year Ken Griffey Jr. was a rookie and I became a traveling beat writer for a major metro newspaper. Instead, opening up 20-year-old baseball cards was more like watching a good suspense movie when you already know the ending.

Off Base

Much of the pleasure of opening a pack of cards is the mystery. Will you get your favorite player's card? Will you get a future Hall of Famer? Will that rookie develop into a star? Will that All-Star continue on a Cooperstown track? Why are there so many Tim Teufels? But I already knew the answers to those questions. It was like going to a high school reunion knowing that your best friend has become an alcoholic and your old boyfriend/girlfriend has grown fat and ugly.

I knew too much. I knew Eric Davis would win a World Series but not end up in the Hall of Fame. I knew that Dave Magadan's career was going to be disappointing. I knew Dave Dravecky's career would end with a horrendous injury. I knew Bo Jackson's hip would end his career prematurely. I knew Jose Canseco's life would become a train wreck (which I probably suspected even then). I knew Mets prospect David West would never live up to the enormous expectations everyone placed on him that season. I also knew that the Mets would trade him to the Twins, along with Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani, for Frank Viola.

Oh, it was fun ripping open pack after pack in search of the elusive Griffey rookie card, and seeing some favorite old faces brought quick smiles to my face. There was Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti. Dennis Eckersley and Jim Deshaies. Al Newman and Cal Ripken Jr. It also was a nice feeling to be surprised by a card -- Randy Johnson in an Expos uniform! Mike Schmidt? Hadn't he already retired? -- and I felt very good indeed when I opened the 25th pack and finally found a Griffey card.

But gone was that sense of possibility which is necessary to fully enjoy opening a pack of baseball cards.

Oddly, what felt most like traveling back in time was that familiar disappointment of NOT getting a certain player's card. There was no Rickey Henderson. No Paul Molitor. No Tony Gwynn. No Barry Bonds. No Nolan Ryan. No Roger Clemens. Frustration is another crucial part of opening packs of baseball cards -- it wouldn't be any fun knowing you were going to get all your favorite players -- and what keeps us buying more, even 20 years later, is the possibility that the next pack will be different, that it will hold nothing but Hall of Famers.

Although, more than likely, it will just be a couple of more Tim Teufels.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

Jim Caple | email

ESPN Senior Writer
Author of "The Devil Wears Pinstripes" and winner of a Sports Emmy. Reported from 17 World Series, 9 Olympics, 6 continents.