The Dark Period

There is a song that takes me back to the prime of my life every time I hear it.  When I hear this song, I remember being 18 and riding the strip at Panama City Beach with my friends.  I have it on my iTunes playlist but I go through phases where all I want to hear is Deftones or Thrice or Starset and it gets lost in the 200+ songs that live there.  It rolled around this morning and I put it on repeat a couple of times because it’s just soothing to my soul when I hear it.  I’m sure you have certain songs that travel right through your ears and into the limbic system of your brain to put you in a different frame of mind.  Or is it just me?  Anyway, this particular song is “1979” by Smashing Pumpkins.  The Pumpkins were my favorite band in high school before the Deftones came along.  They are still in my all time top 3 and “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is one of the greatest albums ever!Smashing Pumpkins – 1979

The odd part of the memory of this particular part of my life is that it doesn’t include sports cards.  As Eric Norton so eloquently calls it when asking collectors on the Beckett Radio Podcast for their backstory in the hobby, it was my “dark period”.  Everyone in my age range has one.  Mine was from 1994 until around 2002.  I do remember picking up some football cards in 1998 because I have a bunch of Manning, Moss and Ricky Williams rookies but that was a short time frame.  And believe it or not, the cards I bought in ’98 were because of a girl.  That’s odd because the “girl” is usually the primary reason for the dark period to begin with.  But I actually dated a girl one time that liked ripping football cards.  The hobby side of me enjoyed those times but the relationship side is happy that we moved on.My dark period began in 1994 with the baseball strike.  It was really a perfect storm that led to me walking away from the hobby for a while.  For a 17 year old baseball fan, my mind had not evolved to the point of understanding salary caps, arbitration and antitrust legislation.  For me, it was greed, plain and simple.  I wanted baseball in my life and it wasn’t there.  I remember thinking that I would have played Major League Baseball for free and these owners and players were fighting over millions.  To complicate matters, one of the players at the forefront of this was a player on my home team, Tom Glavine, the President of the Player’s Union.  Unfortunately, he was the face I remember most often when thinking about the back and forth of the strike.  At the time, I partially blamed him, which may have been unfair.  There was blame to be passed around no doubt, but I put too much of it on him.The 1994 season was shaping up to be historic.  That’s easy to say some 23 years later but there were some major things happening.  The Montreal Expos were 74-40 at the time the strike happened and were 6 games ahead of the Braves.  That would have either been a great end to the season for the Expos or the Braves would have made an awesome comeback and won the East.  Either would have been considered wins in my book because the Expos were fun to watch.  The ’94 Strike has been credited with being a part of the eventual downfall of the Expos.  They sold off players after ’94 and attendance dropped.  They would never recover and could not get funding to build a new stadium.  MLB would eventually purchase the Expos in 2002 and then move them to Washington for the 2005 season.Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 with only 8 weeks left in the season.  Matt Williams was on a mathematical pace to break Roger Maris’ home run record.  The strike also cost Don Mattingly a chance at the postseason as the Yankees were 70-43 and 6 1/2 games up on the Orioles.  Up until that point, he had been kept out of the postseason.  He finally made it in 1995 but the team was not considered as good as in 1994.  He would retire at the end of ’95 and the Yanks would beat the Braves for the ’96 World Series title.  That was painful for me as a Braves fan but imagine how Donnie Baseball felt.By far one of the strangest results of the ’94 strike was a trade involving Dave Winfield and filet mignon.  While playing for the Twins in 1994, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians just after the strike began for a player to be named later.  Because the ’94 season ended early, Winfield didn’t play any games in Cleveland that year and the player to be named was never named.  To settle the trade, the Indians and Twins executives went out for dinner and Cleveland picked up the tab.  That’s probably the cheapest any team has ever bought a 3,000 hit, Hall of Famer.  I wonder how many calls were made after this story surfaced that requested Wade Boggs for a few lobster dinners!So the strike had me backing away from the hobby but there were other reasons that kept me away.  The Summer of ’94 is also when I started dating my future wife.  When we started dating, I didn’t care about baseball cards, Clerks or Tecmo Super Bowl for a while.  A hot chick can have that effect on a man.  My day was consumed with thoughts of my new girlfriend.  We went to different schools in our town and I would call her from a pay phone in our lunchroom cafeteria and she would stand by a pay phone outside her lunchroom waiting for the call.  Let that sink in for a moment young people…..a pay phone!  If I missed her, my afternoon was shot.  After school, I would drive by to see if she had left yet and then would ride around town hoping to bump into her.  No cell phone in those days and we couldn’t talk until we both got home.This relationship continued until 1997 and my cards stayed locked away in the closet during that whole time.  When we broke up, I was 20 and was galavanting all over the place hanging with friends and just being a dumb kid.  I was playing basketball, working, going to Huddle House at 2am and taking spur of the moment road trips with my buddies.  We did look at cards from time to time but it definitely didn’t classify as a hobby.  As I mentioned above, I did dip my toes back in the water in ’98 and dropped some coin on football products but I still didn’t go back to baseball yet.  I loved the Topps and Score boxes that could be found at Wal-Mart at the time and I would buy them every time I took a trip.  I still like that Topps set and it had some really cool inserts like Hidden Gems that are still pretty nice looking today.  The rookie class was awesome; Manning, Leaf, Hines Ward, Randy Moss, Fred Taylor, Ahman Green and Charles Woodson.  Even though I started picking these back up, I still wasn’t diving back into the hobby again.Part of my hesitation was still from the strike, some of it was from life just catching up with me during my young adult years and the rest was just the sheer mass production that was happening in the mid 90’s.  As a 20 year old, I was really starting to consider value in the cards and I wasn’t really finding it anymore.  The late 90’s were filled with products that I just couldn’t keep up with.  There were things like Zenith, Collectors Choice, Fleer Metal, Fleer Traditions, Pacific, Aurora and 20 different Pinnacle offshoots.  Supply had certainly met and passed demand and I didn’t want any part of the glutton of cards.  I still loved sports but couldn’t justify spending my fun money on sports cards that were worth .50 cents.  There were certainly some valuable cards to be found but I wasn’t in a stage of life to be searching.After spinning my wheels through young adulthood, my path led me back to my original girlfriend from 1994 and we would go on to get married in 2001.  When we got married, we moved away from our hometown (about 40 minutes) and we made Sunday the day we would go back and see our parents.  On Sunday’s, we would watch NASCAR at my parents house and we all had our favorite drivers.  I’ve been a Tony Stewart guy since 1999, my dad was Dale Earnhardt (and Jr.) all the way, my mom liked the LaBonte brothers and my wife liked Dale Jarrett and Sterling Marlin.  Those Sunday experiences soon got me into NASCAR collectibles like die cast cars and racing cards when I could find them.  We had a spare bedroom in our duplex at the time that was full of NASCAR memorabilia.  That led to me pulling out my old cards from the late 80’s and early 90’s.Once I started looking through my old cards, the feelings of nostalgia came rushing over me and that was when it truly sunk in that I wasn’t a kid anymore.  I was married, had a 9 to 5 and only went back “home” once a week.  It also made me understand the “growing up conundrum”.  All kids want to grow up and be adults while most adults want to go back to when they were kids.  When you become an adult, you spend your time worrying about bills, health, kids and work so you forget what it was like to only worry about beating a video game or pulling a Ken Griffey Jr. in your pack of ’89 Donruss.  Nobody told me that when I became an adult, my days would be consumed with worry and responsibility.  If I had known that, I would’ve stayed 14.These worries and responsibilities are all relative to your age and situation.  They always seem heavy and you look for times in your life when the worry wasn’t such a big deal.  When it rains, I’m not going to tell my 10 year old daughter not to fret because she can’t play outside because I know that was devastating for me at that age.  But I do know that she will have bigger concerns one day.  I just don’t want her to have them yet.  I know that worry and stress evolves over time and I’ve learned that you have to combat them by any means necessary.  For me, that has become sports cards once again.  I guess it’s the circle of life to some degree.  When I was a kid, you could give me a few packs of ’90 Fleer and I was as happy as a clam.  Understanding that the cards were a source of happiness when I was young, I decided to fight off adulthood by buying cards again.  And it’s worked into my 40th year of life.In fact, I’m going stronger than ever now and I’m still buying 1990 Fleer!  I buy other stuff too but I’ll never stray from my roots.  I would rather have an ’88 Topps Jose Canseco than a 2017 Mike Trout.  That may not make sense to some people but that’s the way I operate.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy a 2017 Trout.  It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to have an Aaron Judge autograph.  But the true happiness of collecting for me comes from living in the moments from when I was a kid.  Unless Doc Brown comes along with a Delorean and Huey Lewis and the News, this is as close as I’ll get to those years.  So I’ll keep ripping “Junk Wax”, as it’s labeled.  I’ll keep collecting Fleer stickers and ’89 Bowman wrappers and ’90 Upper Deck holograms.  Who knows, I might pull a Donruss Elite along the way or that Juan Gonzalez reverse negative we all remember.  But whatever I pull, it will be memorable and will remind me of the days before my “dark period.”


6 thoughts on “The Dark Period”

    1. Thanks Trevor! Appreciate you checking it out. Of course, anything could happen but 94 was setting up to be a great finish!

  1. I’ve never had an extended period where I was totally out of it, but 2003-2007ish were some pretty lean years for me. More selling off than buying. I wish I hadn’t sold off all that vintage or the almost complete 2001 and 2002 Topps Heritage Baseball sets.

    1. There are some items I wish I still had. But happy to still be going strong in the hobby and hope I never lose my love of junk Wax!

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