Mom, Apple Pie and an Old Baseball Card
By GEORGE VECSEY
For decades, the mothers of America have been vilified for the heinous act of throwing out their children’s shoeboxes full of crumpled baseball cards.
Generations of vengeful offspring have whined that if their mothers had not indulged in mindless spring cleaning, the cards could have been turned into a Lamborghini or an A frame in Vail or an investment with that nice Madoff fellow.
It was all their mothers’ fault. It always is, isn’t it?
Now there is a phenomenon called Revenge of the Mothers. Good fortune has come fluttering Bernice Gallego’s way, out of somebody else’s discarded clutter.
Bernice Gallego is not a baseball fan. She loves Pavarotti, for sure, but the only baseball name she knows is Willie Mays, from her mother’s listening to the radio when the Giants arrived in San Francisco in 1958.
Fact is, Gallego has never seen a baseball game — majors, minors or Little League. (“My son is a computer person,” she said.) But she thinks she could get interested in the sport, given the windfall that has fallen into her life.
Gallego and her husband, Al, frequent estate sales around Fresno, Calif., acquiring truckloads of antiques or just plain junk out of people’s attics and cellars. They sort it out later at their shop, Collectique.
Last summer, the Gallegos were going through their accumulation, posting items on eBay, when she spotted a rectangular card, somewhat mussed, with a photograph of 10 dashing young men in uniforms.
The lads could have been the Fighting A’s of Oakland of the 1970s, who had mustaches and attitude, but the card definitely said Red Stocking B. B. Club of Cincinnati, and she knew it was a bit older than the 1970s. She put it up for auction at $10.
Al and Bernice Gallego did not get to be 80 and 72 without acquiring some smarts. When the kindly folks out there in Webland seemed a trifle eager to take the card off their hands, the Gallegos took the card off the market and went to discover just exactly what they had.
Turns out, this is probably the oldest baseball card in history. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were merely the first professional baseball team on this continent, or probably any other. Bat and ball games had been played in many parts of the world, but baseball evolved in the northeastern United States in the 1830s and ’40s. According to “Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball” by Warren Goldstein, right after the Civil War, an attorney, Aaron B. Champion, assembled 10 amateurs in Cincinnati, gave them uniforms and paid them $800 or more a season, a respectable yearly wage for that time.
The 1869 Red Stockings were undefeated, winning an estimated 65 games, including league games and exhibitions, with one tie against the Troy Haymakers.
That year a card was distributed as an advertisement for Peck & Snyder, a New York manufacturer of both firefighting and sports equipment...
As Bernice Gallego is discovering, the tale of the Red Stockings has a thoroughly modern twist to it. In 1870, they won 27 more straight games but then lost to the Brooklyn Atlantics, which ended their mystique almost immediately.
Attendance dropped, the team could not make a profit, and the Wright brothers took their red stockings and moved to — oh, but you guessed it — Boston. The Peck & Snyder baseball cards went into the shoebox of oblivion.
The Gallegos have no idea where they got the card. They have been told by collectible experts that the card will be worth well into five figures, perhaps even $100,000, depending on the economy. Jay Leno’s people and Martha Stewart’s people have been requesting appearances. The auction will be scheduled for later this year, in Fresno. (The find was first reported by Mike Osegueda in The Fresno Bee.)...
“I’m learning why people care so intensely,” Gallego said. “I can now understand why people collect baseball cards.”
Collecting is understandable. Throwing cards out is not so understandable. At least one shoebox has ended up in a mother’s hands. It seems only right.
Hey kids. Not the Bernice you thought it was... I'm going out to the garage right now to start rummaging through those boxes!