Most people who are into baseball have, at one point or another, owned some memorabilia of some kind. Maybe they’re not hardcore collectors, but most of us have had an autograph, a baseball card or 10,000, some pennants, posters, or something along those lines.
I’ve written before — a very, very long time ago — about how I’m not a big fan of autographs. I have some, all of which were obtained when I was a kid, and I think they can be neat on a certain level, but I find the whole process of getting someone’s autograph to be an odd one, at least if you’re an adult. I realize I’m in the distinct minority with this. I’m not judging you if you like to get autographs. I’m just saying that autographs aren’t for me.
I also used to collect baseball cards. Like, really collect baseball cards. My brother and I had at least 100,000 of them at one point. It was not a business for us, but it probably could’ve been. We just went absolutely nuts with it. We stopped actively collecting when he joined the Navy in 1989 — it was a good time to stop if you know anything about the baseball card market — and since he was more active in that than I was, he has assumed the actually valuable part of the collection and has it with him where he lives in California. I still have like 50,000 basically worthless commons and a few select older, more valuable cards that I personally care about. I had them in a storage unit for years and years but I just emptied that out. I was about to give them away before the quarantines all hit but for now they’re stuck in the corner of my living room until that passes. So, sure, if you asked me in the 1980s about my favorite memorabilia I probably would’ve mentioned our complete 1965 Topps set or something, but now that’s not super important to me.
There is one thing, though, that I’ve had for almost 40 years and which I still value.
In 1982, the Lipton Tea Company printed and gave away at ballparks posters with covers of every World Series program on them. My brother and I got ours at Tiger Stadium. I have no memory of the game we saw that day, but I distinctly remember climbing over seats after most of the crowd had departed, collecting extra copies of the souvenir handout. We went home with at least eight or nine copies of it. I lived in four houses over the next nine years before going away to college, but from the day I brought mine home, the poster—well, one of them, anyway—was always a fixture on my bedroom wall.
The program covers were arranged in eight satisfying rows of nine and one row of six, with the 1903 program in the bottom right corner and the latest—1981—at the top left. Each program cover was clearly reproduced, with the type and photos legible. It was a colorful poster, highly pleasing to the eye. It invited long hours of study, and did I ever study it. Indeed, I studied it so much that my nine-year-old self quickly memorized every World Series match-up in baseball history.
But something else happened as a result of my intensive study: to this day, I am utterly incapable of thinking of any World Series that took place between 1903 and 1981 without instantly picturing the program cover. Even for World Series of which I’ve subsequently seen highlights, or in some cases, entire games on film, it is the program cover that is emblazoned on my mind and in my memory, to the point where, to this day, it crowds out the actual events which transpired in those Fall Classics.
1932 is not about Babe Ruth’s Called Shot, it’s about the WPA-esque painting of the Yankees player sliding into home. 1934 is not about The Gashouse Gang, it’s about a Tiger, standing on its hind legs. 1956 isn’t about Don Larsen’s perfect game, it’s about how Casey Stengel and Walter Alston were zapped with radiation and grew large enough to tower over their respective ballparks.
Only now, nearly 40 years after I first laid eyes on that poster, have I started to think about what it all means. How can this mere totem—a free giveaway—eclipse all that I have since learned about World Series history? I’ve written dozens of blog posts about the World Series over the years. I’ve read multiple books about it. I’ve pored over box scores and articles about them while conducting research. Why do these little thumbnail sketches—many of which have little, if anything, to do with the actual matchups—continue to define the World Series for me? I have no idea. I just love it.
The best part: I had lost all of those old copies of that poster, but in 2009 or so a friend of mine heard me talking about it, found a copy of it on eBay in perfect condition and sent it to me. I frames it and it has been on my wall, right next to where I write, every day for over a decade. I love it:
How about you?