Card of the Day: 1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig rookie

JuLY 29, 2008, will be a day that lives in infamy. OK, in my little world of cardboard icons it will. That was the day that I had arrived as a collector. For 11 years now I’ve focused primarily on rookies. I had an epiphany at a card show in 1997 when I realized that I could trade two inserts (worth then about $60; which of course translated into $30 credit) for two prime rookies: 1984 Donruss Joe Carter and 1993 SP Derek Jeter that I could not afford to buy. Then it became an addiction to unload whatever I could for rookie cards. I got my McGwire before it skyrocketed; Bonds, too. But while those moves built the foundation of my mansion of rookies, it is this 1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig that now stands tall like a billboard announcing my presence in the neighborhood.

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say I was in the right place (at home in front of my computer on a work day) at the right time (early Tuesday afternoon) to pick up perhaps the biggest card in my collection. I’m not discussing the price I paid, but the RAM Project has a new corner stone and it goes by the name of Gehrig. I spoke quite a bit about The Iron Horse a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to re-hash his career or his significance in the history of the game. Rather I want to speak about how this card is changing the way I look at my collection.

They always say once you go vintage you can’t go back. And in many respects it’s true. My first vintage card was a 1974 Topps Nolan Ryan card I won from a friend in a poker game, and then a 1956 Topps Phil Rizzuto I obtained in the same fashion. Having those two cards fueled my rage for older cards, and in recent years I’ve been able to acquire rookies of the games’ legends: Mays, Aaron, Koufax, Jackie Robinson, and now Gehrig.

While hundreds of dollars are being spent on rookie cards featuring the stars of today (note: I’m not old enough to have actually see any of the aforementioned legends play), and in some cases even more money on cards showcasing those who are believed to be the future of baseball, there is one genre, vintage, that continues to trump all regardless of how rare that pack-fresh signed rookie is.

This hobby was built on names like Gehrig. Sometime in the mid 1980s (when I when I was growing up) people started realizing that baseball was not only America’s Pastime, but also the object of damn near every man’s affection. And when a man is in love, money is no object. And thus we had the Great Card Boom.

More people wanted Mays, Mantle and Ruth than ever before. They wanted back the cards that their mothers tossed in the trash. They wanted their memories encapsulated in the form of a piece of cardboard that in some cases reeked of their father’s cigar.

But that was nearly three decades ago. The hobby has changed. The familiar smell of wax packs, stale gum and moldy cardboard has given way to the toxic aroma of Chrome. Hell, even the standards of mint have changed. A card can have four sharp corners, a smooth surface, perfect centering and crisp edges, and can still be considered mint if it has the “chrome curl.” Odd considering that “mint” used to also mean that the card should lay flat on a tabletop and not curl like some Queen of Diamonds in a game of Three-Card Monte.

But I digress. Through these changes this hobby of collecting cardboard pictures of our player heroes turned into a business. And when money is involved, so is ignorance and a lack of common sense. I understand, conceptually, the theory of supply and demand. But what still baffles me is that if every collector in the world agrees that a guy like Gehrig is a legend — therefore in high demand — that said played can have a rookie card that sells for less than that of some 19-year-old kid whose yet to even sniff the field; who will never even step foot into the house that Ruth Built, or experience the chills that I’m sure players get when they stand where Gehrig did as he delivered his infamous speech in 1939.

There are countless other cardboard legends whose rookie cards are treated the same exact way. Sure the Beckett Price Guide lists them as being worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, but in most cases the authentic raw versions of these legendary rookies in so-so condition can routinely be had for less than the price of an unproven teenager’s first card.

And for years I’ve been guilty of this practice too. I have my share of top-notch chrome rookies. And because everyone else is so fixated on these new shiny cards I’ve been able to grab some nice vintage at somewhat affordable prices.

But with the arrival of my Gehrig, I’m starting to get a new perspective on collecting. An epiphany not unlike that of 1997. I think it’s time I seriously stop busting wax, retire my set-building efforts, and in some cases say good-bye to some of my chrome rookies. Because no matter how shiny the card, how bold the signature, how big the prospect is supposed to be, none of them make me stop and think like an vintage rookie. Perhaps by the time I complete by old school purchases, we’ll have weeded out some of the guys who undoubtably will turn into the Kevin Maas, Brien Taylor or even Eric Anthony’s of this era.

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One Response to “Card of the Day: 1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig rookie”

  1. [...] these next few weeks, my head will be elsewhere. I won’t be thinking about my Lou Gehrig rookie; the time I met Kevin Maas; my post about the Photoshoped 2008 Stadium Club Manny Ramirez card; or [...]

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