Through the years, I have collected everything from Matchbox Cars and comics, to ticket stubs and books from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. It has often been said that my collections have collections.
One of the earliest things that I collected was baseball cards.
I started collecting baseball cards in elementary school back when packs could be purchased for pocket change and included a stick of card staining bubble gum.
One of my greatest joys back then came from riding my bike to the neighborhood 7-Eleven to spend some of my allowance on a pack of baseball cards, a comic book, some powdered doughnuts and a Sunny Delight.
On special occasions, my mom would drive me to one of three baseball card and comic book stores where I would thumb through the boxes of comics and binders of cards looking for items to add to my collections.
Once I was able to drive and was earning money from working, I would still go to the card shops on the weekends. My trips became less frequent once I was in college.
Eventually, as other priorities and interests emerged, my card collecting was relegated to occasionally buying a pack here and there out of nostalgia.
Back on August 19, 2013, I wrote a column about wanting to finish the 1983 Topps baseball card set that I had started 30 years earlier.
In that column, I made a bold prediction that I would finish the set by the end of the year by procuring the missing 125 cards that I needed out of the 792-card set.
Despite starting the quest in the fourth quarter of 2013, it seemed like a very doable thing to complete.
In reality, the quest to finish the set would take another decade.
Paraphrasing a song about black eyed peas and homicide, as spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall, I found out that the 1983 Topps baseball set might be the set that was not completed at all.
I cannot really say why the set was not finished back in 2013.
When I wrote the column, I really had the intention and desire to finish the set that year.
In the years since 2013, I had mostly forgotten about the incomplete set of cards despite walking past the binders of baseball cards nearly every day.
That all changed in January. While I was moving my baseball card binders, I was once again reminded of the incomplete set.
At the time, I did not take any action to finish the set.
Then in late February as I was looking through some old writings, I was reminded of the column about the 30-year quest.
So, determined not to wait another 10 years, I decided that I would make completing the set an early birthday gift to myself.
Back in the latter half of the 20th Century when I was actively collecting baseball cards, I carried around checklists in my wallet for each set I was working on. The checklist was numbered from 1 to 792, or however many cards that particular set had. As I found a card, I would cross it off of the list.
This system was extremely helpful in providing an exact snapshot of the status of every set of cards I was working on at any given time.
Back in 2013 when I first came up with the grand idea to complete the set, I could not find my checklist from 1983. So, I was forced to sit on the living room floor and thumb through the binder with the cards I did have crossing off the corresponding number on the checklist one by one to determine just how many cards I needed.
One would think that realizing how tedious that task was that I would put my 2013 checklist somewhere safe.
This was the thought that ran through my head on a continuous loop as I found myself in 2023 once again sitting on my living room floor creating a checklist for the cards that I needed.
With my list of missing cards completed once more, the question now was how to best procure the 125 cards.
Back in 2013, complete 1983 Topps sets were selling for around $50 on eBay. At the time, I decided against buying 792 cards when I only needed 125.
In my mind I thought that it would be way more fun and economical to procure 125 cards on a card by card basis to mimic the old days of thumbing through the cards at Ye Olde Baseball Card Shop.
Of course, in 2013 Ye Olde Baseball Card shops were hard. Many of the shops had either closed altogether or consisted of people who used to run baseball card shops selling their stock online.
When I resumed the quest last week, I had the same mindset that it would be cheaper to buy the 125 cards I needed individually compared to buying a whole set.
I also ran into the same problem as I did in 2013 that the days of driving to a strip mall and looking for baseball cards at a baseball card shop have come and gone.
So, it was off to Ye Olde world wide web and the virtual baseball card shop to find those pesky missing cards that had eluded me for four decades.
After spending several hours online carefully selecting the cards from a vendor who was selling singles, I watched as the price soared well past the complete set price.
I was about to give up hope until I saw a listing on another site for a mostly complete set of 1983 Topps baseball cards. By mostly complete, I mean that the set had every card in it except for the five most expensive cards including the rookie cards of Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg.
As luck would have it, I already had those cards from my trips to 7-Eleven back in 1983.
So, I was able to by a mostly complete set of 1983 Topps Baseball cards for far less than a full set price, and way less than the 125 card a la carte price. This approach also allowed me to claim a technicality that I did not buy a complete set to only find 125 cards.
Sure, I bought 667 cards that I already had, but what a bargain compared to paying the per card price for the 125 cards that I did not have.
Best of all, I can finally say that the first set of baseball cards that I ever tried to finish, has now been completed.
Happy early birthday to me indeed.
When the cards arrived in the mail, bringing an end to my quest to complete the 1983 Topps baseball set, I was hit by a range of emotions.
While I was both happy and sad that the quest was completed, the emotion that was most impactful as I stared at a cardboard box filed with cardboard baseball cards was the feeling of being transported back in time to the sunken living room of my parents’ house in Florida.
As I placed the finally completed set of 1983 Topps baseball cards on the shelf, I was also reminded that I will be ending another 40-year quest in December when I graduate from the University of Florida. Two 40-year-old goals completed within nine months of each other. Not too shabby.
Back when I was riding my Diamondback bike to the 7-Eleven to buy baseball cards that I sorted while sitting on the sunken living room floor of my parents’ house while watching the Gators play football on TV, I never would have imagined that I would find myself accomplishing two goals 40-years after they first formed in my head.
Back then, I likely also would have thought that 40-years is a very, very long time.
And while my bike is now a Mongoose instead of a Diamondback, it really does seem that the more things change the more they stay the same.
While I do not think that my recent baseball card purchase will fully reignite the passion I once had for collecting baseball cards, it was nice to revisit younger me for a bit and to be reminded of a simpler time filled with bike rides to the 7-Eleven and Saturday trips to a baseball card shop.
I guess the morale of the story is, one is never too old to accomplish a goal. Also, if you ever find yourself sitting on the living room floor making checklists of baseball card sets, by all means make sure you remember where you put the list in case you need to find it years later.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide on what my next 40-year quest will be.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson