There’s a drug store a few blocks away from my house that has a mysterious Card Vending Machine. The bottom half of the machine–which would be eye level with most preteens–contains Pokemon cards, Yu-Gi-Oh, etc.
The top half has packs of old baseball cards. Some are very old, 20 years and up (although it makes me want to slit my wrists to think that I can remember collecting cards that are now more than 20 years old).
That would be weird enough. But whenever I go to this drugstore, the inventory changes. So they’re constantly restocking this machine with different vintages. Topps, Fleer, Donruss, and all the weird variants that these companies foisted on the card-buying public back when card collecting still looked like a viable investment market (haven’t spotted Sportflix yet, though).
My guess as to how this happened: There’s some guy out there who bought up thousands and thousands of packs of baseball cards back in the aforementioned Baseball Card Bull Market. He had a friend who snatched up a trading card vending machine franchise during the height of Pokemon-mania. When the bottoms dropped out of these hobbies, they joined forces in a marriage of convenience that made no one really happy, but at least it allowed them to not take a total loss on their investments.
Whatever the origin of the Mystery Machine, I always buy a pack of old cards when I’m in this drug store. Every other time I’ve gone there, I’ve purchased cards from when I was a kid and still collected them, for pure nostalgia’s sake. Not that I expect to find anything of value, because there’s very little of value in the baseball card market. And if these packs had anything of value, they wouldn’t be sitting in a weird vending machine in Queens.
But a few weeks, I went out of my comfort zone and purchased some Topps cards from 1999. That year has a special place in my heart, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. It was really the year I got back into baseball. I dipped my toe into the water the year before, but 1999 was the year I said “fuck it” and jumped right in.
What did I get? Irony, mostly.
The pack had a Future Stars card with Scott Rolen, which declared him “a cornerstone for the Phillies for years to come” (well, they were partly right). There was another card that featured first-round Mets bust Jason Tyner, and another Prospects card with three players on it, none of whom I’d ever heard of.
Of course, I saved my most jaundiced views for The Roid Brigade. It just so happened I purchased these cards just as the A-Rod Mess was reaching its apex. So it was hard to find a Juan Gonzalez card and not think about how much more innocent/stupid people were about steroids ten years ago.
Although I don’t entirely buy this line of reasoning. I feel like, more than anything, it’s a line that sportswriters throw out there so they don’t look like the blind, jock-sniffing morons they are. Fans always suspected steroids in the game; they just didn’t care until ESPN et al told us to be surprised and outraged by it.
Especially when you consider the Topps cover boy for that year. Who was it? I’ll give you three guesses.
I guess McGwire and Sosa were too expensive even for Topps in 1999. But The Rocket was just as good, right? Nothing could ever taint his accomplishments!